By Emma B.

I became a Girl Scout in Kindergarten, starting as a Daisy. My mom signed me up and she became my Troop leader. We had a large Troop that participated in many camping activities over the course of our elementary school years together. At the very end of my time as a Cadette Girl Scout, my mom handed over her Troop Leader responsibilities to other moms in the Troop. I had become busy with the Lime Green Giraffe, I was gearing up for high school and I had decided that I wanted to become a Juliette Scout. As a Troop, we had always camped at the Girl Scout sponsored campgrounds but we had never really “camped” - like outdoor, woods, real deal camping. We had wanted to do this as a Troop for years and my mom and the other parents decided that we should end our Girl Scout Cadette year with this exciting adventure.   

After several months of planning, we chose to camp at Amicalola Falls State Park and we all expected a nice, soothing, camping trip before we graduated from middle school. What would follow were the most outrageous series of events I had ever experienced as a Girl Scout. It was chaotic, messy, and resulted in many mishaps. I’ve told this story to friends, and they often don’t believe me. However, looking back at my thirteen years in Girl Scouts, I think I should finally share this crazy story.  

Eighth grade had been a tough year for me. I won’t get into the details but I remember just how exhausted I was at the time. I remember waking up almost every day and being a bit melancholy about life at the time. I was just looking forward to this trip and enjoying some peace and quiet in the woods.  We had woken up early that morning, and my mom had made the mistake of getting me a fast food hot chocolate. There’s something about the way it’s made that never sits well with me. I don’t know why but whenever I drink it, I get sick. The kind of sickness that makes you want to throw up even though you haven’t eaten anything. I spent the entire car ride moaning in the backseat, gazing off into the beautiful, fog covered trees. My other troop members were in the car with us, and were more excited to be camping. Our plan was to pitch our tent, eat lunch and then hike up the falls before cooking our dinner over an open campfire and going to bed.

Finally, right as the sun began peaking over the bluish-purple skyline, we pulled into the parking lot. It was the kind of cold, misty summer morning that you can only have in North Georgia. Amicalola Falls State Park is a popular tourist destination in the mountains. It is named after the 729 foot waterfall that is the third highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. People were lining up by the truckload ready to go camping. We checked in and found our camping spot. As we began setting up our supplies, my stomach ache finally began to subside. The air balanced out my body chemistry and despite my overall uselessness in setting up a tent, I was beginning to enjoy myself. That’s when the weird stuff started to happen. As we were eating lunch, one of the other girls noticed a dead caterpillar near a tree. It was a fat thing too, a fat green caterpillar being demolished by ants. It was like a scene from the Walking Dead, except with ants instead of the zombies. My mom found the whole thing rather disgusting, but our entire troop stood above the ants, captivated. I think it was the first time any of us had seen something so gross in nature, and we were (in a way) darkly fascinated by it. I also thought it was going to be the craziest thing I was going to see on that trip. That was before we started hiking… 

After lunch, we secured our tents. My mom and the other Troop Leaders talked about the weather. We knew rain was coming but hey, we had camped before, they suspected it would be okay. They put covers over the tents and we were off. We began our hike up the falls which is the very beginning of the Appalachian Trail. The forest ranger told us it was a steep and sometimes strenuous 2.5 mile round trip hike up to the top of the peak and back which allows you to look over the falls. We decided to take the paved route to go up and the unpaved route to come down. My mom made me wear hiking boots and I am so glad she did! 

Amicalola Falls itself was absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. As you walk along the waterfall, you stop and take it in. It’s a magnificent natural setting. Some of us were able to move quickly up the path but it is steep and long. We tried to keep pace with each other, taking breaks along the way. The humidity was thick, rain was definitely coming. We assured ourselves that we had time to beat it. Toward the top of the peak, some of the girls got it in their heads to start racing up the trial. I tried to follow them, but I only got a migraine. It was a violent one too. When we reached the peak, I was ready to collapse. Admittedly, the top of the waterfall was beautiful. The trees extended over the horizon, with little houses on top of mountains in the distance. The water fell down the mountain, and mist floated across the sky. Even as my head was beginning to scream, I took in the air. It was something to behold. I was proud of the hike and everyone was happy to take a little break. We all assumed that the hike down would be the easy part. It was going to be a slog, but at least it would be a slog that was shaded. The path we were taking was covered by trees, and directed us toward our campsite. My head was in horrifying pain, but I thought I was going to have a peaceful walk down. My Troop and I started marching toward the trees, the sun was peeking through the branches with new spring leaves. The mountain air hung over the area, branches littering the path as we walked along. I kept taking a deep breath as we continued to progress. 

Suddenly, as I stepped over a branch, my foot bent. My ankle is a bit weak and sometimes bends which makes me unable to walk for a moment. Normally, it’s a painful interruption with a small limp for a few hours. On the trail though, it was becoming a nightmare. I went tumbling downhill. I was wincing as I tried to get back up, my ankle humming with fresh pain. One of the leaders helped me back on my feet. Thanks to my foot, we had to take things a bit slower. As we were limping along, the sky was starting to get dark. I didn’t think much of it, surely it was because of the tree cover. I started talking to my troop leader which was beginning to calm me down. My head was still on fire, and my foot was practically ready to fall off but at least we were progressing. That’s when it started to rain.  

The rain was quiet at first, just a few occasional drops. They were almost calming. The rain also helped deal with the sweat which was beginning to sting my face. My glasses had broken a few days prior and I thought it would be okay for the weekend. I had been able to balance them so far, but my injuries were making that difficult. My glasses were digging into my nose, with the sweat burning into me like salt in a wound. The rain was almost pleasant by comparison, until it began to downpour. Lightning and thunder ensued and the rain assaulted us, almost flooding the muddy pathway. It was windy, branches were falling and we were kind of getting a bit freaked. Our leaders reminded us to stick to the trial and stay clear of the trees. We were too far from the peak to go back and it only made sense to keep going. Trees and branches floated as we continued on. My troop leaders were calm, but I am sure they were in a panic. My fellow troop members were getting tired. The rain was fun at first, but it started getting to be too much. We were soaked. Still, we were almost back to our camp, we could keep going. We started singing all the Girl Scouts we had learned as Brownies. It was helping us pass the time and forget the cold, wet path. As we approached our campsite the rain started to calm down. I kept thinking that we would reach our tent and I would be able to relax. 

That’s when my Mom pointed out something important, the tents may not be okay... 

Now, as I mentioned, you may be inclined to ask, “Didn’t you put a cover on it?” To which my answer would be. “We did.” Except, we made one critical error, we had expected the rain, but we didn’t count on the wind.  We did not tie down the covers! When we finally got back to our campsite, we found the tent covers in the bushes. The tents were drenched. When I opened my part of the tent, water came spewing out of it. My sleeping bag was a balloon, my pillow was ruined, and my diary had turned into a boat. My Mom wanted to scream. She started rushing things out of the tent. I tried to help her, but I couldn’t do much. My mom and the other leader made the quick decision that it was time to go home. Camping cancelled. We all agreed and ran to our cars. We were quickly re-routed by our Troop Leaders to get back out into the rain to help pull the tents down and get our wet soggy stuff in the cars. 

I hadn’t eaten since the afternoon when we saw the dead caterpillar. My stomach was beginning to churn and I was shivering due to the rain. I continued to try and help, but I was weakened. Most of my troop was tired. We were all exhausted but we had to get things done. We folded tents, rolled wet sleeping bags, and tried to salvage what we could. There was no organization to it, things were being quickly thrown in cars and we would have to sort it out later. When we all finally finished packing the cars, we piled in. I buried myself in my Mom’s jacket for warmth. The sun had already set, and the rain started to pound again outside. Some lucky girls had put a change of clothes in plastic baggies and were able to change but some of us were stuck with wet clothes and wet towels. We pulled out of the lot and started racing toward the exit. We were going to have dinner on the way home, and I was finally going to start to feel better. My mom had a first aid kit and gave me some medication. My headache was also starting to fade. I pulled out my phone and prepared for the car ride. 

Thirty minutes later, I looked up to find we were still mysteriously in the park at a dead stop. We were right in front of the exit, people honking as they tried to exit. I still hadn’t eaten anything. My friends were trying to stretch in the small space. I even saw the cops begin to walk around. I was starting to get worried. That’s when our other Troop leader walked up to the car window. I thought she was just going to give us some food. That’s when we got the news. Someone had run into a deer and almost ran their car off the mountain. The driver was okay but the car was overturned and due to the location, the road was closed for the night! 

I felt the entire atmosphere of the car sink. Everyone was absolutely devastated, myself included. We sat in the car, at a complete loss of what to do. All our snack food was drenched and soggy. We had brought dinner, but it was in a cooler … waiting to be cooked on a campfire! Even if we wanted to eat a can of beans, it was stored under piles of wet camping gear, wet clothes and blankets. We were cold, hungry and wet. It was not a good situation. Parents were calling, trying to reach us, but the path was closed both up and down the mountain. My Mom suddenly remembered that there was a lodge located on the property. She knew others might have the same idea, so she turned the car around and raced toward the hotel’s parking lot. We burst through the doors, dreaming of a glorious hotel stay to correct this calamity of events. Given our luck that day, I should’ve known better. Still, I foolishly had my hopes up before the leaders talked to the front desk and received the bad news… there were no rooms available for the night. We were going to have to wait until the road cleared. 

The lodge took pity on us and allowed us to “camp” in the lobby for the night. There was a very spacious area with rocking chairs and a large fireplace. We cuddled up in front of the fireplace, shaking with cold because we still had not dried off from the rain. I found myself hugging my knees as some of my friends had taken to the couches. The manager was nice enough to open the gift shop so we could purchase some dry t-shirts and jackets. My Mom purchased me an ugly orange jacket. I was cold, exhausted and about ready to collapse. As the night dragged on and as less and less people walked in and out of hotel rooms, we all settled down for a few hours. We tried to sleep on couches, floors, or whatever we could find. 

I was ready to fall asleep in the lobby. Finally though, at around two a.m. in the morning, the roads cleared. We carried our tired selves to the car and headed down the mountain. We still had to drop off some of my Troop members to some very worried parents, but I was finally going home. At last, we arrived home at around four a.m. My dad was waiting for me with some warm clothes and my favorite snack, a bowl of ramen noodles.  

The next day or two was spent drying out the car and sorting through things. My mom had to text pictures to our Troop to match up the owners of blankets, flashlights and sleeping bags. To this day, our van has a wet mildew smell that never really goes away. The details of this story have led to wonderful retellings at parties, usually to make people laugh. However, regardless of how many times I told this “horrific camping” story, my Mom always looked a little confused. I didn’t particularly understand why. This trip had been hard for me. However, as I was editing this article, my Mom brought something to my attention… During the trip, our Troop was resourceful, courageous, kind, and strong. Even in the wet, pouring rain, we carried on and tried our best. We tried to be the best we could be, remembering all the lessons we had learned in our young Girl Scout years. My mom told me, as someone who had watched us grow up, from Daisy to Cadette, it was truly inspiring. Hearing my mom say that, I suddenly understood what it was like to be a Troop leader. It's nerve racking, it stretches your mind, but it sounds like it can be one of the most fulfilling ways to increase your empathy and understanding. I think that’s something I learned from finally writing this tale. I had to be understanding of everything, in spite of the millions of tiny annoyances. Our little Troop showed confidence and character. Looking back, she’s right, I should be proud. 

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