Posted by: JennyRain | August 26, 2010

The Continued Journey (Part 4)

Today’s post is the fourth in a series of being on a journey… seen through the metaphor of hiking

***

Time constraints prevented me from driving back to the mountains for my fourth Georgia hike so I landed at Hard Labor State Park in Rutledge. I had scheduled this hike on my calendar, knowing in advance that I would have to choose a nearby park if I wanted to reach my hiking goal of 10+ miles before my 5:00 meeting. It was not until much later that I realized long hikes and afternoon meetings do not cohere as well as I would have liked as hiking seems designed to rage against a fixed schedule.

Hard Labor State Park

The drive to Hard Labor was uneventful and consisted of a simple stretch of forest littered with an occasional billboard on I-20 Westbound. The entrance winds hikers through a quaint Georgia town, but blink and you miss the only scenery for miles.

My hike was designed to take me along the Lake Rutledge Equestrian trail which drew itself along fourteen miles of forested and stream-side paths in a patch of middle Georgia’s hills. I would be sharing the trail with my equine friends so I anticipated a moderate, non-Coosa-strenuous hike.

Several directional decisions had to be made prior to the beginning of my hike.

Though I found the welcome center easily, locating the stables forced my blood-pressure up a notch and uncovering the elusive trail head was downright harrowing. After loosing a torrent of expletives at the poorly marked trail, a lone ranger with his yellow lab rode by in a John Deere Gator to point me toward the trail head. It was less than fifteen feet from where I had been standing.

Map: Hiking Map of Hard Labor State Park

Embarrassed at my inability to locate a simple trail head, I began hiking, feverishly attempting to rid myself of the foul attitude that had crept through me.

Even my trusty Mp3 player seemed to cajole me out of my funk as my first steps were taken to the rhythm of “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” by U2.

The beginning of the path found me clean and dry and I sank into the sandy hiking path with ease, only occasionally having to meander around horse droppings or overhanging brush. The path was well blazed (IF you were successful at trail-head-locating) and easy to follow. I zigzagged up hills in a dancing right-left foot rhythm that felt closer to a skip than a walk and confidently reassured myself that I would finish this trail with ease. Images of Dorothy and the yellow brick road flitted through my mind.

Other than the sucking-sand, mush-like trail, this hiking path did not seem too difficult, but rather just an enjoyable jaunt through a lovely forested hillside. The trees allowed me breathing room, there was no fear of bears threatening to arise in me, and the gentle, rolling knots of land were just enough to provide a good workout.

The woodland trail snaked me around and over stream beds.

Most of them cut through the knolls like indented wrinkles, and like old, leathery skin, looked like they had lacked moisture all season. Whereas the mountainside brooks at Vogel State Park teemed with water and aquatic life, these streams were dry and dead, filled only with dead leaves and old rocks.

As the trail neared the lake and I trekked to U2’s “Stuck in a Moment,” I rounded a corner and stopped my left foot just in time from smashing down on the head of a three-foot long, two-inch thick, black snake. He obviously eyed me prior to my felicitous pause, as Mr. Snake was in mid-slither across the trail the first six-inches of his dusty black body poised vertically like a statue.

His left beady-eye was fixated on my lower leg, his right beady-eye on the other side of the trail.

I stopped short, unable to breathe or move, afraid that any sudden jerk would encourage him to become one with my lower ankle. Both of us were solidly wedged in an instant of indecision.

Without any tools other than a squirt of warmish water from my Dasani bottle to deter him, I debated what would be the most prudent next step. His head was in a diamond shape with the eyes pointing side-ways and the snout wider than I was used to, and his thick, dusty body looked like he had been on the path for awhile longer than me. Not knowing if he was poisonous or not and thinking it unwise to hold the stalemate for too much longer, I risked walking around him to continue my hike, hoping he would not follow me. This was one stranger on the trail that I did not want to share the walk with.

After shaking off the willies for the next mile or two and hopping like a jack-rabbit over any underbrush that I could not see through, I finally settled back into my hike. I reminisced about the largesse of the environment on the Coosa trail and the lingering force of a miniscule ground rodent at Hard Labor and thought that nature was at once inviting and intimidating.

Over-impetuous early-afternoon confidence drove me over Fambrough Bridge Road.

This section of trail across the road is less traveled by riders and walkers and offers a promise of solitude. I had not yet reached the half-way point of my hike and ambitiously attacked the back-trail, reassuring myself that it was only an additional two miles to the overall trip. I anticipated being out of the back-trail in thirty to forty-five minutes.

Almost immediately the trail steepened and narrowed.

More extreme slopes were commonplace on the back-trail and I felt like I was always climbing up. This intensity would not abate for the duration of my hike that afternoon. By this time I was bored with the consistent diet of trees, leaves, dried stream-beds, and twigs that were the accompanying scenery so I had nothing to distract me as the climb intensified.

Huffing and puffing over and around middle-Georgia’s natural obstacles, I was consistently winded and increasingly becoming aware of the blisters that were screaming for me to stop. After an entire hour of struggling through the deceptive hillside, I finally resigned myself to my first aid kit and was astonished to find more blisters had erupted during this trail than the other three hikes combined.

After gingerly attending to my feet I arose and attempted to regain the rhythm of the hike.

Needle-like spasms shot straight up the outside corridor of my calves on each step and I ruminated over my situation. I had ten miles back to the stables to hike on bad feet and that was a good estimate, as I was still stuck in the back-side of the trail that seemed to endlessly snake through the hillside.

My attitude began traveling south fast and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Stuck in the woods with boring scenery, no mountains, no pretty falls, no one to know I was there if I just sat down and never got up, a seriously depleted water supply with dry-stream beds surrounding me, and throbbing foot pain were not a great recipe for a casual hike. When did this section of the hike become so difficult? Good grief, I was in middle-Georgia not the mountains!

This hike needed to be over with and there was nothing I could do to end it.

I was trapped in the middle of a walk with only one route back to home. This was not the hike I had planned for, one that became incrementally more difficult on the backside where there was nothing to distract me from thinking about how hard it was. This was an equestrian trail, how did horses survive it? Who invented this trail anyway and why did I choose this trail? I would rather be in the mountains or the lake! Who the heck wants to be in middle-Georgia of all places?

I felt lost and frustrated and powerless to end the hike that I had chosen three hours prior.

I began to cave into myself and strain forward, convinced that the only thing that would keep me from sitting down for good was forward momentum. I forced myself to pick up the pace, determined to end the hike and imposing a stop-time of 4:00 pm, no matter where I was. I was no longer bored or restless with my surroundings, I was simply angry and determined not to get stuck in the back-trails of middle Georgia.

Two hours later I emerged from the trail drained, covered in sand and developing welts across my legs and arms from God-knows-what.

My shoes had taken the brunt of the hike and were completely discolored and tattered from what had started out as a simple trail through middle-Georgia’s hillside. The 5:00 meeting was canceled due to some fortuitous obstacles other than the trail, which was providential because the trail’s duration eclipsed the “clean-up” time I had planned into my schedule.

The yellow-brick road had become five hours of a blue-blazed battering ram against my senses and emotions.

My expectations slammed head-long into the reality of the hike and left me feeling battle-weary and scarred. What I had planned as a refreshing escapade became a kidnapping of my emotions and my person. Only days later would this trail begin to develop into a metaphor for my current path.

This trail was not enjoyable, and I am trying hard not to remember it, but somehow I am sure that it has been useful.

Whatever it is to be defined as, I have placed my hiking shoes on the shelf for a week or two.

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Responses

  1. Jenny,

    Your courage is evidenced in two ways: not only do you venture these strenuous hikes, but you write about them with great honesty and vitality! You put us on that trail right there with you. I am tired already…

    Walk on– and write on– Sister!

    Charlie

  2. I agree with Charlie. Well done.

  3. Wow… great post Jenny… loved this!


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