This past weekend, my schedule was miraculously wide open. My son had no baseball games, my wife had to work both days and I had a burning desire to spend some time on the trail. I have an investment in all this camping equipment and don’t get to use it enough. I resolved to put aside the yard work and just make it happen.
It was ten years ago that I made my first visit to Archers Fork (AF) trail just north of Marietta, Ohio. AF lies within the eastern most expanse of the Wayne National Forest. After so many years, I really don’t remember much about the hike so this weekend provided an opportunity to reacquaint myself. My secondary goal was to complete a solo hiking trip. As an admitted extrovert, I like people. I enjoy conversation and the camaraderie hiking with my son, wife or other friends. After watching the first three season of “Alone” on the History Channel, I have wondered how I would handle the solitude even if it was only 24-hours. A solo hike of AF would be a great test.
The drive to Archers Fork took two hours. This area is really remote, providing no cell service and gravel roads that leave a plume of dust behind the car as you drive. The parking area is along side a small cemetery and was very crowded by Saturday afternoon when I arrived.
Since the trail is a loop, I quickly came to the intersection where I had to make a decision which way I was going to navigate. The Natural Bridge intrigued me so I turned to the right
After a mile of walking, the realty of my isolation became palpable. I hadn’t seen another person. On a normal hike with friends, the conversation would flow freely as the miles passed. Without the luxury of conversation, I found myself more keenly aware of my surroundings. All my senses were heightened, so much so I stopped periodically to make the following notes:
- Shafts of sunlight breaking through the leaf canopy creating dappled spots along the trail
- Carpets of ferns
- Groves of Buckeye saplings
- Monarch Butterfly lightly settles on a rock
- Red stem of a maple leaf
- Honey bees hopscotch flowers
- Wilting May Apple plants
- “Cheefer-Cheefer-Cheefer” call of a Cardinal
- Eastern Milk Snake slithers silently across the trail in front of me
One of the highlights of the hike happened when I dropped down a ridge into a river bottom. There was a small creek meandering through some high weeds that expanded into a large pool. In the middle of the pool I saw something dive under the surface. At first, I thought it was a beaver. I crouched down and waited for it to reappear. He surfaced from under the creek bank and I quickly identified him as a North American River Otter. I tried to snap a picture but he moved as I took the picture. Sorry that it’s blurry.
A fun fact I later learned. My father-in-law is a retired Wildlife Biologist for the State of Ohio. One of the projects he worked on 25 years ago was re-introducing Otters back into the state. Otters were eliminated from Ohio back in the 1800s for their fur. The Division of Wildlife initiated a project to transplant Otters from Arkansas back into this very stream. The transplant was apparently successful and was a thrill to see them thriving here in 2017. My father-in-law was beaming telling me the story of his work back in the early 90s’.
As the sun dipped in the sky, I started feeling hungry. I found an elevated area on a ridge top above the trail that was flat enough for my tent and camp fire. After assembling my tent, I ate my Chicken Creole backpacking meal. Finding wood for my fire was quite easy. The woods was very dry and my camp had an ample supply of dead limbs. I stepped over a fallen log beside my tent to reach for a dead stick and was startled by what I saw.
This little guy (or girl) had laid there silently the whole time I have been putting up my tent. The click of my camera shutter startled him enough to stand and try running away. He stumbled and tripped down through the woods into some standing weeds. I knew the mother couldn’t be far away.
I settled down for the evening tending my fire. From 7pm to 9pm, time really sloooowed down. It was still 70 degrees out so I didn’t really need the fire for the warmth. However, assigning myself the task of gathering wood helped pass the time. Staring into the fire was soothing and made me sleepy. I forced myself to stay awake and not go to bed at 8:30pm. I spent the next hour whittling a walking stick to use the next day. I found peace and serenity that I was seeking. I imagined having the company of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. I can only imagine their conversation around the fire during their famed 1903 camping trip in Yosemite.
I went to bed by 9:30pm and had no trouble sleeping through the night. Calling birds woke me at 5:45 the next morning. I heated some water in my Jetboil stove and lingered over coffee as the woods and I awoke. I broke camp and was on the trail by 7am. I enjoyed being on my own schedule.
The morning temperatures were in the low 60s but warmed quickly as the morning progressed. I saw more people today. I ran into one guy with a trail map who was also hiking solo. We consulted the map and I realized I had only hiked about 4 or 4.5 miles the day before. That left me 7.5 or 8 to complete the loop. I kicked my pace into higher gear but not so much as to miss the beauty Ohio has to offer.
I think any of my western readers would acknowledge the beauty of this scenery
This final picture shows just how green and verdant Wayne National Forest actual is this time of year.
In summary, I completed the full 12 mile loop and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would highly encourage any of my fellow extroverts to challenge themselves to a solo hike and see if your heightened senses allow you to “see” the trail in a more pronounced way.