As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.
As spring exuberantly bounced into our lives, I knew Seattle winter hibernation was coming to a close.
Much as I longed to be on the trail again, my body wasn’t quite ready to carry a full pack. Jay, still dealing with emotions from the accident, couldn’t see sleeping in a tent yet. Obviously, we needed a new adventure.
We had often discussed hiking in Europe, and many friends had suggested that we hike the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-du-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Jay’s uncle gave a piece of rare advice, “If you have a dream, the time to do it is now.”
First we spent some time with my family in Tennessee. It had been a year since we’d seen them. As we hiked the Maryville College woods, I gloried in the spring flowers!
Now, here we are in Spain, getting ready for another pilgrimage. It’s been three weeks since I’ve practiced carrying a backpack. It will be interesting to see what it’s like to become a hiker again!
Trent’s Grocery is a half mile down a busy road from the Appalachian Trail. It offers food for hiker resupply, and a grill with hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries. A very tempting detour!
Our adventure properly began as we reached the road, to find an older white-bearded hiker named BR sitting on the ground, a younger hiker, Trapper, hovering nearby asking, “Are you okay?”
We watched as BR used a pocket knife to dig an inch long splinter out of his arm. “Wow!” Trapper was impressed. “You should keep that as a souvenir!”
“Nah, it’s already gone!” BR growled as he tossed the splinter into the undergrowth and rubbed the blood across his arm.
“Would you like an antiseptic wipe?” I offered helpfully.
BR looked at me suspiciously from under lowered brows. “That sounds way too girly to me!” he snorted.
“It’s easy to reach!” I protested. “I could get it quick!”
“Look,” BR told me, “I’m French, I’m stubborn, and (he shouldered his pack and roared to the sky), we’ve got CHEESEBURGERS to eat! LET’S GO!”
The walk to the grocery was accomplished without incident, and we enjoyed our double bacon cheeseburgers with fries. While we ate, we listened to two young hikers, Firestarter and Trapper, as they discussed staying at the next shelter, Wapiti, which was supposed to be haunted due to a double murder that took place in 1981. Privately, I was glad Jay and I had no plans to stay there.
As we were leaving the grocery, a local man named Chris Miller began talking to Jay. “Want to know a shortcut?” he asked.
“Sure!” Jay responded with a smile. “No reason to hike that busy road if we don’t need to!”
“Yeah, this other road ain’t busy,” Chris agreed. “You might see a horse and rider, or maybe a drunk driver. That’s it.”
“So how do we find this shortcut?” Jay asked as BR came up and joined us.
“Well,” Chris began waving his hands, “ya don’t want to go back up the way y’all came. The trail’s gonna take ya up that mountain, then back down it, and end up at Dismal Falls, same as this other way. See, what y’all got to do is turn the opposite way here, go over the bridge, turn right on the road just past the bridge. No, not that one,” Chris pointed at the nearest road. “You need the road across the bridge. Ya can’t quite see it from here, but it’s right over there.” Chris gestured again. “Once you turn on the road, y’all will see a sign that says Dismal Falls – 1 mile. Now, keep in mind, it’s a mile up the road. You’ll pass my mother’s house…”
“We’ll wave to her,” Jay interjected.
“Naw, no use in doing that, she’s not home today,” Chris shook his head. “Okay, the road’s gonna bear left a bit, then take a sharp right turn. You’ll hear the falls by then. Look right, down the slope, you’ll see a log.” Chris paused. “It’s okay, we just put it there 10 years ago. It’s a little shaky, but it’ll hold ya.”
“We’ll let her go first,” Jay joked, gesturing to me.
Chris turned and grinned at me. “They gonna guinea pig yore ass! Anyway, ya cross the log, then you’ll see blue blazes leading y’all right back to the AT. It’s easy!”
We made Chris repeat the directions at least two more times, trying to get all the lefts, rights, and logs in the correct order. Then we looked at each other and Jay spoke for us all. “It’s an adventure! Let’s do it!”
After we had been walking about 15 minutes, we met a hiker. “Oh good!” I thought. “We’ll get real hiker directions, not just directions from someone who probably only drives this route.”
The hiker, named Gelfling, was not reassuring. “I don’t know why he told you to cross a log. You’ll have to wade to reach the log! And that water is COLD! I just waded it to get over here. Of course, you could keep on this road for another three miles, where it crosses the AT again.”
BR was indignant. “What kind of shortcut are we on? That guy never said anything about wading!
We continued on, hoping to solve the mystery and get reunited with the AT, preferably without getting wet. Another 15 minutes brought us to a small parking area and a sign, announcing Dismal Falls. We turned and followed the path to the bottom of the falls. Chris Miller was right, the thunder of the falls could be heard a goodly ways away!
Jay and BR saw the log which reached halfway across the stream, and began discussing Gelfling’s directions compared to Chris Miller’s. I looked to the top of the falls and saw another log laying across the whole stream, just 50 yards above the falls. “Hey, there’s the log we need!” I exclaimed.
We returned to the road and rounded a sharp turn to the right, with BR grumbling still over directions. “He could have said the log after the parking area and sign!”
The log, when reached, turned out to be about 75 feet long, and only a few inches above a very swift, waist deep stream. I went first, confident with a large, stable, flat tree to walk upon. As I progressed, the log gradually narrowed and began bouncing. The surface of the tree became eroded, ridged and bumpy. Rushing water played havoc with my eyes, making it hard to balance. I stopped, suddenly terrified. My fear was not allayed as I heard, just behind me, Jay asking, “Why are you stopping?” Far behind, I could hear BR shouting, “You’re not helping, being right behind her! You’re making it bounce more!” Slowly, I resumed forward progress, carefully feeling each inch. The tree continued to narrow as the far shore steadily approached. My nerve broke, and I ran the last few steps, just wanting to be OFF! Whooeee! What an adrenaline rush!
By the time all three of us had crossed, we were chattering like schoolchildren. We had made it, and, just as Chris Miller had promised, there were the blue blazes leading right back to the AT. Whether our route actually turned out to be shorter or not was debatable. As BR said, “That was fun, but I wouldn’t do it again!”