Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stick or Snake?

Cindy, our dog, Bubba (Mr. B), and I spent a rejuvenating two days at Natchez Trace State Park this past weekend. This was actually our second full-family trip to Natchez Trace, the first when Cindy and I were dating and Bubba had not yet acquired either that nickname or the white fur around his nose and eyes. On that trip, the three of us hiked for much of a cloudy February afternoon as much of the rest of the nation watched the Steelers steal a Super Bowl from the Seahawks.

These days, though, Bubba's hikes are limited to short walks, but since he so enjoys long car rides, and since Natchez Trace has a number of pet-friendly cabins, we've been looking for a chance to return there with him, even though he would not end up being a participant on our longer hike.

Our Bubba-friendly cabin

Hence, after making the short drive up I-40, checking into our cabin, and enjoying a mild Saturday evening of grilling burgers (me) and making homemade fries (Cindy)--

and listening to the Grizzlies game outside the car--

Two grey-haired Grizz fans

Cindy and I left Bubba in the cabin around noon on Sunday (we tried to keep him in the bedroom to prevent him from accessing the refrigerator, which he knows how to open) and made our way down a long series of steps and across two small bridges to the Cub Creek Lake trail head. We packed two bottles of water and a couple of NutriGrain bars, remembering that the 3.5-mile trail took us just under two hours to hike the last time. It was much warmer in May than it had been that February, but once we were beneath the trail's tree canopy, the temperature dropped several degrees. We settled in for a relaxing stroll.

A long stroll.

A not-so-relaxing-after-all long stroll.

An adventure-filled stroll, to be sure. But definitely a not-so-relaxing-after-all long stroll.

Given the strong storms that have pounded the region over the past month, we should have figured that trail conditions might've been less than stellar. The first mile or so was pleasantly uneventful, but the closer the trail angled toward the lake, the muddier it became. Eventually, we came across the first of many trees that had been knocked clear over during the recent thunderstorms.

The root of the problem

Downed trees on the trail equal improvised detours, and we used a bit of trial and error in deciding whether to go over or around several large trunks and branches (around usually won out). Detours through brush and weeds equal tick havens, as we learned the hard way.

About two thirds of the way down the trail, we came across a stream that did not offer a realistic detour (we assumed it was the namesake of the Cub Creek Lake trail). Fortunately for us, a couple of resourceful rangers had erected an ad hoc "bridge" of two strong steel cables that spanned the stream.

Our "ropes course"

Unfortunately, as we prepared to ascend this makeshift "ropes course," we realized that we were not alone: in the stream, parked just beneath the lower cable, was a Park Native:

Stick or snake? Not a stick...

Cindy, the more confident of the two of us (and the one with two non-gimpy feet), decided to brave this Gladiator-style challenge first. Sliding one small step at a time, she eased past the snake (which lifted its head toward her just as she passed it) and made it safely to the other side. I followed soon afterward, though not before wondering if my physical therapists would approve of this particular exercise. I made it just fine, of course, and we high-fived each other on our Amazing Courage and Dexterity and congratulated ourselves for reaching what we assumed was the last stretch of our hike.

Which it would have been had we only followed the signs back to the cabin.

But we thought we made the correct turn onto the fire road.

And then we assumed we'd walked too far down the fire road to make it worth returning to the trail.

And then we thought it might be a good idea to traipse across the clearing cut for the petroleum line as a short-cut back to the actual road. 

And then we thought it might be a good idea to sit on the edge of that road and feel a little sorry for ourselves and wish we'd brought a lot more water.

And then Cindy saw the sign that read, "Cabins, next left."

And then, about three and a half hours after we stared, we reached our little cabin home, in which Bubba had not remained in the bedroom (how does he open doors like that?) but, mercifully, had not opened the refrigerator. After a very welcome lunch of scrambled egg sandwiches (with bacon, turkey, and lettuce), we settled into what we felt was a well-earned nap.

(After I enjoyed a tasty beer, of course.)