Adventures in Hiking
This past weekend I went to South Mountains State Park for a little solitary camping and hiking. Embarking at 7 AM with a cup of strong Columbian coffee and a pack of Backwood's cigars, I arrived at the park a little after 9 AM and proceeded to set up camp, and by around 15 til' 10 was ready to hit the trails.
The day started on a bit of a downnote when, after hiking about three-quarter's of a mile from the campground to the main park offices, I discovered that the bridge crossing from my side of the river to the park office side was completely destroyed. No mention of this was evident at the trailhead. Unwilling to hike all the way back to the campground and then back up the main road, I decided that I'd simply cross the river by hopping from stone to stone. Making my way up the riverbank, I came to a section that had stones within jumping distance spaced pretty evenly across the entire breadth of the river. Unfortunately, halfway across, I made a misstep and slipped my right foot down into about a foot of water. I was lucky not to go completely in, but receiving a boot full of water was not the best way to start the day, especially in 28° F weather.
With my soggy right foot, I slogged my way up to the first stop of the day, the Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook, hoping to enjoy a peaceful view and smoke. Instead, I found a Boy Scout troop led by Mr. and Mrs. Boy Scout Parents. Obviously it was their first time taking the boys out, as they only knew 2 or 3 of their names, and had to refer to the rest as "Hey you, stop that." And they had ample opportunity to yell at them, as eight 6 to 10 year old boys were behaving exactly as eight 6 to 10 year old boys are apt to behave without appropriate supervision. So instead of a smoke (I was disinclined to light up in front of impressionable young minds) and a peaceful view, I had to try and tune out screeching pre-pubescent voices asking if they could have another piece of beef jerky or that it was their turn to use the binoculars. On top of this, Mr. Boy Scout Parent decided he was going to be sociable and proceeded to tell me about every camping deal in a fifty mile area. I learned that:
- Walmart has collapsible walking sticks for only $9.99! Compared to the "$30 or $40" one his cousin had just bought!
- If I drove to Newton-Conover, turned left at the stoplight, then made another left past the Broyhill watertower, I could get factory-direct socks for as little as $1 per pair!
Finally, they took off, and I was able to relax a little and take in the view, which is an impressive one, spanning the valley and centering on the High Shoals Waterfall opposite. I hung out and enjoyed a cigar for 15 or 20 minutes, letting the troop get far ahead of me, I hoped. On setting out however, it was only 20 minutes or so before I happened upon them taking another break on the side of the road. I waved, gave a quick smile and moved on as quickly as I could. One of the boys had spotted my still lit cigar and thus I quickly became a moral lesson to the troop, overheard by yours truly as Mrs. Boy Scout Parent was either unaware of how far your voice will carry in the dead of winter among leafless trees or simply didn't care that I heard.
Boy Scout: "He was smoking something."
Mrs. Boy Scout Parent: "You should never, ever smoke! You'll get cancer. And you especially shouldn't smoke in the woods, because you could set the woods on fire!"
It was almost noon by the time I arrived at the Chestnut Knob Overlook, and I settled down on a comfortable rock to eat a granola bar and read a little. The sun had broken through the overcast sky, warming the air by a few degrees and making it quite comfortable to lie there. It was not long before the troop showed up, this time to settle in for lunch (despite having had two snack breaks in the past two hours). The lunch excercise devolved into Mr. Boy Scout Parent cooking up something nasty smelling on a portable stove while the troop ignored their instructions to remain "where we can see you." Their solution to this was to yell every few minutes for the boys to "come back where we can see you," which was responded to with "we're just right over here" while not actually coming back into sight. This continued ad nauseum, interspersed by the whinging reports delivered by the resident tattle-tale of the group.
Once lunch was over, Mrs. Boy Scout Parent used me again as her model of what not to do as a hiker.
Mrs. Boy Scout Parent: "Now boys, what is that man down there missing that you should always have with you when hiking?"
Scouts: "Backpack?" (I had one), "Water?" (in backpack), a few other guesses I couldn't make out.
Mrs. Boy Scout Parent: "No. He doesn't have a buddy! You should never go hiking without a buddy, because if you fall and hurt yourself, you won't have anyone that can go for help for you!"
So now I'm a cancer-ridden, forest fire setting, friendless hiker who's going to die when he falls. I have become Doofus from Boys' Life.
Finally, the troop takes off, and I wait as long as possible before following despite the clouds returning and the temperature rapidly dropping. Soon though, I've caught up to the troop yet again taking a break at a fork in the trail. I can see that they are heading up the right fork, so I decide to take the left fork despite not knowing exactly where it goes (always a bad idea when hiking). It turns out to be part of the extensive equestrian trails that wend through the park. Being as they are for four-legged beasts of burden, these trails are significantly less well-maintained then the hiker-only ones, dotted with patches of mud and horseshit, as well as containing significantly steeper grades. They're also longer. About 4 miles longer in this case. And the trailhead is at the equestrian parking lot, about a mile down the road from my camping site. All this means that I don't get back to camp until 4:30, tired and hungry.
I get a fire started and cook a juicy inch-thick ribeye, which is delicious. 6 o'clock rolls around (park closing time) and I'm the only camper in the park. Things are looking up. The sky has cleared, the stars are visible, the moon is bright, the chill air is offset by the roaring fire, and a stream gurgles merrily along 50 feet from my tent. It is peaceful. I am serene. Hell, I just may be a Zen Master.
At 6:31, Mr. and Mrs. RV roll in. How they got in, I do not know, they must have bribed the rangers to re-open the gates. They are an older couple, with a RV that's far too big for them to be driving, evidenced by the fact that it takes them 45 minutes to successfully back the monstrosity into one of the camping spots, 3 sites over from mine. And then the diesel generator starts. Because lord knows, it wouldn't be camping without hot water, TV and a microwave. And so the peaceful night calm is shattered and the fresh air laced with noxious diesel fumes. I'm no longer serene. I'm dreaming of slashing their tires, syphoning off their fuel and/or framing a bear for their murders. I head to bed a little after 9 to the putt-putt-putt of an engine.
I'm woken the next morning to the sound of a camper door repeatedly slamming shut as Mr. and Mrs. RV attend to breaking camp. Pissed and cold, I break camp after they've left. Driving out the wending roads, I hope around every corner that I'll see the flaming wreck of an RV surrounded by long-faced EMT's sadly shaking their heads as two sheet covered gurneys are loaded into the ambulance. So much for the peace of the outdoors.
Sometimes I bloody hate people.