Upon one of my regular stops into Cooper’s restaurant, Joseph Cataldo set a gallon-sized mayonnaise jug, washed and ready, in front of me on the bar.
A printed logo for the restaurant was taped to the front of the plastic container. Within seconds of the puzzled glance I gave, Cataldo said, “We’re going to hike into the Uwharries for one night, and whatever you bring must fit in this jug. Nothing extra, but the clothes on your back. Pockets empty. You in?”
My response: “Absolutely.”
After much taunting and doubt of my sincere enthusiasm, five set out for this adventure on a Sunday, returning Monday. That timeframe worked for all of us since Cooper’s is closed then and the remaining participants have schedules flexible to accommodate.
Cataldo was the leader and realist; Bob Harris, the seasoned woodland veteran; Paris Goodnight, chronic loophole justifier (we could’ve made a drinking game out of the number of times we heard, “Rules were meant to be broken.”) Mike Bates, former Brownie … er … Eagle Scout, and myself, the ultimate minimalist.
We all met at the Cataldo residence in Spencer, quickly assessed who had followed the rules of all contents needing to fit in the jug, and loaded up in two vehicles.
Paris failed immediately with the additional backpack, housing some medicine and crackers that he didn’t care to “eat as crumbles.” The drive to the Uwharrie National Forest was just under an hour.
I drove Bob and Mike. Paris, Joseph and Cooper, the Adventure Dog, were in the other ride. Our car’s conversation consisted of insane family members and brief glimpses of our lives. The other: how to survive a snake bite.
We arrived at our starting point around 1:30 p.m. We got out and lined up all five jugs atop my hatchback, Joseph announced to the group, “I only wanted one woman to tag along and I got her. Paris, I’m glad you could join us!”
We embarked — blazing trails for Sasquatch tales … but, no luck. We did, however, manage to trek 4.5 miles into the woods, crossing streams that would provide water for three of the five adventurers.
Myself, I figured taking my own water made sense … and it did. Some of the others wanted to use theirs as some sort of science experiment, I guess; adding tablets to clean it, ironically making it look like urine. No thanks.
Three hours in, one small slip, and many light conversations later, we agreed we had reached our unspoken destination.
It was beautiful and serene. Everything we don’t get in the day-to-day. No phones. No traffic. No clocks. Nothing demanding our scheduled attention. It was interesting, and educating, to see who brought what.
What were the things you couldn’t live without. Or, at least chose not to for this one night.
As the men silently hustled around, creating their make-shift shelters out of tarps and tablecloths, inclusive of hammocks, or the leaves below, I sat, feet in stream, removed four determined ticks, and read some of “Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflection on Dealing with the Death Penalty,” by Scott Turow. It’s a book I’ve enjoyed, though I haven’t been able to give it due attention, because of the “day-to-day.”
The guys completed their supplemental homes about the same time. Joseph started the fire. Dinners were either being prepared, or consumed, depending on the complexity of what each person brought.
I chose almonds, an apple to be sliced with a Leatherman, and peanut butter for dipping. Oh, and moonshine.
Mike had mini-burgers that were prepared earlier along with Jack Daniels.
Paris: precious crackers, zip-bag tuna and ramen noodles.
Joseph: ramen noodles, cooked in a snazzy, top cut, Heineken beer can, and Wild Turkey that was brilliantly contained in a rubber glove, tied off with string. Brilliant for the flexibility, fitting it into an almost full gallon container.
I don’t recall even seeing Bob eating, come to think of it.
During this time, the conversation turned to what exactly to make of this exercise. That’s when Bob chimed in, “I laid this egg, and came to watch it hatch.”
As dusk was setting in, Mother Nature’s shower came rolling in. The skies opened up and everyone began to disperse to their temporary homes.
I laid next to the fire, using a low log as my pillow, an Oregon sweatshirt and yoga pants for some warmth, and a garbage bag over my head, in hopes of a little protection — I think it goes without saying, but do not try this at home…or in the woods. This was my chosen night time armor.
Bob had kindly tossed a rubber-banded emergency blanket to me. For the first couple hours, I rejected use of it, as it was not something I brought personally.
I then began to justify how Joseph had drunk some of my moonshine, as well as the other minimal trades that had already taken place between the group. So I unwrapped it and hoped for an ounce of relief.
Mike’s idea of shelter fell through; his hope for some covered cure could not withstand the pounding of the rain. He, too, was now left out to the elements.
Cooper remained the coolest kid in the camp, cuddled up next to our own version of Sasquatch, Joseph.
My “blanket” doubled as puddle catcher, where with every move, a stream of water would run down my back. It was pointless, so back to embracing the minimalist approach.
After many hours of plotting vacations less wet, wondering if I should break down and use my book as fire starter, I strategically rolled back and forth to find what comfort the mud would allow. Daylight finally broke.
A measured 3 inches of rain had blessed us that night. (I would take some creative license and say, the rain index measured an abundant 6 inches of rain. Yep.)
We all moseyed our way over to Bob and Mike, where we also discovered that Paris’ shelter provided no shelter. Bob’s left him cold and awake all night. Mike had made his way over to Bob’s cubby around 3 a.m. to sit by a fire and drink hot cocoa. How sweet.
Joseph and Cooper were the only dry soldiers.
There was no delay in getting packed up and ready to head back to civilization.
Curiously, the hike out timed shorter than the leisurely one in. But the streams that one day earlier provided water for purification now ran as rapid mini-rivers. This did not slow us down, as our motivation was clear and still set on the end-goal.
For me, that was a Big Mac.
Joseph did disclose two things upon our passage out:
• His wife, Leslie, left him with these last snarky, yet playful, words on Sunday: “I hope it rains on you all night.” So, thank you, Leslie, for the curse.
• Butch Hudson, of Butch’s Brisket (whose logo is a Sasquatch) had planned to pay us a visit in full garb. How I wished he would! Mike and Paris wouldn’t have just gotten wet from the rain.
This adventure may have been physically exhausting, but it also gave a clear definition to mind over matter. The camaraderie was great. And the Big Mac, deelish.
Until next time … yes, there will be a next time.
Kimi Matthews is originally from Oregon but has lived out her adventures in Salisbury for the past four years.
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