|April 21, 2002
I awake at false dawn and attempt to sit up. Ouch! Everything is stiff and sore. Oil can! Oil can! I look around from my new vantage spot. Most of the snow is gone. There is a little left deeper into the forest. The fire is stone cold and I can see my breath. I scramble to my feet and attempt to work some life back into my muscles. My head feels like someone stuck a dagger in it, but that is a familiar ache, nothing a large cup of coffee wouldn't fix. There is never a Starbucks around when you need them. I hate caffeine withdrawal. I perform my morning ablutions, man the water is cold! I dig out my camera, shoulder my pack and quietly look for a photo op.
I see three cow elk feeding. I try to sneak up on them but they notice me before I get closer than 300 yards. One of them barks at me. Smiling, I bark back, now all three are looking at me. I hear another one off to my right barking at me. I turn to look and there are seven more elk to my right. I cock my camera and take a picture. I attempt to take another but my breath fogs the eyepiece. Instead I start walking towards the bigger group. They allow me to close to about 200 yards before they start walking off. I bark at them and they all stop and look at me, click.
I take the opportunity to look around, just in case. I see nothing that looks like the area where the trolls would be found. I agree with my original assessment, this is not the location. It must be further east. Bidding the elk a silent farewell I head back to the East-West road. I take quite a few pictures of the sunrise. The traffic on the road is non-existent, but the tracks of elk and deer are everywhere. I eventually find a nice sunny spot to break my fast.
The elk sandwich is a little worse for wear. It has been crushed a bit in the pack and the bread is soggy. It sure beats McDs though! I debate whether to eat my remaining sandwich and decide to wait. Who knows how long it will be before I find another fishable creek and I know it will be at least 5:00 PM before the portal opens. So I content myself with another swallow of water put the camera back and continue making my way east.
I decide my best course of action is to find the location of my portal. It is easy enough to identify, a large boulder jutting out of the hillside with two smaller rocks to one side. The problem is I have no idea how far it is ahead of me. It is impossible to estimate distances by remote viewing so I just winged it. I figured I walked around fifteen miles yesterday so it could be close or it could be far. The sky is robin's egg blue in color and I can't see a single cloud. The combination of the sun and exercise soon eases my stiff muscles, although I still have a killer headache.
Around midmorning I cut the tracks of a fox, and overhead a red-tailed hawk circles above me. I take off my rain parka, roll it and stuff it into my pack. The roadway is literally drying before my eyes. Within an hour I stop and totally change back into jeans, shirt and hiking shoes. I slip my shoulder holster on over my shirt. I begin to cram everything into in to the pack when I remember my sandwich. I retrieve it and then zip the pack closed. I eat my last sandwich as I continue to walk along the road.
About 1:00 PM I observe some old horse tracks made before the storm. All I can tell is that the horse was shod and it was heading west. This is the first sign of sapient travelers that I have detected on the road. I notice another red-tailed hawk flying above, gliding effortlessly on the thermals. I find myself looking towards the north and pondering the nature of the Trollshaws and their inhabitants. Trolls, it is said were originally bred by Morgoth in mockery of the Ents, large, tough and strong. Sunlight was deadly to them, "must be underground before dawn, or they go back to the stuff of the mountains they are made of, and never move again." Later Sauron, during the War of the Ring, bred trolls with greater cunning, improved weapons skill and virtually eliminated their weakness to sunlight. I contemplate the frightening possibility that the hill-trolls of Gorgoroth may have interbred with their cousins in the Trollshaws and passed on their immunity to sunlight. I wonder if there are any Trolls within twenty miles. I polish off the last of my water and wipe the sweat off my brow. I wonder if Middle Earth's streams have Giardia.
The rest of the afternoon passes with no sign of Bilbo's stream. I am becoming paranoid now as I am convinced the hawk is following me. I can't help but think about the Crebain. Those intelligent large black crows used by Saruman during the War of the Ring. Is the hawk some sort of spy keeping a watch on me? If so by who, and why? My watch begins to chime. I stop the alarm as I note it is 5:00 PM. The portal is opening somewhere in front of me, I had better get moving. As if sensing I have noticed it's surveillance the hawk flies off to the east. Am I imagining things?
I manage to locate the area of the portal around 6:45 PM, a large boulder jutting out of the hillside with two smaller rocks to one side. With a sigh of relief I take off my pack and set it down. I notice some tracks, humanoid tracks in the drying roadbed. Placing my boot along side I determine it is around 11 or 11.5 size track, but narrow. From the looks of them they were made by moccasins or other soft-soled footwear. Are these human, elf, goblin or troll? I have no idea. I release the snap on my shoulder holster as I begin to scan the surrounding area.
I don't see anything and I realize it is strangely quiet here, no birds or insects can be heard. I follow the tracks to where they enter the woods. I slip the pistol out of the holster and carefully enter the woods. I look for something wrong, wrong color, wrong shape, wrong size, something moving, etc. I continue to follow tracks, they are faint. Every three to four steps I stop and look, nothing. I lose the tracks before I am 50 feet into the woods. I circle the area trying to pick up the tracks, nothing. I glance at my watch, 6:58. Time to go. I feel eyes upon me. I return to the area of the portal, keeping as many trees between me and the tracks as possible. The gateway appears, shimmering.
I grab my pack and enter the shimmering gateway, as I do I notice light glinting off something metallic in the nearby woods. I look and see nothing further. Middle Earth is gone and once again I am breathing the recycled air of the Lab.
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