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Crunchy Meets Country III

Jeff Ell SmallOur day started with a bang. No really, an actual bang.

My younger son-in-law had crawled out of his sleeping bag at dawn, pulled on cold clothes, grabbed his gun, and went hunting. He was only about thirty yards from the shelter when he saw something in the brush.

It was a foggy frozen morning. The weather forecast had been spot on. Rain had started after midnight, and the temperature had dropped below freezing exactly as predicted. Thick eery fog lay close to the earth, the ground was covered with a thin coating of ice, and the soaking rain came in waves.

It was in this foul weather soup that he saw a nice buck browsing not more than eighty yards from where we were sleeping. He pulled up, squeezed the trigger, and the buck ran away.

As soon as he left the shelter I stretched myself out on his vacated sleeping bag and mat hoping to get a little more sleep. I had spent a restless night tossing turning and trying to find a comfortable position on my backpacking mat that for some unknown reason has grown less comfortable over the years.

The boom from that 30.06 going off thirty yards from the shelter sat me straight up. I threw on my clothes and was smiling from ear to ear. I was sure that he had bagged a buck. I met him just outside the shelter and he pointed to where it was. We waited for a bit, and then spent the next couple of hours looking for blood, hair, or any evidence that the round had found its mark.

He is a good shot and I was perplexed by his missing such an easy target. Later we took a closer look at his rifle and discovered that his scope had been knocked out of alignment during the hunt the day before. It is a heart wrenching lesson every hunter has to learn for themselves. I’m certain it will never happen to him again.

When we got back to the shelter our friends were starting to stir. They were heating water on their micro-stove and asked if we had had any luck. We shook our heads, and explained how his gun was not sighted in. Thats when they asked if he had fired his rifle.

“Didn’t you hear the shot?” I asked in disbelief.

“No, must have slept right though it” they said.

This is when I got my second lesson about thru-hikers: They sleep.

If sleeping were an Olympic sport, thru-hikers could bring home the gold. I still can’t understand how anyone could not be woken up by the sound of a rifle going off so close to them. The sound was almost deafening, and the concussion shook the shelter. I assume it was the thick air and fog kept all the sound and energy trapped right against the earth. But the thru-hikers kept sleeping.

Our new friends had decided not to move on that day. The ground was slippery, and the driving rain made their decision pretty easy. I’d also like to think that they had learned that hunters carrying piles food were passable company. Besides, my older son-in-law pulled a Macgyver by suspending a sheet of roofing tin we found under the shelter over the fire. After fixing a tarp over the whole area we were able to keep a hot fire going all day and dry out wet gloves and hats.

We were five pedestrians stranded in a trail side shelter. Foot travelers marooned in a dry ark by a weather system that stalled over the Appalachians and dumped more than two inches of rain. Before we went our separate ways I asked them if they would like to fire a rifle. They said yes in unison. It’s fun to watch folks shoot a powerful gun for the first time. After shooting they posed for a picture. Somewhere out there there’s an image of thru-hiders brandishing rifles and showing off some country swag.

Our paths had crossed when we hiked up the mountain looking for a little adventure, and they had hiked down the trail looking for something they weren’t finding on their computer screens or in their cubicles. Perhaps Longfellow said it best:

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence…
Ah, how short are the days!
How soon the night overtakes us!
In the old country the twilight is longer; but here in the forest
Suddenly comes the dark,
with hardly a pause in its coming,
Hardly a moment between the two lights, the day and the lamplight.

– Jeff El

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