Hot Meals and Cold Nights
Halloween night I slept like a barn owl after a high-mileage night of hunting. I awoke early, feeling a little ashamed that I had fallen asleep and missed the Great Pumpkin. Of course, he might have cancelled his appearance due to the weather. But the sleet and wind had subsided, and it looked as if we had dodged one more weather bullet. George, Jim, and I all wondered how long our good fortune would last.
The farmer drove past on his way to his dairy barn down the road. We waved to him with heartfelt appreciation for his unselfishness at turning his hay barn over to strangers for the night. The resident cat seemed even more appreciative as we vacated the premises at 7:30 a.m. and began our long march to Whipple.
We arrived at the small town at one thirty that afternoon and headed straight for the store where we had made contact during our scouting trip several weeks earlier. Just as promised, the owners had simmering chili waiting for us. We warmed up a bit, then decided to pitch our tents before we ate. That was quickly accomplished in the backyard of a generous couple, also prearranged on our scouting trip.
Back at the store, I had four large bowls of chili, a bag of chips, two Reese’s Cups, pretzels, crackers, Hostess Cupcakes, and three cups of coffee. Scooby the dog sat in a chair at the table just like a little human. He showed far more restraint than I did.
Mike and JoLena welcomed people coming into the store like they were family. We heard some outlandish tall tales that afternoon that would be great entertainment around a campfire at night. That neighborhood store was the community meeting spot, much like the general store in the tiny burg of Dorset where I was raised. I have nothing against the convenience stores in the city, but the atmosphere is just not as homey.
It was freezing that night, so I wore all the layers of clothes that I was carrying. I finally warmed up enough to fall asleep. I would need the rest for the race to Macksburg the following day. We wanted to reach the D&E Restaurant, the sole eating establishment, well before they closed at 2:00 p.m.
We got up early the next morning and were on the road by seven o’clock, our earliest start of the hike. Three days before, I had left three pounds of food in the car, food that I would ordinarily have carried. The chili in Whipple took care of one. Lunch Sunday (if we made it in time) and breakfast on Monday morning in Macksburg would replace the other two. So you see why we were motivated to get there.
Something about hiking towards food increases my pace. I had no trouble keeping up with George and Jim that day. We enjoyed the scenery and the relative ease of the day’s journey, and still arrived at the restaurant at 12:30 p.m. It was busy, just as it has been every time I’ve eaten there. We ordered abundantly, and by now I don’t need to tell you that hiking makes me very hungry. We stayed inside until they closed, enjoying the food, the people, and the second table meal in 24 hours.
Again we had permission to make camp in someone’s yard. It was near a lot where oil pipeline workers parked their trailers. The day was chilly, but a thoughtful young man named Zach built a blazing campfire for us at the edge of the lot and circled it with some comfortable chairs. We stayed there long after dark, being careful not to get our feet too close to the fire. Besides the danger of getting our toes too toasty, the heat is hard on boot leather. Having walked now for 97 miles, we had cultivated a great respect for our shoes and their well-being.
When I retired to my tent, the temperature was in the 30s and expected to go much lower. My Montbell down sleeping bag was ultralight and roomy, but only comfortable to 40 degrees. My liner lowered the comfort level to the freezing mark. Then it was up to me to pile on the clothes. Once again, I wore every article of clothing I had taken, which included an extra pair of socks and my gloves.
The restaurant opened at 6:oo a.m. and I was at the door 15 minutes early. The owner let me in, earning a place on my “most admired people“ list. I felt like I ate enough to last the entire day, though you and I both know better. Even with all the sausage, eggs, potatoes, and biscuits, I had to take my belt in a notch. It was hard to believe, but I must have been burning more calories on this hike than I was taking in.
We met the man who had secured our camping spot for us and tried to buy him breakfast. “No,” he said, “that’s OK. And call me if you ever hike through here again.” Really nice folks in that neck of the woods. We lingered long in the cozy D & E waiting for the mercury to top the freezing mark.
I missed church that morning for the second Sunday in a row. Great to know we don’t have to be in church to talk to God. As we walked out of Macksburg and under I-77, I thanked Him from my heart for the blessings that kept coming our way.
After climbing a long grade, we passed some small farms, one with a working well by the road. Classic tractors, balers, and other equipment sat in the yards. As we hiked on into the afternoon, we noticed fewer houses and more uninhabited land, much of it bearing prominent No Trespassing signs. In spite of the warnings, we were drawn 25 feet from the road to view a huge lake that looked like a fisherman’s paradise. Our illegal maneuver was practice for our stealth camping that night. Mr. Go-By-The-Book (that would be me) had to get used to breaking the law a little bit at a time.
We reached the small private cemetery where weeks before we had briefly considered camping. We spread our gear out to dry and then cooked up some lunch. After we ate, we napped while the sun worked its magic on warming us and drying our gear. It was very peaceful, and we were in no hurry to move on. We didn’t want to arrive at our camping location, a few miles down the road, until the sun was low and the shadows were long.
After a good hour, I figured we’d better get going or we’d stay and sleep away the afternoon. By five we had reached our home for the night. How many times would I sleep in a Licensed Shooting Preserve? Only once, I hoped. It’s not like anyone would ever see us. The dense pine grove was already dark inside. Several inches of fallen needles would make our beds much softer. It smelled like the inside of a Glade factory.
We used our stoves carefully. We dimmed our lights when the occasional car passed. If the travelers only knew what lurked in the pines. This was an exciting exploit, I’ll admit, and I felt like a kid again.
Before retiring, we ventured out into the road to enjoy the beauty and clarity of the night sky. It wasn’t a minute until a car appeared suddenly over the rise and we had to dive into the weeds beside the road. After all, this was a stealth operation. I had to giggle at three grown men lying on the ground and peering over the grass to see if the car had slowed down. We were relieved as we watched it move on past our homestead.
My conscience must have hardened, for it didn’t keep me awake. I had a great sleep, maybe the best of the trip so far, interrupted only a time or two by the howling of coyotes.
The next day we hiked on to Onion Run where our car was parked with the rest of our supplies. Before we did anything else, we celebrated the completion of leg two with a relaxing snooze. That night we avoided the cold rain by staying inside a shelter recently constructed by volunteers of the Buckeye Trail Association. More rain, and even snow, was forecast for most of the next three days. We would be making our way through the American Electric Power (AEP) ReCreation Land for the third and last leg of our trip.