(My very sophisticated tools and a random heart I found carved near the glade!)
My friend’s voices evaporated away into silence quicker than I expected while following the invisible line thru the old growth. Fortunately, I didn’t need to venture very far outside of my comfort zone, the pricking in my toes turned into a steady thrumming sensation when I stepped into the narrow glade.
Studying the clearing, I appreciated the cleverness of the hiding spot. Now I understood why no one ever accidentally stumbled upon my unintended traveler.
The glade owed its existence to dozens of rockfalls deposited by the cliff which heaved itself up in front of me (who knew boulders could bounce?). The rockfalls kept the area clear of anything more than the scraggliest flora the forest had to offer. Immediately inside the cliff’s hurling radius lay my destination, a modest mound (by comparison) of discarded stones. Due to the layers of moss, long grass, sword ferns and one scrappy cedar, it appeared to one of the oldest of the cliff’s deposits.
I looked at my watch. Time’s up I murmured to myself. The possibility of seeing my posterior au natural would only keep my compatriots at bay for so long. Soon, they’d come looking for me.
When I emerged back at our picnic site, Bert and Ernie greeted me like a long-lost friend.
Wood (balling up the brown bag his lunch came in): “Everything ok? We’re almost done eating.”
Me: “I’m fine, I don’t think my stomach is accustomed to processing an entirely organic dinner.”
Beatrice (concern & reluctance coloring her tone): “We could turn around and head back…”
Me: “Don’t do that. The summit is only a half hour-ish away, I can wait here while my stomach calms down. You can pick me up on your way back.”
This plan met with varying levels of reluctance, but in the end, my vote broke the deadlock. The group would continue without me. Wood placed me under strict orders that I would stay put until they got back (I crossed my fingers). Waiting until their voices faded into the distance, I dashed back into the trees.
The second time I entered the glade I stopped to observe the area with jaded eyes, the dozens of natural phenomenon camouflaged the one false feature well. Knowledge or happenstance? Which did he rely on I wonder to conceal her genesis point?
Leaning my pack against a nearby stone, I pulled my recently acquired map and trusty GPS device out then recorded the coordinates next to the ‘x’ I’d written on my approximate location. With that done I set to work with my handy collapsable metal shovel and work gloves. Pulling the blanket of fauna away from the false rockfall proved easier than I expected, the large stones concealed underneath aided my progress.
Two scrapes, one smooshed toe and forty-five very sweaty minutes later – my efforts and elbow grease uncovered two-thirds of a rough stone cairn (the cedar proved too tenacious to remove).
Pulling off a work glove I placed my bare hand on an exposed stone – an electric current raced up my arm – startled I snatched my hand away. I rocked back on my heels while rubbing the spasming muscles in my arm. Trying to calm down I closed my eyes and enjoyed the brisk air playing across my sweaty face, but my mind wouldn’t settle. Instead, it flew away trying to merge and manipulate this new wrinkle into something which fit into the whole I’d pieced together. Shaking myself, I stood up stiffly and put my glove on again. I could borrow trouble later.
Making an ungodly racket (and risking pinched fingers) I levered a rough line of rocks off the spine of the cairn. I couldn’t help the noise. I needed to finish before my friends swung back to collect me and time was running out. When I finally shoved the last rock aside, I collapsed my spade and traded it for a five-pound bag of salt from my pack.
Taking a deep breath, reigning myself in – I poured a steady, unbroken line of unrefined sea salt within the fissure I’d just created. To help infuse the salt into the cairn quicker, I poured a canteen of purified water roughly along the same dusty off-white line. Then I exchanged the empty container for the other five-pound sack of flakey sea salt. Then proceeded to methodically cover the entirety of the mound and surrounding ground with a fine dusting. When the bag was exhausted, I stowed it away and surveyed the area making sure I left nothing (other than the sea salt) behind.
With the job done I grabbed my pack and walked away.
We got yelled at by this little guy when we docked at the base of the trail! So much noise from something so little!
(Bert after his impromptu swim, the wake from our boat setting off and the hidden dangers in the lake we noticed only after tying up the boat!)
At seven am the five of us, and two hounds (Laney & Wood’s boys) assembled on the dock to receive last minute instructions and nibbles from the hotel staff.
Which honestly sound far grander than the departure actually was.
Everyone but Wood was trying with varying success to stifle yawns (the previous night’s nightcaps slowing the infusion of caffeine into our brains). The staff (suppressing their own yawns) passed out bulging brown paper sacks while warning us to get our butts back before sunset. Otherwise, the National Park Service and said staffers would send out very cross search parties to fetch us.
Unaware of the thinly veiled threats being issued to their people, Laney’s boys, Bert and Ernie, were doing their level best to liven things up. Dashing amongst us in their bright orange life vests, wagging their tails, and yipping excitedly at everyone & everything.
One of the staff (I called him Not Sam in my head) held the boat steady while Wood stowed our hiking equipment onboard.
Wood: “Bee what on earth did you put in your pack?”
Beatrice (that competitive gleam glinting again): “My geocaching supplies. My pack will be light as a feather on the hike back down.”
Wood (lifting up my pack and shaking it slightly): “Morticia are you in competition with Bee? Did you put actual rocks in yours?”
Me (straight-faced): “Don’t be silly, I’d never use anything as generic as rocks! I’m a mineral girl! Ten pounds of unrefined sea salt, a shovel for balance and a bottle of water for good measure! It’ll help push my cardio numbers up on my Fitbit.”
Wood (rolling his eyes): “Fine be funny. Just don’t ask me to carry your bag later, I will demand to see inside!”
On that note, and with much good humor, we all climbed aboard, and Laney took the wheel. Ross Lake is twenty-six miles long, but fortunately, we only needed to go about eight. The brisk wind whipped by us at breakneck speeds and wiped away all vestiges of sleepiness from our eyes.
With pictures, a map and Beatrice’s GPS unit in hand we glided into the unofficial Pumpkin Mountain landing in no time at all. Carefully piling out of the boat we started up the winding trail, taking photos, singing (when we found the breath) and generally making enough noise to scare away anything with four legs (other than Bert and Ernie). Wood and the boys lead the way pointing out features of interest to Laney & Sarah, followed by Beatrice, who split her focus between the map in her hand & the path under her feet, and I brought up the rear with a growing sense of trepidation.
About a mile into the hike we’d reached the park service approved tenting area. Beatrice labeled it too easily achieved and marched resolutely past. With the official waypoint behind us, Beatrice started scoping out each hollow, recess and rockfalls along the trail, judging which would serve her cache purposes best. She quickly rejected the rockfalls, musing any subsequent slides could displace her cache or a loose stone might pelt another player. Either eventuality would render her cache invalid which was intolerable (the specter of her nemesis Horus looming in the back of her mind).
Discovering the front desk sold augmented maps (not sure why Beatrice copied hers by hand) I’d purchased one last night, for a bit of independent study. But with Beatrice ticking off each crevice, thicket, and encampment my copy went unfolded. What did not manage to stay tightly folded? The aforementioned trepidation which started to grow in orders of magnitude the closer we walked to the summit without the telltale spark arching across my toes.
When three-quarters of the path lay behind us, I started to seriously waiver on the veracity of my tag-along passenger’s claims and idly wondering if my skin had shrunk two sizes under the unbearable wait…
Then the familiar pricking skittered across my toes.
Time to work.
Me: “Wood, would you mind stopping up ahead?”
Beatrice: “Can you hold on? We’re close to the top.”
Me: “I have to use a little girl’s tree, and I need a snack. The growl you heard earlier was my stomach, not a bear.”
With the mention of food, the others agreed they couldn’t wait to eat either. Beatrice tried to convince us we’d enjoy lunch more with a spectacular view, but even The Boys needed a rest, so she gave in to peer pressure (I think the whining from Bert and Ernie is what convinced her).
Just as I recalled from last night’s studies, an informal campsite laid a few steps ahead of us. Unlike the others we’d scoped out, this one featured an old fire pit and several large low stones for sitting – an ideal picnic spot. For those with a more devious disposition? This was the only campsite we’d seen so far that was set a significant distance off the trail.
While the other looked around and started setting down their packs, I made my excuses and plunged deeper into the trees following the ever-increasing uncomfortable electricity in my toes.
(Maple Ginger Bacon Carrots with Sesame Seeds! This was one of the great side dish from this evening! And the only one which featured a sauce!)
When I finally made the lobby, after a thrilling twilight boat ride, the front desk clerk informed me that the rest of my party had assembled in the dining room.
They saw me first.
All together they called: “Phoebe!”
I made my way over to the large round table under a rustic chandelier, made from antlers, where everyone sat.
Me (feeling corny): “Cheers everyone!”
This met with a round of laughter, clinking of plates, silverware, and glasses. With a slight sense of deja vu, I sat down to my second family-style meal in under a week. Which featured at least one entree covered in bacon sprinkles, one platter held jamón wrapped root vegetables, and we weren’t eating off paper plates.
The bacon almost made up for the shocking lack of sauce.
Wood (in-between bites): “According to the Rangers the best hiking weather is tomorrow. So I rented a boat. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough time to see Pumpkin Mountain. It’s a two and a half day hike if you’re focused.”
Beatrice (helping herself to a bowl of roasted vegetables): “Boat? My map didn’t show a landing anywhere on the trail.”
Laney (taking over for Wood, who’d just took an enormous bite of steak): “Not on the official maps, but the locals made their own version, augmented with all the tricks and trivia outsiders are unaware of. Sam told me there’s a natural landing just under the trailhead we can use.”
Beatrice (looking very interested): “Do they sell copies of these expanded maps?”
Laney: “I don’t know. They’re lending us one for tomorrow. You can take a picture of it if nothing else.”
Beatrice excused herself from the table for a moment.
Sarah (ever efficient): “How will we know what to look for?”
Wood: “They’ve spray-painted the landing bright orange or something. They’ll show me some pictures of what I’m looking for tomorrow, we’ll be fine.”
Talk shifted away from the trip onto more mundane matters, Laney wondered what I thought of FLYT, and Sarah asked Wood about the boys. It wasn’t until we’d practically licked the platters clean that we noticed Beatrice hadn’t returned to the table. Just about the time, we were going to mount an expedition to find her she reappeared in the dining room doorway, waving several folded sheets of paper above her head in victory.
Beatrice (her smile wide): “I got a copy of the map!”
We all started at her blankly.
Beatrice: “The augmented map! I got a copy!”
Me (speaking for the group – hesitantly): “M’kay…and this cause for celebration?”
Beatrice: “Yes! It means I can win!”
Wood: “Win at hiking?”
Beatrice (finally realizing we were confused): “No. Geocaching. My archenemy, Horus….”
Wood: “Wait, archenemy? Seriously?”
Beatrice: “Yes. An annoying player who says my caches are pedantic and pedestrian.”
Wood (trying and failing not to laugh): “He’s just needling you, Bee.”
Beatrice (haughtily): “I am not boring.”
Turns out Beatrice had bamboozled Sam into loaning her an augmented map, then fetched her unaugmented copy from her room. While we stacked the empty serving dished upon one end of the table, she snapped opened the two maps at the other. Then, using a wide array of colored pencils, she started transferring information from the former to the latter. We all watched her with varying amounts of humor.
Beatrice (concentrating on her task): “This isn’t funny, it’s serious.”
Laney: “Of course it is, but you can’t say you have an archenemy named Horus without us at least asking if you are driving on three wheels these days.”
Beatrice’s eyes didn’t waver from her task, but she did smile, Laney has that knack. When the waiter cleared the table, we ordered a round of drinks and continued watching Beatrice (from a distance she growled when we got too close, I mean she politely asked us to refrain from standing in her light). When she finished with a triumphant flourish, I warily approached her and studied her handiwork.
Me (tracing tomorrows trail with my finger): “That blue triangle is the authorized camping spot, but what are the blue circles just past it?”
Beatrice: “They’re the unofficial camping spots. Sam says the locals avoid them now, but they’re still on the map, I thought one might make an excellent place to hide a cache.”
Me: “I agree.”
Those unofficial dots would indeed make excellent hiding spots – for all kinds of things.
Seriously, my feet have not crossed the threshold of a garden shed in over twenty-ish years, and now I am sitting in my second in under a week.
My Uncle would be proud.
While I can make an exception for Beatrice’s, I’d renamed it The Map Room which transformed it into an entirely acceptable place to visit. I do not think calling the building I currently sat in a shack changes things in the slightest.
A shack is a shed built over water instead of on the ground.
How did the situation, me sitting in a shack in the middle of one of the largest national parks in the country by myself with a pile of luggage, come to pass?
Because apparently, I’m a silly goose.
Six days ago Wood made reservations for the five of us and the boys to participate in the first-ever Fall Foliage Tour. Wood deciding that Pumpkin Mountain the perfect location for said first trip. Somehow, the stars and schedules aligned allowing all of us to take a three day weekend together.
Unable to talk Wood out of it I spent the remaining five days making copious notes trying to cope with this new wrinkle. FLYT, my house sitting cousin, the Residents, and luggage & equipment lists all sported a plethora of check marks. I’d also worked out a plan (tentative to say the least – but hey, some plan is better than no plan at all) to deal with my tag-along passenger and the risk she posed to the Residents and myself, without alerting or scarring my friends for life.
So this afternoon the Princess and I picked Beatrice up from Pulp, Sarah from Nevermore and we set out for the Hilltop Hotel (Wood, Laney and the boys left yesterday). A few hours later the Princess pulled into a slot in a damp parking lot. The ever practical Sarah was the first to voice the concern we all felt, “Ummm, where’s the hotel?”
In my hasty preparations, I never thought to take a gander at the Hilltop Hotel’s website (apparently neither did Beatrice or Sarah), relying instead on Wood’s intelligence. Clearly, he forgot to share a few details…
Leaning forward we peered thru the windshield, “Should we call Wood?” ventured Sarah pulling out her phone. Not a flickering bar, fortunately, I spied a bulletin board partially obscured by some ferns, “Let’s take a look.” On it, we found a map which helpfully highlighted the serpentine path we needed to follow, thru the old growth, to a dock. A laminated brochure next to the map told us we would find a boat waiting at the dock to ferry us across the lake to the Hilltop Hotel. Easy as pie.
This place doesn’t sound like a Scooby-Doo set up at all.
Emptying the Princess of her cargo we lugged our luggage (down a trail which grew creepier the further we walked on it) to the dock where we found a shack and a man inside it, “Evening. You three ladies part of the Utley party?”. We nodded, speech being a bit beyond our capabilities since our discovery that rolly wheels, plus a half mile stint on a dirt trail were not a match made in heaven. He went on, “My name is Sam. I’ll just load the boat and zip you ladies across the lake.”
When he’d loaded half of our bags, Sam rejoined us, “Have you ever heard the riddle about the Chicken, Fox and a Sack of Wheat?”
We looked at each other, Beatrice spoke first, “Of course, the chicken and the wheat can’t be left alone together, nor can the fox and the chicken – yet all three must make it across the river whole. Why? Oh. You’re telling us the boat cannot take all of us and our luggage in one trip.”
“You’ve got it in one.” he replied. Sam, the boatman, didn’t appreciate the sheer number of bags three women can pack for a trip and used Hilltop’s smaller boat to fetch us. (I’d dedicated one entire suitcase to books, pretty sure Beatrice did the same, and both of us brought our own hiking equipment. Seems neither of us trust rentals).
So long explanation not very short, this is how I found myself sitting in a shack with half our luggage waiting for a man about a boat. Sam didn’t like leaving me alone, whether he worried about wolves or woodsmen attacking, I’m not sure. Personally, I thought a shack induced panic attack more likely, but hey what do I know?
That’s the how it happened. The why is very simple.
It was due to my lack of participation in a trip down memory lane, which featured several 64ounce Slurpees and the mistaken notion that our route held a plethora of rest stops along the way.
Checking out a tip from one of my Senior Center fares, I found the best fish & chips in Rye – Zeke’s Fish House!
Plus it was near-ish to PULP, where I was going to pick up Beatrice later for the Fall Foliage Tour.
Two Birds, one stone.