mardi 9 juin 2009

Hertlein Campsite

Boulder field before Hertlein Campsite, 20 September 2008

Before leaving One Gallon and his young partner from Maine, I ask them if they have seen a good campsite alongside the trail.
“There is one with a swimming pool right on the trail!” said the boy with gusto.
“How far is it from here?”
“Roughly fifteen miles” adds the boy after a mental arithmetic.

It will be an average stage for me: just seventeen miles. Even with a late start at 10 am, an hour long talk with One Gallon and his partner, I should arrive before darkness to the camp. With that expectancy in mind, I don’t feel any pressure. It is a beautiful day for hiking: blue sky and light breeze. I don’t have my data book to guide me. Tomorrow I’ll be back in known territory at Port Clinton. I have already hiked the trail south bound from Greenwich, in Vermont, to Port Clinton in Pennsylvania.

The trail is parallel to the ridge. Sometimes I am blessed with an open view. A cliff borders Blue Mountain Range to the south. Water is scarce on the ridge. Without any information to my disposal, I am clueless. After a couple of hours, I hear a faint traffic. Will I cross a road soon? Yes. Ten minutes later I arrive at PA 645. Tourists gaze at Dick Kimmel lookout. I join them. I drop my backpack and drink water. A guy offers me a beer. I decline politely his offer. As he feels offended, I explain to him that I am too thirsty to drink a beer now.

“Where’re you from?” Asks the woman closed to the man.
“I am from Paris.”
“Paris, France?”
“Yes, Paris, France and you?”
“Oh we’re from Pottsville, a little town you have never heard off” she adds to excuse herself.
“I don’t know Pottsville but I do know John O’Hara. He is a great writer“ I add to minimize her low self esteem.
“Oh do you?”
The whole group of six are dazzled.
“You’re French and you know O’Hara”, said a cute girl wearing a tiny black skirt, “We’ve learned him in school.”
“Oh I’ve just read Appointment in Samarra; I don’t know his short stories and other books.”
“Where are you sleeping tonight?” Asks another guy who is not acquainted with O’Hara.
“I sleep in my tent.”
“Good luck to you”, he said while squeezing an empty can with one hand.

It’s time to go in the woods. Every one bids me farewell. Back in the woods, back also to my loneliness… At the trail head, I read carefully a signage indicating several directions.

The trail becomes rocky when I overtake four daily hikers. They try to catch up with me. They are loud-mouthed. I keep them at bay while accelerating my pace. The first two don’t want to give up the chase and the other two, who don’t want to be outrun, yell for direction. Finally, the rumbling discontent fades when the trail reaches a difficult section of slabs. My left calf tightens a bit.

Back to the ridge, I set up the cruise control. Rocks are everywhere. Welcome to hell! This is the dread section of one hundred miles. There is no respite till Delaware Gap. My shoes are lacerated by sharp teeth of rocks. After Applebee campsite, the trail is roller-coaster. I tighten my grip on ski poles to avoid a fall in a steep downhill. Then the trail resumes its ascent while making a sharp turn to the south to avoid a cliff. Back to the ridge, it zigzags through a karstic field. I reach a beautiful lookout at sunset. I am thirsty. I drink the last drops of the bottle.

In the woods I hear voices. Four scouts are collecting wood for a fire. I don’t understand their choice of staying away from a spring. I keep going. While going down again, I am confused by a signpost toward a giant boulder field. Is it the right direction? I dash over in that direction. I jump from rock to rock to keep my balance. I am happy like a boy when I arrive at the other end of the giant boulder field.

No white blaze in sight… Am I in the right direction? I back track the giant field for a while before deciding to move north again. Stuck in dense woods, I advance slowly. No trail. Finally I go back where I have left the trail. Have I missed a turn? Not sure yet. I walk back to the south. Darkness catches me up when I reach the ring fire of the boys. I am too proud to ask them if I am hiking in the right direction. I go back to the magnificent lookout. Have I missed a fork somewhere? There is a faint track which goes nowhere. I pursue my back track toward the roller coaster hills. There I heard voices in the bottom. It is pitch-dark. To avoid a fall, I turn on the flashlight. One minute later I reach the voices. It is a young couple. I ask them where the trail is heading to. “South”, they answer unambiguously. I am going south-bound for an hour now. Where did I make a wrong turn?

I go back to the lookout and follow the ridge. When I am out of danger, I turn off the flashlight. The woods are talkative now with owlish creatures. I pass by the campfire for the third time. The boys are having diner. At 8.30 pm I reach the giant boulder field. I turn on again the flashlight. I see for the first time a white blaze to my right. The trail is making a zigzag toward the cliff and veers north toward a grassy glen. Suddenly my shoes are sloshing. Eureka! I hear a creek running. A little further I reach the swimming pool described by the young man from Maine. It is a big hole under two trees. I dare to bathe despite the cold temperature.

It is too late to prepare a diner. I eat Ramen soup instead. It is 9.40 pm when I lay down in the tent. While thinking again, I figure out my mistake. I was only two hundred yards away from Hertlein campsite when I back tracked to south. In my diary I write:” I have hiked six extra miles in retribution for the loss of my data book."