Friday, July 17, 2015

Elliott Knob: My Adventures on Hillbilly Hill

For those of you who are new to reading my blog, two things are true: 
1) It takes me a few days (or a week) to write a blog entry.  I have a job and kids, so I have a tendency to fall asleep while writing.
2) I have an incredible sense of a direction, but technology doesn't.

I think I've been lost twice in my life.  The first time: : Torry Ridge 
The second time was on my way to my first training hike at Elliot Knob.  For some idiotic reason, my phone decided to route me to a gun club-- fortunately, Di wasn't with me.  (Do the math: (Gun + Di) x Getting Lost in the Mountains = X)  Unlike the other time I was lost in the mountains, I had cell service and could actually communicate with others about where the trail head was.   Of course, when I met up with Corey we discovered we were at the wrong trail.  Believe it or not, our guide suffers from directional issues as could we forget our hike at McAffee Knob.

Not only did I get lost on the way, but it was raining as if we were in a monsoon.  It may be logical to blame the weathermen for the torrential downpour we were going to hike in, but the truth is that some people blamed ME for the mess.  Apparently, I'm just  a little black rain cloud.

Before going off to conquer the 9-mile trail at Elliott Knob, we introduced ourselves to each other.  Out of the fifteen hikers, half were familiar faces from the first Xtreme Hike.  The other half were new Xtreme Hikers or hikers from last year's event, each with their own incredible story of how they're connected to the CF community.  Hell, one of the new faces is hiking with cystic fibrosis.  Want to know who's going to kick everyone's ass on the final hike? Josh and his wife Jamie.  I know this because A) they kick ass, and B) they just returned from a vacation at Walt Disney World, and I guarantee they walked more miles in the parks than they will in September.

Day-Glo Corey

Oh, and how could I forget the two random dudes who joined us during introductions.  I don't know their names, but I'll call them Maynard and Zed.  I'm not trying to stereotype hillbillies, but when a couple dudes come strolling down a rural road, not wearing rain gear in a heavy downpour and carrying flasks in their jeans...well....let's just say you can hear the banjos play a familiar tune in your head.

Maynard & Zed
The one smoking the cigarette (Zed) finished his drag and asked the group, "Y'all going for a hike or something."  I answered for the group: "No, we're DEA Agents about to bust up a meth lab, know where we can find one?"  Well, that's the answer I wanted to give, but I've read Deliverance*, so I kept my mouth shut and watched them walk into the woods--onto the same trail we were about to hike on.

*If you like outdoors adventures and haven't read Deliverance…don't.

 I know the Xtreme Hike isn't a race, but I don't want to be pulled off the course during the Final Hike-- which is certainly a reality based on my last Xtreme Hike. A couple of years ago, I was a slow hiker.  Today, I'm still a slow hiker, so I wanted to use this hike to work on improving my pace.  The first part of my strategy was to identify the hiker with the highest level of athleticism.  This is why I got behind Roxy, a 7-year old mix-breed.  Also, I thought Roxy could be our best hope for survival if we came across the missing hillbilly hikers.

Roxy, my pace dog

So how was the actual hike?   It's difficult to describe the Eliot Knob trail as a trail.  It's more like two dirt roads connected by a short path through weeds and water.  If I had to call anything "interesting," it would be the weeds and water part.
The first dirt road.

Sure, there were a couple of waterfalls, but nothing scenic enough to stop for.  Maybe I've become a jaded old hiker (or I've always been a jaded old person), but 99% of waterfalls you encounter while hiking can be recreated with a garden hose and a couple of rocks in your backyard. 

Waterfalls are overrated.

 There was a little bit of excitement as we crossed the streams. Most of the hikers dipped their feet in the water unintentionally.  I have to admit, I didn't want to get my feet wet-- despite the fact I was hiking in pouring rain.  If that makes me a sissy, then so be it.  By the end of the hike, nearly everyone was wading through the water, while I was  still tip-toeing across the rocks.   

REAL Xtreme Hikers get their feet wet.

After a few stream crossings, the trail turned into an overgrown mess for about a mile before connecting to the second dirt road.  As we emerged from the jungle,  our group ran into a couple of hikers going the opposite direction-- meaning, they had not encountered meth-head hikers.  I asked how the top of the Knob was, and they told us that they turned around before reaching the summit.  "We're looking for the waterfalls."  Right. Have fun.

The "trail"

Walking on a dirt road doesn't seem XTREME

The next 2 miles were a vertical climb without switch-backs.  The ascent felt like a great workout, but there wasn't a whole lot of excitement on the dirt road.  Roxy kept the pace going up the hill, but the climb was absolutely kicking my ass.  I eased up a little and engaged in brief conversation as other hikers passed me.  I tried keeping up with the group, but intentionally dropped into solo mode when one group started talking about feminine hygiene on the trail.   It's not unusual to talk freely and openly on the trail-- in fact, I once had someone tell me that they enjoyed killing people (bad guys, of course).  

After 4+ miles of terrible trails, you'd think that the views at the top would make the journey worth it, right?

At least I discovered why I was getting such great cell service. That's a bonus.

Oh, and we also discovered the creepiest fire tower ever. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the shadow of a person's body.  Was it Zed? Was it Maynard?
Creepy tower....with an open gate.

Or was it some other axe-wielding psychopath waiting for the next group of campers?

I am not amused.

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