Scout the Wonder Dog was peering intently out the passenger side window in the back seat of SargeVining's SUV as his loyal manservant, cook, and driver guided the vehicle slowly down the gravel Forest Service Road.
"Just amazing." He said, "And exceptionally gloomy. I am somewhat saddened by this."
The two of them were on an inspection trip of the vast wilderness north of their Compound. They were going to visit the site where the story of The Strangers In The Woods had unfolded almost a year ago. They had attempted such a trip twice before and events had overtaken them to the extent that they had not been able to both times and a sudden change in their schedule had created an opportunity to do so, albeit on a brief overnight rather than an extended hike. But when they arrived, they were greeted by a forest scape that was burnt and charred.
"The Forest Service must have completed their prescribed burn within the past week or so." said SargeVning. "They will do this periodically to clear the forest. Fire is as natural in the forest as the bunnies you like to chase."
"Yes, I know,"said Scout, "but it still saddens me to see it burned so."
"I'll get out to take some pictures," said SargeVining, "to begin chronicling this Adventure."
"You will do nothing of the sort!" exclaimed Scout.
"I don't understand." replied a perplexed SargeVining.
"This is a Scout The Wonder Dog Adventure, not a Scout The Dog That Bums Everybody Out with Pictures of Charred Trees And Smoldering Stumps Story." declared Scout. "Is there no place we can go where things might be a bit more cheerful?"
"Well, the Forest Service just re-opened a four mile stretch of the Lone Star Trail that has been closed for over a year. Its about 10 miles from here. Its too late in the day for us to hike the entire length of the trail, but there is a Primitive Campsite on the shores of Lake Conroe a bit more than half a mile from Trailhead #6. We should just be able to make that and have time to set up camp and have supper before sundown."
"Splendid!" shouted Scout. "A New Trail needs to be marked so that other Wonder Dogs will know that I have traversed it!" He said, quite pleased with himself. "Direct your vehicle to that destination!"
In less than a quarter hour they were at the trailhead. Scout the Wonder dog was ready almost immediately
"Quickly! Don your pack so that we may be on the trail!"
SargeVining double checked the contents of both his and Scout's packs insuring that there would be sufficient food and fresh water for the evening and morning. Straps and buckles were checked and tightened, then they were on their way.
A short distance down the trail, they were greeted by a freshly painted sign.
"I wish we could do the entire trail." sighed Scout.
"We'll be back when we have an entire day to devote to it." replied SargeVining. This campsite we will be visiting will be the first stop on the through hike we will be doing once the entire Trail is open."
Extensive portions of the Lone Star Hiking Trail are closed due to the many trees that were killed during two years of drought and an invasion of pine bark beetles that took advantage of the trees in their weakened state.
The Lone Star Trail opened up before them.
And it was not too long before evidence of the extensive trail clearing that had been required showed itself
The trail went down hill into a portion of the forest where the air was a bit cooler and there was more shade, but still the evidence of trail clearing was present.
Scout attended to his trail marking duties with a fervor and purpose he rarely displayed on such outings, but as he was likely the first Wonder Dog to traverse this trail in over a year, his duties were extensive. Even the deepest brush was inspected and marked.
The trail was littered with dead trees
Even trees with trail blazes on them had been cut down, and new blazes had been put on nearby trees to keep the trail marked for humans---Scout still being busy marking it for Wonder Dogs.
"There!" said Scout. "I see the lake through the trees."
And so it was. The nearness of the water making the trees and understory a bit more lush than those on the trail behind them.
They met two pleasant young men who were encamped near the lake, ground dwellers who had hiked the entire four mile stretch of trail and returned to this spot.
SargeVining erected the hammock nearby
and invited them down to inspect it. They both expressed interest.
"Perhaps we will see them again." said Scout.
"Yes, they seemed pleasant enough----for ground dwellers." Said SargeVining.
"A ground dweller is just a tent camper who hasn't tried a hammock yet." said Scout.
Scout took up a position laying on a spot illuminated by a shaft of sunlight coming through the forest as SargeVining busied himself with preparations for the evening.
"I see the Pawn Bags are working well." He said.
"Yes they are." replied SargeVining. "I still have some work to do with the Knight Bags, but they are coming along nicely."
Shadows began to lengthen as dusk approached.
SargeVining prepared a dinner of Vegetarian Chili with some beef sausage purchased from World Market to make it less vegetarian, and some tortillas to put it in along with some hot sauce for flavor and a fruit bar for desert. Water was boiled in less than three minutes in the Olicamp XTS pot and Cheapo Chinese Pocket Rocket Stove.
While it did not look too appetizing while laying in the tortilla
Wrapping it properly made for a sumptuous repast.
Six such "burritos" can be made from this package. At less then four dollars each, they make for practical trail meals. Others will be tasted in the future.
SargeVining settled back in his camp chair to read by the light of his headlamp until the bugs began to get too curious, whereupon he made a cup of chamomile tea.
and consumed another fruit bar before retiring to the hammock for a bit more reading . Scout took up his usual spot at the foot end of the hammock and they both drifted off to sleep to the music of a multitude of frogs of several sorts, the occasional call of water birds, and a hoot owl in the distance.
The next morning they rose early. SargeVining checked the thermometer and noted that the temperature had gotten down to 57 degrees overnight (it had been 83 degrees the previous afternoon), and told Scout the Wonder dog that this would be the last time an underquilt will be required for camping in Texas until late September. They packed quickly and returned to the trailhead for the trip home.
At the parking lot, Scout turned back to look down the trail a final time.
"I hope we come back quickly." he sighed. "It was such a pleasant spot to camp."
"Yes, we shall." replied SargeVining. "We shall indeed.