I felt nervous and yet confident as mountains two-stepped past the stage of my open car windows. They came and went and came and went and the highway rolled on endlessly in front of me like a ribbon spool unraveling. I had an American flag bandana fixed in a curt knot at my throat and a bag of sunflower seats clenched between my jean clad thighs with the corner sloppily torn off. Periodically, I dipped two finger tips into the bag and scooped out couplings of seeds, loosely hurling them into my mouth and cracking them open between my teeth from behind my salt creased lips. My hiking boots were carelessly tossed in the back seat, heavy with potential. I’d been driving for about two hours and it was just nearly eleven am. The air streaming in through my open windows felt cool and good.
After driving for so many hours I was relieved to pull off the highway in search of Berry Hollow Road where the trail ahead supposedly lay. I got turned around a few times, driving up and down hair pin roads until I found it. The sign was tucked away behind a closed down ranger station. I turned down the road and the hair pin turns appeared again, this time climbing ever steeper. After about ten minutes I approached a gravel parking lot, pulled into a make-shift parking spot and turned off the car. It was quiet. Fumbling around for my backpack and sustenance items I’d purchased at the gas station, my adrenaline began simmering like fizzy water. I fished some peanut butter crackers and goods alike out of a plastic bag and stuffed them into my back pack. I also had my heavy SLR camera for good measure. I’d never hiked a bush-whacked trail before so I didn’t really have an idea of what to expect. I got out of the car and stretched my legs, polished off the sugary residue left in my dented Redbull can and locked my car doors. I always make sure to place my car key in the top zippered pocket in my backpack for fear that it will one day topple out, lost forever in a muss of dry leaves and I will be trapped on mountain peak, become absorbed by the forest, living out the rest of my days as a modern female Bigfoot. I turned my cellphone on airplane mode to conserve battery, plugged in my headphones and started walking.
The trailhead itself was also hard to find. It wasn’t marked very well, as a bushwhacked trail is not a trail that is kept, cleaned, or routed by the national park department. There was an orange zip tie hanging from a pine branch and a worn footpath indicating that people had often stepped into the woods from where the grass and weeds remained fatigued. I’d done my research so I knew that this would flag the trailhead, but, had I not happened upon that bit of information, I probably would have missed it. This did not put me at ease. If something were to happen to me that would mean that there would probably be a decent amount of guesswork as where the hell I Houdinied off to.
The trail immediately began descending down on a steep rocky slope. The trail was so steep that I had to hold on to branches tightly or let my body tip forward so that my bodyweight would carry me forward to drop my hands and then land from tree to tree so that I wouldn’t slide down the uneven silty surface of the earth.
I turned off my music and became acutely aware of the noises around me as the tree tops eclipsed me. My anxiety wasn’t exactly spiking, but I had a sick feeling pooling up in the pit of my stomach. I thought about bears and how they could probably pick-up the scent of the peanut butter crackers in my bag. “Should I throw the crackers at the bear if it should charge me? Shit. I have pepper spray in my car door; should’ve thrown it in my bag. What the hell was that? Oh. Yea okay.”
Down and down I went. I love hiking in the North east for the visibility. In Florida the flora is so dense you can hardly move between trees and your worries of ticks raining down on you from the heavens and catching a spider web in your mouth. Its not for the weak. When I came upon a level surface there was a stream in front of me. By this time I was sweating and removed my jacket. I scrambled down over the mossy rocks and leaf beds to dip my hands in the cool stream. With each time I spend a long duration hiking, I realize that muted earth tones begin to appear more vibrantly. Because I’m often staring at the ground while I’m walking, as not to trip, it allows a concentrated understanding of the materials and the colors of these materials around me. Rocks no longer appear gray. They appear blue. I begin to see these carbon shapes for what they really are. I often imagine that, if I had a photoshop color picker in my mind, I could take snapshots of these scenes with my eyes, and procure a hexadecimal color value proving the true hues of the objects around me not to be bland grey and brown tones, but rich and vibrant mauves and teals indeed.
I noticed about twenty feet away two beer cans resting in the stream. Because synthetic colors appear so vibrantly when framed by natural hues of the earth, they look, most appropriately phrased, supernatural. And are easily identifiable from increased distances. I walked along the stream toward my aluminum sirens. I imagined that someone must have set up camp here recently and left these two tokens to a successor on the trail. I contemplated fondly cracking one open, but it seemed counterintuitive to consume a mind altering substance of the sluggish variety so early in my quest. I left them in their bed and continued onward, thinking that perhaps I would crack them open on the way back from the summit, more deserving of them after a long hike. I couldn’t have known then that I would never pass those soul sisters a second time.
Continuing on the bushwhacked trail, the footpath began to crane violently upwards. It climbed and climbed and I climbed and climbed. After about thirty minutes of this I had to slide the straps of my backpack down my sweaty shoulders, plop it onto the ground and lay on my back. I was blacking in and out and seeing violent explosions of colors in front of me. I have never climbed so steeply for so long. Whomever had bushwhacked this trail was not modest, but surely intent on humbling it forgoers.
The trail had several steep switch backs like this for a few hours ahead. I began to feel the air grow thicker. Beneath the matte fiber clouds the molecules breed rapidly. I reached a plateau clearing that felt like crossing a territorial aboriginal line at the end of the path. The ground was now adorned in mustard colored soil, loose and bulky.
To be continued…