It feels like a year since I’ve been in the woods. I moved to my job, started my job, got diagnosed with a stress fracture, tried to heal it, and eventually fixed my dumb foot. All since June!
It’s been a busy week for me, new engineer. There are days when my job is exciting, and days when all I want is to run away to the forest. Today was maybe a little of both.
I didn’t think I’d ever leave today. None of my gear was where it should be. I couldn’t decide what to pack. I couldn’t find what I’d already decided to pack. I needed to go to the store. My apartment is just a huge mess of clothes.
And yet…here I am, laying on the floor of a picnic shelter. The sky is clear and there are so many stars. I can hear cars and it’s brightly lit by a vending machine, but soon I’ll sleep.
I woke up early on the picnic shelter floor. I wasn’t technically supposed to sleep there, so I wanted to be out before anyone showed up. As it turns out, I had pleeennntttyyyy of time.
It felt good to get back in the rhythm of the trail. I mean, it was utterly graceless, me sweating and huffing and pulling myself up tiny hills, but it still felt good. Mentally, not physically. Physically it felt like I was a new baby deer, wobbly on unused ankles and knees.
As for dumb, well…I’d decided not to fill up my water bottle all the way. I dumped in some water that I’d found in my car, then figured I’d fill up my other spare bag when I hit a water source.
I didn’t hit a water source. The sun was bright and my water was gone when I still had another 2 miles to the next reliable source.
I sat for a break and drank my last swallow here, in the cow pasture.
They approached slowly. Mostly the younger ones. It was funny, but I could pick out siblings (a young boy cow and a young girl cow, similarly marked, scratching their heads on each other), I could see which babies belonged to which mom…I loved it.
I would put my head down, and the cows would each take a step or two closer. I’d look up and we’d watch each other. Head down, another step. Rinse and repeat. It was a very slow process. Eventually the white cow got too close and her mum came trotting over to stand next to her. Typical helicopter parent!
I ran into another section hiker who told me that he’s heard of like 4 other people getting lost there. So, that was comforting.
I started another climb. I’d started out with a good, easy climb before the cow pastures. Very well-switchbacked. This one was…more of a challenge for me.
These signs mean nothing to me (I’ve clearly done over 1/4 of the trail) but you still have to take a picture, right?
Davis Path Campsite used to be a Shelter, but now it’s just a tent site with a privy, a table, and stairs. I would have stayed here if I’d had more water. As it turns out, I could only carry 1 liter because my dumb spare bag was split. I should have checked. Ugh.
Wind in the fall is a wave. You hear the rustling as the cool air hits the trees far away, and then it rolls on towards you, leaves cascading down like confetti. The mass of each leaf quietly thuds to the ground, and quiet comes over the forest. And then the next wave comes, with leaves clinking off branches until they rattle, tumble, and finally still to become the new carpeting. I’ve crunched through them, kicked them, brushed them off my shoulder. Chipmunks and squirrels dig through them, hunting for acorns. Those little rodents sound so big in the fresh new leaves. Each movement sounds like a deer or bear, but it’s just a tiny little vole.
There is something, to me, about the new season that makes every small thing seem so much bigger. I can’t quite tell if it’s nostalgia or hope or anticipation or anxiety, but something is coming. I’m sure of it.
And of course, just over this next hill will be my campsite. So…yes, something is coming.
You can be as pensive as you want, but there’s always a privy behind you. The AT — ruining all my cool pictures with poop.
I got up and moved on.
At this point, my feet and knees were hurting pretty bad. I was getting blisters on my big toes from the downhill. I’d turned both ankles countless times. It was….kind of nice, to be able to push through that. There’s something really empowering about walking through pain and still enjoying it. I’ve written about this a lot, the feeling of being able to ignore what your stupid body is telling you, or at least to overrule it. I still enjoy walking, even when it hurts. Most of the time. So I kept going.
So, here’s where the night got weird. I crossed a gravel road and went up into the woods. The trail was parallel to the road, but up higher. I heard something, so I stopped. Two vehicles stopped in the road talking. I kept walking, not thinking any of it. It was fully dark by now, so I had my headlamp on (on the brightest setting, because my night vision is terrible). They finished talking, and the truck drove off like a normal person would on a road where there would never be cops. The car stayed put for a second, then slowly, slowly crept down the gravel road. I turned off my light and waited, following the brake lights. The car stopped at the end of the road, where I’d seen the truck turn off to the left. I heard a car door, then nothing. Tires moved finally, after a minute or two. But instead of turning off on to the asphalt road, the car came down the gravel road again, just as slowly. I crouched down behind a tree. I texted some friends my location. I didn’t know what was going on, and chanced are it was nothing, but I don’t get spooked in the woods all that frequently.
The car stopped right about where the trail crossed the road; I didn’t move, waiting for a sound to indicate what would happen next. Nothing. It just sat there. No one got out, the car didn’t move. I decided to move on, towards the school house and my car. I figured I only had a half a mile or so, but hiking quickly in the dark is difficult. I called a friend and talked to her while I walked as fast as I could. I stopped periodically to listen for people or look for other lights. Nothing.
I came up in the Settlers’ Museum where I was parked. No one was in the 1890s schoolhouse, where hikers can stay, so I set up my stuff and sort of…kept an ear out. Eventually, I heard a car drive by very, very slowly.
Y’all, I was thoroughly creeped out. I was right next to a road where someone had been looking for something. I’m sure there’s an innocent explanation, but if I get a “somethings not right here” feeling, I tend to listen to it.
I slept for a few hours, but was woken up at midnight by what I’m pretty sure was a bunch of foxes. I tried to go back to sleep, but I kept listening for cars or foxes or who-knows-what. I was just done. I couldn’t sleep, I was sore, my toes had blistered, my knees hurt…I decided to leave.
So, now I have 1.6 miles from Settler’s Musem to Chatfield Shelter that I’ll have to go back and get sometime. I can’t believe I just got up and left but i don’t know. I just needed to.
I packed up, jogged to my car, and left. I ended up sleeping in my car for an hour at a McDonald’s just north of Columbia. I got home by 8:30am, showered, and started laundry.
I’m glad I got back into the woods. I feel stronger and accomplished and happy with what I did. I think…next trip, I may take a half day or full day of vacation. This was easier when I had 3 day weekends all the time. It gives you a little more peace about it. Not so rushed.
But make no mistake— I’ll be back in the woods soon.
MVP: New insoles
LVP: creepers. Knees? Busted water bag.