Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Frozen Floridians and Accidental Magic: Part 3

It wasn't long after Paul, Chase and I started down the trail in the freezing cold weather that I started regretting the many layers of clothes I had on. I still find it quite difficult to imagine wearing shorts and a t-shirt in 40 degree weather while hiking, but many if not most hikers have already figured out what happens. And that's how I happened to get left behind on the trail, while Paul and Chase decided to see just who was the fastest backpacker out that particular day.

I was sitting on the ground, struggling to get my long underwear off without getting my butt wet on the ground, when I heard a "good morning! Are you okay?" I looked up to see a solo hiker about my age, looking like he had just found a lost, deranged person in the woods and was deciding how he could help. I explained that I was just making some apparel adjustments and waved him on down the trail. He kept looking back, and I waited a real long time to resume, hoping that I would not be bumping into this guy again soon, certain that I had now become another story told around campfires in the next few nights.

If I thought that I was spooked enough having a guy come up on me alone on the trail while my pants were down, what happened next easily trumped any fears I had previously...gunshots. Yep, it was hunting season. Would I have gone backpacking with that knowledge? Probably not, and here I was alone with sounds like somebody testing out their AK-47 in the woods. I did my very best to not act like a bear or a dear, and started moving quicker, as if I might outrun a bullet somehow. I finally arrived at the spot where I found Chase and Paul waiting for me. Paul was stubbing out his genuine, homemade, healthy cigarette. Paul claimed at one point that his special brand actually prevented cancer, and improved the lives of anyone lucky enough to get some of that second-hand smoke.
As I stood there catching my breath from the long hike up away from the unseen huntsman that was having more fun firing his weapon than I was on my hike, Paul smiled and pointed towards me and said, "Looks like you have a friend." I slowly turned around with dread, wondering what could be back there, and in my already heightened state, it was an easy shift to augment what I saw to what I thought I was seeing. It appeared that Cujo was about 20 yards behind me, standing frozen in attack mode. I'm thinking, "Slowly reach into my pack and retrieve my large survival knife...yes, the one I left home because it weighed too much."

Once I got over the initial fear of that large dog standing on the trail, eyeing me like something to be dealt with, I realized that this was a hunting dog with a big GPS box on his collar and he had somehow gotten separated from the rest of his hunting group. He followed us at a distance for quite some time and then finally found us too boring to hang with and disappeared into the woods. We only saw hunters once on the trip, but the sound of gunfire was frequent. It kind of messed with my Zen and the Woods thing. The other strangeness was how many people we encountered backpacking on the trail, even though this was to be one of the coldest nights yet this year.

Even with all of the excitement and the cold, I was definitely up for the adventure and was loving my new ultra-light Osprey pack and was looking forward to trying out my new sleeping bag. Even as we hiked up into the darkness of the evening, looking for the best stealth campsite around, I was feeling good about the whole trip, until the time that Paul looked at me and said "You've lost the eye of the tiger"....and I had. I knew I was doomed, and it was just the first night..

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