Days 36 & 37: Andrew Pickens Ranger District, Sumter National Forest

Road Miles: 17

Total: 4061.8

Trail Miles: 0

Total: 103.6

Site: Sumter National Forest, Andrew Pickens Ranger District, South Carolina

It poured and poured, all night. Relentlessly. I awoke with a start the next morning, startled by a loud *CRACK* that sounded suspiciously like a tree snapping. Then, I heard the *CRASH* that confirmed my suspicions. Awesome. I commenced to panicking about getting taken out by a tree. I noticed that my feet were wet. Upon further inspection, I realized that the comforter and sheets were soaked due to the leak that is somewhere in the back door or window I have not been able to locate. Perfect. I checked the weather forecast: thunderstorms for the next two days. Well, shit. Probably I don’t want to be in the middle of an already-saturated forest of tall trees waiting out a 2-day thunder and lightning storm.

I was annoyed. I liked my little spot and had planned to zero there – just relax, work a bit on the website, plan a route to see the maximum number of waterfalls possible as I started making my way to south Florida where I was going to visit my college roommate who I hadn’t seen in years, and also, she had plied me with offers of homemade food (yes, I’m easy like that). But, trees were already dropping even without the benefit of having been struck by lightning first, my shit was soaked, and it was actually pretty chilly. So, It looked like I’d be springing for a room for the first time since leaving California. I sighed, resigned, and packed everything away before hopping into the driver’s seat to fire up the van. I pulled the Reflectix out of the front window and saw that yep, a tree had indeed fallen earlier. Right across the only exit to the main road.

I got out to assess my situation. The tree was about 30 feet long, and probably a couple of feet in diameter. Certainly more diameter than I wanted to try to run over in my aging, already-Frankenparted-together van. The van that is also my house. I tried to find an alternate route around the top or base of the tree, but the forest was too thick with healthy standing trees to squeeze by anyplace else. I fetched my hatchet, and started whacking away at the roadblock. Wood chips went flying around, leaving tiny little divots in the tree. It started raining again, harder. I really did have to laugh at this point, at the wtf of it all. This was stupid. I could be hacking away at this thing for hours before I’d (maybe) get it cleared enough to get by.  Finally, I gave up and went to the last resort.

“911… What’s your emergency?”

“Hi… I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m stuck in the forest behind a downed tree…”

Within half an hour, big men wielding chainsaws arrived, and in minutes had sliced the tree up into smaller chunks that could be rolled out of the way. A guy even showed up to take some of the fresh chunks home (“he has a permit to collect firewood”). Embarrassed but greatly relieved, I thanked them all, and headed to the Mountain Valley Inn in Dillard, which had been the cheapest place I could find nearby. Hot damn! Georgia IS always on my mind, because I cannot get away from her!

By now, I was thrilled to have a room. It was STILL pouring and I was wet, cold, and exhausted. The room felt like a palace compared to my usual 96 square feet. I hung all the wet stuff up, took the longest hottest shower I could stand, and crawled into bed to finish off my BBQ leftovers with some of the wine I’d picked up at Frogtown Cellars. I killed the light and slept like the dead.

The next morning, it was still raining, as promised, with no indication of letting up. (Is this normal? I’m from the desert; this is not normal.) My bedding was still wet, so I decided to take my zero here. I showered at least four times, just because I could. The room phone rang. It took me a minute to figure out what that racket was about. It was my next-door neighbor, who lives at the Inn, inviting me over for a dinner of hot dog sandwiches and beer. I don’t know why, but I love that he called me on the damn motel phone from literally right next door. I accepted his offer. (See? I really am a terrible sucker for free food. And beer.) 

A retired US Navy veteran now in his late 60s, Larry worked nearby painting exteriors. He had no close family, and few friends. As he shyly handed me a hot dog sandwich, he reported that he was not trying to hit on me; he just thought I might like a hot meal. Larry was fairly starving himself, but for human interaction. As I ate my sandwich, Larry talked and talked. He told me about his time in the service, his ex-wife, his ex-wife’s unruly drug-addicted kids. I made a run to the Piggly Wiggly next door for more beer. I ate another sandwich as Larry told me about his work, showed me photo albums of his childhood in the projects of Boston (‘we were the only white family in the neighborhood. I hated that place”) and albums of his own kids taken in the 1970s. He told me about his dreams of visiting California someday, how he’d always wanted to see it. “Go!” I urged him. I gave him a large can of freeze-dried ground beef crumbles I was never going to use; he gave me a travel cooler he said leaked from the lid. It was a wonderful day.