“Why is it still chasing us? I’m not swatting at it! I’m not swatting at it!!” – Mom
“Walk faster! FASTER!” – Me
The huge bee, an apparent remnant of the monster insects from prehistoric times, buzzed by and between us as we scrambled, screaming, down the path with our hands around our heads to protect ourselves from this creature from Hell.
It was at least the third time that day that we freaked out about something.
When Granny was still alive (and younger), Mom’s family would get together every Mother’s Day Weekend and camp out at Lake Somerville. Based on faded memories of those long-ago experiences, Mom and I believed that there was not very much to see at that park and that we’d be back home pretty quickly. Certainly before lunch. We didn’t pack any food, and we only brought a bottle of water apiece.
I checked the weather forecast before we left. Any rain was supposed to stop by 9 a.m., so we timed our arrival to the Nails Creek Unit accordingly.
We got there at 9, right on schedule. And it was raining. Steady droplets of water fell on us while we tried to figure out the park’s self-pay system for entry. The door to the ranger headquarters was locked, and, despite our obvious confusion and ignorance, the ranger inside never came out to see if we needed a hand.
These events put us in a bad mood.
We drove around the twisty, paved roads and came to a picnic area by the lake. It was still sprinkling something fierce and we were very concerned that we had just driven an hour to look at mist through a car window for a little while.
After a tense few minutes, the rain stopped. We were able to get out of the car and really look at the scenery. It’s a big lake, and there was a lot of wildlife to see. We spotted black vultures sitting in a tree in the distance, waiting for a disaster to befall something. Egrets were flying (or standing) around. Diving birds were diving for food. Watching all the birdies improved our moods.
There were also a lot of wildflowers by the lake.
After assuring ourselves that it was probably not going to rain anymore, we decided to try our first nature hike in a state park. We elected to start with something easy: the short .19 mile Rocky Point Trail.
Unfortunately, I radically misinterpreted the map, and many of the trails at Lake Somerville don’t have signs. So instead of starting out on the Rocky Point Trail, we hiked a solid chunk of the Lake Shore Trail.
The trail we did take was easy to follow, as it was clearly marked by mowed grass. We trekked down to the lake and followed its edge for a little while. We passed either a spooky tree graveyard or a copse that had not yet shaken off the drowsiness of winter.
Eventually we made our way to some sort of RV campsite area. Even my limited map reading skills clued me in that I had made a big mistake as there weren’t any campsites on our planned route. After consulting the map and figuring out my error, we turned around.
We got back to the car, had a few sips of water from our limited supply, and planned our next move. Reasonably sure of where we were at that point, we decided to combo up and tackle the Overlook Trail, then go to Rocky Point, then return to the car through the parking lot. We were gonna see that freaking Rocky Point!
We hiked the first part of the Overlook Trail easily enough. The wide, clear path had a gentle incline and was bordered by a thick tree line. No bugs or vines or fallen trees impeded our progress.
Soon we reached an overlook for which the trail is presumably named. A dilapidated wooden elevated platform stood in the center of a clearing. Chains, boards, and the generally unsteady-looking nature of the construction warned passerbys to stay off. We stayed off. The view of the lake from the ground was still pretty good.
The second part of the Overlook Trail was a lot harder. It felt like no human had been on that trail in ages. Small bugs constantly flew at our faces. We kept running into spider webs. Once, a huge spider slowly lowered itself from the trees above us as we walked by, and, imitating every cheesy jungle scene from B-movie adventure serials, almost landed on Mom’s shoulder without her ever noticing it.
Then we saw an armadillo in our path.
“What is that?!” – Mom, clearly scared.
“An armadillo.” – Me, also kinda nervous, but trying to keep Mom calm.
“What do they eat?” – Mom, still scared.
“Plants, I think.” – Me, with no idea what armadillos ate.
“Are they dangerous?” – Mom, getting pretty freaked out.
“Nah” – Me, not telling her armadillos are known to carry leprosy.
Mom made moaning, fearful noises, like a verbal shudder. “What do we do?” – Mom
I had no idea. I didn’t want to turn around and go back through the jungle we had just fought against. We were almost to the end of the trail. Then again, I also didn’t want to get too close to a dang critter that’s out and about during the daytime. I have an acute fear of rabies. I really didn’t want to take any chances with this thing.
While we were deciding what to do, three kids, probably over-10-but-under-13-years-old, came down the path from the other direction. The armadillo was between our two groups. The kids saw the armadillo. We all just sort of stood around for a few seconds, silently, watching each other and the animal. The kids moved forward. The armadillo noticed them and started running in the other direction. Towards us. We backed up, cursing under our breath that the kids were encouraging it to go in our direction. The armadillo noticed us, looked behind it at the kids, thought “screw this,” (the armadillo version of that sentiment, anyway), and ran off the trail into the nearby tall grass and shrubs.
We reached the end of the Overlook Trail very soon after the armadillo encounter, and we proceeded to the Rocky Point Trail. It follows the edge of the lake. Pale, tall grasses grew between the water of the lake and the trail. We passed two rough-but-friendly-looking men who had been fishing from the shore. They were the only people we saw on that short trail.
The actual Rocky Point was…anti-climactic. It isn’t really a scenic landmark. It’s the dictionary definition of a point: a piece of land that stretches out into an area of water. It was nice to be back by the cool breeze from the water after that stifling, claustrophobic Overlook Trail hike, though.
After we got back to the car, we had a few more sips of water, drove to the nearby developed picnic area, and walked around for a little bit, taking in some views of the lake.
We saw a family fishing from a cliff…ledge…bank…thingy. We also ran into the kids we met earlier, the ones from the armadillo experience. They shared their tales of geocaching and a bunny sighting.
We decided we had just enough energy to do one more thing: hike a short distance down the Lake Somerville Trailway to the Scenic Overlook marked with a 6 on the map.
The beginning section of the Somerville Trailway was quiet. Too quiet. We walked down the broken dirt path without speaking, listening at first for anything dangerous, then, noticing the surrounding silence, we strained to hear anything at all. We felt totally alone. We didn’t see any birds, bugs, or people. Nothing. There was no hint of the lake from the trail. The woods bordering the trail did not feel like a fairy tale forest that evokes wholesome feelings of life and comfort. No, these woods were foreboding, a collection of hardened trees and shrubs and vines that seemed more than happy to see you die so they could drink your blood.
Upon hearing that sharp, loud, crashing, crackling sound – of a falling tree or a stomped branch – Mom turned around and started retreating down the path.
“Where are you going?” – Me
“I’m not waiting around here. Something BIG is out there.” – Mom, not panicking, but determined to get out of there.
“I don’t know what that was. But if we heard it, it’s probably not stalking us.” – Me, trying to be reassuring. “Let’s wait here a little bit and then decide whether to go back.“
We waited for a few minutes, scanning the area for any movement. Everything was still. There were no further sounds. We continued our walk, speculating on what triggered what we heard – bear, coyote, wolf, human, fox, old tree finally giving in to gravity’s call. We (thankfully?) never found the answer.
I’m not sure if we ever did find the Official Scenic Overlook marked on the map, but we did come to a spot that might have been it. The terrain matched up with what I expected from the map, but it wasn’t very scenic as tall trees mostly blocked views of the lake. We didn’t want to explore any further because we were tired, still unnerved by the mystery crash, didn’t have any cellphone reception, and didn’t have any food or water.
Despite the lack of sweeping lake views, the area was pretty, consisting of a series of small fields of wildflowers. The sun had finally broken through the cloud cover, and a kaleidoscope of butterflies flitted among the blossoming flowers.
Satisfied with our day’s adventure – and hungry – we started back to the car.
“That’s a pretty big bee…I mean, it’s not a wasp, or a honeybee…is that a bumblebee??” – Me
“I don’t know, but it won’t leave me alone…” – Mom
We made it back to the car, unstung. I managed to get us lost on the drive home, but on the plus side, I did see my first wild red-tailed hawk due to our detour down a backroad. We ate the best Dairy Queen meal in the world that evening, and I slept like a log.
The next day we were ready for more adventure. Why? Mom said it best: “When we were out there, I wasn’t thinking about work or all the things I needed to get done. I wasn’t thinking about anything…except survival.“