It was hot; it was over 90 degrees both on Saturday and Sunday. It was dry; on both days we had to hike about 10 miles without encountering a water source. I couldn’t forget that the sunlight was poisonous and the mosquitoes at camp were mischievous because of the tanning and bug bites on my arms.
Not like the sections 3 and 4 of this trail, the sections 6 and 7 we hiked this time were not well marked—both the starting point and end point were hard to locate. If not because we had a participant with sharp eyes, we could have wasted so much time even before we headed into the woods. Most of the trail was either rocky plus wobbly or covered by overgrown ferns and sometimes poison ivy. But the worst experience happened when we almost got lost because a lumber company used the same color paint as the trail blazes to mark their logging area.
So you might ask, “why were you guys there?” It was fun regardless of all the hassle and sweat, and we were so excited when we finally reached a big creek, dipping in the chilling water and drinking from an abundant water supply. At night, camping at a clearing, sleeping so deeply under the starlight generated thousands of years ago. Water, food, and rest. It’s so easy to feel satisfied in the outdoors, because other than those basics, what else do we really need?
Saturday morning, the trip started with a long but gradual uphill on paved roads and dirt roads. We traveled by farms, passed some houses and a church. Local residents waved at us and we didn’t see other human beings until the next day we hiked through the Cowans Gap State Park. The road walking was pleasant but a bit boring. I was anxious to be in the woods, and hike on the “real” trail.
The trail was very real. At numerous occasions, we had to walk on top of exposed rock fields. It was not like hopping rocks in a river. It was jamming the toes this second and trying to maintain our balance the next second. Stepping on an uneven rock field was hard enough; however, on top of it, we had to deal with sharp edges of the rocks and the fear of falling off while our centers of gravity were swinging.
Another challenge was the overgrown vegetation, and the worst enemy was not poison ivy, but thorns. I was in a long sleeve shirt and pants, but I couldn’t get away from them. They covered their identities with other greens and those spikes were like those shining eyes of wild wolves in the dark. They were always ready for an ambush, and there was no way to pass through them without putting on some scars.
My water was getting low. I carried 3 liters, and that was not enough. Participants were curious about where the next water source was. “Based on the guidebook, we will cross a stream in 2 miles, and then another stream 0.1 mile after that and another one 0.8 mile after that.” An hour had passed, there was a stream but it looked more like a stream ruin; it was basically dry, with some puddles of water which didn’t look drinkable. The situation was the same for the one which was 0.1 mile away from the current one.
“Now, participants, I have an English question. Is a stream bigger or a creek bigger?” Nobody could give me an affirmative answer. “There’s a creek in another 1.7 miles.” I continued. My participants wondered whether they should aim their hope to the creek. “Wait, this creek has a name, “I happily announced this piece of new information which I just noticed, “it says ‘cross south branch of Aughwick Creek on bridge.’” “If it has a name, then it must be bigger,” said one participant. “On bridge?! Bridge is the key word,” said another participant. Every piece of evidence we gathered pointed to the direction that this creek was very promising.
Baker couldn’t wait to take off, and said “I’ll wait for you guys on the BRIDGE.” The rest of us kept our steady pace, and non-surprisingly the stream 0.8 miles farther was also dry. When the trail turned into a logging road, another stream showed up and at the side of the road, some water looked usable. Mike and Cate decided to gather some water first because they didn’t have much water left. “We will meet you guys on the bridge.”
The four of us departed and followed the logging road. “Wait, where is the trail?” It was not because we couldn’t find any blaze, but because we found a blue blaze on every tree right next to us. It was weird, but we didn’t remember we saw any turn or side trail, and we saw the creek which had a name shortly after. “I didn’t see a bridge, and… where is Baker?” I asked my participants to gather some water, and in the meantime, I blew my whistle really hard and anxiously looked for Baker’s image towards upstream and then downstream.
“Szu-ting, where are you?” I heard Chiungyu calling my name. I got back to where we dropped our packs, and I saw Mike walking towards me without Cate and without a pack. “What is the situation now?” I asked myself, puzzled. Soon enough, Mike solved the mystery, “The trail turned to the right just shortly after where we stopped for water. We saw the bridge and Baker.”
We regrouped at the bridge, and I saw Baker who had be chilling out for a while. I complained to Cate about the mean and unforgiving mistake the lumber company did to us, “couldn’t they use another color to mark their trees?” Holding my water filter, I pumped and pumped, and kept filling up water bottles one after another. I drank a whole water bottle, nonstop, so did other participants. The water tasted so good, sweet and cool. Everybody was happy.
We reached the campsite late, around 6:30 in the evening. It was a long day, 13 miles. Sweetly we had a piped spring right around the campsite, and it was not dry. After dinner, I couldn’t stand the mosquitoes anymore and escaped to my tent. It was eight-something and the sun had not set. I vaguely heard people walk back to their sleeping pads. All the noise began to settle, a quiet night therefore started.
Not much noise during the night, except for occasional snoring. I had to get up at 3 to respond to a natural call, and I walked to an appropriate spot without the help of a headlamp. Before I re-entered my tent, I gazed at the sky, the stars were bright. I also looked around, guessing what kind of sweet dreams my participants were having. Everybody must have been so tired, and it seemed that their sleep couldn’t be interrupted in any way.
Oh, everybody having a good night sleep was only my wishful thinking after all. The next morning, Jay asked everybody, “Did you guys hear a bear last night?” Jay, our professional bear bag hanger, must be so good at recognizing movements and noise from a bear. Poor Jay was holding his walking stick inside his tent after he sensed the possibility of a bear appearance.
Sunday was another long and dry day. After we passed Cowans Gap State Park at the first mile, we would have no water for the rest of the trip. I changed to my sports top and shorts, because the previous day too much clothing had irritated my skin. Even though long sleeves were more effective against UV and pants would shield off thorns, I figured it was worth trading the extra protection for less itchy rashes.
Mike and Cate bailed out at the state park, because poor Cate had blisters, hikers’ worst rivals. The five of us continued our journey, and that was a hard decision, because the smells of grilling hamburgers, bacon, and hot dogs were so tempting. Jay bought a soda from the park and wished there were a hot dog stand, which made me wonder whether he would be the next one to bail out. In the park, the blue blaze disappeared out of the blue; we lost the trail again and got back on track after a long while.
The trail for the second day was actually more interesting—it had more ups and downs, numerous nice vistas, less rocky terrain, and was better maintained. Along the trail, the state flower, mount laurel was in her full blossom. Everything was pleasant except for the steaming temperature; we all wished there were another bridge on a creek, even if the creek had no name.
We also had a breathtaking incident—Neil tripped on a root and fell on his face. I was behind when that happened, and I remembered I heard a loud crash, and the next second I saw the right side of Neil’s face was completely covered by dust. Thankfully he was alright, and because of his sacrifice, nobody tripped on those malicious roots again.
I only brought three liters of water with me because that was the maximum amount I could carry. I had to evenly distribute my water intake so that I could have something to drink through the whole hike. The merciless sun kept toasting us, and turned on our napping mode. During the trip, we had to stop several times just to cool down and recharge our energy, but we never dared to stop for too long in case we could never move again. It was the first time I felt so close to heat exhaustion.
We hiked out of the trail between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we shook hands, saying goodbye to each other. Despite the hot weather, I knew that everybody enjoyed their hike according to their smiles and elevated spirits. Most importantly, all the male participants made it back home in decent hours to celebrate their Father’s Day.
「隊員們，讓我問你們一個英文問題，是stream大還是creek大啊？」沒有人給予我肯定的答覆。「1.7英里過後，有一條溪，」我繼續說著。隊員們思考著該不該將希望灌注在這條溪上。「等一下，這條溪有名字ㄟ，」我興奮地宣布這條剛從手冊上翻來的消息，逐字地唸著「cross south branch of Aughwick Creek on bridge.」「如果有名字，鐵定是比較大條了，」一個隊員這樣說著。「過橋？『橋』可是關鍵字！」另外一個隊員喊著。根據收集到的證據，這條溪肯定是條有出息的溪啊。
Trip Announcement: Tuscarora Trail Backpack (Sec 6&7)