Friday, November 12, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 9: Arrival

Jack eased the car off the road and down into the woods. If anyone had seen him it would have looked like he was heading off into the woods but behind the tall weeds edging the road, there was actually a graveled driveway that curled around through the trees to a small cabin. His parents owned this cabin and came down several times during the year but during harvest season in the fall, the lawn typically got neglected. The weeds out near the road, which received more sunlight, grew tall and blocked the driveway but further in under the canopy of trees, it was mostly fallen leaves and short patches of grass. This suited Jack fine because it was like having a natural fence to shield you from snoopy neighbors.

He let himself into the cabin and found the proper topography map, which he unfolded on the kitchen table and studied by the light of his flashlight. The breakers had been thrown and he wasn’t planning on staying long enough to make it worth the bother of turning the correct one on and then off again. He circled a location on the map and wrote a short note in the margin so that his parents could look him up should they come down here. Leaving the map unfolded on the table, he stepped back outside, locking the door behind him.

As he unloaded his backpack out of the car and started packing his first load, a light rain started falling. Normally he would have gotten out his raincoat but he knew that it would be too hot wearing that with all the exertion that he would be putting forth this evening. He looked up into the sky but it was too dark to make out any clouds. A low rumble off to the west told him that the rain might get a little heavier before the night was through.

Cinching the straps around his waist and shoulders, Jack set off back up the driveway and down the road he had just driven in on. About one hundred yards later at an intersection with another road, there was a small gravel parking lot off in the trees and a trail heading to the Buffalo River four miles and 2500 vertical feet down. He hiked down this trail a ways before turning off onto another slightly used trail which he followed until it reached a natural mountain bench. He stepped off the trail where the bench crossed a small crease that only flowed water after a heavy rain and followed it down the steep mountainside.

After an hour of slipping and sliding all over the leaf-covered rocks embedded in the mountainside, Jack finally reached the object of his destination. It was a large overhang of limestone carved thousands of years ago by the stream he had followed down the mountainside. The stream had continued its gradual erosion process after the overhang and now rested another one hundred feet down a shallow slope below him. If he followed the stream downhill another quarter mile, he would come to the Buffalo River which flowed most of the year and retained pools of water from which to obtain drinking water. In the driest years when the Buffalo wasn’t flowing, there were always deep pools of water left behind.

Jack had explored this overhanging shelf of rock about five years ago while bushwhacking through the area. It ran about thirty feet back into the mountainside and contained several smaller shelves of rock further inside. There were also a dozen or so table sized rocks scattered about the entrance and a nice stand of beech, oak, sweet gum and maple trees between it and the river which shielded it from view most of the year. This was going to be his base camp once he had packed the remainder of his gear down the mountain side but with the rain picking up, he didn’t think it would be tonight. As he made his way back up the mountain side towards his car, he decided that tonight he would just trundle the remainder of his gear down over the bench and far enough down the mountainside to be out of sight from the trail. Tomorrow when it wasn’t raining and he had more light, he would come back for the rest. By this time tomorrow, he would be living the good life.

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