My grandparents lived on a homestead just off isolated State Highway 51 through the foothills of the Ozarks. My grandfather, Aubrey, was a state park superintendent who loved to set up a lawn chair in the front yard and “stare at the highway,” That was what we called it when we mocked him, especially when we would drive past their house fresh from whatever modern amusement we had taken in, and spot him sitting out there, silent and alone. If you were lucky he would recognize the car and give you a two-finger wave.
Midday was well established by the time Sarah finally pulled up to meet us in the Home Depot parking lot. My husband, Bill, and I had been walking laps around the perimeter with our beloved shepherd mix, Charlie, to keep his excitement from driving us crazy while Pat divided up our food stash into the backpacks for our hike and overnight camp on the remote Raven Fork River. Located within the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee, NC, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Raven Fork was a completely uncharted course for me, and I was intensely excited. As far as any of us knew, we were the only people in our outdoor community that had attempted to camp at Raven Fork, so our anticipation was overriding our logic in regards to our late start.