[A condensed version of this article was published in the 2013 Fall Issue of the Trailblazer.]
It was a diverse group of hikers shuttled by our trail angels to point 9 of the Bedford section of the Buckeye Trail. Bob had hiked the entire AT twice. On the greener end of the scale, it was Paula’s first backpacking trip; she had borrowed some nice gear from a neighbor. The rest of us fell somewhere in between. The first day was glorious and all off-road. We camped at Squaw Rock Shelter in South Chagrin Reservation after a ten-mile stroll in the Emerald Necklace. I elicited some comments as we relaxed in the shelter and savored the day:
Paula (I asked her first since she headed the pack that day.)—“I loved the trail; it wasn’t too steep or too flat. I enjoyed the flowers, the width of the trail, and the fact that it followed the river. I was impressed at how well marked this trail is.” Good thing, at the pace she was setting.
Danielle (Paula’s partner in speed)—“It’s pretty cool that this wilderness has been preserved this close to the city. This is awesome hiking weather.” Just wait 24 hours.
Pat—“It’s my first hike of the year. I was too busy moving to notice much.” Except for the invasive garlic mustard he spotted and plucked without mercy.
Bob—“It’s my first of the year, too. This is a test run for my hip before I head to Damascus for Trail Days.” And a 50-miler.
Dave—“The walk today was very relaxing. So were the falls down near Squaw Rock.” Ought to sleep well tonight.
The fire in the shelter took the slight chill off as darkness forced the last gasp of the sun. Jim spotted something lurking at the edge of the woods. It was wearing a mask, which failed to conceal its hungry look. Its accomplice appeared on the other side of the shelter, then made a trial run through. As we tied our bags in the shelter rafters and surrounding trees, we wondered if we would have any food left in the morning. We stayed up late talking about the mystery of Squaw Rock and the beauty we had experienced on the trail that day.
Fortunately we awakened to unmolested food sacks, pretty amazing considering some of the fare—especially Lis’s. She carried cherry tomatoes, hummus, fresh carrots, blueberry pancakes, a bottle of pure maple syrup, buckwheat lo mein noodles, honey, fresh avocadoes, packed Spanish olives, edamame, and “pretend” chicken and hamburger. And this is just a partial list. Lucky for Lis and us that the raccoons were either very courteous or kept themselves occupied with the scraps left in the trash cans by the previous group. Could also be that they were strict carnivores.
On that second day, Jim and I fell behind the pack. We had to cover a piece of the trail we had missed earlier in the morning. This hike was “official” for us: Jim was almost done with his first time around the BT; I was starting my second trip on the loop. After a few hours, we knew we were closing in on our hiking comrades because the garlic mustard culled beside the trail was barely wilted; Pat must have been just over the horizon. Sure enough, we found the group eating and relaxing along Chagrin River Road and quickly joined in.
After we moved on, Lis’s boot blew, but velcro tape held it together until our pickup point. Jim and I walked with her, ready with duct tape if needed. I slackpacked the last couple of miles thanks to our trail angel Bob, but Lis and Jim kept the weight on their backs until we arrived at the Church in the Vale. (I had always wondered where that church of hymnbook fame was.)
It had been a very long 13-mile day, a lot of it on the road, and we were glad to be shuttled to Oak Shelter in the North Chagrin Reservation. After camp was set up and meals were consumed, we were attracted to the blazing fire. Pat and Bob entertained us with tales from the AT. Pat had hiked a large portion with his son, and the retelling brought the emotion of it back to the surface. It was a special time. We barely noticed the rain-chilled air working its way through the structure. We went on to talk about other memorable MAC hikes, and how much we missed Chris and other regulars on this one.
It was raining when we rose on day three, and the temperature only dropped as the day went on. Luckily the road took us to Patterson’s Apple Farm. After ten cold, wet miles those Snickers donuts and the robust coffee went down effortlessly as we loitered around the fireplace. Our gracious host pointed out the Johnny Appleseed manikin sitting on a chair in the corner and told us the story of the local police drawing a gun and yelling “freeze” one night. He is lifelike, so nobody was dissing the cops.
We reluctantly left the warmth and hospitality of Patterson’s and hiked the last few miles of the day. Ten cold, weary hikers finally waddled into the shelter at Chapin Forest. Pappy (aka Bruce) quickly transformed a heap of twigs and logs into a pile of dancing flames, around which grateful, shivering hikers huddled like penguins. As we discussed the blustery wind and the late-April sleet pellets, we realized that we probably should not have complained so much about the mere cold drizzle that we had marched through all day. The unexpected winter conditions caused some of the group to even consider bailing.
In the morning, I struggled with icy shoelaces and the frozen zipper on my tent. This couldn’t be! Back in my Kentucky home spring had sprung. We had already endured the dreaded one-more-snowstorm-after-the-magnolias-bloomed. I had already gulped warm hose water while toiling in my flower garden. Then I remembered that this is northern Ohio. Since I am originally from the Ashtabula area, this weather should not have surprised me. Four-season hiking, the term backpackers use for winter hiking, is as common up there in April as raccoons in a pungent trash can.
I am reminded of a quote by Captain Blue: “We are out here because we are not all here.” Proudly, nobody bailed that night. Maybe we recalled the story of the two feet of snow Bob told us fell one night on the AT and were too ashamed. One or two did cook their supper in the bathroom, but I am honor-bound not to divulge names.
The good news is that we survived the night frostbite free. On day four we hiked over Gildersleeve Mountain, through Penitentiary Glen, and on into TrailFest 2013. Everyone enjoyed the trip, and we were very grateful to our three trail angels, Debbie Zampini, Bob Morecki, and Rosanne Kay. Also to John Rethman for leading the hike. Though some had to head home that day, many of us stayed to enjoy a great time at our destination.