Tuesday, May 19, 2015

As soon as James spotted a tiny scorpion in the water fountain, we should have seen this encounter as an omen and left Savage Gulf State Natural Area without looking back. You heard right, there are scorpions native to Tennessee. Instead we decided to spend the night at the Great Stone Door Campground before embarking on a multi-night trip through the park. After choosing a great campsite within the empty campground (another sign), James and I went on with our assigned duties as usually. I was pitching our tent, when James returned pale faced from gathering fire wood. As it turned out, James came within inches of stepping onto a rattlesnake, which was tanning itself on the forest floor!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

After a surprisingly good night of sleep without any further incidents, James and I enjoyed some summer sausage, cheese, and chocolate milk for breakfast. We could feel the excitement in our fingertips as we started our three day backpacking adventure from the Stone Door Ranger Station. On our first day we planned to follow the Connector Trail across the park to Hobbs Cabin for the night and then continue our trip via the North Rim and South Rim Trails to the Stage Road campground where we would spend our second night before hiking back to our car at Stone Door on our last day.  We began by making a quick diversion to first visiting Laurel Falls before continuing toward Laurel Gulf Overlook near Stone Door.  The park has several great waterfalls to visit, but the overlooks of the valley are definitely the highlight of this park.

After spending nearly a half hour soaking in the incredible view, we descended into the valley through Stone Door. This deep crack through the rock cliff provides access to the valley below and lead us into a landscape filled with unexpected obstacles.

On the first section of the trail, James had to watch each of his steps due to the blanket of poison ivy, which grew at the edge and sometimes over the trail. I, however, must be a freak of nature because it turned out that I can rub myself in poison ivy without any allergic reactions.  To our dismay the Connector Trail, which we’d be spending the majority of our first day on, was no cakewalk either. The trail began fairly rocky, but with every step we took it seemed to become worse.  With the sun heating up the rocks and boulders, the trail turned into snake paradise. Our eyes were glued to the trail, watching every step for rattlesnakes, copperheads, or other dangerous critters. It took us hours to accomplish only a few miles due to the difficult terrain and snake paranoia.  One highlight, however, of this trail is the many suspension bridges that are crossed along our way.  We also decided to visit the Decatur Savage Historic Site which turned out to be a rustic log cabin in a field at the bottom of the valley.  The cabin was locked and offered very little evidence of it’s purpose, but we did stumble across a huge 5 foot black rat snake in tall grass when approaching the cabin.

Continuing along the trail, we stopped at the Sawmill Campground for lunch (tuna sandwiches and fruit) and a break from the Connector Trail.  Towards the end of our hike, I took my eyes off the trail for a split second to talk to James, when I almost stepped onto a long, skinny, green snake that was waving it’s tail in the wind to imitate a blade of grass. At that point I was totally done with that trail, I completely lost my nerves.

After almost 9 miles, we finally arrived Hobbs Cabin in the late afternoon, completely exhausted from our paranoia. While feasting on James’ deliciously prepared Good To-Go Thai Curry with chicken and tortillas we read through the cabin log. According to the majority of comments we were not the only ones who experienced a rather rough time on the trail. Luckily, we had to hike the entire length of the trail before receiving this advice. Anyway, after cleaning up our dishes James and I went into the cabin to prepare our beds for the night. However, after seeing a mouse and hearing my former biology professor talking about Hantavirus (HPS) in the back of my head, I was able to convince James to spend the night in our tent rather than the cabin. Since James knows by heart the saying, “Happy wife, happy life”, we headed over to the nearby campground and picked a site for the night.

We read our books and soon drifted off to sleep to what we’d hope would be a peaceful night.  Boy were we wrong.  At around 11:00 PM, James and I awoke to heavy rain, which sounded like drums on our tent. Rain drops usually sound unnaturally loud in a tent, but this time it was different. After a few minutes, James opened the tent to check on our boots to ensure they were dry and to his surprise they were soaking in an inch of water around our tent. We soon realized that there was also an inch of water UNDER the tent and we were floating!  Instant water bed, I guess.  As water began soaking through the bottom of the tent, we grabbed as much as we could carry as James shouted, “Abandon Ship!” and headed out into the rain toward the cabin.  We were in such a rush that we chose not to dress or put on our shoes, so we trudge toward the cabin in ankle deep water, as toad, yes toads, jumped out of our way.  Even though I was glad to find a place to stay dry for the night, the cabin was not necessarily the place I wanted to be. In hind sight, I’m not sure what we would have done had it not been for that cabin.  The mouse was gone for some mystically reason and did not return, but a spider the size of my hand watched over the cabin for the night.

Sleep did not come easily that night. I was able to figure out a technique that allowed me  wrap myself in my sleeping bag that left only a tiny hole for breathing. At first I thought it would be a good idea to leave my flashlight on to scare off the mouse and to be able to see what was going on in the cabin. However, within minutes, I found that my flashlight attracted every moth in the cabin, and with the moths came the spiders. All of them flying and crawling over me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I had never been happier to see morning light peaking through the cabin windows, illuminating the cabin floor.  As soon as I noticed that James was waking, I suggested to check on our tent. Fortunately, our little tent was still standing tall and proudly where we left it last night. In the misty, sunless morning, we carried the still erect tent back to the cabin to dry on the cabin’s porch.  We hung our other wet gear, had breakfast, and hoped the sun would make a showing in the next few hours.

Nadine packing up in Hobbs Cabin.

Nadine packing up in Hobbs Cabin.

A few hours later, with rain still dripping off the trees, we packed our bags with our still wet gear and headed out onto the North Rim Trail for a long wet day.  The sun did not shine until well into the day when we reached Savage Falls near our junction with the South Rim Trail.  The views from our morning hike along the North Rim Trail did not offer much more than fog, but were just glad to be able to enjoy a dry lunch next to the falls.  After lunch, the weather further improved and we were finally able to enjoy some views from the cliff’s edge as the fog cleared.

View of the valley from the South Rim trail.

View of the valley from the South Rim trail.

With 12 miles under our belt for the day, we finally arrived at the Coach Road Campsite in the mid afternoon. As soon as we pitched our tent, James and I crawled into our sleeping bags and slept until the following day, skipping dinner.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Unfortunately, our hike back to the parking lot would require us to follow the rocky, snake ridden Connector Trail once again. Like the first day, the hike was a nightmare, and towards the end of the trail, we ran into a father with his two sons pointing at a copperhead next to the trail.  By the end our our hike, we’d spotted seven different snakes, several of which we almost stepped on.  While this hike did have it’s highlights, from our experience, I can’t say we’ll ever be recommending this trip to anyone.

Back at the car, I was done with nature. I needed civilization, paved roads, and running water as soon as possible. Looking over to James, I could tell I was not the only one.  We were happy to be heading towards our hotel room in Nashville, TN.

Total distance: 28.74 mi