No more pictures tonight, because — darkness — but my night hike was not without incident.
I arrived at ‘Twin Falls Hollow’ at seven-twenty, I was making good progress, and decided to carry on with my plan to hike to ‘Deep Hollow’ on the western edge of the wilderness. I stopped to fill up with water rather than struggling up and down the steep, rough, and brushy sides of ‘Deep Hollow.’ Of course, the disadvantage was going to be carrying an extra couple of liters of water for the next three-and-a-half miles — that’s 4.4 lbs extra to carry.
Bushwhacking back to the trail, it dawned on me that I’d been hearing the sound of an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) in the distance for some time. Sound carries well into the wilderness from the farms around it, so I paid little heed. Mechanized equipment is not allowed in the wilderness, and as people seem to follow that particular rule, I didn’t think I’d be meeting anyone on an ATV. Unless, of course, they were up to something nefarious.
As I Hiked along, the ATV got louder. I dimmed my headlamp and considered what to do next. It wouldn’t be easy to get an ATV on this trail, and why would you anyway? Considering nefarious activities was not being over dramatic. After all, if you are doing something illegal in the first place, driving a mechanized vehicle where you shouldn’t be is going to be the least of your concerns. Highest on my nefarious list were poachers or some drug-related activity. After all, I live in an area with national renown for meth labs, to the point where our phone area code — 417 — has entered into the slang for meth and meth busts. Of course, the perceived potential for nefariousness, along with the presumed size of the wild critters (and their teeth), grows significantly with the onset of nightfall.
I can be stubborn (moi?) at times, and I wasn’t going to let an illicit ATV get between me and my destination. I decided to keep going and if I met the ATV, I’d deal with it. However, I might be stubborn but I’m not totally reckless. I was 20-30 miles from any authorities, and so, for the first time in seven years’ hiking and carrying a handgun, I took the safety off before I proceeded.
I rounded a corner in the trail, and there ahead of me was a small ATV stopped across the trail, engine running and lights blazing. Well, actually, the lights were pretty dim.
John (that’s what we’ll call him for the sake of anonymity) was — the best I could make out in the dark — in his seventies. He owned a property nearby, and some of his cows had got loose, and he’d gone looking for them. He’d been gone longer than he planned, and sundown had caught him out without a flashlight. He knew pretty much where he was, but he was struggling to find the old forest road that led back toward his property. Without a flashlight it was impossible for him to see off the trail to find the road without pointing the ATV off the trail …
I got out my GPS to see if I could find the abandoned forest road he was looking for marked on the map.
At first, I thought he was looking for an old road I knew about a few hundred yards further west on the trail, but that wasn’t the one he was looking for. Of course, technology being what it is, the GPS screen was blank, with no map showing. I thought I might have deleted the downloaded maps in a recent tidy-up. After some fumbling around, it turned out that I had somehow selected the wrong map layer (note to self: reduce the number of map layers I download to my cell phone to minimize the risk of confusion).
The disused road wasn’t showing on the latest USGS map, so I brought up the 2008 USGS Map and there it was, about 800ft east of where we were. I offered to go with John and help him find it, but he insisted he’d be okay. He maneuvered the ATV around and he and his dog set off east along the trail.
I headed west but soon realized I had made a mistake in not insisting on going back with him to the forest road. It was getting cold, there was no moon, and I wanted to make sure John was properly on his way. So, I turned around and headed back east.
A few minutes later, I could see the ATV’s lights burning off the trail where John was trying to ram his way through the brush. I called out, checked the GPS, and told John he’d missed the road by 50-100 ft. While he got the ATV back on the trail, I went ahead and found the old road. I have not noticed this forest road with its entrance concealed with brush before, even though I have walked past this spot dozens of times.
I asked John if I could come with him and make sure he got to the edge of the wilderness. He said no. He’d walked the forest road recently and now knew where he was.
Thinking about it, I should have insisted and gone with him. Failing that, I should have given him my spare flashlight; it’s not very good (in fact, the battery was flat, something else to check before I leave).
Hindsight is a great resource. I’m going to add an emergency mylar blanket to my kit. I used to carry one but stopped doing so in one of my space and weight-saving exercises. Had I had one, I could have given it to him to keep him warm while he waited out the dark, should he get stuck again. Lots of lessons learned.
Remember all those GPS layers I was complaining about? One of them tells you who owns the land you are on, useful to check that you haven’t strayed off of public land onto private property. I checked, and sure enough, John owns a piece of property near the wilderness.
I hope he made it home to his supper without further incident; I could hear his ATV in the distance for quite a while after we parted our ways.
No nefarious ATV riders on this trip then. Just a misplaced farmer out looking for his misplaced cows.
Time was running on, and I’d told Ginger I’d make it to camp by nine-thirty. I was in a hurry to get on my way, and off I went traveling west again. The Pilot Trail is well-traveled and easy to follow, even in the dark.
Until you get the junction with the Devil’s Den Trail, that is. I reckon I’m one of the few people who hike the Pilot Trail further west. It can be difficult to follow in daylight at times; more than once I’ve ‘misplaced’ the trail.
Getting to my campsite involves finding a disused forest road, and once I get near, around 300 yards of bushwhacking. I was very surprised at how fast I managed to cover the distance and get to the forest road. I didn’t (knowingly) miss the trail on the way.
The forest road, being more overgrown, was more difficult to follow, but pretty soon, checking the GPS, I was at the point where I leave the road and start bushwhacking to my campsite.
Bushwhacking in the dark is not easy. I relied on the GPS to get me to my destination. I arrived just before nine-thirty. There’s a good cell phone signal here, so I sent Ginger a quick ‘I’ve arrived’ message via WhatsApp, set up camp, and settled down to make dinner. Despite the cold, it was now well below freezing, the exercise kept me warm. But just to be sure, before setting up camp, I put on extra layers to keep warm.
Without realizing it I had pushed myself a little bit too hard on the trail to make up my lost time. I didn’t monitor my heart rate, and checking back on the logs on my phone, I discovered I had kept it up at 163 BPM for way too long. I could feel the tell-tale cues that my heart was going into AFIB. I took a pill straight away, and another before bed at eleven-thirty, and thankfully, they did the trick, and the AFIB went away.
And that’s almost it for my first long night hike. It turned out to be seven miles instead of six.
I managed to spook myself one more time.
It was around one a.m., and I glanced out of my hammock and saw a camp light, seemingly 100-200 yards away. How long had they been there? Did they know I was here?
It took me several minutes to work out that the moon was rising over the horizon, and a very fortuitous gap in the hundreds of tree trunks, brush, rocks etc., between my eyes and the horizon allowed it to look like a ground-level light.
That was definitely enough excitement for one night.
Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.