So, I get to the parking lot at the Long Cane Center at Hickory Knob State Resort Park and secure my car. I pull on my back pack loaded with water, granola bars, apples, bug spray, Wet Ones, a first aid kit, a tire iron, a towel, and other assorted things that the experts tell you to carry on hikes of all sorts, even day hikes less than ten miles. This one, a circuit around one portion of Lake Strom Thurmond called Lakeview Loop, is seven and two tenths miles. I have included the picture above showing the blaze for the start of the trail. Since I am not in the picture but am obviously taking it, there can be no question that I was actually there. Good, now, the scene is set.
The first thing that hit me about this hike was the spider webs. Literally. In the face. Sticky, clingy, wispy, nefarious white strands of goo that stuck themselves to my shoulders, my shirt, my backpack, my hair, my glasses, and my beard. Sometimes one of the little string architects themselves would get swept up in the goo fest and tag along for a few yards, dropping down from the brim of my Tilley or popping up on my sleeve, prompting a footpath dance that included swearing and swatting and sweating some more. I think the little buggers lay in wait for me every six feet for seven miles, radioing ahead like scouting state troopers sitting on an interstate overpass so that their fellows could place the next obstacle at just the right height to gunk up my glasses. Every six feet. I swear.
The next thing that hit me was the humidity. I mean, drenching, sticky, soak your t-shit and make your shorts look like you had peed yourself humidity. “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.” No, idiot, in SC it’s both. It was hotter than hell and felt like I was hiking through an outdoor sauna. I was not taking a hike. I was doing a long distance, seven mile swim in full gear. Free style. Backstroking the trail to avoid being hit in the face with stickiness. Butterfly medley for two hundred yards. Humidity in SC envelopes you, drenches you, and stacks sweat on top of sweat so that when you are done no amount of sheets of the “Quicker Picker Upper” will dry you. The clothes I wore on this hike were not completely dry again until I took them out of the dryer at home the next evening.
Lakeview Loop my ass. What happened to truth in advertising? I saw no water. I saw no lake. I nothing but trees and mud and path and sky and sun. Then, finally, at about mile 1.5, there it was. Strom Thurmond Lake. Huge and sun dappled and beautiful.
I prepared myself for the wildlife I was about to see. I expected the moose, of course, for there are always moose in the SC woods, right? (My research had been meticulous. ) Aside: Funny, you will appreciate this. As I write this sentence, iTunes is playing a song by Toto. Toto was a small furry animal in The Wizard of Oz. Therefore, this is the right place and time to be writing about animals in the woods. I love karma. I expected black bear. I was not afraid. I was, in fact, fearless. I had my tire iron, after all, a can of Deep Woods Off, and some Wet Ones. If I couldn’t beat it to death, spray it in the eyes or wipe it clean, then I guess it was going to be my fate to be eaten by it just yards from the lake. Karma and spiders. Constant. Sticky. Unavoidable. I expected otters and platypuses crossing the path three by three as if looking for Moses as he built the ark. No, wait, that’s not right. It was two by two, right?
The sum total of my contact with the Kingdom Animalia? Two lizards that darted away so quickly that this is the only picture of them I have to show you (see below). See how he smiles and mocks me just before he runs away into the deep SC woods, sidestepping the otters as he runs? And the smell of at least two skunks. Why two, you ask? Because they were looking for Moses of course. I hope they found him and the ark. I hope Moses had wipes and a big can of floral scented air freshener or it was going to be a long smelly float on Lake Thurmond waiting for the raven to return, saying, thusly, “Nevermore”.
There may not have been any black bears in the vicinity, but there were a lot of plants. Trees. Bushes. Shrubs. Weeds. Manufacturing. I snapped picture after picture of these plants, as they would stay still long enough for me to focus on them (unlike the grinning lizards above) and always say “Cheese” on command. Cute. Many of them were falling down. Some were already on the ground. Some were holding onto their fellows to balance themselves. It was like a college frat party out there. Some were lying, passed out, across the trail, oblivious to the fact that I was stepping over them, dragging sticky spider webs onto them and dripping humidity by the cupful on them as they lay there. Very sad. Some were handsomely colored. Some were embarrassingly plain. All were still and never moved. Perfect subjects. Note the flora below. One of my friends stated that this plant reminded her of a Praying Mantis. No, no, no. First, that would have made this a picture of a green animal, and I’ve told you that we (note that I am using the Royal We now, for greater weight and effect. It seemed to work for Kate this week, so what the hell) saw none of those save the Leering Lizards. Secondly, everybody knows that SC does not allow prayer in the woods any more than it allows it in the schools. Silly friend. You know who you are. Please go back and do more research.
So, no Animalia, a few flora, a lake that passed in and out of my line of sight. Are we having fun yet?
No hike in the heat and humidity would be complete without passing through what I call Hitting the Wall. I had started drinking water when I got thirsty. That’s what you do when you get thirsty, yes? Drink water? No, you imbecile, no! Where do you people do your pre-hike research, in the children’s area of Barnes and Noble? You start drinking water way ahead of when you actually feel thirsty, because if not, you begin to get dehydrated, confused, and think you are on the set of Avatar. You begin to trip over the college-students-that-were-logs in the path, and you see Frodo and Bilbo Baggins coming down the trail towards you, with Gollum not far behind. Hmm. Gollum may count as an animal sighting. For me, the hallucinations were nothing but pleasant this time around. My favorite was hallucinating Faerie Condos on trees. Hundreds, nay thousands of them. Did I see the faeries as well? No, I think they were all out on jet skis. Living at the lake has its perks, after all. See the snap of the condos below.
I went on, through bogs and grass, and around and over trees until I finally reached mile marker five. I have no pictures from mile five through mile six. I either was briefly abducted by aliens, entered a fugue state, or dissociated. I’m not sure. I just know that the pictures from that portion of the hike have all been erased. Nuked. All of them. I smell a cover up by the SC Park Service. All I remember is two guys in black suits and a very bright flash…
The scenery was soothing, calming and serene. The outdoors, humidity and spiders aside, was rejuvenating. Mile six though the end of the trail brought sun-dappled paths, stepping-stones across tiny babbling streams, and (I kid you not) what appeared to be a bright green moonshine jug discarded by a patch of brighter green moss. Want proof? See the picture below. That’s me, standing by the jug, smiling. Just so you know I was there.
Some Park Guy had a great sense of humor. At about Mile 7, the point where I was ready to shed my pack and fall over backwards, I came upon the last obstacle of the course. Now, granted, this was not the Crucible on Parris Island at the end of Marine training, but it was a hot day with the black bears (I know they were there somewhere-I could feel them) in SC, and I was just ready to be DONE and back to my car. As I approached the final uphill stretch of trail, which also shows that God and trial designers have a sense of humor, I see this.
You’re kidding me, right? I have just hiked seven miles, I’m exhausted, and now you’re telling me that I have to clamber over two more fallen Clemson students to get the privilege of walking uphill to my car? Well, if I must. Of course, I did.
One always learns lessons when outdoors communing with nature. What did I learn from this hike?
South Carolina is a hot state.
Spiders have walkie talkies and are not afraid to use them.
Wet clothes take days if not weeks to dry if there is no clothes dryer available.
Faeries hate paying real estate taxes, but they love tubing behind jet skis.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, it still makes a sound. (I bought the recordings of this in the Gift Shop outside the cafeteria. $19.95 for the 2-CD set. What a steal!)
Finally, I learned that beauty is where you find it. Oftentimes, all you have to do is glance down at the path in front of you, and there it is.