Light filtered down through the Fraser Firs, Sugar Maples, Buckeyes, Witch-Hazel, Rhododendrons, and Mountain Laurel, to my hiding place in the ferns, as I nibbled on a chunk of greasy cheddar cheese and a Hershey bar. When it was warm enough, I bathed. I dried on a rock in a small pool of light. I boulder-hopped upstream and down. That afternoon, I ate a bologna and cheese sandwich.
Next morning, after another night awake, I ate the last of my food, although I wasn’t hungry. I occasionally heard the distant hum of a car on the road that went up to the pass. The unwelcome sound caused me to stand still in deep shadows and listen until it had gone. I clambered up Alum Cave Creek, and took the Styx Branch, up the steep side of Mt. Leconte. The water grew smaller but wilder. I laid down by a slender waterfall but it was too noisy, so I moved back downstream until it got too dark to walk in the thickets. I laid down in a quiet, mossy spot. I listened through the night to furtive rustlings, and small snappings around me. Once, I heard heavy footfalls and a splash as something crossed the stream below.
I spent much of the next day laying on my belly on smooth boulders, studying the fish. They flashed as they turned in the deep pools. When I felt empty, I drank the cold, sweet water.
The next morning, I woke up in daylight, surprised to find that I’d been asleep. I sat up slowly. After a while, I got on my feet. My legs were unsteady. My head was wet with the morning dew. I walked over to the cold, rushing water, sank to my knees in the mud and moss, and dunked my head. When I came up, gasping, I heard a car door slam, and voices.
I scrambled back to my bag and pack, dragged them behind an oak tree, rolled up the bag, secured it onto the pack, and lifted them onto my back. I stood still, listening. Voices calling, laughing, upstream. I fled downstream, my heart racing.
Once I was on the move, I stayed moving, sometimes along the streamside path, sometimes not, but staying along the pounding river, which seemed to be fleeing along with me. When I got into briar patches, down in the bottoms, I pushed straight through them. Thorns tore at my arms, my hands, my bare chest, and my face, but I didn’t slow down. I welcomed the burn, the sting, the small bloody ribbons. “Haaaaaahhhh! Haaaaahhhh!” I cried above my panting breath. It was a kind of ecstasy.