If the Chattooga really is the SC/GA border, I musty still be in Georgia; even at fords like this one, it would be hard crossing on foot (or swimming rather), especially for Poe. Kayakers just went speeding past over some little rapids. Turns out they were the same group I ran into earlier at a parking area and launch point on the SC side after I had missed my turn to meet up with a group of campers I was to spend the weekend with.
Backtracking, I finally reached the proper meeting place, but Chuck, the leader and instigator of this expedition was not there, just his bemused cousins from Atlanta. Chuck is a respiratory therapist at my hospital and he arranges these semi-annual trips. He is relentless in his recruitment, trying to wrangle as many people into it as possible and his llamas and the whole Athens contingent had not arrived. I was purposely and accidentally late so that Poe wouldn't have to wait for them. Once he smells a trail and knows we are going to hike, he gets into full-hound mode and is impatient to get on with it. I risk my own sanity trying to hold him back. This is only our second rest in almost 3 hours and he hasn't sat down with me yet. He has barked at the kayakers and risked falling in the river, but he hasn't stopped.
When I agreed to this camping trip, it sounded like a fun idea. But as it approached, Chuck became more obsessed with it, the number of people grew, and I was starting to be assigned to teams for cook detail. To me, it was spoiling the fun. Camping should be spontaneous and minimalist, not a festival, Woodstock On Wheels, or even Llamaback.
In the true spirit of adventure, I decided this time not to rent a car, but to drive my poor old Oldsmobile up. What really convinced me finally was realising that every Saturday morning I drive at least 3 hours for yard sales and it never gives me trouble. If anything, 3 hours on the highway should be less taxing on the car than all the starting and stopping involved with yardsaling. The only worry I had was the final few miles down Earl's Ford Road, a gravel roller coaster ride. All that rattling can't be good, plus I hate having to go so slowly. I almost gave up and turned around till the very last minute. Earl's Ford is not here, this is Warwoman Creek, I found out later. I wish now I had found out why it was called that. But the creek was cold enough and deep enough to turn Poe and me back after one attempt. We took a side path and a foot bridge, waved bye to the leaderless cousins, and said we may meet up again.
A sudden interruption here was caused by Poe's disappearance after we had been visited by a pack of horseriders. Poe was very excited by them, never having seen one before. I took time to introduce him and we visited a bit. After they left, I looked up from writing and didn't see him. I called him,. but couldn't hear him. In a little panic, I loaded on my gear and rushed up the trail, calling and hoping he'd gone that way. In a minute, one young rider came walking back down the trail with Poe on his leash. He had just followed the horses and he must have run pretty fast to catch up to them. In the next half-hour, two more packs of riders vexed us. Poe was struck by a wild mixture of fear, awe, and love. Here, he saw, was a being of comparable nobility to himself, kindred spirit. He saw at a glance his very horseness inside his squat dog body: The intelligence, the command, the oneness with rider, the love of nature and moving through it and understanding it. I'm glad he liked the horses, but I had to tie him to a tree to keep him from chasing after them and leaving me far behind. [Michael told me the next day that Poe had in fact met horses before, at one of his friends' farm. Had, in fact, chased them, which the friend encouraged as good exercise for horse and dog. That was years ago though, and I wonder if Poe remembers it.]
When I got to the Chattooga at Earl's Ford, there was a vast muddy area. Two big trucks were parked there—— they must have crossed the creek—— and 4 teenagers were camping near, 2 guys and 2 gals. The boys were wet and in swim trunks, one still in the river, one on the bank. Obviously they were trying to impress the girls, who were sensibly dressed, by going in the freezing water. I asked them if there was a downstream path from here and one of the boys said there wasn't on this side of the river. Well, we didn't cross the creek, so we certainly weren't going to cross the river; we struck off upstream. I thought the cousins had told me they were going downriver, so I figured I would never see them again.
The trail skirts the river for the most part, nearer or further depending on the depth of the bank. And for the most part it inclines upstream as can be expected. But it's a gentle incline, a rather easy hike except for a few sharp rises and some rough, rocky stretches. The biggest obstacle is the mud. I'm not squeamish, but I hate hiking in wet socks and I don't like slogging through mud. And this being a horse trail, there were other perils to avoid stepping in. I could have used my hiking staff I left at home, but just as I was slipping once, I grabbed at foliage and pulled out a quite serviceable staff readymade. Perhaps a bit thick at the hand, but stout enough for a while. Even with the staff, I managed to lose my balance once and came down hard on my left knee.
Flash forward: What happens when I'm 70 and a spill like that is a very serious thing? Will I have to give up hiking or will I one day be stranded on some trail with a dislocated patella? Or will I be one of those amazing 70-year-olds who conquers the Appalachian Trail as a retirement project?
Flash back: While all that flashed through my head with the flash of pain, I jumped up and rushed ahead. Pain is always lessened when you don't stop to let it sink in. Make of that a life-lesson as you will.
After seeing the last of the horses finally, a man and a girl from my party caught up with me. They must have really pushed it to catch up, but they weren't carrying heavy packs like I was. One of the horsemen had told me he had passed some llamas, but he wasn't sure how far back they were and I wasn't ready to turn back. My colleagues weren't too clear where they had set-up camp. We had gathered different sets of landmarks in our treks and couldn't get them to jibe. The four of us went back down the trail together till Poe started dragging. Poe and I stopped for a snack; the other two went ahead. Poe is actually napping now.
At the very spot I thought I might return to to camp if I never hooked up with Chuck & Company, they had chosen to settle in. It's a large, sandy plateau overlooking the river, part open, part wooded, leading down to a 4-foot-deep beach. The river is surrounded by quite a bit of sand and parts of the trail are nothing but sand, reminding more of the coast than the mountains.
There are probably 10 adults and as many children, and a wide range of personalities. One set of siblings is very outgoing, well-spoken, and affectionate. Think Montessori. Anna is one, the girl who came to "find" me. Along the way she spelled her name out in twigs and dime-sized wafers of mica, with an arrow pointing the way she went, sort of a survivalist artwork.
As usual, the children are more interesting than the adults. Daniel, the oldest boy, set about making a "bowl" by setting an ember on an upturned log, to burn it out Indian-style. We all laughed, but an hour later he had Tom Sawyered the others into making it for him, their attempts to prove him wrong all working toward his success.
Mark sat around sullenly for a long time, looking depressingly superior in headphones to his CD Walkman, but he eventually gave up that schtick and went fishing with others. Rae is the only detached girl, but she took a shine to Poe, as did Scout, a curly-tailed mutt who instantly took to Poe for the alpha male he is has been following him around like a lovestruck schoolgirl.
Also present are 4 rather dim llamas, just standing around dimly chewing almost nothing; and another dog, a surly, suffering old Dachshund named Duchess (indeed!).
I pitched our tent far from the others and Poe is napping again, safe from Scout for the moment. One of my tent pole sections broke, so I improvised the set-up by lowering the back but staking as usual. This gives the tent the very look I want in my next one: low at the foot and high at the door where my head goes. I could also have it narrower to fit only me and Poe. In campers' jargon, that would make it a bivouac or bivvy.