Sunny Black Friday

It’s the day after Thanksgiving.  For some people, going to the malls before dawn and waiting in lines is the best way to spend this day.  Our agenda is the extreme opposite.  We start by sleeping in.  Well, maybe not exactly sleeping.  I wake up earlier than I’d like, but I simply lay in bed and refuse to get up.  I’m not sure exactly what is so wonderful about being able to just lay in bed knowing you don’t have to go anywhere, but it is.

Of course, I eventually get hungry and start thinking about breakfast.  Pat is also awake and lounging.  We clean up enough to be presentable and then head to the dining room.  After a leisurely breakfast, we return to our room to change and pack for hiking.  We have no grand plans today.  I get out the notebook in the room provided by the lodge that has a section on nearby trails.

We overheard the innkeepers parents talking about Huckleberry Knob as a short hike with a spectacular view.  Today promises to be a clear and sunny day, so this seems like a good choice.  The hike is listed in the notebook.  Since it’s only 2 miles round trip, I select a second hike that’s 4 miles round trip that also goes to a high spot with a great view.

As we leave, we pick up our brown bag lunches from the cooler next to the lodge door.  They don’t serve lunch in their restaurant, but they pack everyone a lunch in either a brown bag or a backpack to take with them.

I decide to try my fivefingers trekking shoes on the first trail since it is short.  I want to test whether my feet will be warm enough to wear them on a longer hike or not.  If a trail isn’t very rocky, is dry, and the ground isn’t too cold, I prefer my trekking shoes.  But it is late November and my feet can get painfully cold.  I decide the first trail is a good test because it’s long enough that my feet will have time to warm up and short enough that I won’t be miserable for long if they don’t.

The trail is actually a forestry access road that’s wide and flat with ruts in it.  In many places, it’s still puddled and muddy from recent rains.  I do my best to walk around the mud, but the tiniest bit of moisture seeps into my shoes, soaking my feet.  Each time my feet get wet, they get very cold.  With movement, they warm up until I get to the next puddle.  I’m glad that I choose a short trail to try them on.

While the walk to the first “knob” is not particularly interesting, or if it is, I was so busy watching for mud that I missed it, the view from the knob is amazing.  If the mountains had snow covered peaks in the distance, I would feel like we were on the set of The Sound of Music.

The first knob has a view of the second knob, which appears far away.  A huge cross looms up on the hill and we wonder what’s up there.  We enjoy the view a bit longer and then continue up to Huckleberry Knob.  We are upon it in no time–the distance is far less than what we thought from down below.  Oddly, the giant cross turns out to be a rather small.  So much so that we walk around the knob looking for the giant cross we saw from below.  I just recently relearned that looking up at something makes it appear larger, but this seems ridiculous.  Neither one of us can believe the 3’ cross that marks the grave of a man that died by getting drunk on the mountain and dying of exposure is the same cross we saw from below, but it has to be.

We run into a couple of women we saw at breakfast who are also enjoying the view.  We take turns taking pictures of each other.  It’s an incredibly beautiful day, but it’s noon and the lighting is not good for taking pictures.

Pat and I sit on the side of the knob for a while, looking at the sky and the mountains below.  It’s nice to just relax here for a bit.  After a while, we decide to walk back and go on to our next hiking destination, Mud Gap.

While Pat drives us to the next trail head, I slip out of my shoes and prop my feet up near the defrost vents so they can dry before I switch to my socks and boots for the next hike.  We eat our brown bag lunch while we drive and finish it in the parking lot at the trailhead.  Two other vehicles are in the parking lot.  One is a small pickup truck with Sierra Club stickers on it.  The other is a big pickup truck with an older man in an orange vest in it.  He is hunting.  It’s a little nerve wracking to realize we’re out hiking in a national forest the first official day of deer season.  It occurs to me we really should be wearing orange.  Fortunately, the trail is another well known trail that’s easily identified, so hopefully that will reduce our chances of being mistaken for deer.

We pause at the sign in the parking lot before heading up the trail.  I learn that this is actually part of the Benton-MacKaye trail.  This will be the second time I’ve hiked on part of this 275-mile trail that starts at the same point as the Appalachian trail, loops around, and then reconnects with the Appalachian trail in Smoky Mountain National Park.

As we study the sign, the hunter calls out to us.  He tells us about the hike, the view, and an alternate route that allows you to drive almost to the knob.  As we thank him and start walking, he calls out loudly, “I’m 77 years old; if I can walk up there, y’all sure can!”  We laugh and agree as we continue on our way.

As we make our way up the wet and rocky first 100 yards or so of the trail, I decide switching to my waterproof hiking boots was a good idea.  Pat interrupts my thoughts with, “How would that guy get a deer out of here if he shot one?”  We continue to contemplate that question as the trail gets steeper, rockier, and wetter.  I finally say, “Maybe he’s one of those guys that really just wants an excuse to go hiking.”

As we continue, we pause every once in a while to listen.  Sometimes we hear birds or squirrels, but more often, what we hear is the wind.  It starts like a far away swell, gathering in the distance.  Then it rolls its way up the side of the mountain, rising towards us as it gradually gets louder and louder.  Finally, it crashes over us and lifts my hair off my face.  The experience is like standing on the beach as the tide rolls in without getting wet.  I could stand and listen to the rise and fall of the wind all day, but we start moving again after the current wave starts to recede.

When we arrive at the knob, we are startled to see that it is littered with trash.  Then, two piles of trash jump up and start running towards us with wagging tails and a third assimilates itself into a man sitting up suddenly after having been caught in a nap.  As it turns out, it’s a couple with two dogs who have blankets and picnic gear with them.  We assume they are the owners of the Sierra Club pick up truck.

The dogs greet us and we pet them as the owners try to call them away.  I never know what to do in these circumstances.  The owners want the dogs to listen, but we want to pet the dogs.  Since these don’t seem like people who will abuse their dogs for being friendly, we go with petting them.

After being welcomed to the knob, we settle down on the side of it, slightly downhill from the Sierra Club couple and their dogs.  I work my way around the circumference, shooting the panoramic views even though the light isn’t any better than it was at Huckleberry knob.  I’m so happy to have finally gone somewhere with a spectacular view on a day when it’s clear.  Usually we only go to high spots on cloudy or foggy days.  I guess it pays to check the weather before you pick a hiking trail.

After shooting the view, we lay in the short, dormant grass on the knob and stare at the blue sky.  It’s so blue that I have a hard time focusing on it.  Not a single trace of cloud gives my eyes something to tell what an edge is.  I feel like the lens of my camera when I point it at a solid-colored surface.  I can’t say I’ve ever experienced that before.

As we lay there, Harry the dog suddenly appears standing over Pat’s head.  Apparently he was worried about us when he saw us lay down.  Pat pets him and he wags his tail.  Convinced we’re OK, he returns to his owners.

We get up and attempt to brush the dead grass off our shirts, but it really wants to stick to us.  We make our way back to the car, pausing to see a downy woodpecker, a grasshopper, and a squirrel.  By the time we get back down to the parking lot, my knees are starting to ache and I’m wondering if I should have worn my trekking shoes after all.  My feet are warm and dry, though, so I won’t be able to decide which was better until I know how long my knees will hurt.

We return to the van, hot inside from the sun.  We strip off some of our extra layers, extraneous in this sunshine.  We climb into the warm van and I am transported to the feeling of getting into a hot car after spending a summer day at the local swimming pool.  I love that feeling.  Any part of my skin that feels chilled suddenly feels like it’s been wrapped in a blanket.

We return to the lodge before sunset–enough time to shower, change, and sit and relax before dinner.  This has been a perfect day.  No crowds.  No traffic.  Just beautiful weather and a great view.  Sometimes I think that’s all I really need.