My dog listened to me sing for 10 hours in the car ride up into the hills of the tri-state area (NC/TN/GA). If his farts are like contractions, how far apart must they be before I pull over?
On the way up, I took a detour through Athens to avoid Atlanta altogether. I not only didn’t feel like dealing with the traffic but something about passing what used to be the Flake’s exit hurt my heart.
I reached the base of the Smokies around 7:30pm. From there, the temperature dropped quickly and the scenery improved. It might have triggered my first sincere smile of the day. At this rate, I reached my mother’s property just before 10 pm. My only prayer was that she had toilet paper and a coffee pot, which she did, but in hindsight, I should have prayed for a working shower too.
It was like camping with a roof over my head. I bullied opened the sticky windows that would budge and cleaned up the rodent, bug and bat carcasses. While washing in the kitchen sink, dead bats floated up from the garbage disposal and by then, without gloves, I couldn’t bring myself to stick my hand down there and fish out the rest. The next day, I drove to the nearest town 40 miles away and rented an electric floor sander, found a wifi signal and ordered electronic plug in rodent repellants from Amazon. One of my Army buddies who said he would drive up to help me didn’t show but luckily the old woman living in the property adjacent put me in touch with a local handyman who would repair the shower (not til after I left) and helped me lug the 150lb sander up the narrow staircase. I was proud enough that I got it out of the car and into the house by myself but making up it up the stairs without throwing out my back or falling down the stairs was too risky. When did I become so weak? I bathed in the rain, in creeks, and in the (clothes) washing machine (when I was caked with sawdust from sanding and sweating so a baby wipe just wouldn’t suffice). I spent two full days working on the floors and a few odd repair jobs around the property then dedicated the rest of the time to hiking.
Raven Cliff falls was my favorite. Five miles round trip, a gradual incline and path that hugged the water all the way. My dog LOVES creeks. I discovered this when I went to visit the Flake in Atlanta last year. He literally bounces with joy, plunging his face and body into the cold water. He can’t do this at home because unless it’s on the ocean or gulf (which he can’t drink), there are ‘gators.
The next day, my dog was moving as stiff as I was so I opted for a much shorter trek closer to “home” at Fires Creek (although armed with two walking sticks, I insisted on keeping us in the water, navigating over slippery rocks which proved to be challenging and hardly qualified as “taking it easy”).
The next day was supposed to be the big hike: Finally, after nearly a year of cancellations, I was going to do the Full moon hike over the suspension bridge at Tallullah Gorge, leaving my dog behind of course but wearing him out on trails during the day to include Minnihaha. But we woke to the sound of rain and a message from the state park calling off the hike on account of it. The extended forecast called for rain the rest of the week so there was no “waiting it out”. In this environment, I could not re-wear the same clothes day after day and I had only packed enough underwear and medication for 9 days.
I also woke to an email from the Flake. How does he know just when to reach out and just what to say to bring me back on the line? He apologized for not being a friend to me. Said Atlanta was a transition period and he was at peace in California. Thanked me for being there for him at his darkest, ugliest. Said he was again the man I met and fell in love with at the Pelican pub 7 years ago. He wasn’t asking for anything but to talk to me. He missed me so much. I caved. Replied that I was in the hills without a steady signal and couldn’t call. But the door was open again.
As I weighed my options and decided ultimately there was nothing to do but start to head back towards home, he suggested Amicalola Falls. I’d been there before but not on a trail because my family couldn’t hike. It was on the way so I decided to stop and gauge the weather once I got there. The nice thing about hiking in wet weather is the trails are abandoned. Amicalola is labeled “difficult for dogs” but another pooch-traveling hiker hinted that the East Ridge trail was suitable. And it was. A bit rocky at the top so I released my dog from his leash so that he and I could both pick the path most appropriate for us. Besides, he’s responsive to voice command and has attachment issues so he never got more than 20 feet ahead of me before stopping and waiting for me to catch up. And he’s smart. He would creep towards the edge and look out but never got too close and was never tempted to follow a small animal to his doom. Amicalola was just over 2 miles round trip and a much steeper incline than Raven Cliff. The sky cracked open when we reached the top so we ducked back into woods, taking the west trail down, protected from the worst of the deluge by the woodland canopy. Unfortunately, I had no clean, dry clothes or towels left to change into when we got back to the car so it was a wet, chilly drive for 6 hours to a dog friendly motel on the FL/GA border where we stopped for the night.
On the way, I chatted with the Flake. He invited me to come see him. I mentioned plans to go back to Cali later this year but the highway through Big Sur was still closed and Esalen was too expensive. He said he would take me hiking through the Redwoods and we would drink wine in the hot tub overlooking the Ocean where he lives on in apartments on a cliff. Of course we would also hit the nearby nude beach. Things were and still are sexually explicit between us. I mentioned I had told my sister I would visit her sometime during her next contract job in Sacramento from Sept-December but she stays at places through AirBnB so I would have to do the same. Or stay with him. I considered the state-run lighthouse hostels and calling my Army buddy from WA state down to hike (he already said he would come and of everyone who says they will make it, he’s the one who keeps his word). So I can go back to California and not see the Flake. I should NOT see the Flake. I know I can’t handle it. I know we would have a great time and then I would crash on the plane home, emotionally. I would be left empty, just like last year, struggling for months to recover from a few days of happiness with a man that loves me but isn’t IN LOVE with me. And I’ll tell him this, in a few weeks when I book my next trip that does not include seeing him.