This weekend I completed my longest backpacking trip ever. Of course, I've only been backpacking for a little more than two years now and I've never been out more than one night before, but this is a milestone for me so you can just sit there and take this story like a man. A couple of weeks ago the husband of one of K's friends asked me if I was interested in hiking the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail over the course of a week. After a few e-mails and realized obligations on my part, the week-long hike on the AT turned into a three-day hike of an improvised loop in the Cohutta Wilderness. Downgrading sucks, but the Cohutta Wilderness rocks.
First, let's just say that when we left the guy's house around 11 a.m. on Friday, it was already about 85 degrees. When we pulled up to the Jacks River trail head sometime between noon and 1 p.m., it was only 72. The fact that the entire wilderness area seems to always be at least 10 degrees cooler than the rest of this infernal state is only one of the reasons that I love the Cohutta. There are a ton of trails, and every one of them has the bare minimum of upkeep. No bridges over river crossings. Plenty of isolated camp sites. Miles upon miles of trails that can be hiked without ever seeing even an unpaved road. The trails are clear enough that you won't get lost unless you're a retard, but sometimes you have to work a little to find your way from one point to the next or to pick up an intersecting trail. The toughest ones usually do have signs, though. It was also the site of my first backpacking trip in the June of last year. In other words, I just compared the Cohutta Wilderness to my first sexual experience. Even if I was bumbling and nervous, she was beautiful and usually quite kind.
Nostalgia aside, I was kind of pumped to try out some of the other trails in the Cohutta. I let the other guy plan our route and he came up with a 30-plus-mile route that started with the Jacks River Trail and continued on to the Hickory Ridge, East Cowpen, Panther Creek, Conasauga River, Hickory Creek, and Rice Camp trails to get back to the Jacks River Trail.
The first day went pretty well, except for the bear of course. Our first night on the trail, I was sitting there eating my rehydrated lasagna when I looked up to see a full-grown black bear walking into our camp. The damn thing had its nose to the ground, probably tracking the scent of my luscious backpacking lasagna, and hadn't noticed that there were two guys and a freaking dog camping in the middle of its path. I called out to my hiking partner in a normal voice, "Daniel, bear," wondering just what the hell I was going to do if the bear didn't notice us or decided our food was worth a fight. Would poking it in the eye with one of my trekking poles do much good? Maybe I could set it on fire with a waterproof match. Maybe Daniel was some sort of secret master of violence masquerading as an engineer. Unfortunately, Daniel was busy hanging up wet socks and the like on a rope to dry over by the river and didn't hear a word I said, so I repeated a little more loudly, "Daniel, Bear!" as I stood up, getting ready to see if I could get in a cheap shot at the bear's nuts, if it had any, before it could rip off my scalp and steal my supper. That lasagna was damn good, I tell you. Well, the increase in volume got Daniel's attention and the motion got the bear's attention. Daniel turned around just in time to see the bear back up so fast that it fell on its ass before hauling butt up the hill to get away from my imposing physique. That's right, my sheer presence scared the poop out of a black bear. I think it even wet itself a little. The weird part is that I didn't. I really think I reacted a little too calmly to the sudden unexpected presence of a carnivore that rivals me in size. I'm a big dude, but I lack the fangs or the killer instinct. I would have felt a little guilty about kicking a bear's testes, setting it on fire, or poking it in the eye with a trekking pole even if it was done in self defense. That being said, I didn't exactly sleep the sound sleep of the innocent that night, but then I never do while camping on the trail.
Oh, and despite the fact that the bear was almost close enough to pee on, the stupid dog my friend brought along on the trail never seemed to notice anything amiss.
To be continued...