One time I went camping with my brother Joey and my friend Dan. It was honestly 3 of the best days of my life. It took place in 2006 and was the tail end of 4 years of annual hiking weekends. The hiking trip I took two years before that in 2004 was by far my manliest. But the hiking trip I had went in 2005, not so much. To date it has been my worst hiking experience. To be clear, I’d take that weekend over a week in the office, but nontheless. I had just come off the manly year in which I had an incredibly successful hiking venture in North Carolina. I actually don’t know the exact location of that trip. Odd right? I think it adds to the lore. The idea that somewhere out there is an unmarked trail and I conquered and fell in love with it with no possibility of ever seeing it again (like a Spring break tryst). So the year following this trip I made plans to head in the same general direction with two completely different people and unfairly expected the same result. Let’s do a little comparison: The first trip I’d bro’d up with two dudes I had hiked with previously. One was an Eagle Scout and the other a Raven Scout (I just made that up but he was a man’s man and while not an Eagle, he fell somewhere just below). Either way, I’d hiked with them before and this trip just strengthened the bond and we had a blast.
This trip was with my little brother (8 years my junior so say, he was probably 16) and a longtime friend. But the longtime friend and I had never done any physical activity together with the exception of playing some basketball. Overall, he was a fantastic dude. It’s just hard to judge how someone will act with you when they are schlepping around 50 pounds of gear in 85 degree weather and 110% humidity. Not to mention when he accepted the invitation his first comment was, “That sounds great and I’m in. I will have to stop quite a bit to eat though, my blood sugar level has to be constant,” Or something to that effect. FYI, he was the skinniest dude I know. Now I don’t know if he had some health problems he didn’t feel comfortable discussing but it’s been my experience that most blood sugar problems come from obese people who need an extra little Debbie or they can’t crawl back into their Walmart motorized cart to pick up their diet soda. Anywho, whatever he was eating didn’t stick around long enough to turn into fat with the miles we were going to put in.
We drove up to Cesar Head State Park with the plan of hiking a trail and camping somewhere along the way. We were in the car all through the night Thursday and designated Friday and Saturday to hike. That Sunday we would meander our way (or mosey, whichever you prefer) back home before going back to work on Monday. Our first mistake was the park we chose. Well, the park at which we ended up. See my two previous camping jaunts had been planned by another who told me the concept was drive north until we hit a mountains and scout around for a hike. I can do that and I did. Cesar Head State Park though, like most state parks, didn’t allow trail camping. I get the reasoning in that you don’t want a ton of sorority girls marching out in the woods and causing a ruckus or hurting themselves on Uncle Sam’s back yard (oh… did you think I was going to say frat guys?! It’s 2016, stop gender typing). But we weren’t heavy drinkers and certainly not drug users so it seemed completely ridiculous to tell me I couldn’t sleep in a tent in the woods where no one is going to check anyways. They said we could rent a primitive camping spot for $20. “Ha! Pay you to sleep on the dirt. I’m not a total idiot!” The Ranger suggested traveling the 6.1 miles instead of 6 and camping just past the trail where the government had no jurisdiction (a rare governmental show of restraint). I gave her a little wink, which creped her out more than showed my appreciation and awkwardly left the station. Then it was just me and the two green horns with nothing but trail in front of us.
The best moment of hiking for me is when you start the trail. You set out and each bend in front of you hides the adventure that lies ahead. We did a little desert island and as we walked and discussed what TV shows we would bring on DVD (…dvd…shows it was in 2005) if stuck on an island. I chose LOST (still would to this day) and HEROES. Keep in mind it was mid season 1 and I was fired up. I didn’t realize the free fall of trash it would turn into.
I had a nightmare situation happen relatively early on. I had to use the bathroom. Number one, and everybody knows the rule of using the bathroom when hiking. Unfortunately I don’t. I just look around to make sure no women or paparazzi are hiding in the trees waiting to attack me and then let loose. Sadly, there was a bend a little ways off. I hadn’t seen anyone in hours so I thought, ‘what are the odds that a woman and her dog would come marching up while I was answering natures call?’ Pretty good actually because that’s exactly what happened to me. I’m pretty quick on my feet so I turned away and started pointing my hands out over the mountains as if I was announcing something. I’m sure she wasn’t fooled but she was gracious enough to not say anything. And that was highlight of the trip.
From there we traipsed the 6.1 miles of high and low elevation until just past midday. The end of the government trail and the place we’d unpack for the night. It was less than impressive. No place to sit, no even ground, no Jacuzzi (I was hopeful) and the water was dark and not approachable due to the brush along the banks. We took one look at it and drew one conclusion: ‘We have to go back!’, swallow our pride (maybe some Burger King too) and take the campsite for $20. The round trip would be 12.2. Not record breaking but for us it may as well have been 122.2. We trudged and purchased the land from the government for the evening. Unlike what happened to the Indians, they let us keep it for the night. It was quite pretty with a trickling stream passing next to it. You would think that with us driving all through the night before and hiking the 12.2 we’d sleep like babies. We slept like babies with colic. Miserably I tossed and turned all night. The next day we couldn’t take anymore.
We found a beautiful deep flowing stream with which we could trout fish. At the start we had two options: go right or go left. We had no idea what where either path led. We just knew we were filthy and exhausted and pulling a fish from the stream and cooking it would be the experience that changed the course of our strife. Cut shot to 4 hour later. We had 3 empty trout bags and 3 empty stomachs. Defeated we headed back to the car. But something told me we weren’t done. When we came back to the original cross roads I said, “Let’s just go a bit in the other direction.” 10 feet past the start of the new path we came to a bridge. Not unlike a movie when a break in a hurricane offers the heroes a glimpse of sunlight, we saw a glimpse of nirvana. We had walked right into a state park that had a swimming hole, candy machine, showers, and free back massages. Well…three out of four ain’t bad. When we had showered up and eating a Snickers bar or 4 we had settled into a conversation. We reflected on how bad the trip had been up to that point and shared some laughter. Then, during an awkward pause I said, “Why drag this out? Who’s ready to go home?” Unanimously, we agreed.
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