Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clear Creek Trail

Last night was the last under-100-degrees day we're going to have for a while, so after work I went out to Clear Creek for a quick hike. I needed to check out part of the Clear Creek Trail for my book (and as it turned out, it was a good thing I did check, because I had the layout of the area all messed up in my head).

I parked at the gristmill. I've mentioned the gristmill here several times, and I finally thought to take a picture. When my mom's family moved here from Lubbock, Texas in 1964, Mom was a freshman in college. That summer she got a job at the gristmill for a short time, which is where she met my dad. So every time I go to the gristmill, I think about them both. Mom says she was walking down the stone steps on the side of the building on a rainy day when Dad caught her arm and said, "You're going to slip, sure as God made little green apples."

Anyway, I hiked from the gristmill to the water treatment plant, which according to my map is .7 miles. I always thought it was shorter than that. From there, I hiked up to the Clear Creek Spring, another .7 miles. I was there just last weekend, but I didn't pay that much attention because I didn't think my characters would be spending much time there. Turns out I needed them to make camp nearby, so I spent a few minutes scouting around for somewhere they could have a semi-hidden campsite. I couldn't find one, so I'll have to fudge a bit when I write that part.

<--Our magnificent water treatment plant. When I was a kid, the sight of the blue tower through the trees always excited me. Mom took us down to the picnic area behind the plant to play in the creek sometimes. Also, I always wanted to live in that little brick house. The blue building has a big sign posted on its door that says "CAUTION: CHLORINE," which would be a drawback to living there.

I did find an access road leading to the spring, which I knew was there but which I didn't realize actually went anywhere. It leads up to a lane with a few farms around. I drove by the area later and discovered the lane leads to Upper Clear Creek Road, which is not far from the entrance to Lower Clear Creek Road, which is of course the start of the watershed.

After that I followed a deer trail, or maybe just a water runoff "trail," alongside a deep gorge. The gorge must get some serious water during storms, since a lot of dam thingies have been built along its length to help slow the water. It was pretty cool. I considered having my main character have to hide in the gorge, but decided it would be too hard for her to climb down into. Besides, I'd already written the hiding scene and I like it the way it is.

 <--That picture doesn't do the gorge justice. It's very deep and cuts into the hillside all the way down from the top. I took this photo at the bottom because I thought it was nifty the way they've directed the water stream with rocks. There's a bench just off to the left of the picture, and of course it would be too bad if a flash flood swept the bench away.

Next I need to hike Dyer Hollow Trail, which is not far from the gristmill. I would have hiked it last night, but it was getting late and I had a lot I needed to do at home (none of which I actually got done, but I might have). Dyer Hollow Trail should be the very last trail I feature in Shadow Trail, incidentally. I'm very close to finishing the draft! In a way I'm disappointed; I've enjoyed the excuse to get out and hike different sections of the watershed. Then again, it's always exciting to finish a new project.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

White Pine Trail

I bought a new pair of shoes yesterday, O'Rageous Boy's Watersport shoes (size 6, which is roughly equivalent to a Woman's size 7 or 7.5). I wanted a pair of Mountrek Cascade Women's Sandals, but they don't come in half sizes. The size 7 was too small, the size 8 too big. And the O'Rageous shoes were on sale for only $16 instead of $50 for the Mountreks, so that decided that.

I'd been meaning to hike the White Pine Trail at the watershed recently; it's one of my favorite hikes and I needed to check it anyway since my characters in Shadow Trail are hiking it. So I put my new shoes on, with a new pair of light nylon-blend socks, and drove down to the gristmill.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot to bring my new tree identification handbook--probably for the best, in retrospect, since it was around 6:30 pm when I set out; if I'd dawdled on the trail identifying trees, it would have been dark by the time I got back.

The quickest way to get to the start of White Pine Trail is the same way I got to the High Point Spur last weekend: from the gristmill (where I parked), take the short Deer Trail to Longmire Trail, take Longmire up the ridge to High Point Trail. White Pine Trail branches off High Point only a matter of yards from where Longmire meets High Point.

The second I stepped onto Deer Trail, I started smelling something dead. Ugh. It was about 95 degrees so anything that dies starts to stink almost immediately; I figured it was a rabbit or squirrel or something. But as I hiked, the smell got worse and worse and worse. I put my shirt over my nose and mouth, then my hand over my shirt, and hiked really fast while trying not to breathe. Honestly, it's a wonder I didn't faint from lack of air. Right before I left the trees for the field, I saw the bloated corpse of a deer lying in the weeds. So I guess that's why they call it Deer Trail. (Ugh.)

Longmire Trail is fairly steep, and I continued to hurry since I wanted to get to White Pine Trail before the light started to go. When I got to High Point Trail, I realized I hadn't had any trouble with my new shoes. I hadn't even noticed my feet at all. The shoes are light, well-ventilated, and comfortable.

I always like hiking White Pine Trail. It's a very pretty trail, not at all strenuous, that follows along a wet-weather creek first, then passes a spring that turns the wet-weather creek into a creek, then meets Clear Creek Trail that follows along (duh) Clear Creek as well as Lower Clear Creek Road. The Clear Creek spring is where Norris gets its water, which is a plot point in Shadow Trail. I wanted to get a look at the clearing and pond partway down White Pine Trail, and then I wanted to check out the actual location of a spring across the trail from the Clear Creek spring. When I got to the pond, I was really worried when I saw how low it was. We badly need rain.

Then, when I got to Clear Creek Trail and reached Norris's spring...I couldn't find the other spring. I walked back and forth, back and forth. I know it was there just a few months ago, water rushing up out of the ground among a lot of rocks, then crossing under the trail via a culvert before joining Clear Creek. I mean, I drank from that spring last time I hiked past, because I figured it would be safe because it was water right out of the ground, right? And three days later I had a couple of days of explosive diarrhea, so kids! Always treat your water!

All I can figure is that the spring has temporarily dried up due to the drought, and that plants have grown up over the opening. If it ever rains again, I'll hike back to make sure it still exists and I'm not insane.

When I reached the little water treatment plant downstream, I was only around a quarter mile from my car and figured it wouldn't hurt me to get my new watershoes wet even if they didn't shed water as well as advertised. So I stepped into the stream, which felt very nice and cool. It was fun to see the water squirt out of the mesh panels in the uppers, but my feet still squished around in the shoes. I thought that might have something to do with my socks, though. But I didn't want to walk a quarter mile in wet shoes and no socks, so I waited until I got back to the gristmill to take my socks off and get back in Clear Creek.

My socks, incidentally, were body-heat-warm and sodden, which was exceedingly unpleasant to touch because they felt just like a toddler's garment that had just been peed on. The shoes were pretty comfortable even without socks. But they didn't shed water any faster without the socks holding water in. I wish I had the Mountreks, which have little screen-covered ports in the soles to let water out. That would be so cool. Also, when I got home I discovered that I did actually have some mild blisters that I hadn't noticed on the trail. Of course I'd just hiked four miles in brand new shoes. So overall, I'm happy with the shoes but I probably won't wear them for hikes longer than a mile or two.

On the other hand, the color of the shoes warns animals away from eating them. Yellow and black is nature's way of saying, "These shoes are poisonous!"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Norris Lake

I live five minutes' drive from here. It takes a bit longer to hike there, but it's worth the trip.

Friday afternoon I got home from work a bit early, and decided to put my unexpected extra time to good use. I changed clothes, tossed the first aid kit, the trail map of the Norris Watershed/Norris Dam State Park area, and two bottles of water into my pack. I did remember to put on bug repellent, but not sunscreen; and I made a foolish decision to wear my tennis shoes instead of hiking boots, since it was between 85 and 90 degrees and my sneaks are a lot cooler.

I started at the gristmill and hiked up to Longmire Trail. That took me to High Point Trail, and from there I took the High Point Spur that led to Lake View Trail. I didn't hike all of Lake View--it's a long trail and by the time I got to where I was going I'd hiked over three miles and my feet were bothering me.

See, there's a reason I own expensive hiking boots. So I won't wear sneaks on the trail and end up with blisters. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is where I went, and who wouldn't?

It's a lovely little area where I was able to sit on some water-smoothed boulders and dabble my bare feet in the lake. My excuse for going here at all is that in Shadow Trail, which I'm still writing, my two main characters are going to need to camp here a few nights. I wanted to scope out the area. Also, I wanted to sit with my feet in the water.

I explored for a little while, then returned to the boulders to dabble my feet some more and drink one of my bottles of water. It was a lovely day, Friday afternoon, and lots of people were out on the lake. They kept driving by in their boats, which was fun for me since the wake waves kept washing up over my knees. I had my capri cuffs rolled way up. I watched some minnows in the water, and some spiders scurrying over the rocks, and suddenly an extra-big wave splashed me up to my waist.

I decided then that it was probably time to start back. Besides, there were thunderclouds building up and I didn't want to get caught in a storm (it never did storm, as it happens; I don't think it's ever going to rain here again). I waited until my feet had dried, then put on my shoes and headed back to the trail.

On the way back, I saw a repulsive huge black bug dragging the corpse of an enormous dead spider, but I didn't get a clear picture of it. I did get a good picture of a handsome toad, and a picture of this SCARY POISONOUS SNAKE oh wait.

On the way back, my toes--which were squished together by my tennis shoes, something I'd never noticed about those shoes before, probably because I'd never walked 6+ miles in them--really started to hurt. At one point I sat down in the middle of the trail and applied pieces of moleskin to keep the blisters from breaking. It did the trick, but it didn't make my toes any less painful. By the time I reached Longmire Trail again, I was hobbling along like an old lady. It's too bad, too, because other than my feet I felt great.

I was also ravenous and dying of thirst although I'd drunk all my water. When I was nearly back to my car, I called Papa John's Pizza and ordered a medium extra cheese and a 20-oz Pepsi (ick, Pepsi; they don't have Coke there). Sometimes you just have to eat half a pizza and chug an entire Pepsi.

I still have blisters, although they're not bad enough that they kept me from hiking up to pick raspberries today. But that's another post for another day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First-hand knowledge

Warning: Boring nattering about writing stuff ahead.

I'm deep into writing the first draft of my YA hiking book. The working title is Shadow Trail, incidentally. I decided I had better write it now, in June, because it's set in June. I don't want to have to second-guess myself later on about what's blooming right now, what the temperature is, how the shadows fall, when it gets light in the mornings, etc. Most of this stuff I already know, but it's easy to make mistakes in the draft that get missed in revisions and edits.

So my characters have hit the trail with zombie-ish bad guys hunting for them. In the book's timeline, they've only been on the trail a few hours. I'm happy with the progress, but I know I need to hit the trail myself to work out their route and make sure the details are correct.

My next day off work won't be until Sunday, so Sunday morning at 9am on the dot I'll be stepping onto the watershed access trail around the corner from my house. I'll need to time myself to make sure the timeline of where the characters are going and when actually makes sense. For instance, one of the first things they do, once they think they're out of danger and safe in the woods, is pick raspberries. Then they go up to Observation Point and realize they're not alone. So that's where I'll go too, watch in hand and notebook in my pack. Hopefully zombies will not chase me.

It's really useful to have set this book in my own stomping grounds. Research is easy and fun!