Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wet Feet, Cold Supper, and a Good Day on Raven Fork (Part 5 of 5)

For about four hours, Greg Harrell and I walked along and in Raven Fork. The water level was low, and there were many exposed, streamside boulders and gravel beds for us to walk on, but at some point it became easier to just walk in the water. Every time we off-trail hike along a river, we end up in the water. We call it going over to the dark side. I don’t know why. It just sort of happens that one of us tires of rock hopping and steps in to the water while the other tip-toes along the rocks at the edge, trying to stay dry. It’s at this point that the wet one taunts and tempts the dry one to join him. “Come on down, you sissy, the water’s fine. Everybody’s doing it. Come over to the dark side.” At that point the dry hiker knows he’s been too timid, not wanting to get his feet wet. The male ego that expands with a good taunting compels him to get wet, so he steps in.

Hiking in the river is a bit slippery, but on a hot, summer day it’s delightfully comfortable and clean. Sweaty and dirty? Just take off your pack and dunk yourself. The water can be breathtakingly cold or refreshingly brisk. Your choice. And the soggy boots and socks are but a small price to pay.

This river hike was such a pleasant, easy, off-trail experience that I felt our purpose shift as we worked our way downstream. At some point we were no longer simply on an off-trail adventure; we were now looking for good fishing spots for our next trip here. And there were plenty of them -- dozens of runs, riffles, channels, chutes, and plunges. And, best of all, lightly fished. Surely not unfished, but several miles from the nearest road.

Sure, lots of other fishermen have had the same thoughts: drive deep into the mountains, hike away from the road, fish virgin water. And some of them have pursued those thoughts all the way to the river with a fishing rod in their hand. But how many do it, how far do they walk, and how often? The answer is probably “not” – not many, not far, not often. In other words, Raven Fork is not such a secret that fishermen will get mad at me for divulging its name in print. It’s not an untouched secret, but it is remote, so we will come back. Maybe not often – after all, it’s a three hour drive to get here, then the walking begins – but regularly.

The day ended with a 3.6 mile walk on Enloe Creek and Hyatt Ridge trails back to our tents. After a day of rough, wet, off-trail hiking, an officially-maintained trail feels like an interstate. You can shift into overdrive and set the cruise control. However, the fact that almost every step of the first 3 miles of this final stretch was uphill caused my transmission to grind to a halt several times. At least we were carrying 10 pound day packs, not 40 pound backpacks. We had covered exactly 10 miles today.

That evening we ate our uncooked meals consisting of granola bars, peanut M & Ms, and a few other items that I can’t remember. One thing about going cookless is that the meals are not memorable – unless you have no fear of fat grams and sugar. Then you can eat wonderfully and recklessly – chips, cookies, nuts, candy. It’s like being let off your leash. But if you have any dietary scruples at all, then you look forward with anticipation to bedtime, but not to supper. Supper is just something you have to do.  I don’t know how the younger guys feel, but at my stage in life, that’s fine with me. Bedtime is usually the highlight of my day anyway.

As darkness settled in we heard a couple of calls from a Barred Owl asking, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for ya’ll?” He seemed to know we were eating a cold, uncooked supper and took this opportunity to taunt us a few times before he began his nightly hunt and feast. Mice would die tonight. He would eat like a king while we slept, but I wasn’t jealous. I had my tent, sleeping pad, pillow, and memories of another good day in a wild part of God’s creation. It is well, it is well with my soul.