In honor of my good friend Amber Marshall, who has just completed the Appalachian Trail, I decided to go for a short hike this morning all by myself. Now by short , I mean three miles. Amber’s hike was a little longer. Okay, it was a lot longer. She started in Georgia and ended up in Maine six months later. I began my walk this morning around nine and finished at noon.
So if you are paying attention you just read that it took me three hours to hike three miles. Here’s what happened:
I started out like any other morning in the state park near my house. I parked at the ranger station where my Ford Explorer will be easily spotted, you know, just in case something should happen to me on the trail. I headed across the road to Byrd Lake and jumped on the short trail. This is a holiday week and many families are camping in the park and there are folks running on the trails and biking and fishing. . . I finish the short trail which is probably just shy of a mile. I met up with several families along the way and we talked and said our “good mornings” and “beautiful days” and everyone is in a great mood because they are all on vacation. I am in a good mood because I live here and I can walk this trail every day if I want to!
At the end of the short trail, which is the Byrd Creek Trail, I come to the entrance of the longer Pioneer Lake Trail. Being in such a great mood and feeling confident about being alone I jumped right on that Pioneer Lake Trail which is two miles long. Usually I am very cautious but today I was totally unafraid of taking the trail by myself because of all the people present.
I’ve got my camera and I’m taking pictures of the beautiful park and the leaves and waving at people across the lake and just enjoying the hell out of my day. By this time I have worked up a good sweat and my muscles are all warmed up and I am trucking through those woods without a care. All of a sudden this story begins to form in my head. This is the story that I came up with driving back and forth between North Carolina and Tennessee. You see I used to work near Charlotte in a nuclear power plant and I would commute back and forth on the weekends.
The story is about a woman who runs away from home and hides in Cherokee, North Carolina, where she finds herself, literally, and someone very special. Of course there is more to the plot than that, but you will have to read it! As I am walking I am writing the first chapter of the book, which may be called Inn of the Seven Clans, if I get permission to use it. I have a great respect for the Native American culture, having come from that line myself, and I want to make sure I don’t take anything away from them that isn’t offered. I can see the first page and the chapter heading and the paragraph and I begin.
Annie carefully backed her Ford Explorer out of the garage that chilly October morning . It was early and seasonably cool with a light frost on the ground. The bright yellow mums and orange pumpkins lined neatly along the front steps leading to her home shone brightly in the morning sun.
She caught a glimpse of her face in the rearview mirror. The make up she had carefully applied had done its job in concealing the bruised blue skin under her eye. The swelling in her lip would be minimal by the time she reached Cherokee later that day and a little lip gloss would hide the small tear on her lower lip. . .
I was pretty involved in mentally writing this story when I realized I didn’t hear anything. Everything was quiet. I was alone in the woods and I was not on the trail anymore. At least not on the right trail; the trail I had started off on. Reality starts to hit me, I haven’t been paying attention to where I am going. I immediately turn around and retrace my steps until something looks familiar. I come to a swinging bridge. Hah! I know where I am! At least I thought I knew where I was. I didn’t. Well, I knew where I was, I just didn’t know where I was going. Or I should say I knew where I wanted to go, I just didn’t know which path would get me there. By process of elimination, I used the bridge as my starting point which was a good mile and a half into the trail, to find my way back. I crossed the bridge and turned right. About a mile down that trail I knew it wasn’t the correct one. Back to the bridge I went.
Now keep in mind this is a park I have walked in for a good twenty years. I know that park like the back of my hand. At least I thought I did. Time and weather can really change a place. Familiar things that I normally used to mark my path were gone and I didn’t recognize my surroundings. I crossed the bridge and turned left which put me in the same direction I had just come from which after another mile or so I figured was the wrong direction again. Back to the bridge and across the bridge and the choice I made there, turned out to be the right choice. Whew! I had been going in circles!
I live on the Cumberland Plateau and there are wild animals here. Wild boar, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, foxes, bear, and coyotes. This I know because I have seen all of these. Some were alive and some dead, but they all lived here. I’ll be the first to admit the fact that I am a chicken. A big chicken. I carry protection with me when I walk. At least protection enough to scare off a wild animal or a would be attacker. I am not going down without a fight and since I can’t run very fast (if at all) I have to carry something.
The things that go through your mind when you’re lost are kind of strange. What if there is a psychopath out here and he rapes me and strangles me and throws me in the creek? (Sound familiar?) What if a mountain lion attacks me from a tree and I don’t see him? What if it gets dark before I get back and I freeze to death out here? But when I began to hear the voices of the happy families again and hear the cars on the road I relaxed and thought about my story some more. It wasn’t like I was going to die out there or anything like that. There is a golf course that runs parallel to one side of the park. I could have run out on the green and begged a golfer for water. By the way I won’t be making fun of all the “nerdy” hikers who carry water in packs on their belts anymore!
You know what this means don’t you? I guess you will all be reading about Annie’s adventure when she gets lost in the Great Smokey Mountains and then rescued by a handsome Native American! Wish I’d run into one of those today. I may have never come out of the woods! Picture Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans. (Drool!) The things that go through your mind when you’re lost!
My next road trip will be to Cherokee to visit the Inn of the Seven Clans and meet some people who hopefully will be able to help me tell Annie’s story. Keep reading and I’ll keep bringing it back. . . one novel at a time.