Hiking in Gunpowder

This column is 1st in a series by Kasey Hullet.


I remember riding through the landscapes.

The sun ebbed across the sky like a phoenix, ruffling its feathers through the scarred forests. The air hit my face as we rolled down the windows to let some cool air in.

But when I closed my eyes, a puff of smoke filled my lungs. A picture snapped under my eyelids and a drop of something warm trickled down my face. The plume of smoke smelled distinctly of gunpowder, of the pungent smell of fire and dust, creating a violent reaction in my sinuses, in my blood.

But the snapshot was something else entirely. Brothers with blurred faces passed the car. They filed up, shooting towards the car as a heap of lead approached us. The impact opened my eyes in shock. Before the hit, I eyed a gruff-looking soldier on horseback who shouted orders. My parents, needless to say, freaked at my apparent fit. I blinked my eyes in disbelief — they had not seen my vision.

So we drove on.

I quietly cleaned  the blood off my face and lap.  As we pulled into a small hotel tucked away in the Appalachians, I realized that we were in the battlegrounds of the Civil War.

Now I remember my grandpa telling me about our connection to the Civil War. “Our ancestors fought on both sides. But you — no, you’re a direct descendant from a man who served as the horse trainer for the Confederate Army.”

As I listened, I hung on every word. Who did this man serve under, I wondered.

Grandpa would say, “under General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Civil War, then under Joe Wheeler in the American conflict in Cuba. You know, we even have ten ancestors that fought in the Civil War — even against each other.”

It came down to a singular realization. We had passed through battlegrounds that my ancestors had fought in. Although we went home shortly after the trip, I never experienced anything like that day until a few weeks ago.

After another long week of school, I packed my bags with hiking gear and plenty of moleskin. My Boy Scout troop was going on a 50-mile hike to the Civil War battlegrounds — we couldn’t resist the historical significance. Our Scoutmaster explained to us that this hike would follow the same road that the Confederate soldiers marched to Shiloh on.

I packed my best walking shoes and grabbed a few granola bars for good measure. That Friday afternoon, we met at the scout parking lot as we did for every scout trip. We were accustomed to long bus rides — before, we traveled to South Carolina, Key West, Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan, even New Mexico.

So we left the parking lot with a trail of smoke in our path. In the scouts, our journeys were always interesting.

Half the bus was covered with various candy wrappers and the occasional spill of an energy drink. My friend Scott and I talked about school and tried to keep the bus in order. We stopped at a Southern restaurant, stuffing ourselves with biscuits and all else. As usual, Scott fell asleep on me on the bus afterwards.“Curse of the food coma” I told him.

After the long ride, we reached our destination — an army reserve armory. We laid down our sleeping bags on the ice-cold concrete slab, falling asleep after one o’clock in the morning, following the grumbling of the parents that went along for the hike.

Bright and early, Scoutmaster came around. “WAKE UP!”

His tone resembled a yodeler, maybe a dying moose. With his wood badge coffee cup in hand, he yelled a good morning, and banged on the kitchen pot dented from past mornings.

So, groggily we got up and prepared to eat a hearty breakfast for the long hike ahead of us: eggs, bacon, sausage, and lots of water and the occasional sports drink, all “inspected” by the Scoutmaster as he “sampled” our concoctions.

We cleaned up, tied our hiking shoes so tight we thought our toes would implode. Most of the older scouts dressed in layers, not wanting the extra load of carrying a heavy backpack. The younger ones followed their mom’s advice, carrying packs that sometimes were bigger and heavier than they were.

So, we loaded up on the bus and continued to our drop off point. Our preparations had ended and the real story had begun.