We escaped the grip of the storm. The only remnant in GA was below normal temperatures. During the day, it felt like early Spring. Nights would drop to the low 30s, but an overall major improvement compared to when we began our road trip. It reminded me of how mid-April feels back home. Instead of snow, we got rain and mainly at night. The patter of it on the top of the RV was soothing.
Donna and I have done a fair amount of hiking, Craig a bit less. These days my once upon a time, top-o’-the line hiking boots, circa 1970, could qualify as “vintage,” but they still offer good protection against tree roots, and provide traction over slippery rocks or slogging through mud. During one 4-mile hike my feet must have gotten a little wet causing two small blisters to form, one on each foot. In backpacking days of yore, I would have pulled out mole skin at the first sign of foot irritation, used the mini-scissors attachment on the Swiss Army knife to shape and cut to size and voilà, no blister. Alas, today I have no such preventative.
Consequently, by the time we have completed mile 3 on today’s hike I sorely wish it were mile 4. Every step is a painful reminder that I have blisters. They are not debilitating at this point, but blisters can be stoppers if you are backpacking and not merely hiking. I trundle along with an image from the beginning of the movie “Bridge Over River Kwai,” where the captured Brits, some limping from their wounds, others shoeless, are on a forced march through the steaming jungles of Burma, stuck in my head.
I also think about my last backpacking trip with Lee in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. It must be nearly ten years. Lee was always a gamer; however, the truth is that she would have preferred car camping and was never an avid backpacker. My big-as-a-minute wife did not weigh much even before cancer began ravaging her body. Nonetheless, here we found ourselves in the Canadian wilderness, two young at heart fifty/sixty-somethings. Deep down I knew that Lee was being indulgent out of love for me.
Mindful of this circumstance, when we pulled our backcountry permit, I had made sure the kid ranger seated behind his desk in front of a huge map of the entire Banff-Jaspar wilderness area that was bordered by photos of grizzly bears, moose, wolves, even the fearsome wolverine, clearly understood that we were not interested in taking a death hike on a trail fit only for mountain goats and indefatigable kid rangers. He therefore recommended we try a relatively quick and easy jaunt to a mountain lake located only 6 or so miles from the trailhead.
“Easy” in the backcountry in the Canadian Rockies still meant employing the “rest step” along steep stretches of the elevated trail that we called “puffers,” occasionally clamoring up and over rocks while carrying a 50-pound pack (Lee’s pack was lighter, of course, but proportionate), and gravity-induced, knee jarring, descents from ridgetops into the dark forest that caused the tin cup attached to the side of my backpack to clatter with every heavy step. At least that is how I remember it.
While contemplating the completion of today’s 4-mle hike up and down through a splendid Georgia forest of loblolly pines, I remembered one especially arduous section of our hike in the Canadian Rockies, high on a ridge top, surveying the scenery below while taking a water break. When it neared time to trudge ahead Lee instead removed her pack, tossed her bear whistle to on the ground, and simply refused, stating matter-of-factly she would let a bear come along and take her. This memory made me smile now and considerably shortened the last mile of today’s adventure.
So many images observed, and memories formed on this road trip, and more fondly in days ahead I will recall the daily fine dining we enjoyed inside our RV.
The night that Craig makes pork chops it prompts a discussion of Lee’s homemade apple sauce, an inkling of the present combining with the past. After dinners we would settle in to play cards, maybe listen to one or two old-time radio episodes of “Gunsmoke,” starring William Conrad of television fame as rotund detective Frank “Cannon,” but here a kick-ass, take no prisoners version of U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. Conrad’s take is polar opposite from the gentle giant version of this same character later popularized by actor James Arness in a long running television series. Nowadays hardly anyone remembers that Conrad ever played the role of Dillon. The dishes can wait until morning.
We stay overnight in an earnest South Carolinas state park where a waxing moon shines so brightly that the forest trees cast long shadows. The moon dims but does not completely obscure starry constellations. I see and can recognize Orion’s Belt and Cassiopeia but cannot quite make out the familiar Big Dipper. Our fire nears a finish. In the morning, as we are preparing to break camp, I watch as Donna and Craig fold the tablecloth. They begin with each holding two lengthwise ends, then perform what looks like a minuet, except when the music stops the tablecloth is now neatly folded. I recall performing this same dance with Lee many times.
Under a gloriously bright and cloudless blue sky, we cross a river that separates South and North Carolina and climb the magnificent Blue Ridge Trail on our way to the next camping spot back in Tennessee. We miss our turn while passing through the upscale North Carolina hamlet called Highlands, adding about one hour to our day’s trip, however, the drive is lovely albeit full of hairpins that make the RV’s brakes start to smell. We wend these mountains and cross the Eastern Continental Divide. Then we are in the Great Smokies and back in Tennessee. Tennessee is quite lovely this day.
Like I mentioned in last week’s musings, for me each new image and memory is a positive step forward into an uncertain future after so much grief following Lee’s death. What I had not reckoned, but in hindsight should have, was how this road trip adventure would trigger the many images and happy memories of her I am thankful to have been able to enjoy. It was, in a manner of speaking, like she was along with us on this road trip, and we certainly have been glad to have her with us. Past and present mingle, creating something new and pleasant and quite unexpected.
Before closing today, I am happy to report that Lola has come some distance on her own journey toward achieving “Wonder Dog” status, whether it is in terms of her good travel manners, boundless energy and loyal instincts as our “trail hound” or of course her general puppy cuteness. I would have greatly enjoyed watching Lola get to know Lee.