By George Brown
Last week’s column ended with me snuggling down in my down sleeping bag for a second night of camping along the shores of Knox Lake – aka my sister Kathy’s backyard. This completed the first two nights of a four day weekend to get acquainted with my new backpacking gear – an important step in preparing for a long distance hike, maybe even the Appalachian Trail.
Apart from pumping water from Knox Lake with my micro-mini filtration pump for cooking and drinking, and cooking trail meals of oatmeal and Ramen noodles on my micro-mini stove, the big accomplishment during the first two days was mastering the leave no trace art of using a cathole, actually multiple catholes in remote corners of my sister’s yard. Let’s just say it was a successful two days and I was now looking forward to two more days of camping and hiking at Mohican State Park with a high school buddy, Jerry Bell, and his grandson, Patrick.
On Sunday morning I skipped the lake water oatmeal and took Kathy to breakfast at the Wiffletree Restaurant in Butler. The Wiffletree is one of those small town family restaurants where, unless you’re a stranger, everybody knows your name. Just inside the door is a rack with hooks where locals can hang their own coffee mugs to retrieve each time they visit. The walls of the restaurant are adorned with old-west paraphernalia and John Wayne photographs, and the food is worthy of the Duke. I’m not going to deny it – I packed on the calories knowing this would be my last town meal until I arrived home on Tuesday afternoon.
After breakfast Kathy followed me to Mohican State Park in her new Chevy Spark, and I selected a shady campsite by the Clear Fork River. Jerry wasn’t scheduled to arrive until mid-afternoon so Kathy and I took a short walk. Our destination was the rocky shoal just upstream from the covered bridge where our folks pitched a gypsy campsite on many summer weekends when we were kids. Kathy and I lingered for a long time recalling distant memories of fishing, swimming, and hiking on nearby trails.
When we returned to my campsite Jerry had not yet arrived (he was unexpectedly delayed, but I had no cell service to receive his message.) Kathy left for home and I pitched my little tent. Doing so only took about 10 minutes but it was enough to work up a sweat so I decided to cool off with a quick dip in the river.
Doing so was amazingly refreshing and inspired me to take a hike instead of waiting for Jerry to arrive. I chose the five mile river trail (2.5 miles out and back) that passes by the spot where a swinging foot bridge spanned the river 60 years ago. I couldn’t find the location of the bridge but even after all those years the trail felt familiar.
When I arrived back at camp Jerry and Patrick had arrived and were pitching their tent. I busied myself pumping water from the river to quench my thirst and for another supper of Ramen noodles. The filtered river water actually tasted better than the sulfur water available at an old pump in the campgrounds.
By the time Jerry and Patrick had pitched their tent we only had time for a short walk around the campgrounds before supper, which was alright with me because I was plum tuckered from the five mile hike. I whipped up a quick pot of Ramen noodles while Jerry tried to get his well-worn grasshopper stove to work, only to discover it had a leaky connection – not a good thing to have when the fuel is propane. My micro-mini stove easily did double duty to heat their gourmet meal of peas, beans, and mac-n-cheese. After supper Patrick built a nice campfire and we visited for a good while before finally calling it a night.
I awoke at first light, cooked some oatmeal with raisins, and grabbed a walking stick for a quick 2.5 mile roundtrip hike to Big Lyons Falls. As expected, I returned just as Jerry and Patrick were rallying for a gourmet breakfast of boiled eggs, bananas, and strawberry flavored milk for their cereal. They kindly offered to share their meal but I remained true to my objective of living on trail food.
After breakfast we hiked a 4 mile loop from the campground to Pleasant Hill Dam and back, going by way of Big and Little Lyons Falls. We hadn’t been on the trail long when I noticed Patrick and Jerry were setting a quick pace, staying about 20 yards ahead of me. I didn’t think much about it until a young couple overtook me and discretely held their noses as they passed by.
I lifted an arm just a bit for a whiff and suddenly realized why Jerry and Patrick didn’t want me walking in front of them – I was getting my trail smell on. More accurately, I was in full blown “Pig-Pen” mode, emitting fumes that smelled of a cross between rotten fish, rotten eggs, and socks that hadn’t been changed in four days.
The fact is I had changed my socks every day because page 42 of the Backpacker Bible states, “Change your sox daily to protect your feet.” But my socks were the only thing I had changed. Page 64 of the “BB” declares, “The wise hiker wears but one set of clothing to minimize backpack weight.” In addition to getting acquainted with my backpacking gear I was determined to experience the effects of wearing the same clothing for four straight days. As gross as this sounds, it is a fundamental requirement of Appalachian Trail through hikers.
I tried to maintain a respectable distance between myself and Jerry and Patrick as we hiked from the fire tower to the Clear Fork Gorge overlook and back; then, when Jerry and Patrick decided to hike to the top of the fire tower, I feigned acrophobia for fear close proximity on the tower might cause one of them, or worse yet both, to be overcome by my trail smell fumes and tumble from the tower. Luckily, a steady rain suppressed my ode de trail aroma during most of our final hike of the day – the five mile river trail I had enjoyed the day before.
Rather than another Ramen noodles supper, I gave into temptation and accepted Jerry’s offer of a mug of vegetable soup. With my belly full, I turned in early, admittedly tired from hiking nearly 20 miles of Mohican’s scenic trails over a two day period.
On Tuesday morning Jerry and Patrick had to leave early. I’d planned on enjoying a morning hike before leaving but decided to head home for a long hot shower and a change of clothes. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home and found Yvonne had put a for sale sign on the travel trailer. When I asked why, she said, “If you still have it in your mind to take off on the Appalachian Trail for six months, you might as well get use to roughing it in the backyard with your toy tent and other backpack toys.”
Folks, I may have to rethink this AT hike idea.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township with his wife Yvonne.