I took my first break at about 5 and half miles. I found this perfect little spot with a cropping of rocks and a view of the lake. There would normally be a significant stream running through here but everything was very dry and the water levels are low right now. I sat down and removed my pack. Yessssssssss that feels good!! I started to eat and that’s when I met Matthew.
I had seen Matthew hiking in front of me at a pretty good clip. I could tell he was older and he had a great walking stick. He approached with a full respect of social distancing and we talk about the trail thus far. He had taken a bad slip and “Christened the walking stick with blood” from the gash on his arm. I offered him some first aid but refused saying he had things in the car to tend to it.
He starting asking me about my gear and what I got out of hiking. I told him my story and how the trail is the place where I work on my physical and good mental health. He smiled and commented that “God gave us these places to rest our minds and be at peace” He then turned and smiled at me saying “I bet you never thought you’d me a Jehovah Witness in the middle of the woods now did you?” I smiled and responded “A Buddhist and a Jehovah Witness meet in the woods… sounds like the beginning of a good joke” We laughed. A few minutes later we parted ways. He left me his “card” on a rock as to not get too close and climbed up out of the gully to head back to his car. It was a charming and unexpected encounter.
I made my way out of the Blue Trail but not without encountering a random banjo player somewhere off in the middle of the woods. Every possible Deliverance image went through my head and I quickly kept moving, laughing out loud to myself that I couldn’t actually be hearing a banjo. I took a video to try and capture it but I need to boost the audio so you can hear it better
At the point on the far end of the lake the Blue Trail becomes the Red Trail and everything changes. You leave the woods and it is open paved and gravel trail. Long bridges around the water and through meadows of grass and flowers. Very exposed to the sun. While it was relatively flat these miles were exhausting from the radiant heat. The canopy of the woods provides so much protection that at this point in the day the sun was very tough.
There is a point where the open Red Trail circles around a patch of woods and you have the option of taking the Yellow trail along the water’s edge. That could not have come at a better time and I took my second break just over 9 miles in at step spot coming up from the lake. This is where I learned my second big lesson of the day,
I have mentioned before that I carry a camel back for my water. It allows me to drink without working with a bottle on and off my pack or having to take it off all time. I also find that I take more controlled and deliberate sips of water therefore utilizing it for my body more effectively. Here is the downside that hadn’t occurred to me: I can’t see it. I don’t actually know how much water I have at any given time. I stood up from my rest, went to take a drink, and started sucking air out of the line “Oh shit! I am NOT out of water already??” I still had 4 miles to go and yes, yes I was.
Flowing water is safest to clean and drink. There is almost ZERO stream flow this time of year. At my first stop, I should have collected and refilled while there was a chance. I did not. I was now learning that lesson the hard way. THIS is why I did this shakedown here in Green Lane so I could learn in a safer environment than atop a mountain in North Carolina.
I worked myself slowly back into the open Red Trail. Another mile under the heat and I was starting to get concerned I wasn’t going to find any moving water at all. I was preparing myself for a very long last few mile’s. I came to a wooded area that the map indicated would cut off some time. This proved to be the best decision of the hike. About 100 yards in I could see a group of homes nestled against the tree line. Little paths cleared from them to the trail. It was hot and no one was outside, except Marge.
I saw Marge sitting on her deck smoking a cigarette with her 50-year-old son in the shade. I worked my way to towards their home and asked if they would be a Trail Angel for me and let me refill my water. Sweet Marge was happy to help me and told me that he daughter trains for endurance races on these trails and she knows how tough they are in the heat. I handed her my camel back and 5 minutes later she handed it back filled with water and ice to keep me cool.
One hour later I dropped my pack on a picnic table in a grove of trees next to my car. Back where I started. I felt tired and accomplished. I felt grateful for Marge and the talk I had with Matthew. The ranger came over to me smiling. He commented he had seen me leave this morning with my pack and we talked about how people under estimate the challenge of the loop. Add on the heat of the day and I could tell he knew exactly what I had just been through. He told me I could get into my campsite early and that he’d check in later to see if I needed anything. I met good people today. Each one of them took time to talk, and help, a complete stranger connected to them only by everyone’s proximity to the trail. It’s good for the spirit to know that in this world these kinds of moments can still exist.
I’ll wrap up my final thoughts and lessons learned in my next blog.
See you on the trail!
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