Two Lakes Loop Trail
- The Hoosier National Forest

My backpacking trips aren't always filled with beautiful alpine views, babbling brooks, and relaxing waterfalls. At times, they can be hot, sticky, itchy, and completely unforgiving. 

From my hiking journal,
the night of July 3rd, 2010

I can hear fireworks, but only see the flash of fireflies. Bangs and pops, but no whistles or screeches. High-pitched sounds don’t travel as far. And with the banning of fireworks within the boundaries of the Hoosier National Forest, the night is mostly silent.

It’s July 3rd. I’m hiking alone overnight on the sixteen-mile Two Lakes Loop Trail. As usual for this time of year, when the sun finally sets, the pyromaniacs can’t wait any longer to light their fuses and blow shit up to show their love for America.

The temperature is finally starting to drop from low-90s to tolerable. Both sweat and humidity test the old adage that teamwork divides the work while multiplying the success, by effortlessly sticking a nylon sleeping bag to my skin.

I put my book down and climb out of my hammock tent to brush my teeth before I fall asleep. My headlamp reveals a blue-tinted forest around me and illuminates the toothbrush and toothpaste in my backpack. Moths fly dumbly toward the light on my forehead. Dozens of them stick to my sweaty face and neck, beating their delicate wings in a confused frenzy. I swat at them pointlessly, like a much less scary parody of Hitchcock’s, "The Birds".

I turn off my light, so I can brush in peace.  I stand barefoot and add the acoustics of teeth brushing to the nocturnal sounds of the forest. The moonlit surface of Indian Lake shimmers between the silhouettes of trees.

Bang, bang, pop. More fireworks.

Somewhere on the lake, a fisherman is floating in a boat. He occasionally scans the lake with his spotlight between short nicotine and tar coughing fits. I briefly wonder what he would think if he saw me in the woods. I could stand by the shore with an emotionless blank stare. His own monochromatic blue light would illuminate me for a moment as it passes by, then I'd quickly duck into the shadows. He’d look back, certain he saw someone standing there, but now wonders. I could give him a story to tell. In my opinion, that is the best gift of all.

Instead I retreat to my hammock. I really have no desire to stay outside its protective mesh and get even more blood mugged by mosquitoes. Right before nightfall I started a fire that is now ash and embers, to help keep them at bay, but near the lake I’m sure they are in swarms. A couple hundred are already flying around the forest, bellies engorged with my blood; my DNA buzzing above me like Mike Teavee in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

With the mosquitoes, cicadas are also out, repeating the same harmonious mantra over and over like druids. It's relaxing, but ugh, what I would give for a cool breeze. The only breeze I’ve had tonight was from the flutter of moth wings in my face.

Fireflies are landing on the tent mesh giving me an opportunity to really study them up close from underneath. Even with a bit of knowledge on bioluminescence, their random flashing still seems like magic. At least I think it’s random.  Maybe they are trying to communicate with me. A message of great importance repeated again and again, every summer. “Ryan, you are the chosen one, you must stop the reactor. You're the planet’s only hope.” The distressing part is, I'll probably never know for sure.

The trail is only sixteen miles long, but I am intrigued by the intersecting American Discovery Trail, the coast-to-coast pathway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I thought if I wanted to extend my trip, I would detour onto it for a while, just to say I—

Ok wait, that was a flash, pause, flash, flash, flash, pause, flash, flash. If there is a firefly Morse code, I’ll figure it out.

Anyway, I might take a detour on the ADT. It seems fitting for Independence Day to be on a trail that spans the whole country. One of these days I’m going to get on it and not stop until I leap into the Pacific.

Two flashes, pause, then five.

I should note that I’m roughing it with Pinot Noir in a flask, probably why I’m writing all this. See, I’m not insane, as you may be thinking, but nor am I drunk. Just a little… wine happy.

Ooh seven consecutive flashes. Wait, 1, 3, 2, 2, 5, and 7? Those are all prime numbers. Interesting. Can’t be a coincidence.

Yep. All alone in a hammock, in the woods. Sipping Pinot Noir from a metal flask with sophistication and class. It would be impossible to sip it any other way.

Hmm, maybe the fireflies are trying to give me GPS coordinates. I should keep writing the numbers down and see where they lead me. It’s a good a reason to travel somewhere as any, right? It would be spontaneous. An adventure. Maybe I’ll find that reactor, or something.

There is a ridiculous number of bug bites polka-dotting my arms and legs. Maybe anemia is the root of my peculiar thoughts tonight. They haven’t started itching yet, but histamines are on their way to set off an inflammatory immune reaction that will irritate nerve endings all over my body causing me to itch uncontrollably. I can’t wait.

Regardless of the bugs, bites, and humidity, somehow the trip has still been worth it. My time spent in the hammock listening to cicadas has actually been nice.

My backpacking trips aren't always filled with beautiful alpine views, babbling brooks, and relaxing waterfalls. At times, they can be hot, sticky, itchy, and completely unforgiving… but I absolutely love it. No matter where or when I walk into the woods, I find a silence, solitude, and contentment that nothing else provides.

(By the way, I put my recordings of the firefly flashes into Google Earth as GPS coordinates. They took me to an isolated dirt road near Turrah, Sudan. Screw that! Sorry Fireflies, you chose the wrong messiah.)


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