Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hell Is Just Ahead

In my near-daily hunt for geocaches, I'm continually discovering new places in and around Greensboro. There are still miles and miles of trails I haven't gotten to yet, and each trail I find strikes me as more scenic or interesting than the last. Yesterday, I put in three miles on a portion of the Nat Greene trail that I'd never hiked, and today, despite high heat and humidity, I did a good four miles on the Laurel Bluff trail. I'm bushed and a little sore, but the hike was a real experience, and I wish I had taken my camera with me. At one point, I passed a cairn-like pile of stones with an old, rusted tricycle mounted atop them. That's not really something I see all that often.

In these southern woods, beech trees are everywhere, and if you've ever seen a beech, you probably saw lots of initials and messages carved into its trunk. After all, what else is that smooth, gray bark there for? One beech on the Laurel Bluff trail bears the message, "Hell Is Just Ahead," and it's dated 1961. (Needless to say, there's a nearby cache bearing the same title.)

In contrast to the Nat Greene trail, which was brimming with hikers and mountain bikers yesterday, there appeared to be nary a soul besides myself in the woods today. It was remarkably quiet, though the wildlife was plentiful. Saw quite a few deer, rabbits, frogs, a luna moth caterpillar, and...a black squirrel. Now I've seen plenty of gray squirrels and red squirrels, but I've never come upon a black one. Okay, maybe he had been playing under a parked car somewhere and gotten covered in grease, as my dog used to do when I was a kid, who knows? But anyway...he was black.

I saw this harbinger of odd things just as I came upon Hell Is Just Ahead. And right about then, a great horned owl started hooting somewhere nearby. A beautiful, melancholy sound; a little eerie, even. I do love those owls, even if they are not what they seem. Appropriately, I dropped a Twin Peaks postcard into the cache. The next one wasn't too far away, so I decided to bushwhack straight to it rather than return to the trail. This was when things got a little odd.

Apparently, I had entered the wrong coordinates in my GPS for that next cache because I ended up heading south rather than north, which was away from where I knew the cache ought to be. Soon, I came upon the foundation of an old house out in the woods, and then I heard low, furtive voices not too far away. I felt distinctly uncomfortable, so I started back toward the trail, heading due north.

I walked...and walked...and walked...but the trail seemed to have vanished. By this time, I'm starting to feel like I'm in The Blair Witch Project—though in a version cast with a lone dude who is far more dashing and resourceful than the original cast members, and armed with a bamboo whacky stick. I bring up the coordinates to the next cache, which is about a half mile away, and head straight for it. When I get there, I find the trail again. For the rest of the hike, I resolve to stay on it.

On the way back, the trail did nothing funky; it ran pretty much true east-west, and I never did see the divergence that had led me up to the old foundation. What happened, I'm fairly certain, is that bizarre forces altered space for a brief period, intending to deliver me to those unknown parties carrying on furtively near the old remains. However, when said forces realized that, yow, that guy's got a bamboo whacky stick, they thought better of it and put me right back where I belonged.

Smart, those bizarre forces.

It was a good hike. Six out of six caches found. That makes a total of 407, I believe.

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