The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
This found hike woke up the veteran distance hiker’s eyes and senses to the beauties around him.
Hiking in Warriors’ Path State Park in Kingsport, Tenn.
I was driving, home from an outdoors conference where, despite its subject matter, I had spent three days indoors attending trail workshops and listening to lecturers waxing eloquently (but in exceedingly minute detail) about various ecosystems. I was also tired of repeatedly passing the same 18-wheeler on the uphills only to have it barrel toward me on the descents, its chrome grill molded into a sinister sneer and filling up every bit of space in my rear view mirror. Laurie and I have dubbed this phenomenon “truggling,” to indicate that you are struggling with, and unable to escape from, a truck.
So, I was primed for a calming break in some quiet woods when a brown sign on I-81 indicated Warriors’ Path State Park was accessible from the next exit.
Stopping at the park office for a trail map, I asked the receptionist which trail would be the one I was most likely to meet the fewest people. She said the most scenic hike combined the Devils Backbone Trail that went across a ridge overlooking Fort Patrick Henry Lake with the Fall Creek Loop Trail, which passed through a successional landscape of forest and field. She also said I would probably encounter a large outdoors group that had a hike planned for the route that day. Instead, she suggested the Sinking Waters Trail System, which “is not as glamorous,” and, because it’s in a somewhat disjunct part of the park, “almost nobody hikes there except the local neighbors who go for a bit of exercise.”
Maybe it was because I had just spent several days in a row indoors, maybe it was because I needed to escape the bustle of the modern world, or maybe it was because the park employee had set me up to not expect much, but for whatever the reason, I found myself enjoying this outing and noticing and taking in more of the natural world than I had for some time.
In fact, as I descended along the trail – an old roadway that had serviced a now-gone community from the early part of the previous century – the vegetation overtaking the route was not just a blur of green to me. Rather, it was an amalgam of individuals, such as blackberry and raspberry bushes, Virginia creeper, small pawpaw and sassafras trees, multiple species of wildflowers and, of course, an abundance of poison ivy. I was even taking in the latter’s tiny white flowers that, later in the year, would develop into clusters of off-white berries, which contain an especially strong form of the plant’s toxin. ...