Monday, January 21, 2008

The Adventures of Uhler and Clark: Part 1

I've been writing this entry about a failed hike Hannah and I took while on break off and on for about a week. I don't usually write pieces in...well..pieces so I'm sure the grammer and spelling has reached a cosmic level of error, in addition this writing style made the piece surprisingly long and therefore I'll upload it in parts. It may be the only post i have that includes words such as "nature" and "hiking" so enjoy it...


Given the circumstances it’s not surprising that the mysterious man in the flannel was our guardian angel. Hannah and I, attempting to curb couch and cable TV addiction and make the most of our few slow days at home, decided to go on a pseudo adventurous hike. Trail directions from the Internet, matching Nalgene bottles, and functional yet fashionable hiking ensembles en tow we piled into the car and jokingly referred to ourselves as that couple who leaves the big city on the weekend for a refresher course in nature at an upstate park or mountain; only to come back on Monday, invite friends over for a $200 dollar cheese and wine spread accompanied by a digital slideshow so we can tell them how much we’ve changed and explain in great detail our deep appreciation for nature. A fate that seemed a little less like a joke as the man in the flannel gave a hearty laugh and said, “You really don’t have a clue as to where you are do you?” No sir, we don’t but help yourself to goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc; it’s really something to experience.

Boredom at home could lead to much less noble pursuits: cataloging back issues of Seventeen magazine, tripping on cough syrup, or binge eating on homemade cookies. When Hannah and I decided to become active the Pennsylvania way and go for a hike in the mountains I just naturally assumed the experience would be pleasant, rewarding and completely successful; a sort of higher-power good behavior reward. Mother nature must have been PMS’ing pretty hard that day because no such reward was even slightly hinted at. We may have physically been on the Appalachian Trail but I somehow ventured off onto an unwavering trail towards Mountainous resentment.

The directions we pulled from an online article from a local newspaper told us to turn off of Mountain road at the Deerhead Inn and make an immediate left turn into a parking lot that is “not well marked”. “Not well marked” ended up being “not marked at all” and the only other car in the small gravel lot, a gray haired woman taking her canine companion for a walk, seemed startled at our arrival. A not marked parking lot led to a not marked trail, in fact many not marked trails. While the trails weren’t marked our directions said to follow the “old fire road” up to the summit. A name like that is essentially a description in and of itself and therefore I was relatively self-assured in my guessing of which “trail” to start up. We had lost the woman with the dog and now seemed miles and miles from any sort of human presence. I had no worries for I figured the only person we’d run into on “the Old Fire Road” was possibly Lassie, off on another rescue. We hadn’t been hiking long and were enjoying the steady incline and fresh air. My lungs seemed to be working on a new level, the unseasonably Autumn-like January afternoon gave the air a certain crispness that agreed with me.

“Hikes are great!” I exclaimed to Hannah.
“I’m so glad we’re doing this,” Hannah replied. She went on to describe other hikes she had taken on other monotonous breaks from school. I pulled out the phone I had gotten just a few days earlier, “Ohh I still have full service!”

The vagueness of the directions bordered on haiku-status, “When near the summit; the old road narrows slightly; take white-marked trail down.” At any sort of clearing I’d ask Hannah if this was the summit, the car ride equivalent to “Are we there yet?” Yet when the Old Fire Road did in fact narrow slightly I proclaimed triumphantly as if I was a seasoned explorer guided solely by instinct and experience, “Yup this trail’s definitely narrowing just a bit, we are going the right way! Just a little bit more till we hit the summit.”

Instinct and experience weren’t necessary; the sudden change in terrain was enough to signal that one was at a new point in the journey. Although the incline was barely any steeper, the fact that it was all rock made that last few feet seem a bit more monumental. No one would judge you if you added a few unnecessary grunts and groans, verbalizing a physical struggle that mostly likely never occurred.

“We made it!” we both proclaimed, my hand unfortunately carrying only my Nalgene bottle and not a flag I could triumphantly thrust into the earth. I let out a telling sigh as I looked out over the rest of the small nearby mountains, highways and Delaware River. You almost forgot that you might be looking at New Jersey. As Hannah continued her gazing I plopped down and ate a banana she had brought but didn’t want.

“It’s so pretty!” Hannah said loudly, being surrounded by a space vast enough to make any sort of cry seem small.
“It…really…mpfhhh…is,” I said mouth full of banana.
“Will this just compost?” I asked, holding up the peel. Hannah gave a nod and I chucked it behind me. I amused myself with the thought of a unknowing hiker stepping on the banana peel and having a hilariously exaggerated tumble down the Old Fire Road.

“Well I think we’ve admired all we can, we should head down,” Hannah said.
I took one last look at the majestic scenery and agreed. Hannah’s previous hiking knowledge confirmed that the Appalachian trail was marked with small white marks on trees, and since this was as concrete of guidance as we had, we decided to follow the white trail. Gazing at the sky with feigned understanding I stated, “Should have plenty of light left to get us down the mountain, we’ll be good as long as it’s light out.”

At the mercy of the Appalachian we moved from one white marked tree to the other, failing to ignore the newly discovered trail marker, “Why is there so many clumps of hair? I’m seeing these little tufts of animal hair on the trail. Should we be worried about bears?”

Having spotted them before but not verbalizing a growing guttural fear I provided the only appropriate answer, “No, that banana peel I threw out a while ago will act as a decoy. Either that or maybe the bear will trip on it.” In reality had a bear came anywhere near us our shrieks and screams would have either scared the bear aware or alerted any dog within a ten mile radius of our danger. I was banking pretty heavily on my Lassie and the Old Fire Road theory.

The directions had stated the trail downward as “more up and down, rougher terrain and longer but much greater scenery”. I reread the directions as I past white-marked tree number eight on a fairly level open trail that edged up and down with as much intensity as a kiddie coaster. I was getting worried. The majestic views we had admired earlier on the summit was following us. There was no real alternative option and every time I’d express my growing concern over our lack of decline, the trail’s horizon would appear to promise such a drop only to show us another equal incline immediately following. We had reached a commitment point and personal pride in conquering the summit that refused to let us turn around and back track down Old Fire Road. I couldn’t bare trekking down the Road and passing Lassie, moving in the opposite direction, giving us a shameful glare. I cannot be defeated by a fictitious dog again.

The vanishing dog-walker woman from the parking lot was the last human we had seen until a larger figure, and larger dog, broke the trail’s horizon. We walked as calmly as we could while debating in loud whispers the necessity of asking this approaching figure for directions. “We have to ask him. I’m going to ask him,” Hannah said convincingly.

His large Labrador approached us first, skipping right over the cordial handshake greeting, opting instead for the much more informal crotch sniff greeting. I gave a half-hearted chuckle and tried to pat/push the dog away.

“He’s a friendly dog. Maybe a bit too friendly,” the man in the plaid said, punctuating the statement with a boisterous laugh. While his plaid shirt and relaxed fit jeans failed to evoke comforting images of the L.L.Bean catalogue it seemed to signify that this man was comfortable with nature in a way that didn’t involve post-hiking cocktail parties and Thoreau comparisons.

“Excuse me,” Hannah said, “Do you know if this will take us down to the parking lot?”
“Parking lot?” the Man questioned.
“Yeah, down by Minsi Road”
“Well if you go up a ways and then bear left, its not a quick or easy trail but it will get you down to the Lake. Or if you wait up by that electrical station just a few yards ahead of you then I’ll take you down in my truck. I’m heading that way.”
“Oh and this lake is by the start of the trail? By the Deerhead Inn?” We half asked, half pleaded with him. If we sound desperate enough, it’s bound to be true.
“Deerhead Inn? No, no, I’m talking about Lake Minsi, the Deerhead Inn is the opposite direction. The Deerhead Inn? My god, that’s way off.”

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