February 21, 2014
I dropped the remote from my fingers and replaced it with my phone. Wait until Bob hears the seven-day forecast I happened upon: highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s—and this in mid-August! I implored him to arrange an escape from his office for a mid-week hike. This weather was too good to waste. He did, we planned, and three days later we met at the trailhead at East Fork State Park. We set off from there at 1:00 pm, prepared to stay overnight and return to our cars sometime the next morning.
The breeze was delicious and refreshing. We were both a little out of shape, but at least heat and humidity would not have to be factored into the strenuous eight-mile hike on this stretch of the Buckeye Trail. We knocked off our first mile in less than a half hour. Laughing voices surfaced behind us, and soon we spotted two 20- or 30-something ladies on the lower side of a long switchback. We could try to maintain our shrinking lead, or we could graciously step off the trail and let them pass us before they would eventually pass us anyway. Being seasoned gentlemen, we chose the latter.
They quickly caught up and walked between us. Bob chirped, “We were just discussing barricading the trail and charging you a toll.” I wasn’t surprised; Bob is a big joker. Without missing a beat, the younger of them responded, “Go ahead and try it.” I didn’t see the look in her eyes as Bob “got told,” but from the tone in her voice I was sure we wouldn’t be collecting any cash. They laughed on down the trail and soon disappeared. Bob was just trying to be funny, but they must have thought we were a couple of old trail nuts.
I was hoping to get a story out of the day’s hike, but so far it was pretty routine. So Bob and I did what we often do for added excitement: we began manufacturing a story. What if the ladies were at Camp Two when we arrived, just waiting to give us trouble. They would have already claimed the big shelter and would stick us with the hideous smaller ones as payback. Those were decent before vandals tore out the plywood bunks, but now I wouldn’t venture into the mud-floored huts unless a blizzard was approaching.
We hiked a couple more miles and decided to take a long break, that being the halfway point. While Bob dialed his wife’s number, I spread out my tarp for a quick rest. I was still adding layers onto the unlikely scenario Bob and I had dreamed up for our arrival at camp. It didn’t take long at all to get comfortable as the cool, clean air washed over me . . .
I must not have been paying attention to the trail because in a very short time we had only about a mile to go to reach the shelter. This was the roughest part of the trail, and we both were more than ready to drop our packs and poles and set up camp. Two tired hikers managed to pick up the pace ascending the last hill. We reached the top but were immediately rendered motionless at the sight ahead.
The camp had been roped off. We heard the sound of leather gloves sliding on hemp, and before we were even able to look up, two black-clad sword-brandishing female ninjas dropped between us and the camp. Even with the black face paint, we recognized them as the ladies we had joked with earlier. They didn’t look as if they were kidding when they demanded $40 from each of us. And they delegated us to the two little shelters with mud floors. There wasn’t even a blizzard!
We protested that this was a free campsite and that we had registered at the park office. We said we would crawl under the rope and camp anyway, to which they quickly replied, “Go ahead and try it!” It was time for definitive action on our part: we called the park office to tell on them.
We were forwarded to an after-hours number, and we finally convinced the reluctant ranger to put in some overtime and come to the campsite. After meeting him a quarter mile away where the abandoned side road left the main road, we rode back to camp in his four-wheeler. Now things would get straightened out.
Upon returning to camp, Bob and I were flabbergasted to find it completely empty. Even the barricade was gone. But . . . but . . . officer. Then Bob remembered the rope that our adversaries had used to descend upon us and we pointed the ranger in that direction. All we found, however, was an old grapevine, one with no tactical value whatsoever. Officer Smith left disgustedly, but only after informing us that we would receive a huge bill for the overtime. We should have paid the money.
Bob and I sat befuddled, but at least we were glad to get the big shelter—and toll free to boot. So much for excitement; we had experienced enough for the day. We arranged our things in the shelter and then cooked up some trail food. As we lazed around the fire, we began to relax—that is until we realized simultaneously that two crazed warriors would be roaming freely that night.
At midnight our fire died and we retired to the three-walled shelter. However, sleep would have to wait a bit longer. In a short time we heard disturbing noises coming, not from the surrounding woods, but from above our heads as soft shoes landed on the roof. I was pretty sure it wasn’t Spiderman I heard walking across the shingles. Then another landing. Soon two hooded ninja-chick silhouettes peered down over the side with no wall. We definitely should have paid the money. Fumbling in my pocket, I began pleading, “Here, take the money! Just leave us alone. I’ll give you more than . . .”
Bob had grabbed my shoulders and was shaking me. He had interrupted his conversation with his wife to wake me. We really need to dial down our fanciful hiker imaginations.
When we were on the trail again—for real—I was overjoyed to run into multiple cobwebs crisscrossing the last few miles. Obviously those ladies had turned off, probably to Camp One. We camped for free that night, and the only excitement was a hoot owl in a nearby tree. At least I thought it was, though there was a hint of a swooshing ninja sword in that hoot.
The next morning we stashed our gear in the woods to return for it after we walked three road miles to pick up our cars. Problem was we unknowingly laid them on a nest of yellow jackets. Between us we got about a dozen stings. But I’ll take stingers over swords any day.
[Oops. Looks like I strayed a bit over the line from reality to fiction in this post. Bob said the venom from the stings must have been affecting me when I wrote it. I promise to stay away from yellow jackets in the future—or at least refrain from posting until the toxins fade from my brain.]