, Corbin, KY

April 11, 2013

It’s usually best to trust your feelings

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — I saw a picture taken from a fire tower at Cumberland Falls State Park, and was told it was a short hike to get to it.

The picture itself was pretty breathtaking — I couldn’t imagine the live view.

And it reminded me of hiking the mountain areas of southwest Virginia and New Mexico.

The first hike I went on when I lived in New Mexico I got startled about three minutes into it — that’s when we came across a sign that warned “Beware, Janta Virus found here.” It was brush painted in bright red.

After a bit of research, I found out it’s actually spelled “Hantavirus.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, “infection with hantavirus can progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which can be fatal. People become infected through contact with hantavirus-infected rodents or their urine and droppings. The Sin Nombre hantavirus, first recognized in 1993, is one of several New World hantaviruses circulating in the U.S.”

Not a comforting thought, but since I was unaware at the time what the “Janta Virus” was, I hiked anyway. On that hike, of course, I took a pretty hard tumble after getting startled by a pretty big snake. I landed right next to a pile of big rocks, one of which had obvious fossil evidence on it. That rock remains in my den today.

Another hike I well remember happened in Virginia. A friend of mine and I went several times out to a well-known waterfall, which was on private property. The hike out there was beyond dangerous in some cases — at times you were on a two-inch-wide path, and a 50-foot-plus drop into the river toward the falls was right there next to you.

But it was worth it. The trail led to the top of the falls, and you could stand on the overhang and watch the river drop. The trail then led down around the falls, and you could get behind the waterfall and hang out.

Since this girl and I were old hands at the hike, we thought it would be neat to hike out to the falls — at night.

We drove out into the county, and wandered our way out to the dirt road to what was called “Abram’s Falls.”

Somewhere in our subconscious we knew our adventure was a bad idea — we even wrote and signed notes telling our families we chose to make the hike on purpose, in case something happened.

I was about 19 at the time of this brilliant decision — she was 20.

So here we go, one flashlight for two, hiking into the darkness.

We were doing pretty well — we had yet to come to the narrow ledge.

We started making our way down a gradual slope that led to the edge of the river, then cut back up the mountain.

That’s when we saw the shoes.

I made a joke about them, and she picked them up and chucked them to the side. We started to keep going when my flashlight beam caught something that made both of us freeze.

There was a face looking at us from the other side of the river.

And then we heard someone holler — and then dogs started howling and barking.

She screamed and began clamoring for the hillside. I turned, and then the flashlight started fading, and fading, and finally, fizzling out.

Here we were, running at full speed through the woods in the dark, relying on a half-moon of light to get us back to the car.

We got a pretty good start, because we could still hear dogs splashing through the river. But their savage barks had the two of us terrified.

We managed to get back to the car in time, and vowed never to be so stupid again.

I went out there one time with a now ex-girlfriend of mine. We went during daylight hours this time.

When we got there, the parking area had one car parked — which meant someone went out to the falls.

We started hiking out there, and soon got to the bottom of the falls. There were three people hanging out there — a girl and two guys. After about 20 or so minutes, an explosive crack of thunder startled all five of us out there. She and I made a beeline for the area behind the falls. The trio followed us there.

My girlfriend and I had been sitting there trying to light a cigarette with a wet lighter. When they passed, I asked if they had a lighter we could borrow. They actually said they had an extra, and the one guy handed it to me.

As soon as I touched the lighter, I got this weird feeling. They went on to a more secluded spot, and I told my girlfriend what I felt — that something was going to happen to them.

She customarily rolled her eyes, and we dismissed my comment.

The storm was pretty bad, and several times we saw lightning strike close. Then we saw the trio crazily making their way up the hill back toward the parking area.

I decided we should wait out the storm, and 15 minutes later, it was over.

When we got to the parking lot, the car was gone. “See, nothing happened,” she told me.

We left, and got off the dirt road onto the main road out of the county. After a few miles, we saw a police car blocking our side of the road. As he motioned for me to go around in the opposing lane, we saw what was happening.

The girl from the trio was standing on the edge of the road, crying hysterically. The car they were in was totaled in the ditch, and one of the guys was being taken by ambulance to the hospital.

I never knew what happened to them after that, but I was never doubted again when I got a feeling about something.

And I now have a feeling — a feeling that I want to dust off my old hiking boots and make my way out to that fire tower out in the state park.

Although I do plan to avoid rodents, viruses, lightning and darkness.

Reporter John Ross can be reached at