Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Into the Georgia Woods, Part 2

The car aired out quickly after I dumped my badly wrapped trail snacks in Kentucky. By the time I swung back onto I-75 South, the sky was turning blue. Traffic was light, letting me enjoy the morning at a productive speed.
I do like nature. Even after the sun rose, the fog warnings were accurate. When I crossed the Kentucky River near Georgetown, I was the only one on the bridge. Fog hung above the water on both sides, and it was like driving into a make-believe land. In Tennessee the fog lay against the ground in sections of solid white, striping the grass like a flag.
I played satellite radio all the way to Atlanta, and during the last few miles I again heard the song that seemed to follow me to these hikes: “The Reverend Mr. Black.” Yes, I know I “got” to walk that lonesome valley, but at least this time I won’t be walking it by myself.
The class limit was 12 hikers. I knew that I would be teamed with another single female and that we would be tent-mates. REI would supply our tents, sleeping bags and pads, backpacks, cooking gear, and food for dinner the first night and breakfast the next day.
“Don’t let me forget my lunch,” I said to my son as I stuck my peanut-butter sandwich and power bar in his refrigerator. I even had a cloth bag with one of those built-in freezer blocks to put my food in, but there is so much to remember when you backpack. After all, I had to take my second suitcase with me to unload once the packs were distributed. Even at the end of summer, REI had required us to bring long johns, a fleece, a warm hat, and gloves in addition to a clean shirt, undies, and rainwear. My stuff bags, hiking boots, wool socks, and silk sock liners were loose in the trunk.
I had a two-hour drive north to Black Rock Mountain State Park—yes, Rev. Mr. Black, alone—which was plenty of time to imagine what was in store. What if I woke up in the wee hours having to pee? There are no toilets in the woods. You pick your way away from camp with a headlamp to guide you. I pictured our group hiking single file with me at the back. That was one picture I’d have to change; I’d seen enough animal shows on PBS to know it’s always the last ones that get picked off.
Anxiety would color my thoughts until I got where I was going and possibly after that; but, despite my fears, I knew I had made the right decision to test my mettle in the woods. I had a mini-library of hiking books, but you can’t learn it all by reading.
Black Rock Mountain State Park is located near Clayton, GA, a few miles south of the North Carolina border. Our group was to meet at the visitor center at 10:00 a.m. About halfway there, I realized I’d forgotten my lunch for the next day, so I stopped in Clayton to fill the gas tank and buy a couple packs of crackers to tide me over. Then, in spite of the clerk’s simple directions to the park, I missed the turn and had to go back.
The road to the visitor center made the two-lanes I knew in West Virginia seem downright roomy. Meet a car coming on the Black Rock Mountain Parkway and you had better be sticking to your lane and the speed limit. I was glad for my training on Gauley Mountain as I drove up the steep, twisting grade. The visitor center sat at the very top, in a spot that could have defined the term scenic view.

We met in a shelter. There were not 13, but seven of us: our leader from REI; a married couple; the single woman who would be my tent-mate; and two single men. One of the men arrived early and the other called from the road to ask if he should be in North Carolina. Uh, no.
An hour later, as we received our instructions and re-packed our gear, it began to rain. Hard. Was I prepared? You bet. Luckily I had sprung for a new, lightweight rain shell and still had the rain pants I’d bought for Romania in 2005. Remember: If it rains, you hike. We all suited up for nothing, however; in a few minutes the sun emerged and we left for the trailhead.
We met a ranger before we entered the woods. She held up a snakeskin and reminded us that our slithery friends might be seeking higher ground after the storm and therefore could be on the trail. “If you have to step where you can’t see,” she advised, “poke with your trekking poles and not your feet.”
At least I was wearing long pants, not that they’d stop a snake. I’d treated every article of clothing except my underwear with the tick repellent permethrin, so if I died of a snake bite, at least I wouldn’t be covered with ticks.
We started down the trail and in seconds were surrounded by dense woods; enveloped in green. The path, which I had pictured as wide as a two-lane with trees in the near distance, was no more than eighteen inches wide and all dirt. Wet leaves brushed against us on both sides. Our guide said it all: “We’re in the backcountry now.”
To be continued…


  1. Love all your descriptive sentences that really relate ... even to me (a non-overnite hiker). I too love your preparation to include "everything that could slither and covering Mother Nature's weather tricks." I confess I am a bit of a wimp but also highly allergic to bee sting which could send me straight to the emergency ward (and that's my excuse to be a non-camper). Loving this series you are creating and as usual, wonderful and entertaining blog.

  2. Thanks, Betty. I am a bit of a wimp, too, as you may have gathered from my posts. But being in a group made everything easier, and I could not only participate, but observe and take in all aspects of being in the woods.