Hiking in Hocking Hills

A friend recommended Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio as a place to go hiking, and since I desperately needed to make some sort of wilderness connection, no matter how tame, I visited the park.

It was worth going out of my way to visit the place — fabulous rock formations and a lovely hike through trees to a lake where I saw red-wing black birds, cardinals, and a huge bird that might have been an owl.

Although the park was fairly crowded, I took the trail less-traveled. On my way back I noticed a young woman sitting cross-legged on a wall. She seemed sad, so I asked if she were okay. She gave me a faint smile and said yes, but still I hesitated. I asked if she would like to talk or if she needed a hug. She stood and said, “I can always use a hug.” I held her for perhaps a minute while she cried, told her I was sorry for her troubles and continued on my way.

Later, back on the highway, I became tearful. It wasn’t until the unexpected bout of melancholy passed that I wondered where those tears had come from. Had I absorbed her sorrow?

Remembering other tearful episodes on this trip, I realized the tears always came after visiting people caught in grief-stricken or stressful lives. Tears for me seem to be a response to stress, so although it is possible I absorb other people’s emotions, it’s also possible I am just reacting to the stress of the situation, or maybe it’s only that their sorrow calls forth echoes of my own.

I don’t suppose it matters one way or another — whatever the reason, I process the emotion, then wash it away.

And in this particular situation, what I am left with after the cleansing is the memory of a hike made more poignant by that brief encounter with another human being.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Sabino Canyon Adventure

Note to self: do not take hiking advice from frail little old ladies at national park visitor centers.

About a half-hour drive from the foothills of the Catalina Mountains where I am staying, is the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a part of the Coronado National Forest. I’d seen a picture of the Sabino Canyon Trail, and since it is here (or rather, since I am here), I thought I’d sample the trail.

It seemed such a simple thing — go to the area and start hiking — but there were so many intersecting trails and so many people (I managed to snag the very last parking space in a vast lot) I figured I needed a map.

The aforementioned frail little old lady stood behind a small counter, and asked where I wanted to go. I told her I didn’t know, that I’d never been there before. She seemed to be mentally rubbing her hands together with glee when she responded, “I love when people ask for advice.” Apparently, all those hundreds of people milling about outside knew instinctively this woman couldn’t help, but not me. So I blundered forth with my questions.

It turned out that the Sabino Canyon Trail was at the top of a long shuttle ride, which did not serm inviting to me. People were crammed into those open bus-like contraptions, forced to listen to a narration of what they were seeing. And they paid for the privilege.

Not me. I opted to walk up at least part way. The frail woman showed me a six-mile loop hike on the map, said it was a wide path, no stream crossings, no rocks, and level except for perhaps a quarter of a mile uphill. Sounded good to me, so clutching my map, I thanked her and headed out.

Sure enough, the path was wide, level, well-maintained, with no rocks or other obstructions for the unwary to trip over. For about a tenth of a mile. Then things changed. Became narrow. Slabs of rock to hike across. Small boulders to navigate over. All uphill. Up and up and up.

Still, it was pleasant. Beautiful. Since I walked slowly, everyone else passed me (am I the only one who doesn’t seem to be part mountain goat?), so I only had sporadic sounds of voices to distract me. (I’m learning to accept human noises as sounds of wildlife. Makes it easier.)

Within sight of the acropolis, a huge rock outcropping, I perched on a boulder, nibbled a protein bar for lunch, and changed my socks. Rejuvenated, I headed back down the other part of the loop trail that the woman had told me followed a stream, but had no stream crossings. I went down some steep slippery slopes until I hit the stream bed. And sure enough, the trail followed the stream for more than half a mile. It was cool down there — green vegetation for shade instead of the ever-present saguaro. Since I was sore and exhausted from the long trek, I looked forward to the end of the trail. Unfortunately, the trail did not end at the visitor center, but at the stream. A wide stream. A knee-deep stream.

Realizing I hadn’t seen anyone else since I hit the river bottom, I figured I’d taken a wrong turn. So I retraced my steps. Found the trail marking, and took the other fork. Ended up at the water again. And no visible sign of the trail. So I went back to the trail marking and waited. Finally, a small group showed up, and the man seemed to know what he was doing. Soon another group of men arrived, and we all stood by the water trying to figure out what to do. (The knowledgeable man had already made his way across, just plunged into the water and kept going.)

Considering that my only other choice was to go back to the acropolis and retrace my steps down the mountain, I opted to cross the stream. All the folks who crossed with me had paid for the shuttle, so they waited at the stop for their ride, while I trudged soddenly back to the visitor center.

Oddly, I did fine until I sat down to change into dry socks. When I stood again, I could barely move. Utterly stiff and sore from head to foot. (The hiking poles I use take some of the weight off the leg joints and redistribute it to the shoulders.) The soreness and stiffness lasted the rest of the day, but I’m doing okay today with just a bit of stiffness to remind me of my adventure.

And oh my. Such an adventure!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Lure of the Trail

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here in this idyllic place of vast trees and vaster water bodies for eight weeks. Harder to believe my summer adventure is coming to an end, but it is — I’ve already purchased my ticket back to the treeless, waterless desert.

Hardest of all to fathom what I experienced.

I have seen ponds, lakes, lagoons, bays, brooks, creeks, rivers, and especially the ocean. I have seen tiny Douglas fir seedlings and gargantuan coastal redwoods. I have tramped more than a hundred miles through various forest terrains, and almost as many miles along the ocean shores.

I’ve meandered through some of the creepiest places on earth — dark forests with gargoyle-like tree trunks, mouldering stumps of long-dead trees, and moss hanging from blackened branches like the wispy green ghosts reaching out from the centuries.

I’ve wandered through cathedral-like groves of redwoods, the sun shining through the canopy like stained glass.

I’ve traversed ghost highways and long-forgotten logging roads, and though these were not “est” trails — not the longest, shortest, showiest, hardest, or easiest and the trees weren’t the tallest, oldest, biggest — these were some of my favorite hikes. Just pleasant strolls in the woods.

And through it all — dog bite, spained calf muscle, bruises, aching feet, sore muscles, and mosquito bites galore — I never lost the lure of the trail.

This summer adventure might be over, but there are other days, other places, other trails.

And so the adventure continues.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

(The heart is a shell fragment I found on the beach yesterday. Maybe the ocean was telling me it hearts me.)

Oregon Coastal Adventure

Yesterday I hiked what was supposed to be a four-mile section of the Oregon Coast Trail, but turned out to be only two miles. Apparently, the distance for that particular hike was calculated as round trip rather than one way, but since the description left out that salient point, when I emerged from the woods into the parking lot after only an hour, I was confused. I wasn’t lost, of course, but I felt lost since I didn’t know where I was exactly, and I didn’t seem to have a phone signal to contact my ride in case I had to notify them of a change in plans. So I continued on down the trail, hoping that the next turnout would give me a better idea of where I was.

The sections I hiked were not really difficult except in spots where steps up or down were more than I could handle. (Like stepping up onto or down from a slanting, very narrow backless chair.) Sometimes I could pull myself up with the help of a trailside tree, other times I had to clamber up on my knees.

After I left the little parking lot, the trail became steeper and narrower. The footpath as a whole was narrow — often only about a foot wide — but sometimes this additional trail section was only six inches wide. And there were more parts that were hard for me to climb up or down. Still, I managed to get to where I could see the next parking area though I couldn’t figure out how to get there from where I was. One unmarked trail led to a creek. Another unmarked trail led to a marshy area.

I did figure out where I was since I was high enough to see that the terrain matched my map. I also figured out that the mileage on the trail description was off. So I headed back up to the first parking area, assured that was my rendezvous point.

Going back up was easy. Or rather easier. (Downhill is much harder for me than uphill. Balance is off; footing is different; and if my left shoe is tied snug enough to keep my foot from sliding forward and squishing my big toe, it pinches a nerve on the the top of my foot.)

I ended up hiking four miles after all. Ended up where I was supposed to meet my friends. Ended up learning something, I am sure, though I don’t know what. Maybe: take things as they come. Perhaps: do whatever necessary to accomplish the next step no matter how awkward or inelegant. Possibly: don’t get so caught up in the doing you forget the being.

Mostly I learned that there is a pub in Oregon with the absolutely best hamburgers ever, made with beef grown and pastured four miles away.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Feeding My Soul

A couple of days ago, I stood on shore, so close to the edge of the land that all I could see were powerful incoming waves and beyond them, in the great distance, more placid waters extending to the far reaches of my horizon. The endless sight of water and the immense sound of surf held me spellbound. There was no fishy odor to bring me back to myself, just the smell of clean ocean air. The usual jumble of words and thoughts in my head were stilled. I was stilled. All that existed at that moment were the ocean and my awareness of this non-human force.

We are so used to seeing things in human terms that we forget how almost inconsequential we are to the world’s existence. The ocean was here eons before the first biped left an ephemeral footstep on the sand, and long after our cities have been deconstructed by nature and the elements reclaimed by the earth, the tides will still exert their power.

Eventually my restless spirit exerted its own power, and I continued my walk on land’s end, but the magic of that moment when I was an ocean stayed with me.

Yesterday I walked through a dune forest, accompanied by the distant sound of the surf, like blood rushing through my ears. Tsunami warning signs reminded me of the power of the nearby ocean, but that calm summer day held no danger. I was the only human creature in the woods, though dragonflies, birds, and a deer shared their space with me. I stopped to eat a few wild blackberries and caught a glimpse of a snowy egret in a hidden pond beyond the brambles.

It wasn’t until I returned to civilization that I realized what I am doing and why adventure pulls at me. I am feeding my soul.

When my life mate/soul mate died, his goneness left a vast emptiness in me, so vast that it could encompass the whole world. So that is what I am doing — encompassing the world.

Someday, perhaps, I will be filled. Someday I might lose the ability to absorb my surroundings. Someday I might lose the ability or stamina to walk much, might even lose the desire for adventure, but whatever worldness and other-beingness I have poured into my self will always be with me, whether I consciously remember or not.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Seeing the World on Foot

A friend asked me if I’ve gotten adventuring out of my system, and the answer is no. The truth is, I’m getting addicted. I love seeing the world on foot. I love being part of a relatively untamed environment. And I feel as if, in some strange way, I belong out there. Before I got out of the car the other day to begin a seven-mile, no-turning-back hike, I had to steel myself against trepidation, but as soon as I stepped on the trail, I felt as if I’d come home.

That feeling of coming home was as momentary as the trepidation, though the joy of the walk remained until the excruciating last hour. But the hardship is part of the adventure, too. Coming to the end of one’s skill, coming to the end — or almost the end — of one’s strength and continuing anyway is as much a mental adventure as it is physical. During that grueling downhill slide on loose dirt and rock, I just wanted to be done with it all, but before, during the long golden part of the hike, I wished the trail went on forever. Wished I could just keep walking.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do long backpacking trips, or any sort of backpacking trip — the hard parts of hiking are hard enough without the extra weight of a pack and the easy parts would no longer be easy — but I have the whole rest of my life to train for such a trip.

Dance classes have helped with my strength and stamina, so I’m planning to be back in class for most of September and October. And then? Who knows. More dancing perhaps. Or maybe Louisiana. I have an online friend I’ve planned to meet for many years, and going to a swampy area is better suited to cooler temperatures.

Meantime, I can hardly wait for the next adventure, to see what I can see, to see what I can be.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

My Oceanside Adventure

It’s a strange thing, this adventuring. Sometimes what is supposed to be a big adventure turns into a small jaunt, and sometimes a small jaunt turns into a big adventure. And so it was on Thursday.

I’d checked the tide tables and found that low tide came in the morning rather than late in the afternoon, so I planned a small jaunt up the so-called California Coastal Trail. (The tides are important because, as I have learned, it’s a heck of a lot easier to walk on the wet sands of receding water than the dry sand of high tide.) Wet sand forms a hard surface that allows for a nice easy stride, and I expected a nice easy walk along Pelican Bay.

And that’s what I got.

At least for a while.

No one else was on the beach, and I marvelled at being alone with the gulls and the waves, the unending sea on my left, the Tolowa Dunes on my right. It was the sort of experience I’d hoped for when I considered walking the entire coastal trail, and there I was, plunked down alone in the middle of my dream.

I’d planned to walk four miles then cut inland on one of the dune trails to a road where I could be picked up, but I couldn’t find the trail. At least I didn’t think I did. I did find one steep dune with sandy indentations that might have been footsteps, but it didn’t seem like much of a trail. So I continued walking along the beach.

After a while, I saw houses up ahead and I figured if necessary, I would sneak through someone’s yard to get to a road. I walked the mile to the houses, but found that they were beyond reach, on the other side of the Smith River. This waterway was not a small stream I could wade across, but a full flowing river. (The photo below with smooth water is the river.)

Oh, my.

That left me with two choices — go back the way I came (a five or six mile journey) or walk along the river bank and hope I could find the dune trail that went from the river to the road. I chose the river, thinking there was no way I’d make it back along the ocean — it was simply too far.

I walked about a half mile along the river before I found the trail. Or a trail — l still don’t know if the trail was the right one. I walked for at least a mile (“walk” in this case is a euphemism for slip and stumble and slide) along the shifting sands and entangling beach grasses of the dunes, unable to get high enough to see where I was going. Although the map showed a single trail, I kept finding all sorts of similar trails cutting off the trail I was on. All seemed more like accidental trails — trails that are accidentally made when one or more people set out cross country — rather than official trails, and I had visions of being lost forever in those inhospitable dunes.

So I took whatever trails I could that headed off toward the ocean. Some parts of these trails were barely passable, heading up steep dunes, but I kept struggling, and finally came to the ocean.

Well, sort of. I could see the ocean but couldn’t get to it since I was standing at the top of a steep dune with no way to maneuver the decline by foot. I ended up sliding down the dune on my behind. Inelegant, but it did the job.

I saw footprints leading up to me and then angling away, and it shocked me to realize those were my footprints. The trail I descended had been the very trail I’d checked out a couple of hours earlier. Even if it had been the right trail, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to find the road midst all those unmarked paths. At least, walking along the bay, I knew where I was. I just had to trudge those many miles back to my starting point on the dry sands above the incoming tide.

I took a break first, sat on a piece of driftwood, nibbled on some cheese, drank water, changed my socks and knocked all the dune sand out of my shoes. Then I headed back.

I don’t know how many miles I covered in all those hours, but I do know it was at least eleven. I wasn’t particularly tired, just achy — mainly my feet and the calf muscle I’d wrenched a few days previously. And my feet were wet from sneaky waves that found me even beyond the high water line.

But I did it. Had lost my way and found it. Hiked for six hours. Managed to get back safely. Ah, adventure!

I took it easy yesterday. Only walked a couple of miles on city streets to work off the lingering stiffness, but there seems to be no lasting effects from that oceanside adventure.

Did I learn anything from this particular adventure? Probably not. Adventure is about being, and I certainly had plenty of time to simply be, as if I were just another piece of driftwood keeping vigil on the shore.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Supernal Silence and Unfathomable Peace

My friend dropped me off at a road in the Redwood Forest that led down to Smith River. It turned out to be a popular spot for both tourists and locals, so when I saw a narrow trail that veered off from the road, I took it, hoping to find a place to walk far from the madding crowd. At first it was an easy trail, but then it ascended into hills that had been hidden in the immensely tall redwoods. (It’s hard to describe these massive trees without reverting to the trite adjective “towering”, but they did tower. In many cases they were so tall and the woods so thick it was impossible to stand back far enough to see their tops.)

The trail grew more difficult and I was grateful for my trekking pole — it aided with both balance and sure-footedness. Even though the cars and people were not far away, the trees absorbed the sound, leaving nothing for me to hear but the sound of my stepping feet, the zip of a passing insect, the thud of a falling leaf.

I moved slowly, not just for safety but to experience fully this confluence of the forest and me. It seemed strange to think that hundreds — thousands? — of years ago, the first seed took root. And that single seed contained an entire universe of forest, events, beings, birth and death, that ultimately drew me in.

A bench in a small clearing caught my attention. A plaque on the backrest said, “…seated here in contemplation lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond. Supernal silence and unfathomable peace.”

Of course I sat. Contemplated. Listened to the silence. Felt at peace. Wondered what I would learn and experience if I could sit there for hours. I know what I would feel if I sat there in stillness too long — stiff — so after a half hour, I answered the siren call of the trail.

Later, I saw another bench. This one exhorted me to “Rest and be grateful.” I rested, pulled out my small hunk of cheese, and thought of all I had to be grateful for. The bench. The cheese I savored. The trees. The path that afforded me relative safety in my adventure. My walking stick. Knees that still worked. Feet that took me where I needed to go. Friends who brought richness to my life. The supernal silence. The unfathomable peace.

When I finished the snack and litany of gratitude, I continued my journey.

Shrieks of playing children broke the silence. As I waded past one group, a boy shouted hello. I was so deep in my silence, I couldn’t return the greeting. The woman said, “It was nice of you to say hello.” That brought me to a stop. I turned, and with a finger to my lips, responded to her rebuke with a whispered, “one does not say hello in church.”

In the resulting silence, I headed down the path. It seemed strange that a mystical place for me was simply a playground for others. Most people I’d seen had driven a bit, got out of their cars to take pictures of each other against the backdrop of trees, then drove a bit further, stopped, and took more photos. Others had boats, rafts, and swimwear, headed for watery play.

As I picked my way down the trail, setting my feet carefully and leaning on my pole in the steep post, I had to smile at my pretensions. Wasn’t I playing too? Playing at mysticism? Playing at adventure?

At that very moment, a woman came up the trail with her three noisy unleashed dogs. The dogs surrounded me, barking and snarling, nipping at my pants. The woman screamed at me to stand still, that I was scaring them. And then one of them bit me. Not a bad bite, just a small break in the skin and a bruise, but huh? That was the third time I’d been menaced by dogs since I’ve been here. Don’t people up here train their dogs to obey?

So much for safe adventures. So much for peace.

Despite the ignominious end to my adventure, somewhere inside me and forever a part of me, is the stillness I’d found sitting on the bench, my back pressed against the words “…seated here in contemplation lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond. Supernal silence and unfathomable peace.”

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Where I Am Supposed to Be

When I was starting to come out of the worst of my grief, when life overwhelmed me, I used to take a deep breath, let it out, then tell myself, “I am where I am supposed to be.” The ritual brought me comfort even though I don’t really believe that there are any “supposed to be”s. There just is “is”. And yet . . .

Because of an unexpected series of events, I spent the night in a town I had never heard of. The string of happenstance began even before the encounter between a peacock and the Amtrak bus I was in yesterday. (In case you didn’t read yesterday’s post, a few minutes after I began my trip, the bus I was in collided with a peacock in flight, which destroyed the windshield. The poor bird died.) I would not have been in the bus except for a series of unexpected events — the woman I am going to visit offered to pick me up in a distant town, and the woman I was staying with so kindly agreed to get me to the station at 6:00 am, so that allowed me to take a different and quicker route than I had planned.

As things worked out, it wasn’t quicker (though the hours spent on bus and train remained almost the same). Because of the peacock incident, I missed my connection to Eureka. Antrak put me up in a motel. (A very expensive motel that certainly didn’t use the money to clean.) Amtrak also paid for a taxi to and from the motel, as well as dinner last night and breakfast this morning. All that was wonderful, of course, especially since it will allow me to see the scenery I pass through today. (If all had gone as planned, most of the final leg of this journey would have been I’m the dark.) But all those perks are not what gave last night its “supposed to be” feel.

I’m using my new backpack for luggage, and every time I put the thing on, I had to wonder once again if backpacking, even short distances was for me. And yet, whenever we passed a trail of any kind, I could feel the pull. I’ve always liked mysteries (though it’s really the truth finding I love more than the mystery itself. I like to know esoteric things that not everyone knows). And the pull of the trail is its mystery. Where does it go? What’s around the next bend?

So, after a day spent watching the world pass by my window and wondering what it would be like to be walking instead of being driven, I ended up spending the night in Martinez, in the Muir Lodge, two blocks from where John Muir lived.

That sure gave me pause!

John Muir was a naturalist, co-founder of the Sierra Club and was instrumental in the development of our national parks system. He is something of an inspiration to hikers, the grandfather of ultralight backpacking. And last night I found myself steeped in his aura.

Maybe I am where I am supposed to be. If so, then where I am currently supposed to be is on an Amtrak bus, heading for other places I am supposed to be.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Into the Woods

I’ve watched a couple of Disney fairy tale movies recently, and both brought me reminders of how I want to — need to — live my life.

In Cinderella, the dying mother tells Ella to have courage and to always be kind. Good reminders! ( Similar to the admonition Swayze gave his bouncers in the adult fairy tale Roadhouse. Be nice . . . until it’s time not to be nice.)

In Into the Woods, the witch tells Rapunzel that she is safer in the tower, that yes, charming princes are out there in the woods, but so are bad things, such as wolves. It seemed reflection of my current state of affairs, where people remind me of the dangers of a woman traveling alone, and either urge me to settle down and if l still insist on traveling, then bring a companion. And yet, despute their concern and possibly good advice, I still wish to go into the woods alone.

Having a companion would be very nice at times during my travels, but being alone would also nice, especially for an introvert. (An introvert is not always a timid loner as we often imagine. An introvert is simply someone who gains strength, energy, and renewal by being alone. Extroverts gain the same advantages by being around people.) And, considering the purpose of my journey — to embrace life; to interact with the world in a more basic way; to find new ways of being me — alone time is a must.

So into the woods . . .

At least, that’s the plan. I’m still city-bound, still vehicleless, still living on the mercy of friends still dreaming of adventure. But one day soon, my real journey will begin. Or maybe it already has. It becomes more impossible every day to imagine myself in an apartment or rented room, and more possible to imagine myself going into the woods. Alone.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)