Hiked around 10 miles through Eno River State Park with Marissa and Meg yesterday, and had a total blast. The excursion’s been in the planning stages for weeks now, but the weather foiled us last week, and so we scrambled to work out the details at the last minute for this week.
After some missed voicemails, late night emails, and early morning phone calls, the three of us finally managed to meet at Meg’s amazing house on Thursday morning, ready to go. It was amusedly noted that her street number isn’t located anywhere on the house, causing Marissa to drive by the window three times, completely confused and lost, before Meg and her sister finally took notice and reeled her in to the correct house. Just before we left for the Eno, someone stated that they were glad this hike was happening, because all of us were beginning to get a little bored at home. Laughing, I said that I was way, way past that stage already. Nothing like a good hike to bring me back to sanity.
We decided to try out the Cox Mountain Trail, a 4-mile loop through the heart of the park that climbed to the summit of the eponymous mountain, hopefully providing good panoramic views of the surrounding country. On the way to the trailhead, we crossed a nice suspension bridge spanning the Eno River, chuckling nervously as the bridge bounced and swayed, and somehow spotted a Great Blue Heron on the bank upriver as well. There was also a sign nailed up on one of the bridge supports, noting the level of the Eno after Hurricane Fran hit in 1996. The sign was probably a good 15 feet above the current level of the river, and taking into account the vast floodplain of the Eno, that must have been a massive flood. The frightening thing is, after witnessing the destruction Fran caused in the area, I wasn’t really surprised at all. Later on in the day, all three of us reflected on the night Fran hit and its aftermath; it really was an experience that binded North Carolinians together. Everyone remembers where they were that night, and what they did to get through the week. I really can’t fathom how the survivors of Katrina or Andrew must feel.
Anyways, we continued on the trail, and soon found ourselves laboring up the steep climbs of Cox Mountain. We paused about halfway up, to catch our breath, to soak up the great view, and to watch a Turkey Vulture soaring low over the trees. Soon, we began to notice other birds in the area too: I spotted a female Eastern Bluebird that unfortunately disappeared before Meg could locate it in the binoculars, and then we all got decent looks at a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging on a tree downslope.
The rest of the climb was substantially easier, and the crest of the hill was relatively anticlimactic, with the view obscured by dense stands of trees, and so we continued down the other side. A beautiful creek flowed into the Eno on the other side of the mountain. Meg wondered aloud: If I was a salamander, which rock would I be hiding under? She carefully turned over a promising rock, and waited a few minutes for the sediment to settle, but no luck. We followed the river downstream for a while, noting that the puddles and rain pools had frozen over on the surface, a sight I’d forgotten about during this unusually mild winter. We also passed a maple marked by a beaver attack, some beautiful lichen growing on a tree, and a Wild Ginger plant with a sweet scent, before we paused to chuckle at a sign noting a Primitive Campsite ahead.
At this point, we unfolded the Trail Map to mark our progress along the loop, when I noticed something curious on the edge of the map. About three miles upstream from our stopping point, an arrow marked the location of Devil’s Sink Hole. No trails led to the sinkhole. No description of the sinkhole appeared in any of the park brochures. None of us had any idea what it could possibly be. So of course, we had to investigate, and the only way we could do that would be bushwhacking along the riverbank for miles past the trail’s end. Of course, the three of us were completely stoked for this adventure.
Where the trail veered away from the river and back up Cox Mountain, the three of us exchanged glances, drew in some breath, and charged into the brush, Meg blazing the trail in front. And so we trekked on through the abundant reeds and rushes along the riverbank for several miles, before pausing a half mile before the sink hole, to watch a kettle of vultures soaring above a powerline cut. We watched in fascination as the kettle of vultures grew, and suddenly I noticed that among the Turkey Vultures were a few of the locally uncommon Black Vulture. Eventually, there were more Black than Turkey Vultures, and they all circled low over the cut before soaring upstream, perhaps to the Devil’s Sink Hole, we joked.
From here, the bank suddenly grew extremely steep in places, forcing us to either to climb over rock cliff faces (my stubborn, macho approach), or to go around the steep spurs by climbing the adjacent ridges (probably the smarter approach, haha). At the final bend in the river before the Devil’s Sink Hole, seeing some intimidating steep sections ahead, we paused on a rockfall for lunch; I tore into a Chick-fil-a Chicken Biscuit with gusto as more vultures circled overhead, and I sighted a small Winter Wren flitting around the opposite shore.
The Devil’s Sink Hole threw some more obstacles in our way as we approached, as we carefully negotiated some more steep banks, with one massive fallen log on a steep embankment causing particularly awkward problems for us. A loud slap on the water was heard, and Meg and I agreed that it may have been a beaver, which was pretty cool. Once we finally got past those rocky sections, we found a creek that had to be forded, and spent a few moments trying to find a way to cross. Marissa and I ended up leaping onto a fallen log in the middle of the creek and using that as a springboard to reach the opposite shore, while Meg managed to tightrope on a long log spanning the creek. We fought our way through more dense stands of reeds, before houses began to appear on the other shore, indicating that we had probably reached the edge of the park boundaries.
I pulled out the GPS unit, which is supposed to be used just for driving purposes, to check on our exact location. I was half expecting for it to give me driving directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant or something, but it was more reserved than that, and its map showed us that we’d passed the Devil’s Sink Hole by several hundred yards. The three of us then began our return journey, looking for any sign of the sink hole. Sadly we found none, this stretch of the Eno looked like any other, and we continued the arduous trek back to Marissa’s car, stationed at the park headquarters four miles away. In the woods around the supposed sink hole, we found a nice Eastern Phoebe, and then all three of us got spectacular looks at another sapsucker.
Before we joined up with the Cox Mountain trail again, there was another small creek to ford, which we had no trouble with on the journey up. This time, as I stepped onto the bank of the creek’s edge, my feet suddenly slid on the slippery mud, and I fell on my side right into the creek! Panicking, I quickly got myself up and tried to get up the opposite bank…but oh man, it was completely muddy too, and I slid back into the creek! I tried to get back up to where Marissa and Meg were laughing, only to find that the entire bank I’d just fallen down was muddy. So I tried once again to get back up the opposite bank, but this entire shore was muddy too! So basically I was stuck in this u-shaped muddy hole, with my feet’s skidmarks on either side, as I stood laughing, hopelessly stuck between unscalable riverbanks, as the creek flowed around my cold toes. Meg, ever kind and helpful, eventually lent me a hand as I tried to find enough momentum to push myself up the bank, getting myself extremely muddy in the process. Marissa had slipped earlier, and the two of us basically looked like we’d taken a nap in the swamp and sunk a foot or two as we slept, haha. Alas, Meg escaped our fate, the lucky girl. Clearly, she knew what she was doing.
Finally, we all got back to the park headquarters, and decided to ask the park rangers about the Devil’s Sink Hole. Two of them had no answer. The third ranger we came across told us, “Oh yeah, you won’t be able to see anything. It’s just this deep spot in the river. I forget the history behind it, and why it’s called that, but yeah it’s just a deep part of the river, you really can’t see it.” Oh well, the day’s adventures were worthwhile on their own qualities, we all agreed. I told Marissa that it certainly beat sitting at the computer all day checking Facebook, a comment that struck both of us a little too close to home, haha, so once again Facebook-less Meg came out with a clean record, clearly she knows what she’s doing. We drove back to Meg’s house, rocking The White Album all the way down, before we said our goodbyes, and I drove back home through early rush hour traffic, grabbing a Blackberry Carolina Concrete from the esteemed Goodberry’s just before reaching home, where I took a quick shower, and collapsed on the nearest sofa, falling into a deep nap, awoken only by the tantalizing smells of Mongolian Beef emerging from the kitchen. What a great adventure.
What a week, really. I had an incredible time this past weekend in Boston with Joanna, the memories of which I’ll have to hold onto for the next four months as I head into the Australian rainforest. The fact that I’m going abroad really hasn’t sunk in yet, and probably won’t until a week into the program when it’s too late to start freaking out, haha, so for now, I’m just blissfully wrapping up the last of my preparations and beginning to pack. I’ll enjoy the experience I’m sure, but for now I’m enjoying all the sweet tea that North Carolina has to offer, as well as any inkling of civilized society that I can encounter.
Links gathered before the great adventures:
- The British mail system delivered a letter with no address, only a vague map. Actually, it turns out that others have done the same, on purpose even.
- A new restaurant has opened in Beijing, in which you sit in total darkness while eating your food, the idea being that the loss of your visual sense will elevate your other senses, including taste. The waiters and waitresses walk around with night vision goggles to see what they’re doing. Amazing.
- There’s a handful of underwater hotels already, but now Dubai is building an underwater luxury hotel. I would love to visit Dubai at some point, it just seems like such an absurdly ridiculous spot at the moment.
- The New Year’s fireworks in Taipei were quite spectacular.
- After his infamous World Cup headbutt, Zinedine Zidane retired, but he’s not totally done with soccer, here’s some footage of him playing a pickup game with friends, and absolutely schooling everyone. Fantastic.
- True Hoop does some research on how NBA stars may influence baby names. How common of a name is Shaquille these days, for example?
- A quick and easy way to screw up any webpage, and make things spin. Bizarre, it’s like surfing the internet on acid!
- Find out how to beat that arcade game where you pick things up with that giant claw.
- And finally, in the spirit of all this linking, Jason Kottke lists his favorite links of 2006. If you’re bored, this should occupy you for a while.