February 1, 2018 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

The branch scrapes its way along the entire path. At points, the entire team has to go slower because of it. WooFDriver and the other members of the pit crew find it funny – they make jokes about the branch, laughing and pointing at it the entire way around the brown stone trail.

Jag has never been more grateful to hit the earth again, if only because the scraping sounds stop. He lets out a relieved sigh. “Finally.”

Chase’s words are muffled by the branch in his mouth, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to talk. “I know! A lake, can you believe it? We haven’t been to a lake in ages! Do you think we’ll be able to go swimming? I want to go swimming, Jag! I want to go swimming and then I want to take my branch back to the car!”

Jag doesn’t mention that the branch is probably too large to fit into the Jumbo Jet with them and have the ride be comfortable. Instead, he gives Chase a rather forced doggy smile. “I’m sure. A lake would be great.”

Zarro pulls ahead of the group. “Come on, guys! Chase isn’t the only one itching for a swim!”

A dirt path leads to the lake, well-worn by the feet of countless hikers taking this route before them. It’s a fairly clear stretch – most people stay on the hiking trail for Turner’s Gap, or the northward connection onto Annapolis Rock, which leads towards the Black Rock Trail.

Only the more experienced hikers come this way. Or, at the very least, the ones desperate to get away from the crowded path of the more popular trail roads.

Jag tilts his head back when the wind changes, carrying with it the scent of fresh water and hot dogs. Someone else is at the lake, and they’re evidently having a cook-out. The husky wags his tail, truly excited for the first time since embarking on this journey.

Nearly everyone they come across who’s having a cook out is eager to share the food with the WooFPAK and it’s been a while since he was able to goad a hot dog from someone with his large blue eyes. Jag picks up the pace, until he’s trotting alongside Zarro.

Zarro laughs. “Hungry?”

“You bet,” answers Jag, cheerfully. They take the turn out of the wooded section of the path at the same time; the sight before them is breath taking.

The lake is large and vast, sunlight shining down onto the smooth waters. Someone – a child, it looks like – is drifting on the surface in a large black inner tube. A woman, the mother, most likely, is manning a camping grill nearby, where she’s got a pack of hot dogs on cooking.

WooFDriver smiles and waves at her before respectfully heading the opposite direction.

Jag whines, tugging at his lead. “What? No! He’s supposed to go say hi, so we can get hot dogs!”

Zarro frowns. That is usually what happens. “Maybe he’s taking the long way?”

“You think he’s going to walk around the entire lake just to end up back there?” Princess snorts. “Boys, we aren’t getting any hot dogs today.”

“But I wanted one,” complains Jag.

Chase, words still muffled by wood, offers, “you can carry my stick for a while if it would make you feel better, Jag. It doesn’t taste as good as a hot dog, but it’s still really fun!”

“No,” grumbles Jag, ears and tail drooping. “It’s fine.”

WooFDriver ends up sitting down several yards away from the woman. A strong breeze keeps cutting through the area, enforced and strengthened by the wind tunnel that the nearby rock vales form. He leans forward, resting his arms on his knees. “So, guys…you wanna go swimming?”

Chris laughs, dropping down onto the ground next to WooFDriver. “And then hike back in wet jeans? Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

“Maybe if we didn’t have company out here,” adds Rhett, sitting down a few feet away, at the very edge of the lake. He’s already kicked off his boots and socks, dipping his feet into the cold, clear waters.

WooFDriver hums, gaze drifting to the woman standing at the grill. “Yeah. I was hoping it would just be us for a change. I’m getting really tired of being stuck around all these people.”

Chris says, “guess that’s what you get when you take the popular trails, right?”

“I guess,” grumbles WooFDriver. A stronger wind than before picks up. It howls as it sweeps through the valley, the nearby stone gaps.

However, the howl of the wind is very quickly drowned out by the scream of the child.

 

Katelynn E Koontz – Author