I now came to the aforementioned horse trail as it crossed the stream. I decided after three hours of hard going that it was time to forsake finding the headwaters and try to walk out on the horse path. The trail quickly doubled back and led across a makeshift bridge to a cabin, where it ended. That meant that the way out was down the trail in the other direction. I re-crossed the bridge and got a good, long drink. I looked up and saw thick black smoke. Very odd. Just ahead the trail came to a "y". I would have taken the right turn to go back the way I came, but instead I went to the left toward the black smoke.
The trail led uphill to a locked gate, beyond which was a gravel road. I could see that the smoke was originating from just a little farther up the gravel road. As I approached the smoke it was apparent I was nearing a farm from the back side. A farmer in overalls was burning a fiberglass boat. I held up hailing him as long as I dared, because he was watching the boat intently and I knew my appearance from the primeval back woods would freak him out. Finally, I gave him a loud, "how's it going?". He jumped two feet in the air!
As I walked by him I told him I had tried to find the headwaters of the stream but couldn't. He didn't make a comment about that. He just explained the obvious: he was burning his old boat. Really? It reminded me of burning one of those plastic model ships you build as a kid, only way bigger. Maybe he was wondering how the pollution control crowd had managed to witness this twenty-first century we-love-mother-earth violation. The boat now was just a big plastic blob belching deep red fire and jet black smoke. I asked him for directions, and he told me a paved road was up the gravel road maybe 1/2 mile. I walked really fast to get out of there. I didn't take any pictures so he wouldn't worry about me turning him in. Come to think of it, a picture of a burning boat deep in the woods might have been as unusual as one of me, Bigfoot, and the pretty forest nymph.
I reached the paved road - some county road. I saw a farmer out driving around on his 4 wheeler, but decided to walk down the road a piece to the next place. It was just a house with a huge R.V. parked outside. I rang the doorbell and then stepped way back so they could see me. I don't think they get many trick or treaters at Halloween: too remote. A grandma answered the door. I asked her if the paved road led to a gravel one that would intersect the road where the back gate to GEV was. This is where I had entered and where my car was parked. She told me that I could take the first right and end up by the back gate. Except that the recent floods had taken out two bridges. "No problem", I told her, pointing to my hip boots. She thought for and instant, and then called for her grandson. "I'll drive you up to the first bridge". On the drive she told me that the place had really changed. She used to walk around GEV like we did so long ago. She said the place had become so overgrown that it had been ten years since she had walked back there. A farmer used to run his cattle in GEV, but he stopped when too many 4-wheelers started to make use of it. The grazing cattle kept it open, but now it was choked up with forest. In addition to this, I had to also contend with all the dead wood and trees deposited along the stream by the flood.
I have never been so grateful for a ride. She drove me maybe two miles to the first bridge. The bridge itself was fine, the flood had taken out the approach to the bridge. I said my good byes and was able to get across the first bridge without having to wade the river. I had duly recorded this on film, too bad. I next had to walk about a mile to the second washed out bridge. Only after I was halfway across did I notice that the last 1/3 of the bridge was totally missing! The bridge rose gently as you traversed it, and this optical illusion prevented me from noticing the missing part. I came about 10 steps from falling down twenty feet into the river. I remember thinking the people who found me could never believe I just walked over the edge like that! I retraced my steps and was able to wade across the river, which at this point is made up of two streams, one of which is the one I just tried to find the headwaters of. I had about a half mile to walk until I reached my car. My return trip took about an hour, so I saved myself two hours of climbing over logs.
I returned to the Root and fished until about 7:30. There did not seem to be any insect action for the trout to feed on. I didn't see any fish feeding or have a chance of catching any. I stopped in the little town near GEV before I drove home. In the bar, I asked if anyone was familiar with the local trout streams. I explained to one guy about my walk around GEV and not being able to find the headwaters. He said he had been back there on horseback about a week ago. I described where I stopped and took the road out. He told me I was maybe 400 yards away from the headwaters. He said the place had really changed. You couldn't see the rock wall where the stream started because of tree growth. He said the cave had collapsed, too. I have a thought in my head that I find kind of funny. I couldn't get back to the headwaters that day just like I can't get back and be 19 with my friends again. Hence the title of this, "400 yards short of 22 years".