It was a Dad/Daughter time to celebrate Father’s Day. Our hike had been planned for weeks, and I had dreamed of taking this trek forever. A few years ago one spring, I did a solo hike from the Fiery Gizzard trail-head, beyond Sycamore Falls, up to Dog Hole trail following the ridge to Raven’s Point, and then down into the gorge circling back along the river. This section of the trail is beautiful but rugged. The ranger warned I’d be climbing over rocks and boulders beside the river, and that the trail was not well marked. He spoke truth. A few times the path disappeared into the landscape and I had to backtrack to find the blazes marking the trail. On one of my wrong turns, the ground was so wet from spring rains, that what I thought was a trail began to give way, and I had to grab a sapling to keep from sliding down the hill into the river. All a part of the great adventure.
To be able to trek the length and breadth of the trail required us to park a vehicle at either end. From the Foster Falls entrance to the Fiery Gizzard trail-head is thirteen miles, and when you add the spur trail to Raven’s Point, which we did, the hike is fourteen miles. This trek offers the verdant splendor of forests so thick that the sunlight struggles to get through, scenic overlooks along the tops of mountain ridges that inspires dreams of a homestead with a back porch full of rocking chairs, and gorges that descend so deep you swear you’ve stepped into the imagination of Jules Verne in “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” What better companion to take on this Father’s Day hike than my daughter, Lauren.
I am a firm believer in preparation, especially when it comes to planning hikes. While no Boy Scout, I do study maps and watch the weather, and try to anticipate any possible contingency. I will bring plenty of water and food, walking sticks, braces for my aging joints, mole skin, extra shoe lace, matches, Swiss Army knife (I still carry the one given me as a wedding present). I even have duct tape wrapped around my walking sticks in case something needs binding; preferably a shoe or an article of clothing and not a broken body part, though a splint could be fashioned if necessary. When trekking solo, I stick my phone in my backpack, but on this day, I chose to leave it locked in my car since Lauren was taking her high-tech phone for picture opportunities. And since we were going to have a vehicle at either end of the trail for our shuttle, I brought along my extra car key.
My car was left at the parking lot at the end of the trail, and we drove Lauren’s van back to the starting point at Foster Falls. Before Lauren locked the van I took out my car keys and dropped the first one into the pouch beside the passenger seat. I remember holding that second car key in my hand and thinking “Aren’t you clever.” Both keys would be safely locked inside Lauren’s van. No chance of losing them on the trail.
Over hill and dale, down into gorges, huffing and puffing up the steep ascents, fording streams, traversing ridge tops, and continuing on the winding path through thick forests, Lauren and I were having the best time sharing family memories, dreaming of future travels, and solving the world’s problems since we decided for this day our troubles did not exist. Oh, the hubris.
We stopped to have our lunch at Raven’s Point and enjoy the stunning view. It was at Raven’s Point that we learned a significant difference between men and women: when a woman eats a fresh cherry she will politely remove the pit from her mouth with her fingers and discretely toss it away. When a man is ready to discard the pit, he just spits it out, and for extra measure, aims to hit something with it. Some lessons I tried to teach my daughters just didn’t take. Except for the cherry pits, we left our lunch site with no carbon footprint.
It was around mile ten when the epiphany struck. Lauren was in the lead, and when she didn’t hear my footsteps behind her, she turned around to see me frozen in the middle of the trail with an addle-brained expression on my face. Now let me be clear. What I was experiencing was nothing akin to the light that blinded Paul on the road to Damascus, or the flames of the burning bush that lured Moses, or Jacob’s dream of the stairway to heaven. No, my manifestation was more similar with Balaam’s talking ass.
The vision was so vivid: I saw myself standing inside the open passenger door of the Niedlov’s van removing the first car key from my pocket and dropping it into the pouch, and then removing the second key from my other pocket, holding it in my hand for a brief second and thinking, “I sure don’t want to lose this one on the trail, so let’s just leave it with the other one.”
Out of concern for her father, Lauren asked what was wrong, and I confessed that I had administered a self-inflicted blow to the back of my head with the stupid stick, and through no fault of her own, she was collateral damage. We were six hours into the hike, so there was no turning back. After expressing some non-church words of self-incrimination, we marched onward. Now was an opportunity to apply the art of solvitur ambulando and solve our dilemma by walking.
There was a lot of daylight left, but still our pace quickened as we played out the worst-to-best-case scenarios. Worst case: hike an extra seven-plus miles at the end of the trail back to Lauren’s car. Best case: hope to find a sympathetic hiker who might be willing to give us a ride. Problem was, we had only seen a couple of people on the trail all hiking in the opposite direction.
Then Lauren had a brilliant idea. My dear friend Steve Brallier and his wife Lynn lived just up the road in Sewanee, Tennessee. I could give them a call, and if they were around, they could meet us at the trail-head and drive us back to Lauren’s car parked at the Foster Falls entrance. Yes, brilliant.
“You’ve got his number, right Dad?”
“Yes, Daughter, Steve’s number is in my contact list on my phone SAFELY LOCKED INSIDE MY CAR!”
We paused once again for a second application of the stupid stick. Another few non-church words expressed, and we walked on in silence.
After a few moments it was Lauren who stopped on the path. She thought she might have Steve’s number saved on her phone when he had called her to place a special order at Niedlov’s bakery back during Covid. She whipped out her phone, found a “hot-spot” for the connection, and voila, Steve’s number appeared. The call was made. Three rings, and we heard Steve’s incredulous voice, “Lauren, is that you?” Yes, my friends, Steve had also saved Lauren’s number. All hail technology.
I quickly make my confession, and just as quick, Steve laughed and said, “Sounds like you hit yourself with the stupid stick.” Nothing like the insult of a best friend to keep you humble.
Speaking of best friends, I want to digress a moment and plug Steve’s book “Mitaka’s Secret.” Six years ago Steve and Lynn sat at our table, and over a long dinner, told us how they came to this incredible story. In the ensuing years Steve would occasionally read me a new chapter that he and Lynn had researched and written. This is a true story, brilliantly told. Release date is July 20, 2021, and will be available wherever books are sold.
The lesson learned from my Fiery Gizzard Epiphany was that all the preparation I need for these hiking adventures is to include my resourceful daughter who knows how to take care of her old man. And, of course, be lucky enough to have a best friend who lives nearby and will happily come to your rescue. Priceless treasures both.
Kay is always my first reader. When I came in this morning from exercise, I heard laughter from our bedroom. I walked into the room and found her holding the draft of this story. She looked at me and said, “This is so you.” I guess after all these years I have become predictable.