Monday, May 20, 2013

A Short Hike

He liked to hike this part of the Trail. Trail didn’t have to be in quotes or italicized since there was only one trail worth mentioning. He like this section that crossed over the top of the dam and then two miles on to the shelter. It was short, easy on the body, soothing on the mind. For no particular distinction this direction was southbound. He had met hikers confused about which direction they were going or about how far was it to the shelter. Northbound and southbound were easy to explain. Distance was beyond his ability.

He just hiked this section because he liked hiking it. The sort of thing the body and mind needed once in a while in modern world of cell phones and jets and a growing population of talking heads.

He parked his car at the parking lot an eight of an mile beyond the trail head. Better than taking up one of the few places right at the trail head. He wondered why all these young hikers, in their latest hiking shoes, and multi-zippered packs, driving their honking huge 4x4 “wilderness chic” SUVs had to park right at the trail head instead of in the parking lot where there was room. Must have been something to do with showing off or strutting. Roosters strut. He did not particularly care for roosters.

He started to retrace his route from the parking lot towards the trailhead. Just before the trailhead, to his left, was the paved access road to the top of the dam, which he turned onto, skirted the gate, and march up the steady, paved slope. The Trail itself coming from over the dam, branched off the access road, cut around a knoll, and then down half-dozen rock steps to the main road maybe fifty yards from the trail head. No big deal. He’d hiked both directions on the detour and found it to be only more of the same.

But, it seemed like a million steps along the access road and then over the ridge and the long downhill sweeper to the dam’s top. Yet, the top of the dam was probably no higher than where he had parked his car. The ridge formed the sides to the dam, as if to keep the dam firmly anchored in place, so to speak. It was a long warmup walk that seemed to go forever. Boring. 

But, when he came around the corner, there was the dam! It looked differently than from the overlook. Bigger! Well, yes. He was on top of this massive pile of rock that from the overlook was just a smaller pile of rock rising out of the water. The dam’s top was more than wide enough for one lane of pavement. Boulders the size of a desk as barriers (for what?). Street lights. And the tapered sides of the dam looked rugged and mean but not steep. It would hard to fall in the lake from this height. A person would be pounded to pieces by the time they hit water.

Across the lake was the Rat Branch ramp. To its right was the Shook Branch swimming area. To the left, Carden’s Bluff Camping Area. Further off to the left, up lake, sort of southeasterly was Lakeview Marina. There’s a lot of water in that lake. The sun’s reflection was almost painful. You needed your sunglasses and hat for this two-hundred yard of wide open sky. He might as well be walking across a parking lot.

To the opposite side, down stream, below the dam, he saw barren acreage. The  surface of the dam was terraced-dirt. Few trees. Not manicured. Chemically sprayed to death. And the distance down to the dried-up stream bed below was farther than to the water’s edge on the lake side. As if this massive pile of rubble was going to bulge in the center and burst and flood the river bed below and wash out the power house and flood the entire valley for 20 miles.

From the dam’s top he could not see the river where it reformed below the powerhouse. Unlike South Holston where the power house was built into the dam. Or, of course, nothing like the concrete dam at Boone. From his vantage on top of the dam, here, the forest didn’t exist below him until past the powerhouse. On either side the forest walls had been trimmed like so much sideburn. Cleared of trees and under brush. But above, all round, at the level of the dam’s top, the forest was still there pretty much unchanged. Rugged vertical walls. Pine mostly, hanging on for dear life. Impossible country to hike through. Except he was hiking through it.

Forging ahead, he crossed the dam and where the manmade structures ended he turned left as the trail turned left and entered the woods again at about the same height above the water as the dam top. Once again in the shade of the trees, plant life recovered, the heat of the lake would sweep up to his face. Boats and stereos might drift to him. The floor was moist, rocky, and wonderful.

Bloodroot, rotting trees, some nettle, Christmas tree fern, Solomon’s seal, Mayapple, touch-me-nots, the occasional bluet, galax, all bloomed at various times of the year along this section. Not much Rhododendron. Elevation was perhaps too low. Maybe the lake had an effect on the moisture. No Mountain Laurel, either. No Trillium or Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Same reason, he supposed. There were a whole host of plants and the ferns he did not know.

The trail was easy going. Level. Worn into a groove in spots. Flat in others. Notches in the fallen trees to allow easy crossing. All the way to the cabin the elevation probably didn’t change ten feet up or down. The hike wasn’t long or arduous. It was relaxing. Even with the noise off the lake, he relaxed. Let his feet walk and his mind amble along with them.

Eventually, he crossed the small stream, worked his way up stream, and acknowledged the arrow to the cabin before he saw the cabin itself, standing square against the random forest.

The shelter was like many in this part of the country. A platform with sides and a roof that might have enough overhang to keep the rain out. Depends on the rain. The platforms were plywood and better than sleeping on the ground. But, noisy, too. Boots tended to clomp on the bare wood. Who knew what inhabited underneath at times. Mice were abundant. And it wouldn’t take much to attract a possum or raccoon. Most shelters had some kind of sling to put food high up out of the reach of the bears. Some only had enough of a foil to stop the mice.

Even in the best of nights, the shelters were dark. Moonlight was never strong since the shelters were always set back into the trees. Not a shelter he stayed at had a view of the mountains or the streams. One of the side effects was the shade kept the shelter a bit cooler in the summer time. Not all faced east, contrary to the folklore.

But, once the trail gets busy, when it becomes The Trail, he knew to steer clear of staying at a shelter. On any night. The places would get full and he wasn’t interested in sharing with strangers. He’d done that. The old hippie was harmless and an avid hiker but also an avid talker and he parked himself on the other side of the floor. The chatter and exuberance were refreshing for a while and then he wanted to be alone with the wind in the trees and rush of warm air up from the lake followed by the pine and spruce scent filling in behind the warm air. And, after a while, sometimes before sunup, the hikers head off to conquer more miles. The boats are at the other end of the lake. A quiet, of sorts, still limited, returns. Few birds call. The air is light. The leaves don’t rustle. The upper branches barely move. He is not alone. Nor lonely.

He is just there, in the moment, looking out over the tromped down front yard of the shelter and the trees and sky beyond.