(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.