By my fourth step into Mud Creek on the third morning, the water reaches my thigh. By the fifth, I’m yelping as the cold envelopes my waist.
Adam’s around the corner putting his clothes back on. The clouds are fragmenting now, but after two days of rain we’ve decided a few things: We’re not going to let our skivvies get wet, and we’re not going to let deep, slow-moving water lock us out.
I can’t say that was always the case. Teenaged me would have strode up to that bank and plunged in—fully clothed and come-what-may. Now I just chuck a rock into the current and know it’s a go. At moments like this, it’s striking to realize how time converts what’s merely possible into wisdom and skill.
Dressed again, we start to crank, like our skin is converting the rays that penetrate the canopy into energy. As we gain a little elevation, the trail emerges from ankle-deep puddles and looks paved in gold for all the fallen leaves. (A drier-than-average summer contributed to quick leaf death and the primarily yellow foliage display.) To our right, we get occasional glimpses of mirror-shine lakes where few people go.
Then we arrive at a stream, five feet across with milky swirls covering the rocks we’re supposed to step on. “Looks like we have two options,” I tell Adam. “We can take the easy route and cross up there.” We both look upstream to a fallen tree encased in a brushy tangle. “Or, we can take the sporting approach and jump it.”
“Me first,” I add.
I count three steps back, deliberately as a placekicker, dig the toe of my back boot into the dirt and push off hard. Call it a calculated incaution. Call it whatever you want, because the next thing you know, you’re airborne. Committed.
I extend my right foot mid-leap and find the far shore. I run out the momentum for the rest of the day to Beaver Brook Lean-to, which sits 20 feet above the water and has an impossibly (improbably) red sugar maple framing our cross-lake vista of Blue Ridge, a sloping nub in a rolling forest.
I’ll need that momentum for the rest of the trip. The next two days will take us off the well-known Northville-Placid Trail, into second-growth forests pooled with beaver ponds, and finally across a river to where the trail fades, a few miles southwest of Snowy Mountain.