Preface and Happy Trails I: Eye-to-Eye with Green Eyes on the Western Battlefield Trails (9.3 Miles)

Preface

Ok, so here's the deal: I've come to a big decision. It's something I started thinking about doing a while back, and then thought about it some more, and then continued to ponder, then consider, and some planning, mulling over, scheming, and well, you get the idea…

Disclaimer: This part is the preface of my whole plan for this year's blog, if you just want to check out the blog of the first trail, you can venture on down below. But I'm starting out with a kind of two-for-one blog for you bargain shoppers out there—although, you aren’t paying anything anyway, except your time—if you’d like to know my reasoning behind the whole thing. Although, you’d earn serious brownie-shopping-points with me if you stuck around for both blogs, if that’s of any worth. But remember, just like the stock market, metals, shrunken conjoined zombie heads and other collectibles, it’s good to buy low and sell high to cash in with that sort of thing.

Though I've lived in Chattanooga for most of my life, and roamed all over town, I haven't visited as many woodland areas as I would like, and definitely not since I was a kid. The region surrounding this city has so many trails twisting through our forested areas that one could hit up a few a week and spend all year not doing the same trail twice. So this year, that's exactly what I'm going to do. And I have a few reasons why I want to do this, three to be exact, that all intermingle in a sort of trifecta, or perhaps trinity, or even triforce—yeah I went there—ménage a trois of reasons.

For one, I've been itching to start blogging again, and I feel this blog will be a mildly entertaining and informative read for those who can mentally process more than a 120-character tweet and the occasional road sign—STOP is a good word to read sometimes. There isn't a whole lot of info out there on Chattanooga's woodland trails, as I've noticed doing a bit of research. So, perhaps, this would be something people living in this area, or even visiting, would be interested in: a first-hand account through the eyes of an overly perceptive, somewhat quirky blogger on a mission.

And what is this mission? Well, I’m glad you asked rather than me posing a rhetorical question. The second reason is that I’m looking for a new style than the 5-toed sloth variety I’ve acquired over the years, and all the thinking about doing this hasn't really addressed that, so now that the weather is heating up, I'm springing into action. I’m not hibernating anytime soon, so all this weight accumulation isn’t as beneficial to me as the bears I could encounter—and what a tasty morsel I would be, indeed. But regardless, I'm headed down a path to fitness one trail at a time.

However, and I stress this, this is not one of those "I'm fat so I'm going to do an inspirational story of weight-loss success" kind of blogs. I have nothing against them, and many are motivational as intended for both the blogger and the reader, but there are plenty of them. This blog is more about my cooky perceptions of the natural world surrounding Chattanooga. I'll mention how I'm progressing now and then since some could be interested, but I'm not going to cram it down your throat and take the focus away from what the blog is about.

This brings me to my third reason: I want to reconnect with nature in a more immersive way than I have in a long time. There is something mystical about the natural world that cannot be denied, as virtually all belief systems hold reverence for nature, and many before us, in many historically significant ways, have experienced these lands in much the same way we can going out into the less-tampered-with parts of the area. I feel many of us are losing that connection, including myself, staring at things others saw and created on the TV and our computer monitors—though, of course, I’m pro-checking-out-my-blog!

There is so much out there to experience for an over-analytic personality such as mine that my brain could possibly explode, but I’ll take that risk, and will be sure to filter out some details to keep the blog more reader-friendly, and less like a textbook of Chattanooga history, folklore and natural science—though I am all about that kind of stuff so will sprinkle some in.

I’m excited and eager to begin this journey, and perhaps those that come along for the ride through this blog will want to check out some of these locations first-hand. Though taken in small chunks at a time, as a whole this looks to be a grand adventure, and I am looking forward to the experience and new people I will, literally, cross paths with.

Though I’m starting out on the, in skiing terms, bunny slope-type trails, as I get in better shape I will be moving to progressively tougher challenges. I will update this blog regularly, beginning with one of the most historical sites around: The Chickamauga Battlefield.

Happy Trails I: Eye-to-Eye with Green Eyes on the Western Battlefield Trails (9.3 Miles)

Doing some research beforehand, I found out that a badge is available for hiking every Civil War battle trail in the area. Now, I’m way beyond the age of a boy scout, but I found it to be a good goal to set with these trails, as they include a few others away from the Chickamauga Battlefield to total 100 miles. I’m thinking it will take about three or four trips to do the actual battlefield part without killing myself, so I decided to start out on the Western part of the battlefield first and throughout the year come back to chip away at the goal, mixing it up with other trails, including the others needed for the badge. I parked at the Welcome Center, snagged a map of the trails, grabbed my backpack and walked to the trail closest to the parking lot.

If you want to see the stats of this hike, including elevation changes and a fly-over map, you can view my hiking log at http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/71381884

To begin, I could set a clichéd scene about putting my first foot down on the trail and realizing that from the next step on my greater journey for this year had officially begun, and that I'd never be the same person again. To then address placing the second foot down, then after taking the third step being completely overdramatic about the gravity of the situation as I begin my descent into the forest, this mysterious place filled with wonder and danger, where the natural world is pulsing with life. And could then briefly touch on the mystical qualities casting a woeful shadow across this forest floor, of the local lore of long-dead soldiers some believe to be walking as restless spirits, and the mysterious Green Eyes—of which I could provide a shameless teaser about my meeting with Green Eyes on this hike to help keep your attention until later on in the blog. But I wouldn't do stuff like that.

I noticed that the majority of my planned route would be shared with horseback riders, and I immediately saw several right from the beginning. Many of whom I would run into again several hours later, who would seem impressed seeing this chubby dude waddling through the forest for hours as they cruised on by on their horses, and would say things like, “Wow, you’re still at it, huh?” and “You doin’ ok, man? You been out here awhile!”

To which I would exaggerate, “Yeah, but I’m doing fine!”

Now because of the horses, I had to watch my step because horse dung, both old and freshly dropped, was scattered throughout the trails that were shared with horseback riders—at least I was hoping this was from horses, and not some other, more carnivorous animal, or for their sake, a person. After a short distance to the west, the trail split into another trail for hikers only. I decided to head up this trail, and when I say “up this trail,” this is not only figuratively, but also literally.

And there I was, less than a mile into this journey and I already felt like I was going to collapse with exhaustion. This trail up these hills was not made for people of my unfitness. My legs were already trembling, and I was panting like a dog making the ascent up this steep incline, having to dodge roots and rocks, and doing so unsuccessfully a few times. One particular root, whom I dubbed, “Damn it!” gleefully snagged a foot and I had to brace against the tree it belonged to, to keep from rolling back down the hill.

As I plodded on to the top with my throbbing middle toe giving me the, as toes go, middle finger, I made a mental note: hiking boots. I knew I was going to need to get some eventually, but right from the beginning I came to the harsh reality that my running shoes weren’t going to provide enough protection—and I will resist the urge to make a cheesy joke about one of my piggies wanting to go “wah, wah, wah” all the way home.

I continued on through this hilly forest for a couple hours, which, as I found out later, I had started out on the trails with the highest elevation changes from the beginning. And though I stopped a few times to lean against a tree, I didn’t want to sit down and have to deal with getting back up. During this trek I came to a break at the base of Snodgrass Hill where a bunch of stuff went down. This was in the latter part of the battle leading to the Union retreat back to Chattanooga. I will touch more on the Battle of Chickamauga in later blogs when I revisit the area for the other trails, and those on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge when I go there as well.

I eventually came to my first huge opening of the trail, which was breathtaking on this gorgeous day. With the sky a deep blue, and the field a deep green, I appreciated both the beauty of my surroundings and the fact that the walkway was now relatively flat. Dogs prancing about and people throwing Frisbees and such, this day was a clear sign of a spring that was soon to come. I continued down the path into another small, forested space.

After reaching the next recreation area, there were even more people outside, with kites flying through the air. This one also had port-o-potties, which I took full advantage of, then set off for the trail going to Bloody Pond. This was one of the things I was looking forward to the most, as I had visited it when I was a kid when my parents brought me to the recreation areas, as any young boy is excited to see any place with the word “bloody” in it. I remembered it was dried up, but couldn’t remember anything else about what it looked like, so reconnecting with childhood memories was going to be very nostalgic.

This was the site of a counterattack by the Union army while they were in the process of fleeing from the Confederates on the second day of the battle, where many were killed and it is said though the water turned red with the blood of the dead and wounded, soldiers drank from it anyway as it was the closest water available.

This trail was more lush with greenery than the trails I had gone through getting here, and split in two a little ways in, where the map from the Welcome Center showed the Bloody Pond area being between the two trails. One was smaller, and more sinister looking with vegetation hanging over it like it wanted to grab you, so that’s the one I chose, of course.

This was cool. I was having to duck under bush overhangings to get through the foliage, and found another little trail off that one that led to too dense of brush for me to get through without a machete, so I went back to following the original trail, and got to a rocky area that looked like it used to be a part of a brook. Beautiful.

However, there was nowhere else to go from here. I was wondering if this was the Bloody Pond, but no, much too small, it couldn’t be; I remembered the area being bigger. I backtracked back to the split and went up the much larger trail. That had to be it. This area opened up to a larger area with train tracks at the border of the park and rolling hills in the background leading up to Missionary Ridge. It jogged my memory a bit, but the thing was, it seemed that every little thing that happened had some kind of marker saying, “This happened on this day, and time, and casualties.” There was nothing there. Something so significant to the battle had to have a marker. Did I miss some other trail leading off into another clearing in the forest where the Bloody Pond used to be?

I backtracked again, and like an angry Englishman, I pronounced, “I will find this Bloody Pond!” I didn’t see another trail other than the split I had just done, so I went back through it again. After rechecking the overgrown offshoot from before, and finding no other trail through the forest, I did what any adventuring pioneer from the olden days would do, broke out me olde iPhone. After looking at pictures others had taken of the Bloody Pond, the clearing by the train tracks had to be it, so I went back and took another picture for good measure since the location had been established. Then, after spending all this time on this conundrum, though still befuddled why there wasn’t some kind of marker, I headed back down the trail.

Now before moving on, I want to briefly touch on the local lore of Green Eyes, who is, by far, the most famous of this area’s supposed supernatural inhabitants. I had heard about Green Eyes when I was a kid, as most kids around this area did, and every time I came to the battlefield I stared out into the trees, wondering if I could see those two glowing green dots. There are numerous alleged sightings and explanations for them ranging from a horseback Confederate officer ambushed in battle, to a ghostly horse with green eyes itself, to a demon conjured up by Native Americans before the battle even happened, who was even seen during the battle. A good reference profiling Green Eyes' sightings and folk tales is Georgiana Kotarski's "Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley," which delves deeply into the local legend for those interested in learning more about it. 

And little did I know at the time, I was soon to have a Green Eyes sighting myself.

But first, I headed through another small, forested area to one of the most iconic structures of the battlefield, Wilder Tower. I have many fond memories of this tower, scampering up its spiraling steps to the top as a spritely child, and at this point, my tired legs had taken on new life, and I was fully prepared to scale this stone pillar of childhood memories. From the top I was to see a magnificent sight, overlooking the canopy of the trees I had encountered on my way here, and a majestic view of what was yet to come.

But alas, my hopes were dashed. On this warm day, ominous, cold iron bars were blocking the way, with a sign that read, “Open from 8 a.m. until sundown.” This couldn’t be right, I had started around 2 p.m. and I thought it had only taken me about two-and-a-half hours to get here. Had I been so involved in my Bloody Pond problem that I had completely lost track of time and missed the sunset? I checked my phone, but the glare was so terrible I shielded the screen with my hand to make out the time. Indeed, it was not time for the sun to have set yet. I looked to the sky, and yes, the sun was still there. This sign was a liar.

Oh well, this was the point I had reached for on the southwest side of the battlefield before turning back to the Welcome Center and my car on the north side. And though the sun was still out—contrary to the deceitful Wilder Tower sign—it was waning, so I needed to get back before it actually did go down, when I could be stuck in twilight with cheesy sparkling vampires and other, more sinister supernatural folk, like Green Eyes…

Following the map, I took a shortcut back to the horse trail that rounds the inner part of the battlefield. I cut through the little remnants of a creek, and across the wide expanse of grassland that made up the main recreation area. This was to be the last of this green-carpeted Spring paradise on this trip, as the forest trail was up ahead, and the sun was beginning to dip down even further.

Back in the forest, I immediately ran across some of the same groups of horseback riders I had encountered earlier, who, as I referenced previously, seemed astounded I was still able to stand up as a person of my stature. Honestly, I wasn’t even as tired as I thought I would be at this point. I was just drifting along down the trail without noticing any fatigue in my legs, and my toe didn’t even hurt anymore, though I’m sure the state of how I felt and how I actually looked were two completely different things. I passed a mossy area that reminded me of my time hiking in Scotland a few years ago when I was in much better shape, and I didn’t feel much different now at this point in the shape I’m in—though I knew I was going to pay for this the next day, and believe me, I did.

Continuing down the trail I started to hear the sound of more hooves approaching, and saw the faint outline between the trees of two more horses. As I winded a corner approaching the riders, I stepped aside to get out of the way. And as I stood there, they came around the bend. I stood motionless and awestruck. The woman on the first horse smiled as she looked down, her eyes gleaming emeralds of the deepest green. This woman was beautiful. In my moment of enchantment for a brief millisecond, I'm sure I was standing there looking like an idiot, with some kind of goofy-looking reciprocating smile. This was confirmed by the unsmiling cold stare I got from the gentleman on the second horse as he rode by, presumably her significant other. Although on this trip I didn't see any ghosts, I did see some almost supernatural looking Green Eyes. So there, I told you I was going to see Green Eyes on this hike, and I am a man of my word. Perhaps when I come back I'll run across the other one. I'll keep you updated.

I was now on the straight path running parallel to Lafayette Road, which is a halfway point for the horse trail, cutting the east and west parts of the loop in half. There are battle sites along this trail and many monuments lining both sides. I was compulsive about stopping and reading most of the markers and monuments up until this point—except when they weren't there, like a certain pond that at one time was bloody—but tiredness was catching up with me and I was trying to stay as far ahead of it as possible, so I ventured past these for now, and will revisit them and the battle in later blogs. I would be back on this shortcut trail again, possibly twice, next time after hiking the eastern side and another visit to hit all the other smaller offshoot trails to finish them all up. As I stated in the preface, I'm going for total immersion in this quest, and here, with what happened each stop playing out in my head, my mind was getting tired too.

Up the trail I came to another opening as the trail started running more closely to the road. On the trail marker someone had left a pink glove. I began to wonder if there was a symbolic reason for this, or if someone had simply put it there and forgot it. Could it have been Green Eyes? The monument towering over this part of the trail had the inscription of "Here We Rest" as a memorial to those who had fallen here. And at this point, tiredness had caught back up with me, so rest I did.

When the trail started running almost right next to the road, I knew this was a sign that I was getting close to being back to the Welcome Center and my car. I passed by one of the main trail paths I would be taking next time heading to the east towards the Helm and Colquitt Monuments. I looked down the trail for a preview of what I had in store for the next visit, and continued the trek to finishing this one up.

In the next patch of forest I came to a small stream overrunning the trail. A misstep would lead to the dreaded soggy socks, and will be sure to have a dry pair in my bag when coming back this way. Having soggy socks at the end of a hike would be one thing, but at the beginning of one it would be less than pleasant squishing the rest of the way, with feet not only tired but also shriveled and waterlogged at the end. I stepped carefully over the stream in strategic places, and did so successfully, then reached a large open field. This was to be the last of the forest on this journey, as the rest of the way was an open field back to the Welcome Center.

However, my water dodging abilities were now to be put to a serious test. The trail ran under a bridge, and this was a much larger stream to cross than the preview I had earlier. This one didn't go as successfully, as I was able to salvage one foot, but the other stepped onto a faux solid area and sank right down. However, I was now only about 100 feet from my car, so not a big deal. I squished the last hundred feet and it was over.

If you made it this far, thanks for spending your time with me on my first journey of the trails surrounding Chattanooga. I will be updating this blog often as I continue on this quest, so if you enjoyed this blog there will be many to follow!

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