If New Year’s resolutions are actual, binding commitments, then no, I would say I’m not inclined to make them.
To the extent the close of one year is a time of reflection on the 12 months just ended with thoughts on goals or what I could do better in the 12 months ahead, then yes, I almost always do that.
Even though it should go without saying, I have a weight loss goal for 2020. Twenty pounds.
I had a weight loss goal in 2017, and I met it and held steady for about 18 months. Then came a lot of disruption in 2018–moving, job change, lot of job-related events that ate into exercise time and put fattening food in front of me that I ate into. Plus, one of Bill’s ways of being supportive and encouraging as I settled in to the new job was to make sure a good meal was always waiting at dinner time. Next thing you know, 10 pounds has crept back on–just like that–and I can’t ignore it because I had almost everything I own altered to fit after losing much more than 10 pounds in 2017.
In about 20 pounds, I should have all of my closet available again, not just the “fat” clothes. Which is a pretty good motivator, since I refuse to buy bigger sizes.
So there, now you know. That’s my intention, too, since I’m sharing this goal as a means of accountability.
Similarly, I am resolving to swear less in 2020 and from now on. And now that I know that you know, that’s also a means of accountability. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t “cuss like a sailor,” but I don’t need to drop swear words in frustration–or not–with a frequency that is all too frequent. Swear words don’t mean I’m a bad person, or uncouth, and they certainly don’t mean I’m not a person of faith. But they don’t reflect well on any person, and their usage is probably confusing to others’ observations of someone who is supposed to be a person of faith. In me, they’re just a bad, weak habit to break.
Better time management and productivity at work. I’m not a time-waster and I tend to be fairly high-output, but I need to be more intentional about priorities and how I will keep those in mind as time-killing distractions arise.
Read more. At work, my time is spent reading, writing or in meetings. The kind of reading I do at work is not what I’m hoping to do more of. I probably didn’t read more than three books in 2019, and I intend to put the smart phone down and pick up books more often in 2020.
Increase hiking and walking mileage. I’m a pretty faithful 10,000-steps-a-day person already, so I’m starting from a decent threshold. But 10K-a-day is only about 4.5 miles for me, and if I can do better at the preceding two goals, I might be able combine them with this one and succeed in all three.
Such as, be more productive at work and better preserve after-hours time for fun, like listening to audiobooks while getting in more weekday mileage. My friend, Hank, has had a goal of hiking at least 50 miles a month ever since he retired almost eight years ago. For me to do that means averaging 12 miles hiked every weekend, since weekends are my only real opportunity except for holidays and days off. Once February rolls around, I’m gonna see if I can target at least 40 miles a month on average.
I’m also going to get back on the bike this year. I have a spinner bike for indoor training and I have a high-end road bike on which I once logged 3,000 miles a year–no, I’m not kidding–but I haven’t gotten onto either of them in at least two or three years. That changes this year. My goal is to be on my wheels as a participant in the October Cycle Sequatchie Century Ride. Century rides are 100 miles. I’ve done many before, and I want to do this one this year.
I can’t commit to a goal, but I do strongly hope that Bill and I may find a church home in Chattanooga sometime in 2020.
We were part of an incredible church family we loved in Knoxville for 20 years until a doctrinal issue led to a separation in the congregation in 2014. For the most part, the division was respectful disagreement, but the reality of it still was painful.
Yet we remained among a group of at least 100 we had been worshiping with since 1995, and that group added some fine new people we got to know and saw every week until we moved to Chattanooga in 2018. I never realized how special that group was before discovering the difficulty of finding a place here with the potential to mean as much. We’re still looking and have decided we’ll know when we find the place we’re supposed to be.
Finally, as always, I want to work on relationship with God and with people. I want to strengthen my prayer life and have it strengthen me in my effort toward effective and kind relationships with everybody.
Like a great mentor has often told me, when a coffee cup is bumped, what spills out is what’s inside it.
When life bumps me, I want what spills out to be the result of a prayer life that instills the fruits of the spirit.
Some hikers have no trouble deciding, from the trail, that it’s not the day or the time or the right conditions to finish. I’m not one of those hikers.
I tend to press ahead under almost any circumstances. I’m there, I can do it. I’ll push myself, if that’s what it takes.
Last Saturday, I made the rare-for-me decision to find a shortcut, take it and bail on the original planned route. I also found myself thinking I needed to get out with the Chattanooga Hiking Club at first opportunity because I’d had about enough of trial-and-error trails.
I really miss the benefit of hikes organized by people who know routes, distance and conditions well. I often had that within a hiking squad I was part of before moving to Chattanooga. Still relatively new to the hiking options in the area, I’ve done a fair number of hikes for the first time that all my information about came from online research or conversations with other hikers. That’s worked out well many times, but it’s also left me underwhelmed a few times and just a tad overwhelmed last Saturday.
Which brings us to the “Rock Creek Stump Jumper” hike.
The “Rock Creek Stump Jump” actually is the name of what has become one of the premier trail running races in the Southeast. Organized by Chattanooga’s own Rock Creek Company, the race is presented in September or October every year as either a 50K or a 10-mile trail run.
I’ve seen it referred to as “the Beast of the Southeast.” A 50K, by the way, is 30 miles. And 30 miles is four more than a marathon. On mountain trails. Those people are tougher than I will ever be.
I’m grateful to them, though. The event raises tens of thousands of dollars every year for work on hiking trails around Chattanooga.
While looking for a place to hike without necessarily having to drive far to find it, I happened upon the roughly 10-mile route the Stump Jump event uses. I found it on the All Trails app by searching for hikes in the Signal Mountain area. “The Rock Creek Stump Jumper” is rated as moderate for hiking–for trail running, it would be a moderate beast.
It began where the trail running event does every fall, right next to Signal Mountain High School.
The top of Signal Mountain has more than its share of hiking trails. The Town of Signal Mountain owns the small “Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area” developed for outdoor recreation and popular for its own hiking trails. Passing through it is Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail.
The Cumberland Trail is a 300-mile network of hiking trails that stretch from the northeastern corner of the state south to end on Signal Mountain at Signal Point Park, part of the federal Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park areas.
Then there’s Prentice Cooper State Forest, 6,000 acres of protected land with 35 miles of hiking trails. Prentice Cooper is almost entirely in Marion County, but it reaches east into Hamilton County where it crosses Suck Creek and goes up to the popular and picturesque overlook Edwards Point. That’s why so many Prentice Cooper trails are accessible from Signal Mountain.
The 10-mile Stump Jumper route overlaps trails within two of the three trail systems on Signal Mountain. It’s a designated loop that begins and ends at a well-marked access point just below Signal Mountain High School.
Both the 50K trail-running route and the 10 mile route I chose begin on gravel trails in another local park on Signal Mountain. Within a mile or so, I was heading south, clockwise on the loop, and into an arboretum.
And I was solo. Bill wasn’t up for double-digit mileage, so he began with me but soon took a detour for a 3-mile route. He would plan to kill some time otherwise exploring and wait for me back at the trailhead since I was making a loop to return there.
Saturday was plenty hot–a forecast high of about 95. I wanted to hike on Signal Mountain in hopes its slightly higher elevation might offer slightly lower temperatures. The rule of thumb that you see a drop of about five degrees for about every 1,000 feet of elevation gained meant that I might expect a fresh 88-90 degrees on Signal Mountain, at best.
Regardless, it was hot. And humid–I’m talking soupy air. Have I mentioned I really dislike hot weather?
Within another mile or so, I was out of the arboretum and into the woods. Just regular woods. Just me on a pretty, peaceful and textbook woodland hike over gently rolling terrain for about three miles or so.
Other than Bill until we split up, the only other hikers I’d seen so far were a couple finishing as we started. They warned us that the insects were aggressive and out in force. Oh, yay. I wouldn’t hike in the woods without bug spray any more than I would hike without shoes.
The hiking couple may have understated the presence of the insects, though. I fumigated myself top to bottom–especially on the visor and top of my cap–with a can of bug spray at the car. I put the can in my pack. About 90 minutes into the hike, I had to re-fumigate. Never mind how much my cap already reeked of bug spray, within 30 minutes or so, I had mosquitoes darting at my face and whining in my ears.
About that time, I got my first indication that this was a multipurpose trail, indeed. Temporarily blinded by a bug spray fog, I heard what I thought might be a chainsaw. The fog cleared just in time for me to see that the engine sound was coming from a dirt bike, coming right past me. Ah, the sounds of nature.
Not to be outdone, mountain bikers also showed themselves on the trail.
In making the loop clockwise, I was going against the trail reviews. The reviewers’ consensus was that counter-clockwise is preferable so that you’d begin with a descent and finish out with gently rolling terrain.
My reasoning for clockwise was based on more than one hiker also reporting the route was easy to lose in parts of the last half of a counter-clockwise direction. To me, getting lost is a much bigger deal than having to climb, so I intentionally began my loop with the trickier half of the route where some of the trail markings aren’t as prominent.
The All Trails app on my phone makes it possible to basically check my location in real time, and that came in handy several times in the tricky half of the route when it was, in fact, difficult on more than one occasion to clearly identify the path.
Doesn’t that assume you’re hiking with your cell phone on you and have wifi, you ask?
Why, yes, it does. And wifi on a hike is more the exception than the rule, in my experience. In this experience, it was what kept me from going down the wrong trail several times.
Oh, and the availability of wifi also made it possible to check the weather conditions, which I did because conditions I was experiencing were so unpleasant. The combination of heat and humidity made for a heat index of 99 degrees. Until the sky darkened and a good breeze began blowing–and making the trees deep in the woods groan against each other.
I welcomed the fresher air and remembered I had not brought a rain jacket or poncho. Back at home, it was so ungodly hot and humid–and sunny–I couldn’t imagine needing rain gear or being able to tolerate putting it on.
Turned out, that breeze and darkened skies were short-lived, along with the respite from swarming mosquitoes. And the heavy dependence on the cell phone to track my location was heavily draining the phone’s battery. Fortunately, praise be, I was soon in some familiar territory I’ve hiked in the past to some scenic vistas. I shut off the phone and began looking for a good place to eat lunch. Then the sky darkened again. Less breeze, that time. The weather cut straight to thunderstorm before I had the chance to find either a place to eat or shelter from the rain.
Bill also was experiencing the thunderstorm from where he sat snug and dry inside our car. Concerned about me, he called my cell phone to ask if I was being rained on and had a jacket. Walking with my head down to try keeping the phone dry, I assured him I was being rained on and seeking a spot to get out of the rain since I didn’t have a jacket for that purpose.
I found a small thicket of rhododendron and rock outcropping and took a seat. The rainfall had lightened up and the foliage was doing a fair job of blocking some of the rain. As I ate a sandwich and watched two different couples of hikers walk by and do a double take–both times–when they spotted me, I thought about how this outing hadn’t been my favorite, so far.
The rain ended about the time my food did, so I started back up again and realized, oh yeah, there it is, the up. I was into the latter half of the loop now and the climb I’d opted for over the risk of getting lost when tired and near the end of a 10-mile hike.
The sun popped out, turning all the recent rain into steam. I reached one beautiful overlook, Signal Point; then another, Edwards Point. My bandanna was soaked from mopping my brow.
Between the rain and my sweat, in fact, I was damp-to-wet all over. My weather app said it was 99F in Chattanooga. It was about 3:30 p.m. and I was a bit more than halfway around my 10-mile loop. I had only just in the last mile or two emerged from the jungle to some scenic views and would be now heading back into the jungle–and up.
I decided I’d had about all the fun I could stand.
I consulted my map and decided to take a detour, definitely uncharacteristic of me, but I decided this time was warranted by the circumstances. Plus, I still had cell signal and about 25 percent battery, so I could reach Bill and give him an update on where to pick me up. Without that, I wouldn’t have had the option to change plans.
A Prentice Cooper trail on my map would make an almost diagonal retreat to almost the start of my loop, but it would not climb, not involve stepping up large rocks and would keep me from going back into the jungle. All without losing more than a couple of miles from the total–which mattered only from the standpoint of the day’s hike turning into pretty much just a good exercise opportunity.
All in all, I still got in about 10 miles and I’m confident I made a prudent decision about where those miles were.
“Cold Mountain is an extraordinary novel about a soldier’s perilous journey back to his beloved at the end of the Civil War. At once a magnificent love story and a harrowing account of one man’s long walk home…”
That’s from a review of the 1997 book that was made into a popular movie with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law in the lead roles. That’s not the Cold Mountain Bill and I experienced.
It’s understood that the aforementioned novel is a work of historical fiction, a story told with accurate period details of people who were not real in a place that was real. Still is. The real Cold Mountain is a 6,000-foot peak in the Appalachians of western North Carolina. Today, many a hiker takes it on and, I can now tell you from experience, ascending Cold Mountain makes for a long walk, no matter the distance.
What drew us there, originally, was a planned outing by the Chattanooga Hiking Club. We are now dues-paying members, and the group has a website with a schedule of group hikes for the next three months or so. Small numbers of mostly retired members go on short, local hikes around Chattanooga two or three times a week. Saturday and weekend excursions are more ambitious, both in travel to reach them and in trail difficulty.
Cold Mountain on Saturday, July 13 had been on the calendar for weeks. I’ll admit when I first saw it, I didn’t actually know it was a real place—I’d just assumed it was also a fictional setting for the book. I was intrigued by the idea of experiencing the real place, and it promised to give your money’s worth for effort. Ten miles round trip, with a 3,000-foot elevation gain. Almost exactly the same as hiking Alum Cave trail to Mount LeConte in the Smokies—which I’ve done at least 20 times over the years—so I figured I was capable.
I spoke with the Chattanooga Hiking Club member who was to lead the Cold Mountain hike, booked a room in the hotel where the group was staying and looked forward to the new adventure. Then, about two weeks earlier, word was sent that Cold Mountain was off for the time being. A group outing to do a section of the Benton-MacKaye trail had experienced such brutal heat combined with trail difficulty that the decision was made not to attempt Cold Mountain in July, but to put it off until cooler weather.
Naturally, I wanted to press ahead, so Bill and I kept our hotel reservations and our plans to visit Waynesville, NC and Cold Mountain over July 12-13.
Out of a very healthy respect for a daunting elevation gain and challenging trail, I began working on challenging hikes closer to home—see “Kicked by the North Chick” posted here earlier—and I took inventory of what we had and what we might need to hike Cold Mountain. A trip to REI resulted in some new water sandals and a synthetic, tech-fabric pair of shorts and a shirt for Bill; and an amazing waterproof plastic holder for my phone that would allow the phone to function even inside the plastic and with a neck cord to keep it from getting lost.
Just as the hiking club had intended, we went to dinner in Waynesville at the Sweet Onion. We allowed ourselves to carb load, munched on small, pre-meal biscuits; Bill had mashed potatoes with his salmon; and I had rice noodles with Thai peanut sauce and what unfortunately turned out to be unchewable sliced chicken breast.
We found a Mast General Store just around the corner from the restaurant, and I bought a brand-new, waterproof, rip-proof trail map showing Cold Mountain in the Pisgah National Forest.
Also just as the hiking club had intended, we had breakfast—and a few more carbs—at the hotel Saturday morning. Fifteen miles later, we were at the Art Loeb trailhead to Cold Mountain in the Shining Rock Wilderness area of North Carolina. The temperature was comfortable, birdsong echoed all over the woods, and sounds of kids having fun rose up from the adjacent Boy Scout Camp Daniel Boone. “Good job, North Carolina,” I thought, “paying homage to a legendary Tennessean.”
Don’t come at me about Daniel Boone being born in Pennsylvania. He got out of there, didn’t he?
But I digress…
About 9 a.m., we shoved off, and about 9:04 a.m., we were navigating the first switchbacks. When a trail starts with switchbacks, you know it’s going to be a serious climb. Which you would have expected from a 3,000’ start to a 6,000’ summit in about five miles.
We were sweaty and had to stop to catch our breath at mile 1, which climbed 800 feet up and took us 59 minutes to complete.
Mile two leveled out considerably, gaining only 200 feet and taking us 28 minutes to complete.
Mile three angled up again, with a 400-foot climb and took me 31 minutes to complete. I say me because Bill clocked out around the 2.5-mile point. The humidity and steep stepping ended his run—though he’d never expected nor intended to go the whole way, and he’d done a great, big chunk of difficult.
We had begun encountering increasing piles of blow-down on the trail approaching the halfway point and, in general, the trail became rougher and more overgrown as it climbed.
I don’t do blow-down as athletically as Bill can.
I reached mile 4 in about 40 minutes, slowed down by climbing another 400 feet and stopping to put gaiters on over my boots because of the overgrown conditions and sprinkling rain that had begun. Of course, Mother Nature also had begun clearing her throat—rolling out some impressive thunder—by then, too.
Mile 5 was back down to a one-hour pace, owing to a 550-foot elevation gain and the start of an actual thunderstorm. I was hiking through heavy forest canopy, which kept the rain off for some time, and I’d gotten into my heavy-duty poncho before the real rain reached me. Not that it mattered. I was so hot and sweaty when I put on the poncho I don’t know how much wetter I could have felt if the rain had drenched me.
But here is where I ran into a couple more serious considerations:
First, this hike was described as 10 miles, round-trip, five up, five down. Yet, while FitBit showed I had traveled five miles, there was sign of the summit. So, I’ve got to check the stride length FitBit is showing for me and tinker to get it more accurate.
Second, I was getting pretty hungry and the plan of holding out to eat when I got to the summit was seeming less likely. Not to mention it was well past noon and, distance aside, I knew I still had about 800 more feet of climb, regardless. That takes a lot out of you, and Bill was again waiting for my return back at the car.
I decided to press on for a little longer, until FitBit told me I was at six miles. If I wasn’t at the summit by then, I didn’t plan to continue.
At 2 p.m., I hit the FitBit-measured six-mile mark. The skies were pouring. Thunder was rumbling in every direction. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was getting very hungry. A nice log aside the trail practically said, “Sit here, eat your lunch, watch if the rain stops, then see what time it is.”
The log seemed to read my mind. I spent about 20 minutes eating and resting, with no let-up in the rain. There are people who don’t believe I’m capable of this, but I actually decided to bail on the summit.
It was practically 2:30 p.m., I had something like six miles to do if I turned back right where I was and, even if I reached the summit in just another 30 minutes—not likely with another 500 feet of elevation to climb, according to my altitude gizmo—chances were good of being able to see nothing except the raincloud I’d be standing in.
Yes, we had come for the weekend for the purpose of ascending Cold Mountain. Yes, it was hard as #$%& just reaching the point where I sat. And believe it or not, I’ve never yet ended up in a bind on a hike that I saw coming. Continuing to climb in foul weather at 2:30 p.m. and leaving my husband, with no means of communication, waiting at the trailhead well into dark wasn’t necessary and easily avoidable this time.
Besides, I just might try again with the hiking club, and I left myself the best part still to see.
I made pretty good time descending, though with everything wet or rain-slick, there was a bit of treachery here and there.
Here I have to say that rumors of all young people falling short of one’s own generation are greatly exaggerated. Even at my best pace, which wasn’t bad at averaging 20-minute miles in those conditions, I was overtaken by a group of about five 20-something boys. For a long way they were behind me where the trail was a single-file only tunnel of rhododendron.
I waited for a wider spot where I could step aside and let them pass. When it came, every one of them greeted me or said “Thank you,” and the last of the bunch said, “Ma’am, would you like someone to hike with you?” I told him I was just fine and to head on.
After an hour or so, another male hiker who also appeared to be in his 20s caught up with me. I stepped aside at the first opportunity, and he made polite conversation about the rude weather, thanked me, then asked if I would like for him to stay back with me. No, no, I told him I was fine. Though I’ve never felt so old as having two separate young hikers offer to escort me—I must be slower and older-looking than I realize. As the solo young hiker with what could have been a mini-fridge on his back almost as big as he was moved easily and disappeared quickly around a turn, I also felt old.
By 5:30 p.m., I was back at our SUV, it was no longer raining and the sun was out. Nice ending a long hike before dark. Bill was pleasantly surprised, too, and really surprised when I told him I’d made the decision to turn back.
He told me I must have been motoring down the mountain. I didn’t understand and asked what made him say that.
“This group of five young guys just finished here about 5 o’clock, and I asked if they had seen my wife who was hiking solo,” Bill said. “ ‘Oh, yes sir, she was heading down the mountain at a good pace when we caught up with her. She’s probably about 30 minutes behind us.’ And they were right on the money. Here you are.”
Finally, about the relationship between Cold Mountain the place and Cold Mountain the book. The author, Charles Frazier, reportedly based the novel on local history and family stories passed down by his great-great-grandfather. The story is about a wounded Confederate soldier who walks away from the war and back home to his sweetheart. I’ve seen the movie and read the book specifically in anticipation of the hike, hoping for the possibility of interesting detail about the setting.
Truth be told, there was a lot of detail, and much of it bleak, heavy and, after a while, repetitious. As someone who’s logged hundreds of miles through the Appalachians, I recognized and could picture most every type of scenery, forestation, plant and weather Frazier described. But by the end of the book, I’d had enough of grim gore and devastating disease.
So, let me say that, even though I didn’t make it to my destination on Cold Mountain, it was a wonderful experience that has washed the dark taste of the book from my mouth.
Given the chance to be part of a group outing, I’ll go back.
North Chickamauga Creek State Natural Area is a wild patch of public land surrounding a deep gorge that dives down and across the boundary between Sequatchie and Hamilton counties.
It features a rugged hike over about a 10-mile section of the Cumberland Trail, so named becuse it runs along the eastern escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau. The trail–a public park being developed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation–currently spans more than 200 miles of its planned 300-mile length.
On the first Saturday in July, I was looking for a bit of a challenge in preparation for a big challenge upcoming in a hike I’ve planned to do on the second Saturday in July. The 10-mile North Chickamauga Creek Gorge hike promised a challenge. It delivered, and then some.
The Hamilton County end of the trail segment is in Soddy-Daisy, just about 15 minutes from my house. The other end is in Dunlap, in the central time zone and four-wheel drive zone.
Another reason I chose the location was that I had heard about “blue holes,” or natural swimming pools along that part of Chickamauga Creek. I was curious to see them, and the whole area would be new territory.
It was hot the day I went. I don’t just mean summer hot, I mean 90-degree heat and humidity that seemed just as high. I broke a sweat putting on my hiking boots in the trailhead parking lot. I had completely filled the three-liter water reservoir in my backpack, brought along bottled drinks for afterward in a cooler, and I had plenty of food, trail bars and Clif shots. The great majority of people I saw at the trailhead were there to find the blue holes. I think I was the only person heading onto the trail in something other than flip flops and swimming attire.
Bill was there to drop me off, venture up the trail a ways himself, and then pick me up at the other end in Dunlap.
Within the first half-mile of the trail, I saw a couple of concrete picnic tables and multiple paths worn down to the water at big rocks already decorated with beach towels and lawn chairs.
The trail is rated “difficult.” That may be an understatement.
Some combination of steepness of climb, roughness of trail, elevation change and water crossings is typically involved assessing degree of difficulty. In this case, all those elements were present at challenging levels.
The trail gains and loses 500 feet of elevation, twice. You climb up to the peak elevation, then descend into the gorge and the water. Then you climb back out again. There are steep slopes, and a lot of rugged rock scrambles. In a couple of places that would be virtually impassable otherwise, there are wooden stairs and a wooden ladder—built by hardworking trail volunteers. I went at a time when rain hadn’t been overly plentiful, and the creek crossing still was a handful.
More to come about that in a minute.
The trail passes remnants of former coal mines. It goes through the foundations of an old coal tipple, where mined coal once was hauled to that point, separated by size in the tipple, and then hauled away. I saw old concrete pillars, and they stood in what almost looked like black sand with the appearance of very small chips of coal.
Shortly after that, I found myself at the entrance to an abandoned mine in the face of an escarpment. It looks like a deep cave, but it’s an almost perfectly square opening maybe 30 feet high by 30 feet wide, right at ground level. Reportedly, it’s only about 35 feet deep, but I can’t tell you from experience. I stood there and looked at my reflection in the black, standing water, and that was plenty close enough. Not to mention entry is prohibited both for human safety concerns and for concerns about white-nose syndrome, a disease decimating native bat populations.
As I climbed, I got amazing aerial views of the gorge. Since it’s summer, the area also is heavily forested. By my guess, it’s also not heavily traveled. Where it plateaued, it’s covered in knee- to waist-high growth and grasses. I used my hiking poles to prod ahead of my feet to identify critters before stepping on them. Fortunately, I’m not aware of any that I disturbed.
The trail is marked with white blazes, but there was a fair amount of blow-down and, in a couple or so places where I had to look hard to find the blazes, I discovered them on fallen trees.
As if that wasn’t enough, there was also some really rocky terrain. The very rocky water crossing, I’m guessing, could be treacherous, if not impossible, in rainy weather.
Which brings me to that awful moment when I said to myself, “Oh, no. Not again.”
As in, “Oh no, not again have I climbed and descended a killer trail only to arrive at a water crossing where I cannot find where to pick up the trail on the other side of the water!”
Yeah, I got to have that experience on a rainy hike almost five years to the day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yeah, I was hiking solo then, too, and I went five miles down a gash in the mountains to a roiling creek that I managed to cross and then couldn’t find the trail. Yeah, I finally resigned myself to my only option being to back track up the steep slope to where I’d started. Yeah, my husband was waiting for me where I was supposed to emerge, a few miles away, and yeah, there was no cell signal so I had no way to let him know I’d had to change plan.
And yeah, as 6 p.m. was approaching and sunlight was beginning to depart, there I was at the bottom of the North Chick with no other option but to retrace my steps. All five miles of them. Oh well, the elevation gain was going to be no more than I would have had if I’d been able to finish the trail on the Dunlap end. Where Bill was waiting. At least–at the very least–I had discovered, cell signal was still present up to about two miles from the trail head. I should be able to call Bill when I was about 40-50 minutes from finishing, so he might have enough time to drive BACK FROM DUNLAP to be at the place where I’d started about noon.
Yes, I had a trail map on my phone. Yes, I had a written description of the turns and landmarks. Yes, I had a compass that I used to try to orient myself at the creek bed to figure out which way was south to the junction with another creek, and which way was east, to proceed past that junction and then go upstream where the trail continued, where I was supposed to see a waterfall adjacent to an “exceptional campsite.” But no, after almost an hour of walking and compassing and looking, I could not find where to pick up the trail across the water.
If you’re ever there, you might find it surprisingly free of insects. That might be from the contribution of my almost-full bottle of Deep Woods Off with Ebola Protector to the River Gods. It fell from my pack as I bent down to survey the width of a gap between boulders and wondered if I could jump across them without breaking my hiking poles or my legs. I went a different way, after saying aloud, “Well, I guess I’ve held the vampires off as long as I can. Gonna be a fun five miles straight up outta here in the woods as dark comes and I have nothing on my skin but sweat.”
Was I lost? No, I was not lost.
Lost is when you don’t know where you are. I just couldn’t figure out how to get where I’d planned to go.
Between the heat and the elevation gain I’d already climbed, it was sheer will, an apple and a packet of Clif gel that got me back out of there. Just as I reached the plateau–seeing spots from either low blood sugar or mosquito-induced blood loss–my phone rang. It rang before I could finish texting Bill that I’d had to turn back and he needed to pick me up where he’d dropped me off. It was Bill calling and the first words out of his mouth where, “Where are you?!” Because, you know, by then it was about 8 p.m.
That’s probably not the kindest, most tender conversation we’ve ever had, but Bill was on his way from Dunlap after we finished. I fumbled in my pack for another energy snack, and I noticed the water I drank from the tube to wash it down was getting toward the end of my supply. But I couldn’t stand still long and ponder that, lest the twin-engine bloodsuckers pick me up and haul me away.
I pushed myself to move as fast as I could, but dark was coming just as fast. So were all those chunky rocks and roots I’d crossed earlier in the day when I was fresh. If not for high-top hiking boots, I’d have rolled my ankles at least seven times.
Yes, I had a light. Yes, I was using it.
Then, I noticed more light. The kind made by cars driving on the twisting road uphill from me–which told me I was within reach of the paved road that led to the trailhead where Bill would have been parked. I called him and told him–at 9 pm and near-complete darkness–I was bailing on the ankle-buster and scrambling up the embankment leading to the road to the trail. He was going to get in the car and start driving my way. I planned to be walking on asphalt and waiting for him.
Ditching the trail to climb through brush and bramble to reach the road shoulder, I was very glad to have my handy-dandy little super-duper light. It worked great–I know, because of how perfectly it illuminated the poison ivy I was splitting wide open. Oh, well, I’ve never been allergic before, and I was willing to take my chances.
Bill, of course, had intended on being helpful and had actually walked a good bit up the trail hoping to meet me and help me if I needed carrying or shooting by the time he found me. Which meant that I actually reached the car before he did, but not by much. Maybe only 100 yards.
I was bleeding from a shin (briers), sooty-bottomed (old coal mine country, remember) and limping a little from getting a foot trapped in rocks at the water crossing. Bill was bleeding from both knees and a forearm–his short jaunt up the trail intending to meet me, without a light to carry, had already cost him a tumble at a root/stump/rock. Seems we’d both gotten kicked by the North Chick.
I had worn 100 percent synthetic, tech fabric clothing, and it was still 100 percent drenched in sweat.
FitBit said I logged 13 miles and burned 3,500 calories.
After our 15-minute drive home and a shower at least that long, I emerged dressed and Bill commented on the “sunburn” I must have gotten on my face. I went back to look in the mirror.
Nope, I told him, my rosy jaws were just evidence of red-faced exertion. I still hadn’t cooled off. But I caught a lucky break on the poison ivy.
Still not allergic. So you didn’t completely beat me, North Chick.