January 02, 2005

A good ending

It's about 11 a.m., bright, sunny, and unseasonably warm for the last day of the year. On my way here, I drove with the sunroof all the way open. I've just cinched the shoulder, chest, and waist straps tight on my backpack. I take one last survey; everything's here and the car is locked.

With that, I'm on the trail to enjoy a day off. (And I need it, too. It's been four days since I got back from vacation in SC.)

The sun is warm. I'm in a short-sleeved t-shirt and cargo pants -- all neutral colors, except for my purple backpack and the red fleece jacket strapped to my pack. I brought it more to make me visible to any late-season hunters than to keep me warm.

I'm on an old jeep trail that runs along a mountain ridge. On my right, the mountain slopes down. To my left, it's the same story. As the trail rolls along the ridge, the surface varies from clay, to sand, to rock, to grass, to soft, rich soil. I walk quickly, hardly making noise as I go. There are no songbirds and no other animals to be seen. Miles away down in the valley is a train. I clearly hear its horn as it approaches crossing after crossing.

From the beginning of the trail, I can see that someone has driven a large truck on the trail recently. It's National Forest land, and I'm not sure the trail is open to motorized vehicles. I don't want a run-in with the truck's driver out here, so I'm alert for other human life. Thankfully, I find no one.

Eventually the trail leaves the ridge line as the mountain gets steeper. I'm on the west face of the mountain, and I can see tiny houses down below in the midst of valley farmland. Another few minutes and my trail leaves the jeep path. I can tell where the truck stopped. Apparently, it's already gone. The trail gets rockier, narrower, and steeper. Now I'm looking to the east. On this side of the ridge it's so hazy, I can hardly see the valley floor.

My eyes dart from the rocky path to the little GPS receiver in my hand. The reading has gone from hundredths of a mile to feet. I'm getting closer. I can tell that my destination is to the downhill side of the trail.

I'm 80 feet away, and I can see where the Green Cache must be hidden. In seconds, I'm there and I've become the first person to find the newly-stashed cache. I swap out some items and sign the log. But that's only part of why I've hiked almost two miles.

Be still
I replace the cache, hiding it by arranging the rocks and branches as they were when I found them. The area where I was standing has become bare so I spread loose leaves over the spot to erase signs of my visit.

Then it's back up to the trail. It's a rocky area, so I find a nice bench-like rock along the trail. Out comes the snack food, and water bottle, and my trusty old Palm. There is a breeze, and I'm going to be less active for a while, so I put on the fleece.

The rock slopes slightly downhill. I put the pack on the uphill side of the rock as a pillow. I snack on Wheat Thin (100 Calorie packs) and granola bars as I open my Palm. I've got the Bible loaded on it, and for the next hour I read from Romans. Overhead the branches of the nearby trees look like a road map against a clear blue sky.

There are still no songbirds. And, more importantly, no people.

Eventually, I rise, refreshed. It's back down the trail, where again I move quickly and quietly. I enjoy the day's warmth, although I'd be perfectly happy if it were freezing cold. Cold weather makes me feel alive, pulling me outside where I can be active.

The naked forest seems an anomaly in this warmth. There should be buds and green bursting forth everywhere. But it's not, and I'm glad. I like the winter forest. I can see things that would otherwise be hidden.

At some point, I finally hear a bird. Sounds like a crow. Later I hear another bird. Sounds like it might be a hawk. I pause, scanning the sky above, beside, below. I can't see the bird of prey. Its call is getting fainter.

It seems as if I've hardly been on the trail for my return when I reach the trail head. My hike is over. In a few hours, so will 2004.

A good ending.

Posted by JRC at January 2, 2005 09:42 PM | TrackBack