I’m not sure whose idea it was, but near the beginning of our freshmen year at the University of Tennessee a bunch of us decided to start volunteering during our free weekends at one of our favorite camps. It was a Young Life camp called Windy Gap, tucked just perfectly in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. We’d all exchange emails and instant chat messages toward the end of the week and find out when and where we all would meet. We’d meet outside of the dorms, at the Young Life house on campus or at a fast food joint on the Strip. Then we’d all pile in, usually five to six of us to a car, and head to the mountains.
On Saturdays we spent the entire day with high schoolers from around the region working at one of three places: the ropes course, climbing wall or with the horses. I spent most of my time on the ropes course and always loved watching them finish and seeing the relief and smile spread across their face.
But Friday nights, driving to and being at camp, are the times I remember best. The closer we got to camp the spottier our cell phone service got. Eventually no ones worked, but we never minded. Back then cell phones weren’t nearly as savvy and text messages and emails on your phone didn’t even exist. All we noticed was the cleaner and crisper air and the vibrant stars.
When you grow up in the city you don’t realize how beautiful a starry sky is on a clear night. We’d get in, usually have a short check-in type meeting and then we’d head out to explore nothing and anything. Sometimes there were five of us, other times there were a dozen. Sometimes we’d all know each other well and other times there would be a few students who had driven in from Appalachian State also to volunteer. Almost always we’d walk and talk and laugh really loud.
The camp has a go kart track and in the middle is a tower in order for the track to be monitored when in use. I remember we would climb up and hang out on the tower. We’d bring our pillows and the blankets from our bunks and we’d lay out and look at the stars. It sounds so cliche, but it happened and it etched a memory in my brain that I will never forget.
I think back to that place and I remember what it feels like to have butterflies from having a crush on someone, pains in my cheeks from laughing so hard, warming my nose and ears with my hands and appreciating the stars just like I did when they captivated me in Colorado (more on that later).
I remember feeling overweight and insecure. I remember trying to figure out if the guy I thought was cute thought I was cute, too, and being exhausted by trying to read the cues. I remember worrying about what I should major in. I remember feeling anxiety about money, my overbooked schedule and the test I had on Monday morning.
I remember feeling really optimistic about life. I remember feeling grateful that I had friends that I could talk to about God. I remember feeling genuinely loved and accepted. I remember realizing that the world was bigger than I thought and feeling a rush of adventure in that.
I love the benefits of the city life too much to ever move to the middle of nowhere. Yet, because of Windy Gap I always daydream of living just far enough outside of the city that the street lights and others’ house lights don’t interfere with the beauty of the stars.
p.s. Dixie Chicks’ CD, Fly, came out that year so their song Cowboy Take Me Away always takes me back to Windy Gap in my mind in an instant!