Cafe de Desiree

August 14, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies-Getting out!

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking,photography — desi83 @ 10:07 pm

(Please read the previous two posts beginning with “Hiking in the Smokies” before you read this if you haven’t yet done so)

(Yes, we climbed down these rocks and weeds)

I gathered my sleeping bag, tent, and backpack, and I took a deep breath as I stood up and looked down at our destination. I took a step forward, and I felt a sharp pain shoot through my leg. My ankle and knee had been banged up pretty badly the day prior. I dreaded the idea of climbing down the mountain with fifty pounds of weight strapped to my back on a bum leg. “Hey, Zack, do you mind helping Desiree carry her pack?” Mike called to him. “Sure thing, man,” Zack replied. He already had his own bag on his back that probably weighed at least as much as my pack. I strapped my sleeping bag and tent to my backpack and handed it to him. He strapped it to his front. “Alright, now I’m more balanced,” he joked. “Alright, I’m going to help you slide down this thing,” Jeff offered. “Slide?” I asked. It had rained some the previous night, so the ground was wet. “Zack and I got a little wet last night while we were sleeping. Did you manage to stay dry?” Jeff asked. “I did, I wrapped up in the thick hammock that Mike let me use. Mike was under me, so he didn’t get rained on,” I replied. Jeff laughed. “So, Mike was under you all last night, huh?” he joked. “He slept in a sleeping bag on the ground under my hammock. Shut up!” I said laughing. I limped over to a clearing, and I knew that I was going to just have to ignore the pain. “Hey guys, I’m going to go ahead and plow down this mountain to try to find us some water. Just meet me at the first stream,” Mike announced. “Alright, but you better not get water for yourself and take off,” Jeff shouted. Mike had the purifier, and the last thing we needed to do was risk ingesting bacteria and having it come out both ends the rest of the hike. “I could, but I’m not that mean,” Mike answered him. Miked took off down the mountain, literally plowing his way down. We could no longer see him. Next, Zack started struggling down with both of our packs. He was still moving down it pretty quickly. “Go towards your right when you come down. You’ll avoid the thick brush,” Zack advised. “You ready?” Jeff asked. He sat down. “Okay, I’m thinking the easiest way to do this is for us to just slide on our butts,” he advised. I looked down at the wet mud, but I reluctantly obliged. We started sliding down as if we were about to plow down a water slide. I wished I was at a water park right now instead of atop a scary mountain. I felt the mud soak through my pants and then through my bikini bottoms. I wanted so badly to be in clean underwear and clothes, but there wasn’t anywhere to change up there. A shower was going to be the most beautiful thing I’d experience once we got away from the trails and to the facilities. It wasn’t nearly as horrifying as I had thought, though. We were literally sliding, and it became kind of fun and surreal. Jeff made an animal-like noise, and Zack responded. “It sounds like he’s towards the right,” Jeff noticed. “I don’t think we’ll be sliding down those,” I pointed out. There in front of us was a shallow stream covered by several large and small rocks. Jeff got up and carefully stepped down the rocks, leaning backwards. I took his hand, and we made our way down the rocky death trap. I had taken possession of one of Mike’s walking sticks, so between that and Jeff, I felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall down the mountain. I took a step forward, and I felt my foot slip on a slick rock. I held onto his hand as I almost fell. “Be careful,” he said. I led myself with the walking stick so that I wouldn’t have to put pressure on my bad leg. I let Jeff walk ahead of me. We came to another muddy, grassy area and slid down a bit.

“Hey, there is a karn!” Jeff shouted. I remembered it. Oh, it felt great to see something familiar. “I think we’re about half way down, and it’s only been about thirty minutes. It took us almost eight hours for the whole hike yesterday. I’ll bet we finish this in four hours today,” Jeff guessed. I laughed, “I don’t know about that, but it definitely won’t take as long, that’s for sure.” We continued down, climbing over rocks, sliding down mud, hacking away at thick brush and weeds. “Hey, guys, I’m at the next karn!” Zack shouted. We were catching up to him. I felt guilty that he was carrying my pack. However, I don’t know that I would’ve made it down the mountain if I had worn it. We made it to the karn, and Zack was waiting for us there. We were at a fairly large creek bed, and we were almost to the bottom. Zack and Jeff studied the area and the direction of the karn to figure out which was the best way to go down. “Mike better stop and wait for us, because I’m fucking thirsty,” Jeff complained. We were completely out of water.

We continued down, and I kept hoping to see the the bottom of this mountain, to be walking on a somewhat flat trail. Then, we came to the “wall of karns”. It was this huge wall that someone had made with the river stones. We were there, at the bottom, and it had only taken two hours. We were all shouting with glee. “Oh man, now I have to deal with those damned nettles again,” Jeff complained. Nettles are devious little plants. They look soft and feathery, but the little hairs get in your skin and sting for a good hour or so afterwards. Apparently, they release formic acid, serotonin and histamine into your skin. Jeff was especially freaked out by these things.

We made our way through the first batch of nettles and rhododendron by hacking away at them with our walking sticks. Jeff and Zack had picked up a couple along the way. Once we made it through this first part of the blinding, unmarked trail, we came to a clearing, and there was Mike at the creek.

“You made it! Alright, hand me your bottles,” Mike shouted to us. Zack and Jeff through down the packs and dug out all of our bottles. I couldn’t look Mike in the eye. I was embarrassed about throwing a temper tantrum when he said we’d half to climb down the mountain. He had been right-we made it, and it wasn’t as bad as it had been climbing up. “Okay, do you guys mind taking the sleeping bag and tent from Desiree’s pack? I need to take some weight off,” Zack pleaded. Now I felt really guilty. I asked myself the question, can I make it the rest of the way holding my pack? “I can take my pack, Zack. Thanks for hauling it down for me. I think I can take it if you guys can handle my sleeping bag and tent,” I offered. Jeff took my sleeping bag, and Mike took my tent and shoved it into his pack. Mike handed us our bottles one at a time, and we guzzled down the water as if we hadn’t had any for days. Well, it had been about a day, and we had come a long way on a difficult trail. He ended up refilling our bottles a second time after we drank the first fill. “Do you guys mind if I take off ahead of you? I want to make it to the road before dark so that I can get a park ranger to help us out. I figure we can meet at the old houses that we passed before we got to our camp the first day. There is a dirt road that leads to the main road nearby. I’ll find a ranger who can get us a ride to our car, or we can hitch a ride,” he suggested. We agreed. We would agree to anything that would get us home. He handed us the remains of his trail mix and some beef jerky, and he practically did run through the trail. We passed around the mix and jerky, devouring it until it was almost gone. I kept a little bit of the mix in my pack for later. We strapped on our packs, and I leaned heavily on my walking stick. I didn’t even feel the pain. I just felt confident and determined at that point.

“Okay, we crossed the creek about ten times yesterday, and there were karns at every crossing,” Zack remembered, “so we should come out of this area and to the first stream crossing.” We hacked through more nettles and rhododendron, and Jeff hiked his shorts down almost to his feet. “My bad, but I just can’t deal with more of those fucking nettles,” he apologized to me. I just laughed. As we plowed through the dangerous plant life, we noticed something awesome. There were tons of fresh blackberries! Jeff grabbed a handful and gave some to me. We munched on them as we hiked, and I grabbed a few more off the bush. We came to the first crossing and saw a karn. We crossed this section, but the next time that we attempted to cross the stream, there was no karn. There wasn’t a clear, distinct trail any where in sight. Zack headed down the creek to see if he could spot a clearing, but there was nothing but thick weeds and shrubbery all around us. “Okay, guys, we know that if we follow the creek, we’re going the right way. So, let’s just keep walking down the creek,” Zack suggested. I sighed. We walked over the rocks and through the creek. By that point, we had given up trying to avoid the water by stepping on the slippery rocks, and we just stomped through the knee-high water. We did this for awhile, and I was growing impatient. “Do you guys not see any sign of a trail or a karn?” I asked. “No, do you?” Zack asked. I stomped out of the creek and scoped out the woods for a sign of a trail. There was nothing. Zack was further down, and he checked out both directions. “Hey, there is one over here!” he shouted. “Thank God,” Jeff muttered. We stomped through the creek toward Zack, and we finally made it to the bank where Zack was. “Look, it’s a karn,” he pointed out.

We continued on without stopping. I was reliant upon my stick to carry me as fast as the guys were going. We made it away from the creek and plowed through the last part of the jungle-like trail with the dangerous nettles and blinding rhododendron, and we continued to scarf down blackberries. “We’ll take a break once we get to our original campground,” Zack suggested. He was proving to be a very reliable and encouraging leader on this hike. We finally came to the old campground, and there was a group of campers sitting by the fire where we had camped our first night. “Hey, how’s it going?” Zack greeted. “Hi, where did you guys come from?” one of the guys asked. “We did an unmarked trail yesterday and ended up sleeping on a mountain last night,” Jeff answered proudly. “Wow, that’s awesome. Hey, you guys are with the tall, bald guy, right?” the girl in the group asked. “Yes, did you see him?” Zack asked. “He went through here about an hour ago. He wanted us to tell you that if we saw you,” she answered. “Awesome,” I said. We didn’t stop there to take our break, but we decided to wait until we came to the creek that we had swam in the first day. It wasn’t far from the campground.

We sat down on some rocks by the creek by the bridge. Zack had brought some military meals, so he pulled out what they could eat without needing hot water. Jeff inhaled a strawberry “milkshake” after he poured some of his water into the container and shook it up. Zack ate some crackers, and I pulled out my last protein bar. “Alright, we’re almost to the meeting point, guys! I can’t believe how fast we’ve gone,” I suddenly realized. “It’s been three and a half hours. That’s not bad compared to the eight hours it took yesterday,” Jeff replied. “Well, let’s get a move on, then!” I said excitedly. We gathered our things and headed over to the bridge.

We crossed the bridge, and I remembered the ice cold swim that we had taken a couple of days ago. I normally would have whimped out and not jumped in, but this trip was definitely pushing me to do what I wanted but was afraid to do. We made it over the bridge, and we were coming close to the meeting point. Then, a strange looking young man with no pack or supplies approached us. “Hi, do you know if it’s too late to camp out here?” he asked. His eyes were darting back and forth. He was definitely high on something. “I think since you made it to this point, you should be fine. There is a camp about a half a mile past this creek,” I replied. “Thanks, thank you so much,” he said as he walked unsteadily past us. I hoped he wouldn’t fall off the bridge.

“Oh my God, what the hell is that smell?” Jeff asked. “What?” I asked. Then it hit me. “Zack, what the hell?” Jeff shouted. “You don’t smell that, Desiree?” he asked. “I do now. Damn those meals,” I commented. Zack just laughed. Then, the foul smell grew stronger followed by a loud noise coming from Jeff. “Oh, man, why did you guys drink those shakes?” I asked. We came to a strange crossing right before we got to the houses. We didn’t know where to go. “Hey, check this out! Mike totally did this!” Jeff noticed. There was a large stick in the ground with grass carefully tied to the top of it pointing to the left. “Oh, that Mike,” I said. We headed out of the trail going left, and we came to another Mike reminder. “Hey, look at that!” Zack pointed to the ground. ‘Jeff Stop Farting’ was drawn into the dirt. “Hey, how’s he going to call me out like that?” Jeff asked. We made it to the meeting point at the old houses, but there was no sign of Mike. “I’ll bet he’s gotten a ride. I say we walk down the dirt road since it’s only a mile long,” Zack suggested. “Well, you’re the leader,” I said in agreement. “There’s no way to miss him at this point. If he’s on his way with a car, we should see him on the road. Those people back there said he’s about an hour ahead of us, so he should be coming this way soon,” I said. “Okay, the sign says it is a mile long, so that’s not too bad,” Jeff noticed. I wasn’t even upset about having to continue walking. We were so close to salvation by now.

We walked down the dirt road fairly quickly, and we were reminiscing about all that we had accomplished. “I think the sign lied. It has definitely been more than a mile,” I said. Zack looked down at his watch, which also served as a gps. “It’s been three-quarters of a mile. It just seems long because we’re tired,” he answered me. Zack noticed there was a car up ahead. “I wonder if that’s our ride?” I asked. “I hope not,” he said. It was a small hatchback, and a fairly old car. The headlights were still on, and it sounded like the motor or at least the radio might be on. There was no one in it, though. “That has to belong to that weird dude,” Jeff said. We came to the end of the dirt road and sat down on a log by one of the small parking lots. “I think we should wait here. He’s eventually got to pass through this area,” Zack suggested. I dug out the small bag of trail mix that I had held onto, as well as a small bottle of hand sanitizer. “Sanitizer, anyone?” I offered. Zack and Jeff both held out their hands. Zack inhaled his hand after he had rubbed it into his skin. “This smells amazing!” he said excitedly. I laughed. “Oh, did you jack this from Walgreens?” Jeff asked. “No, not exactly. It was in a free care package that the pharmacy was giving to new patients. So, yeah, I guess I did sort of jack it,” I realized. They laughed. We shared the trail mix, and Zack kept smelling his hands. “We just haven’t been clean in a long time, so it smells especially nice,” I pointed out.

We patiently waited for our ride, making fun of each other and chattering about what had just transpired. A park ranger finally emerged from the road and stopped to talk to us. “You guys need a ride,” the ranger said. We all jumped up. “I don’t know, we’re waiting for a friend to meet us here so that we can all ride together,” Zack answered. “No, that wasn’t a question. That was a statement. You need a ride. Your guy sent me over here to pick you up and take you to the ranger cabin. He’s waiting there, and you all are going to take a cab to your car,” he explained. “Yes, thank you,” I said. We were all so relieved. Yet, we were all in a pretty calm mood by this point. “Can I ride in the front? I mean, is that allowed?” Zack asked. “Sure, climb on in,” the ranger replied. There was a huge gun in the front seat. “Holy crap, look at this!” Zack pointed it out to us. The ranger climbed into the front seat. I was holding my and Zack’s packs in the seat, and Jeff crawled in beside me with his own stuff. “Oh man, I can’t wait to go home and have a shot of whiskey after this,” I half-joked. “I’m coming to your party,” Jeff replied. “You have to celebrate an anniversary with your girlfriend tonight,” I reminded him. “Yeah, if she doesn’t dump me for coming home too late to really celebrate it,” he pouted. “You know what, if she can’t deal with this, she can just go on,” he said grumpily. Zack laughed, “yeah right, you would take her back no matter what.” We arrived at the ranger’s house, and Mike was there waiting. He was a sight for sore eyes, for sure.

We got out of the jeep and sat on the porch of the ranger’s cabin. “So, is the cab headed over here?” the ranger asked Mike. “She said she’d be here in ten minutes,” he answered. “Okay, I’ll wait to make sure that you guys get picked up. I’d take you all myself, but it’d be out of my area, and I’m on duty right now,” he explained. “Thanks for helping us out though, man,” Mike said. “Does anyone need to use the restroom?” the ranger offered. “Oh my gosh, yes, thank you!” I said with glee. I wanted so badly to use a real bathroom after peeing in the woods all weekend. The cab driver called Mike and told him that she was lost. “How can you be lost when you’re a cab driver for the area?” Jeff said. Mike explained what restaurants were near the entrance and that there was a large Smokey Mountains sign at the entrance. It was dark, but still. The ranger was getting antsy, and I could tell that he wanted to give us a ride. He got a call about a lost hiker on his radio. This cab driver needed to get a move on.

She finally pulled into one of the spaces in front of the ranger’s cabin. “Have a safe trip home. I hope y’all will come back and finish the trail to the At next time,” the ranger said as he drove away to try to retrieve the lost hiker. We all climbed in the taxi and headed out. She started talking on her cell phone with one of her friends, and it was apparent that she wasn’t really paying attention to where she was going. “You know what I do every night. I’m driving. No, I only do that one night a week,” she said almost in a whisper. Jeff, Zack and I all had to cover our mouths to keep from bursting out laughing. We missed the sign for the trail head where our car was parked a couple of times, but we eventually found it. “Will you guys wait to leave until I do? I get scared in these woods,” she pleaded. We all wanted to laugh. You are a cab driver, for Christ’s sake. We got into Mike’s car, and we waited for her to pull out of the lot. Her car wouldn’t start. Oh, crap, we were going to have to stay and help fix this cab driver’s car. We would definitely need a refund for the ride if that was the case. With a few false starts, she finally succeeded in starting her struggling van and headed out.

We were IHop bound, because by this time, Cracker Barrel would be closed. We were still in the Eastern time zone, so it was after eleven by now. We found an IHop, our oasis. We walked in with our muddy, sweaty clothes on and sat at a table. Okay, I’m not a huge fan of IHop, but these were the best eggs and bacon that I had ever put into my mouth. My taste buds and my stomach were throwing a party. The coffee was disgusting compared with the instant coffee we had drank by the fire on the first morning of camping, but the food made up for it. I inhaled all of this protein rich food, and then I downed a glass of water. Zack and Jeff downed a couple of pitches of tea between them, along with several pancakes, eggs, and steak. This was certainly the perfect reward for climbing up and down a mountain and plowing through unmarked trails. I did bring in clean clothes and change in the bathroom, because I just couldn’t bear to eat in those disgusting threads that I had to peel off of me. I guess in that sense, I was still being a girl about everything. However, I had hiked the most difficult trail in the smokies with the boys, and I was proud of growing a pair this weekend.

I have been stuck in this retail management job that I hate for the past five years because I’ve been too afraid of taking a risk and trying something else. This trip made me realize that fear is what has been holding me back. It’s also the reason that I have not kept trying to get my book published. It is the reason that I haven’t felt inspired to keep writing my second book. So, I’m finally looking fear into the eyes, and I’m shoving it out of my way as I begin to climb this new mountain in my life. I’m walking away from what is making me unhappy, and I’m pushing the reset button. I’m returning to school to start a new career, a journey to something better than what I have now. I’m having to take a low paying job and live with my parents in order to make this happen, but sometimes you have to walk through a few nettles and crawl through the mud and rocks to get where you need to be.

Let the new journey begin.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: