Monday, April 13, 2015

Bushwhacking

"Hey trail, where you at?! Oh! There you are. You lookin' fiiiiine..." Whistle's voice tapered off as she realized that she was, yet again, talking to the trail as though it was another human. In a way, it was, as the trail was her only real companion in the lonely, empty desert. As she spoke, her voice was taken by the wind and spirited away across the forever horizon. It wasn't that she was embarrassed about using her out-loud voice while hiking all alone in the middle of nowhere. Rather, she just didn't want the trail to start blushing with all the compliments she was giving it.

Over the past few days, Whistle's body had taken on a delightful new appeal, as her skin began to pink and then tan in the sun. And yet, this was not the sun-kissed surfer girl tan of California. Nay, that type of tan was far too cliche for this industrious, independent, blazingly fashion forward young lady. Instead, Whistle was getting bands of tan around her mid-calves in the space between where her tall wool socks ended and her American flag leggings began. Her umbrella didn't quite cover her perfectly as she hiked, exposing her elbows to the sun, which led to patches of tan collecting like patches on a smoking jacket. Except for leather, these patches were made of skin. Indeed, Whistle was a sight to behold.

As she sauntered along, grooving out to the thoughts in her head, considering her own tan lines and talking to the trail, she got lost. Getting lost on the CDT is something that happens quietly and without ceremony. Unlike in regular life, when one is driving their screaming children to a pool party that everyone is already 30 minutes late for, the driver knows immediately when they've gotten lost. Instead, on the CDT, because the trail is hardly ever marked, a hiker could get off trail for quite some time before they realize they've gone astray. In the middle of whistling, Whistle suddenly stopped and considered her surroundings. 

After checking her map, she confirmed that she had, indeed, gone about three quarters of a mile in the wrong direction. Before leaving for the trail, the most oft repeated advice she'd heard about the CDT was,

"If you get off trail, which will definitely happen, don't be tempted to bushwhack. Just take the time to walk back the way you came! It will always take longer to bushwhack, even if it doesn't seem like it."

As Whistle considered her map, she thought to herself, Those people probably just weren't good at math or maps! According to her map, she could either walk back three quarters of a mile, then walk ahead another mile or so... Or, she could cut across the hypotenuse of the triangle which was only half a mile. Easy, right? Incorrect!

The half a mile bushwhack took her almost 40 minutes, as she was ensnared by shrubbery after shrubbery, and ended up having to walk at a meandering uphill almost the whole time. For the entire adventure, she felt determined not to have to turn around again, and that she had made the mistake, so she had to live with the consequences. The consequences were a thousand little prickers jammed in her socks. Once she found her way back to the trail, she spoke to it quite a lot about not being so coy and sheepish, and expressed her desire that they no longer play this "hard to get" game. 

And yet, even with all their flirtatious bantering, Whistle and the CDT had not yet fully grown to understand one another. The next day, Whistle was looking for a dirt road crossing that would take her out to the highway. She came upon a road, but parked there was a car with CDT bumper stickers, and a very clean, clearly marked trail continuing on the other side of the road. 

Well, ain't that something! Whistle thought, Maybe I'll meet those people!

Crossing the road, she popped onto the trail and headed down it, admiring how it was clearly a newly cut trail that was very well maintained. After 20 minutes or so, she ran into a kind couple and their dog. They told her that they worked for the CDTC, and that this was a new route for the CDT, and that they were trying to make the trail more direct and obvious through this section.

"This trail goes for another mile or so, then just ends. There's 5 miles of bushwhacking after that, because this new section is not finished being created yet."

Whistle nodded politely, not listening whatsoever. 

She then bid farewell to them, and marched off down the trail, leaving them looking rather bemused. The trail wound its way down into a beautiful valley, and Whistle hummed to herself, thinking about what good time she was making, but also wondering every once in a while where the road crossing was that she was supposed to turn on. 

After two miles, Whistle came to a dead end. She blinked, and then her echoic memory finally plopped the words of the trail maintainers into her consciousness. Aha... she thought the road with the car parked on it... that was the road I was supposed to turn on. 

Sighing once and shrugging she headed back up out of the valley, humming all the while, her spirits undampened by yet another misdirection. 

Some time later, she found herself on a different road, and stuck out her thumb when a truck drove by. The truck slowed down, and revealed a father and mother, and their two young adolescent sons. As it is with the Appalachian Trail, long-distance hikers are largely ignorant about the surrounding landscape other than what falls in line with the trail. Thus it was that as this dad asked a series of friendly questions about where Whistle had been hiking and where she was headed, she was unable to answer these questions with any level of authority or confidence. The man stared at her.

"Does your mother know you're out here?"

"Yes, sir! She dropped me off!"

"...You know there are bears out here, right?"

"Yes, sir!"

"... Well, alright. Get in the back, we'll take you down the road."

Whistle sat in the back of the pickup truck next to a half-full bucket of water with a recently caught fish in it. Later, the two young sons proudly proclaimed that they had gone fishing, had failed to catch any fish at all, and then a nice older fisherman gave them one of his fish. They explained enthusiastically that they were headed home to gut it and cook it on a fire! Whistle expressed that she understood the feeling.

They dropped her off, and Whistle said goodbye to the kind people who clearly just thought she'd been lost in the woods for DAYS. While this was not far from the truth, the difference was, she was having a great time doing it. 










Whistle says "This is the CDT's version of a shelter, clearly."





This is the tiny hippo that I gave Whistle when we were on the AT
together.







1 comment:

  1. Wow, wow, wow! More great writing, more fabulous pictures, more fabulous Whistle! We love every bit of it. Keep on whistling, and know your extended family is very proud of you! Love, Liz and John

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