Lost for words at this intrusion I said, “I was barking with a dog down there,” and I pointed to a farm I could not see. Our entire encounter lasted a moment. She moved closer. When she talked it was words to me, but a long time later when I thought about it, which strangely enough I did more than once, there was something familiar about her like we went to the same school.
I asked her trail name, which is like talking about the weather. She said several words. I remember one of them, because next I asked her if that was lock as in dreadlock. She said it was. She didn’t have her rain hood up. Her dark hair was tied neatly behind her head in a way that outlined a well defined face. “You could have fooled me,” I said.
“I have one left,” were her words. It was tied back with the rest of her hair. She turned her head to the side to show me, but not enough for me to see. When I came near I sensed a twinge of apprehension on her part. I never saw the dreadlocks, but pretended I did. I went back to where my pack was. “I’m going to keep it until I finish,” she said, and named some obscure town nearby where the year before she had to stop because she fell on her knee. Before that happened she hiked all the way from Maine, and according to her would have finished that same year if she had not fallen. “I had dreadlocks that year, but at home I got rid of all of them but this one.” She half said the word “parents” but stopped giving her head a perceptible shake and at the same time on her face was a determined look. It made me smile, but she did not smile. “I’ll cut it off when I finish,” she said as a matter of fact.
I did not go into my similar situation both that year and the year before when I also had to stop. I said how I had devised a way to get the poncho on while wearing a pack, and that the loose fitting poncho kept me dry and blocked the wind. Her rain gear consisted of pants and rain jacket the same color tan, and her pack was unusually small. I didn’t question any of it, “If I had that,” pointing up and down to her rain suit, “I’d get clammy inside.”
She said, “when it stops raining I take it off, ” again the words “take it off ” were muffled like the word “parents.” I put my pack on and said I had this fear of getting cold and wet at the same time.
My procedure for putting on the wet poncho involved standing into the wind, bunching up the back end, and then throwing it back over my head. The wind would catch it, and it would go all the way down in back. Once I threw it back I had to quickly catch the front edge so the entire thing wasn’t thrown behind me. I could always pull it up in the back, but I could not pull it down. Then I put my head through the hole in the middle, adjusted the front, and snapped the snaps on each side.
I turned away from her to face the wind, and threw the poncho back over my head. I could not see anything and heard her say in a humorous tone, “Bye Jocko.” At that point I was thinking entirely about getting the poncho right. When I pulled my head through the opening she was gone, and I headed North without much thought about just another hiker.
Along the ridges of the mountains there were huge butt logs on the ground and they all looked the same. There was no bark on them, they were severely weathered, and the wood was not rotting. It was obvious they had been there for many years. I wondered if they were what was left of the American Chestnut Trees that once dominated that area of the country. In the early 1900’s they all died like dinosaurs. I was told a remarkable quality of that wood was that it didn’t rot when exposed to the weather.
In the predawn hours of morning I got lost. I wanted to get an early start, and went to get water in the dark. The guide book said the water source was a ¼ mile away on a marked trail to the right of the shelter. When I arrived the night before I did not go there so I didn’t know exactly where it was or what it looked like, and there was no one to ask. Besides all that, I was over confident.
When I left to get water I could see a well-worn path in the light of my headlamp. The batteries were getting low so the light was not very bright. Behind me in the shelter was all my gear less my hiking poles, two one liter water bottles, a water filter, my compass, the gun, and my wallet all of which I took with me. I decided to leave most of my things in the shelter. No one would come along and bother it so early in the morning. I had no-smell-food in foil pouches and human clothes and things that did smell. Still I was in a hurry to get back.
The trail became less and less obvious. I went off the trail and past the water. I was lost. I had bright orange tape on my hiking poles. It was hunting season. I tied a piece around a tree, and went this way and that way hoping to find some indication of foot travel. I found none. Rather than go traipsing off somewhere and get more lost I sat on a log and waited for daylight. It seemed like I waited a long time, and thought about all my stuff in the empty shelter. I thought how I was going to get back on the path.
From the slope of the hill I knew the general direction of the shelter. I planned to go in that direction using the compass to maintain a straight line. In a hundred feet or so I would stop and put another orange tape on a tree. From there I would go 90-degrees in both directions as far as I could without loosing sight of the orange tape behind me. I would repeat that until I found the path that would lead to the shelter and to water.
When dawn finally did arrive I stood up and looked around. Uphill in the distance I saw what looked like a white PVC pipe. It was the spring, and the path leading to the shelter. When I got back with my water nothing was disturbed.
Bearfence Shelter (or hut as they are called in the park) was the last place I was in before the storm hit. Fortunately, there were two hikers who had a car in the nearby Lewis Mountain campground. One was a veterinarian from northeast Indiana and the other was a lawyer friend from New York City. They gave me a ride to the nearby town of Luray. After 5 days of waiting for the snow in the mountains to melt I gave up and went home for the winter.