As the Rutherford County sheriff tailed me through Murfreesboro, I finally came to the realization that by Tennessee standards, I am a godd**n hippie. By northern California standards, I was just a regular person, somewhat on the nerdy side. But there I also didn’t drive 50 miles during the COVID-19 pandemic to get two growlers of “smoke and fire” kombucha and some kimchi created by the fermentation faerie and sold in an all-organic health food store in an arts center in a little town (population 2,680) outside of Rutherfurd County jurisdiction.
I turned onto highway 24, the route out of Rutherford County and back to my home, and the sheriff let me go. I should have heeded the warning, but the next day, I decided going hiking would be a good idea.
All of undeveloped and uncultivated Middle Tennessee is forest. Therefore, virtually all hiking that is not on a former farm land is in the woods. And some of the best, though sparsely used paths near me are along the Natchez Trace, which was originally a Native American hunting trail, thus following rivers and ridges. On this particular day, I decided I would try the Garrison Creek section with my dog.
Within 1/4 mile in from the trailhead, the Old Trace trail was blocked by a downed tree:
This was one of many, many large trees that had toppled over in a recent thunderstorm. In California, after an event like this Cal-Fire and/or the rangers go out with chainsaws to groom the trail. In Tennessee, only hippies expect groomed trails! So we clambered (yes, clambered over), crawled under, and sometimes had to walk off into the forest to walk around the trees. I did not encounter any tree I couldn’t overcome by the time I got to the Garrison Creek portion.
This was narrower, but less obstructed. Until we got here:
I must have taken a wrong turn, or lost the path, I thought. I walked up the creek side and down the creek side, but there were no bridges. We tried that rotten wood you see and practically fell through. If that was ever a bridge, it was long gone and washed away. I turned back on the path, sure I would find the turn I had lost. When I checked my GPS — I was going the wrong way. I had to turn back around and the most direct way out and back to the trailhead was to — cross that creek.
What happened next is best envisioned like the river scene in True Grit. This is why only the tough Tennesseans go hiking, and quite frankly, I’m not sure they expect all hikers to come out of the woods at the end.
The trail had me crossing that creek 3 more times, although the passages were narrower and shallower. I was soaked, but I did stop by the Leipers Fork market to take a picture of the sherriff’s car parked there and to think about getting hot coffee from a coffee kiosk truck.
That evening, after I had dried off, Peter took me (sans dog) to Tennessee Brew Works, an iconic local brewery that had recently been allowed to re-open with safety precautions. We could only sit on the open air patio: one of our favorite places to sit on a pleasant day as it was. Our server had to wear a face mask, and our options were somewhat limited. But we were happy to be out and about in Nashville again, and greeted the only other couple there (seated about 10 feet away) as our fellow COVID-19 survivors.
I was so happy indeed to see other people I even talked to the lost and tired looking man who came up asking us for bus fare. I never talk to strangers like this, but the world was bare, and even the vagrants were sparse. He’d been released from prison, but the Rescue Mission he’d been directed to was full, so they’d advised him to go to the Salvation Army over by Nissan Stadium, across the river. We told him it was walkable, and he might certainly find water to buy along the way. The poor man was probably just as puzzled to find himself a former Memphian in Nashville, a city he didn’t know, and talking to a hippie when the world still looked post-apocalyptic in lack of people out and about. As he finally moved on, towards downtown and the route across the river, I hoped he would find his way to the Salvation Army and on to a better life.