Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 8: The Hunt for the Secret Shelter

Dscn5212September 11: The day started surprisingly warm and eventually I had to get out of my sleeping bag just because it was too dang hot. I knew it was only going to get worse, and it certainly did that! The humidity was so thick, daylight that cut through the tree cover lit up the water molecules like a disco ball. Hot and humid—it was a potent combination.

 

The trail dropped down to a small creek less than a mile out of the shelter where I filled up with water—I figured it would be easier to get water here than the water source for Greenwall Shelter. I filled up both my 1-liter bottles—I knew I’d be drinking a heck of a lot of it.

 

The trail continued downhill for another couple of miles before it crossed a little used highway then started a steady climb up to Bear Mountain. That’s when the heat and humidity really started their frontal attack on me. The sweat dripped off my eyebrows, off my nose, off my chin. Large fat drops that I couldn’t wipe away fast enough with my handkerchief. I, quite literally, rung my shirt and was able to squeeze a remarkable quantity of sweat out of it. Even holding the plastic handle of my trekking pole was a slippery task with all the water I was shedding and, so far as I could tell, absolutely none of it evaporated. It just kept soaking me and my shirt and dripping off every facial feature. It was utterly awful.

 

The views along the trail were bad. Although there weren’t any clouds to speak of, the humidity made everything hazy and visibility was actually worse than the clouds from yesterday.

 

I took a good, long break at the Clarendon Shelter and went ahead and shaved while I was there. Anything that threw lots of cool water on me seemed like a good idea. =)

 

Dscn5214Then I sat down and browsed through the register. This time, I was looking for hints about a secret shelter. What secret shelter, you ask? This one. That’s all the information I had on it. It was apparently between the Clarendon Shelter and the Governor Clement Shelter. The distance between those two shelters is just under six miles, but that’s a lot of places one could hide a shelter. If it’s a secret, it’s clearly not on the trail, but it should be somewhat near the trail. Probably less than half a mile—no hiker would likely want to hike more than that off trail for a shelter.

 

But where was it? I had asked a few southbound hikers if they knew anything about it, but invariably they would reply with, “There’s a secret shelter?” Obviously, they would be of no use to me… The only person I’d met who seemed to have even heard of the shelter was Cackles, and she seemed to think it was closer to the Governor Clement Shelter although she didn’t explain why and wasn’t even sure if that information was true or not. I half thought that maybe the secret shelter was an elaborate hoax—why would a shelter have to be secret?

 

But if it did exist, I really wanted to find it. My problem was that nobody seemed to know anything more about it than I did which was that it was located between these next two shelters, somewhere near (but not on!) that six miles of trail. I studied my maps and tried to imagine where the shelter would likely be and picked out some likely sites. One in particular really stood out at me. I didn’t know how many of the sites I would have time to check, or maybe there would be an unexpected trail junction that didn’t show up on my map at all. I kept an open mind, but I was going to definitely pay extra attention to any unexpected trail junctions and road crossings. If that shelter was really out there, I wanted to find it!

 

Another obstacle threw itself in my path for the hunt for the secret shelter: a trail detour. Hurricane Irene, it seems, washed out a footbridge or two along the Long Trail and large signs proclaimed the trail was closed over a few miles with a road-walk detour in place. The problem was—I was pretty sure that the secret shelter wasn’t going to be found on a road walk. It was going to be near the main trail before the trail had been temporarily rerouted due to the storm damage.

 

Dscn5227Not that I needed another reason to ignore the trail closure. I was never a big fan of road walking anyhow. But finding this shelter was going to be a lot more likely if I stayed on the main trail rather than followed the detour. How else would I find unmapped and secret trails intersecting with the Long Trail?

 

So I set off in my quest to find the Secret Shelter. The trail reroute, I’ll say, turned out not to be a big deal. I was able to cross the couple of washed out footbridges on rocks and logs crossing the rivers, and even if I couldn’t, the creeks weren’t so bad that they couldn’t be forded safely.

 

Another unexpected snag caught up with me when I realized that the trail appeared to have been recently rerouted. The white blazes I was so familiar with disappeared, replaced with orange tape tied to trees. The trail seemed fresh and new, and I found some trail intersections that were marked with white blazes—the old Long Trail before the reroute. Would this throw off my hunt for the secret shelter? It seemed less and less likely I’d be able to find it.

 

The day was getting late and I started worrying about getting into a shelter—secret or otherwise—before it got too dark so I skipped a few possible trail junctions without searching them as thoroughly as I might have. The heat and humidity took a piece out of my energy levels as well and I didn’t really “feel” like the shelter was near those intersections anyhow.

 

Ultimately, there was one spot on my map that really intrigued me that I decided I definitely had to check out. On my maps, at least, it looked like the perfect place to build a shelter. I won’t tell you why—that’s for you to figure out if you want to find this shelter—but it was my top candidate for a secret shelter site, and I walked right off the trail to see if the shelter was around.

 

I walked for probably five or ten minutes off the trail, wondering if this was just a huge waste of time, even a little mad at myself for this quest I started on that I felt was most likely to end in failure. I just didn’t know enough about where this shelter could be located to actually find the dang thing. There were just so many places to build a shelter! And a couple of good reasons why I thought the shelter wouldn’t be at this particular location—even though it was my #1 best guess.

 

Dscn5235But I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least take a half hour out of my day to check it. It was, after all, my #1 best guess. =)

 

So you can imagine my delight when I actually found the darned thing! “YES!!!!” I screamed into the air. “I found YOU!”

 

Glad no one was around to see my own astonishment! =)

 

I set my pack down and did a quick walk through of the shelter. A big box that people could play tons of different games. A bottle cap nailed to the shelter with a label that said pressing it would start the hot tub going. (Hahaha!) The shelter was decorated with old cow skulls (at least that’s what I assumed they were!), and a scale hung in the entrance. The shelter wasn’t very big, but it had a lot more character than any of the others I’d seen. And I found it!!!!

 

I did a little jig in the shelter, proud of myself. And more than a little glad that I wouldn’t have to walk all the way out to the Governor Clement Shelter to spend the night. It was supposed to rain overnight so I definitely wanted to be in a shelter, but I didn’t actually want to walk as far as Governor Clement either—it was further than I wanted to walk for the day. I’d have done it if I had to, but I didn’t have to anymore. Awesome!

 

I thought of Cackles and her also wanting to find the shelter, so I wrote two notes for her that I backtracked to the Long Trail and left saying nothing more than to “follow me” off the trail. I didn’t want to write “Secret Shelter—this way!” But I figured if I left a couple of notes on the trail pointing her off trail, she’d figure out that it was because I had found the secret shelter.

 

Dscn5237It was also for a slightly selfish reason—I wanted someone else in the shelter to play some games with. The shelter had games to play, but they required 2+ players! =)

 

Back in the shelter, I changed into my camp clothes and made dinner. Shortly after I finished cleaning up dinner, a fellow introduced himself as Aaron and told me that he had built the shelter, so I had a good time chatting with him and learning more about the shelter. I don’t really want to say too much about what he told me—it might give some clues about the location of the shelter—but he seemed genuinely surprised that I managed to find it with only the knowledge that it was between the Clarendon and Governor Clement shelters. Apparently, most people who find it actually have gotten directions from people who know where it is.

 

Aaron left, and I finished cleaning up my dinner mess and started reading at the picnic table in front as a light rain started, so I moved inside the shelter and continued reading.

 

Cackles never showed up, and I assumed she must have stopped for the night at the Clarendon Shelter. I thought she was planning to look for the secret shelter today, but maybe she had changed her mind.

 

As darkness descended, I pulled out my headlamp and discovered a horrible thing—it was already on. I love this headlamp because it has a red light which I like because it helps preserve my night vision and doesn’t bother other people as much in the shelters, but it has a bad habit of turning on while crushed in my pack. So I always pop open the battery cover when I stow it away and remove one of the three batteries so it won’t turn on. But somehow, during the day, the battery slipped right into its place and the headlamp turned on. The batteries had drained to almost nothing. I couldn’t see much more than two feet in any direction through the darkness with the light. Barely enough to read by.

 

Dscn5243Then I saw flashes of light in the sky. Lightning, along with distant thunder and seemed to grow closer and closer.

 

A little after 10:00, the wind started picking up—a lot. I had hung my clothes on a line in the shelter to dry from all my sweat during the day, but I got up to move them fearing they might actually blow away if I didn’t. The thunder cracked louder than ever and I heard what sounded like a very large tree crashing down in the woods. The floor of the shelter shook like an earthquake and more trees started falling. And, despite being in the shelter, I could start feeling rain hitting me. The wind was blowing the rain into the shelter.

 

I moved my stuff from the side of the shelter where I originally set it up to the back of the shelter in the deepest corner I could find, but still some drops continued to hit me from the wind-blown rain. By now, the sky was completely black. The shelter was completely black, except for the occasional flash of lightning and a two-foot wide view from my badly dimmed headlamp. I really needed to keep this rain off me, so I hunted through the darkness for my tarp which I quickly found and pulled out, using it to cover the front of the shelter. Working the tarp into place and knotting the ropes in the necessary places was difficult in the darkness, wind and rain whipping around me. Another crack of lightning seemed like it struck just outside of the shelter and I heard another tree come crashing down. I hoped none would land on the shelter. And thank goodness I wasn’t in this storm with nothing more than a tarp for protection!

 

The severe wind, rain and lightning didn’t seem to last very long—in less than an hour, I could tell it was fading fast away and that I would likely survive the night. But wow—what an exciting night! I left the tarp covering the front of the shelter even though it didn’t seem necessary anymore—just in case another storm came roaring through. Anyhow, it was so dark, it would have been hard to unknot the mess. It could wait until morning.

 

And finally I fell asleep with a smile on my face. I survived quite the storm—and I actually found the secret shelter!!!! =)

 

Dscn5249
The views weren’t actually all that good because of the
high humidity in the air. Very muggy!

 

Dscn5253

 

Dscn5257

 

Dscn5288
Hot, muggy, and still muddy…

 

Dscn5291
This viewpoint is called “Airport Lookout.” I wonder why?

 

Dscn5299
Suspension bridges are fun! =)

 

Dscn5304

 

Dscn5313

 

Dscn5339
The Clarendon Shelter had potted flowers out front.
A nice touch, I thought! =)

 

Dscn5381
This grasshopper thought he could hike the trail.

 

Dscn5388
Trail closures didn’t stop me from following the trail anyhow! =)

 

Dscn5422
The secret shelter! I found it!

 

Dscn5425
I love shelters with a sense of humor. =)

 

Dscn5431
I’d have loved to played a game or two, but alas, I would
be alone in the shelter with no partners to play against. =(
That’s the problem with secret shelters—they don’t get
a whole lot of visitors!

 

Dscn5433
Yep, this shelter is definitely nicer than most! =)

2 comments:

tiggermama said...

of course you found it. you're a letterboxer and a hiker. we find things. And Bear Mountain is a humdinger even when it's 45* and low humidity. glad you're having fun.

Anonymous said...

Feel the shelter.....Be the shelter. Your boxing has taught you well, Green one. Great Blog, love following your hikes.

Stones