Jabba the Hut has been having an affinity for the beauty that Autumn has been providing as of late, and decides that a hike through the woods on a spectacular Sunday afternoon would be just the thing for he and his offspring to experience. The bonding time out in the peaceful and stunning setting would surly remove the taxing atmosphere that work and school has been presenting of late. There’s a great little place just down the road, but that has been done before and Jabba is feeling more adventurous, so he Google’s “best fall hikes”. OOOOO, look, this one has a tower to climb as well as a nice 3.5 mile hiking loop! It is certainly a beautiful setting, though the sites he looks at about the trail provide little information other than some dazzling pictures and how to get there.
So, without much more thought, Jabba packs up his boy – Buddha, and daughter – Girl that just re-learned how to walk 2.5 years ago, and puts them in the car for the 1.2 hour drive to the forest carved out by glaciers. Other than the mutually enjoyed mix CD of Green Day/ELO/Journey, the ride to the State park is pretty uneventful. Jabba does not explain the nature of the trip until we are well underway to avoid the children’s anticipated eye rolling reaction.
Upon arrival, we noticed that the very beginning of our adventure was a daunting trek up a lengthy and steep set of stairs carved into the hill. While challenging, our crew was determined to conquer the task and get up to the tower. At the top, all were quite winded (this should have been a sign) so we took a rest before climbing the stairs of the tower. It was not such a bad ascent, and while the fear of heights somewhat gripped the children, the amazing 360 degree view of the beautiful fall landscape was certainly worth the climb.
Eager to get on the pathway (or more likely, get this stupid adventure over with) girl who just learned to walk 2.5 years ago descends the tower and takes the lead on the path. The groved out trail through the forest takes us along a ridge that overlooks a beautiful gorge filled with colorful trees and plant life. The reds, yellows, oranges, and greens of autumn are all breathtaking (for at least the first couple of minutes). Jabba is pleased that the path is easy, and we come to an area where someone has made very primitive lean-to’s out of the dead trees and branches that litter the forest floor. They are a fun distraction, and something more to explore.
The trail loop continues farther into the forest, and remains an easy trek atop the ridge. We pause here and there for pictures and to take a closer look at various leaves, plants and trees. It is amazing how these plants adapt so to grow around obstacles in their way.
While Jabba is enjoying the peace and solitude of the forest walk, girl who just learned to walk 2.5 years ago is getting a bit tired. Ahead in the trail, she finds a pile of rocks and sits down for a rest. In her mind, she is done with this little adventure. Jabba, who believes that they are probably nearing the half way point convinces the youth that there are no shortcuts here, it is just one big loop, and if you want to go back, it’s just about the same distance back as it is forward. Let’s rest a bit, and continue our quest. Jabba is not an experienced hiker, and unbeknownst to him at the time, our completely out of shape crew were not even 1/4 the way on our 3.5 mile hike.
Jabba and Buddha press on, and the girl reluctantly decides to follow. We begin to notice that we are presented with a few more obstacles in the pathway. More rocks and tree roots begin to protrude through the earth as tripping hazards. Not to worry as Jabba just reminds the children to be careful. A bit tired we press on, when the first major event occurs. The trail leads steeply downhill. Jabba is the only one to realize that if this leads down, and we are on a loop that ends back at the tower (the highest point in the forest), it will have to lead back uphill again. Which will of course be even more tiring.
The scenery continues to be spectacular, however Jabba is beginning to realize that his judgement about how far they were, and how well equipped to handle this may have been off – WAY off! If this is a big loop, we had not made a turn yet, and he can still hear traffic on the road that would parallel the first leg of the trail. We may be in for a much different adventure than was intended.
Now really starting to tire, girl and Buddha inquire much more about how far we are. We approach the first sign post that we have seen since the start, and our fears are realized. The map on the post informs us we are now exactly half way. UUGGH! Not particularly happy with this information, and with a bit of eye rolling, wailing and gnashing of teeth, we continue. After a bit, girl decides that not being happy about the situation will do no good, and while weary, there is no choice but to press on. With renewed strength and determination, she leads the way! (quite proud of girl is Jabba)
The trail to this point has not been too bad. Some obstacles, some hills, but very passable even for the rookie hikers. Unfortunately for our weary travelers, this was about to change. Many more rocks and roots began to appear jutting up from the ground. Simple little trips began to be more common. The fact that all our legs were tired and dragging a bit more did not help. The ups and downs became more frequent, and steeper. We were starting to sweat, the sun was getting lower, and the air was getting cooler. And one more thing – Jabba in his infinite wisdom had failed to bring ANY WATER along on the hike. We were all parched, and in the beginning of dehydration.
Then, it happened. On a notably steep uphill climb, girl tripped hard on a tree root. Certainly not expecting it, and in a tired state, she went crashing to the ground knee first. Of course this is the knee that had a particularly large and fresh scab on it from a spill only two days earlier. Drying tears and holding girl, Jabba sees the crimson fluid begin to seep through the leggings girl was wearing. Peeling back the layer, indeed the wound was once again exposed and bleeding. Bandages? Nope, don’t have anything like that either. Not even a stray tissue to be found in the pockets of his jeans. Realizing her situation, girl gets up and conquers the rest of the hill to find a place to rest. (Jabba is again very proud of girl)
After the much longer rest than others we have taken, the group realizes that our bodies cannot sit for that long at this point. Quite stiff, and feeling the onset of a charlie horse, the group presses on. Girl decides that it is best for her to be between Jabba and Buddha so that we can possibly dampen any future falls should they occur. Buddha is VERY thirsty at this point, and making it known to the group.
As we continue (almost to the 3/4 point) the beauty of the surroundings slips away. The peace that it provides melts to thoughts of what if something goes wrong. What if we can’t make it out? Jabba ponders this, and begins to realize there could potentially be issues. I KNOW I could not carry Buddha out of the forest if needed. And Jabba is beginning to doubt that in his fatigued state he could even carry girl out. Cell phone still has bars here (thank goodness) and we have continually passed (or more likely been passed) by other people. Jabba presents this logic to Buddha and Girl, and it comforts their fears.
At the 3/4 mark, we pause for our last short rest and once again see the symmetry upon the forest ground. Our shadows are getting much longer with the setting sun, but it would seem we are back on the top of the ridge, and the journey will be a bit less laborious than the last couple of miles. As we come to the top of the last hill, we hear the sound that is familiar in this part of the country. It is the sound of a very loud Harley-Davidson being started. We were close to the end of the hike. Still mouth breathing at this point (bad thing to do when tired and thirsty), our strength is renewed like receiving a desperately needed heart in a video game. Off to the right and down the hill, we can see the parking lot of the park. We come to a T in the trail and much rejoicing occurs. WE MADE IT!
Down is not always better than up
Wholeheartedly exhausted and nearing the end of our strenuous adventure, down the large stairway we went. The trials and tribulation behind us, the cautions we had taken to make it to the end went out the window. Girl began taking bigger and broader steps to reach the bottom. As Jabba begins to speak to alert girl of the need for care in tackling this last leg, it happened. It was as if everything stood still and only our time went in slow motion. As girls right leg caught the top beam of the step she was going down, her entire body slowly began to crash to earth – head first – arms flaying out to both sides. As her chin decidedly hit the top of the next step, the rest of her body naturally followed flipping over, and as gravity pulled everything toward the ground, her back dug into the crown of the solid wooden step as her feet continued to fly through the air, finally slapping hard onto the ridge of the next step. Jabba will not soon forget the terrified look on girls face as it emerged back around, now staring upwards to the tree tops. All attempts to reach girl before anything hit were futile, and the slow motioness only seemed to make it worse.
Back in real time, girl completely covered in leaves clinging to her lace shawl, righted herself to a seated position. She attempted to wail in pain, but all that would come out was an exhausted yet almost silent gasp of air. Eyes closed, tears are streaming down her face, her mouth wide open, but nothing was coming out or going in. “BREATHE” Jabba yells. Girl shakes her head letting Jabba know that she is incapable of actually doing so at this time. After a quick once over, and many requests about what hurts, and to breathe, girl finally sucks in air at warp speed. What comes next is the loud yelping exhale that all parents know too well. I am sure that those who were just at the half way point on the trail heard it. WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!
While ear piercing, the scream and cry is relief to Jabba. Buddha sits down and begins to cry too. It is the climactic ending of our exhausting and dehydrating endeavor. The three, sitting on the giant stairway, huddled together in a big lump, as people ascending and descending the ridge, noticeably avoid any kind of eye or communicative contact with the whimpering adventurers. Jabba checked over girl, and while damaged in ego, body was still intact. The three get up, and now holding hands, complete the slog down the steps. As we eagerly approached the drinking fountain, we all sort of knew what was to be true. It was out of order.
We had made it, together, and while tired, and a bit worse for wear, we were okay. I am sure this will become one of those family stories that is told over and over at gatherings in the future with both laughs of delight, and pangs of anguish. But lessons were learned, and THAT is what will be continued in a future post.
P.S. – The Gatorade we got at the gas station down the road was the most amazing liquid ever to be ingested in the history of man. So was the extraordinary belch that came out of Buddha’s gullet shortly after. It provided much needed laughter.