By 7 p.m. the sky was becoming a drab gray. The air was thick with humidity. This enhanced an odd smell coming from a lake that I walked past.
Perhaps its name, Nuclear Lake, was a clue.
The lake and surrounding land were part of a hunting preserve until they were acquired in the 1950s by United Nuclear Corp. The company was licensed to experiment with bomb-grade uranium and plutonium.
That research came to an abrupt end in 1972 when a chemical explosion dispersed radioactive plutonium dust into the lake and forest.
Yes, that’s right. The same forest I walked through.
Researchers from Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which is located in the town where I live, were brought in to conduct a study in the mid-1980s. They determined that cleanup efforts after the explosion were successful. I trust that is true, but I didn’t hang around long and I definitely didn’t stop to filter water.
The gray sky faded to black just as I arrived at Telephone Pioneers Shelter, which was situated on the side of West Mountain.
There were no good flat spots for tents here, which made me more cranky than I already was.
"I've been here for an hour,” Stick said to me as I was looking for a spot to set up. He’s said something like that on other occasions, but for some reason it annoyed me much more this time than it should. It’s not like I didn’t already know I’m not a fast hiker, especially when the weather is hot and humid.
"It's not a race,” I snapped at him. "That information isn't helpful to me.”
I immediately regretted saying that, but didn’t apologize.
Several times through the night I heard a train whistle blow from the valley below. At similar regular intervals, I had to slide my sleep pad up the sloped floor of my tent to keep from rolling into the tent pole.