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Chattanooga Challenge

The time I discovered…

savannah sherard

United States

The gear was checked for a third and final time before hauling it down to the calmly flowing Chattooga River. Upstream was a narrow creek hidden under a lush, green canopy. A small yet audible rapid provided a lovely soundscape along with the clamor of insects and the occasional birdcall. The sandy bank, riddled with mica, glittered as the full moon rose above the ridge.
I awoke at dawn to a twinge of trepidation running up my spine as I accepted my role. I, a novice backpacker, would lead my two dogs and dear friend Cait along 15 miles of protected wildlife corridor trail. Cait, an elementary educator, had never been backpacking, was allergic to everything, and had never even pooped in the woods. I was honored she trusted me to lead her first real excursion but needless to say, it was not only the weight of the pack I felt riding on my shoulders.
The trail was pristine in spring green and ours alone to behold! Four creek crossings were marked between trailhead and our intended campsite. After crossing the twelfth creek via well-placed bridges that maintained the vibrant riparian zone, we examined the map. In a tiny notation we found it was charted in ‘81! Needless to say, the watershed had changed substantially over thirty-five years.
Dusk was falling as we found an unobstructed view of the river complete with a small, gurgling rapid to sing us to sleep.
Merrily we marched the next morning until we came to an unexpected crossroads. The trail had been littered with blazes but now we saw nothing. We ventured down different paths in search of a trail marker or distinguishing feature, but found nothing. We made an educated guess with a compass and outdated map; we might as well have flipped a coin.
We traipsed down the chosen trail for an hour before finding the next blaze that confirmed our decision. Relieved, we sauntered through the verdant tunnel until we reached a road that crossed Warwoman Creek. Once safely on the far shore we followed the road briefly, sloshing in our boots, to a horse camp.
My feet were sore, swollen, and blistered; my face ached from smiling and laughing constantly for three days. Dusk fell and the meadow came alive with more fireflies than I had seen on every other night of my life combined. The moon rose over the gleaming river as the far sandy bank glittered with mica. I discovered the prolonged moment, a brief eternity spent in adulation of something so simple yet grand as the land we stand upon every day.

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