2001 Summer Hike


June 29, 2001

1:30PM – This trip came as a last minute thought. I had originally planned on going with my father and brother to the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum, but because my dad’s back wasn’t up for the trip, we scrapped those plans. So, with an evening free, it seemed like a good idea to get back out on the trail. The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, being so close, was the best place to go on such short notice.

3:00PM – I stopped at the Park Office, and paid the $3 fee for an overnight stay at Grindle Ridge Shelter. I asked Donna at the office if there were any shelter areas where no one was schedule to be, and she recommended that I take this one. I parked my van in the designated area and set off. The radio said the outside temperature was around 85 degrees. It was hot, humid and hazy, but still a good day to go for a walk.

I began heading north and right away noticed how cool the woods seemed to be. In the shade it felt almost as if it were air-conditioned. However, where the trail let out into an open field or road, the heat was immediately felt.

My pack was so light and the terrain so level that I felt I was standing on a conveyer belt, moving through the woods. The memory of the rocky walk we had on the Appalachian Trail this spring was still fresh in my mind. This was so easy by comparison, that I considered breaking out in a run.

4:14PM – I stopped for my first break at an view known as Middle Fork. Stepping off the trail to the west, there are outcroppings that allow a nice view. I did some writing here and watched a chipmunk bravely draw close. It was hot out on the rocks, but a wind was blowing steadily. The wind reminded me of the kind that comes before a storm. But there were no rain clouds; only heavy humidity blanketing the rolling hills before me.

After a few minutes break, I continued north. I was only walking about 6 miles today so I wasn’t going very fast. I didn’t want to get to camp too early and be bored until nightfall.

The fleas, misquotes and flies were awful. I hadn’t brought any repellent and they chased me without mercy. The few creek beds that I stepped over were dry except for a thick mud. This provided great breeding ground for these tiny insects that were now coming out in force, for what seemed to be a “Dane-Fest”.

I continued walking north. I didn’t pass anyone or see another hiker on this short trip. Without any steep climbs or difficult descents, it wasn’t difficult to make very good time along this section.

The trail leads through some very neat rock formations. Rocks on both sides tower about 20 feet above this section of the trail leaving a narrow opening to move through. It twists and turns and so you can’t see very far in front of you at any given time. One can’t help but think about what one would do if one stepped around a turn in these rocks and came face to face with a creature demanding my respect and a healthy retreat. There is no movement to the right or left, just forward and backward.

5:49PM, I arrived at Grindle Ridge Shelter. I had never been to this shelter area before. It consists of five lean-to shelters, and several camping sites. The shelters were clean, and seemed freshly painted. The crude, but adequate dwelling places have a stone fireplace and chimney.

Rather than sleep in the shelter, I had decided to bring my tent, and camp near the fire pit. I first found a level spot and raised my own nylon shelter for the night. I then set about my first order of business, which was to build a fire. Before I left home, I hastily grabbed the only matchbox I had. I opened it to find three matches. This would be a challenge.

I lit the first match and got a small fire going. I worked with it for quite a while, coaxing and encouraging it to burn. But I soon saw I was losing the battle. My most gallant efforts to resuscitate the fire and bring it back to life went un-rewarded, and I soon watch its life ebb. The second match got another fire going but I was more careful this time to not build it so quickly. My cautious attitude paid off and I soon had a very pleasant fire – with one match left.

The smoke brought the first relief of the day from the insects. I then sat down to eat. My supper consisted of a 12″ sub from Sheetz. Sure, I know Yule Gibbons would be wincing if he saw me pull this from my sack, but hey, it was a quickly planned trip.

The water from the camp hand pump came out reddish/brown. Even after running the water through my MSR filter, it had an unpleasant taste. But I was thirsty enough to drink about 2 liters of it anyway.

After supper I kicked back and relaxed on a log. Even in a quiet forest, there are all kinds of sounds. There were the sounds of birds singing their evening songs, chipmunks chirping, a turkey gobbling in the distance, insects making their noises and the groaning of trees swaying to and fro in the wind. Later, I heard an owl hooting and then there were the unexplained sounds emitting from the forest that added to the symphony while causing me to move a little closer to the fire.

Fire always captures my imagination. The logs I threw on it carried with them the energy of decades of sunlight, wind and rain. And now that energy was being released before my very eyes. I could feel the warmth and light of the sun, in the glowing embers. And in the blue flame that rose up above the logs, I could see the deep blue skies that once fed the wood its much needed oxygen. And in the crackle of the flame itself, I heard the patter of a thousand summer rains that nourished these trees. Before my eyes those forces were being released. Such a marvelous thing, this fire.

9:19PM – I climbed into the tent and closed the flap. The fire continued to burn and cast its light through the nylon walls. I was glad no one was coming here to spend the night. It was nice being alone.

I soon fell asleep and was pretty dead to the world. However, an incessant scratching sound eventually woke me up. Something seemed to be just outside the tent and was moving around. I thought it might be a small rodent and so I didn’t give it much more thought. However, a bit later I was suddenly awakened by the sensation that something had just run across my feet.

Turning the flashlight on, I scanned the interior of the tent and soon discovered that a tiny field mouse was sharing my quarters. I’m not particular fond of mice, especially when we are both in the same tent together. For a while I tried to coax it into a stuff sack so that I could sit it outside, but it refused to comply. Eventually, I dispatched the rodent and escorted it to the tent door. I couldn’t figure out how it got inside and so I searched all over the tent for some kind of opening. Finding none, I convinced myself that I must have let the zipper of the door open and it had found its way inside. Turning out the light, I fell back asleep.

June 30, 2001

6:16AM – I awoke to the sounds of thunder booming. It sounded like cannon fire of a slowly approaching war. The phrase, “threatening to rain” was appropriate in regards to the ominous blasts echoing from the sky. I was a ill-prepared for rain and so I hurriedly packed my belongings. As I rolled up my sleeping pad, I discovered a small hole in the tent floor. Apparently my nocturnal visitor had chewed its way through the bottom. I was glad that I made the discovery in the morning, as I would likely have fretted all night that something else was going to crawl, or slither inside.

I ate some Pop Tarts while packing. The mouse had torn into the small bag of peanuts I brought so I dumped them out on the ground. Taking a few swigs of the disagreeable water, I set out to my van hoping to get there before the rains came. I estimated that it was still before 7AM.

I moved quickly, and made great time along this easy section of the trail. I paused briefly for a drink at the Middle Fork view, and then moved on with the sounds of thunder beginning to lessen.

8:40AM, just before reaching Rt. 653, I stopped at a small, unmarked cemetery that is just beside the trail. It was used my settlers in the mid-to-late 1800’s. There are about 15 head stones in this plot, measuring around 30′ x 15′. A low, un-maintained stone fence surrounds it. Four of the headstones are fieldstones, and were never believed to have been marked. Only about three head stones are legible. They mark the final resting place of Adam Dietz who died 6/08/1852, at the age of 54 years, Elizabeth, daughter of Adam & Elizabeth Dietz who died 9/08/1818 at the age of 12 years, and Mary Leonard who died 1/05/1894 at age 49.

One can’t but think of little Elizabeth who lived only 12 years before coming to this shaded lot. Had she been a sickly girl? Or did the ruggedness of settler life require too much from her? With sweat streaming down my face, I thought of those who mourned in salty tears standing right where I stood. Were they comforted in their weeping with the words of Rev 21:4?

…and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…

I couldn’t answer those questions, but moved on with the comforting knowledge that the One who could answer them, is still on the same throne.

9:00AM – I reached my van. The rain held off and I was thankful for that. Loading my things into the van, I turned toward home, glad that I had been here even for a few short hours.

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