SUMMIT TO SHORE: Theologically and philosophically informed eclectic ruminations on everything between summit to shore, especially cycling, hiking and backpacking, kayaking, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, poetry, and creative writing by John Edward Harris, a progressive Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Minister of the Word and Sacrament.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Return to Raccoon Creek: Blood and Sweat but no Tears
Not wanting my hiking legs and skills to atrophy over the
summer by cycling rail trails rather than hiking forest trails, I returned
yesterday to Raccoon Creek State Park, my go to local hiking destination. I had
not hiked in over three months, my last day hike being an 11.68 mile circuit at
Raccoon Creek. I decided to hike the 9.78 mile Heritage – Forest loop because I
thought the mileage would be manageable after three months off the trail and
because the Heritage Trail between Rt. 18 and its southern terminus is one of
my favorite trails in the park.
I had last hiked this mostly ridge top loop on February 5th.
When I started that hike four months ago
the temperature was a cool 26° but warmed to a moderate 38° by the time
I finished the hike. As I hiked that day I carried a small stove as well as a
wind/rain jacket and pants. I also wore my full leather hiking books, a pair
Merrell Wilderness Originals.
Bloody scratch from a pricker bush
After parking at the Mineral Wells parking area, I glanced
at my phone as I hit the trail. The temperature was a warm78°, 52° warmer than
the last time I had hiked this loop. My day pack was also lighter than last
time because I was not carrying a stove or any extra clothes or rain gear as
the weather forecast was calling for almost perfect conditions. I was carrying
the ten essentials and four liters of water. I was also wearing a brand new
pair of Solomon
XA Pro 3Ds rather than my heavier hiking boots.
With less weight on my back and feet I felt like I was more
agile and hiking at a faster pace. Gone were scenic views through barren trees
I had seen in February as the canopy was thick and green this June 14th. The
understory was also verdant, and so thick that in a few places I could not even
see the trail I was hiking on and that was before me. In some places pricker
bushes had overgrown the trail and I could not but being scratched so deeply it
Sweat running down my face
A couple hours into my hike I found myself standing at the
bottom of what some call “a very steep climb of a hogback.” (Walks, Hike and Overnights in Raccoon Creek
State Park by Mark H. Christy, page 70). I call it “The Hill”, perhaps the
steepest grade I have ever encountered in the park. The first time I faced The
Hill was from the top and it was snow and iced covered. Even though I descended
it with trekking polls in hand that first time, I slipped on a snow and ice
covered exposed root, one of the many roots protruding from the earth on this
almost sheer section of trail, and ended up sliding down several feet of its
slope before stopping.
The Hill is so steep that yesterday I found myself employing
the mountaineers rest step, using my trekking polls for balance and to insure I
did not slip backward on the loose dirt, stones, and tinder as I climbed from
its base to the open area in the forest at its top. At little winded and
sweating as I reached the top, I decided I would rather climb this steep grade
on a warm day like yesterday than descend it on a snowy, cold winter’s day, as
I had done several months ago.
I saw less than a dozen hikers while I was out two couples
and several singles. One in particular bothered me, a young man, wearing large
headphones to assumingly listen privately to his favorite trail tunes. I
consider that a safety issue and wonder why anyone would venture out for a day
hike in the woods and not want to hear the chirps, calls, and songs of birds
and small game rustling through the grass and dry leaves. To each his or her
By the time I returned to the car four hours and forty-five
minutes later, I had drunk more than two liters of water, so I was glad I had
taken a couple of two liter bottles rather than just one. I had also developed
a hot spot and a small blister on each instep, but considering I had just hiked
9.78 miles wearing a pair of Solomon’s I had not broken in, with brand new Superfeet insoles I
also had not broken in, I felt like I could not complain. I was also happy that
my left knee was not aching as it has after other day hikes of a similar
distance, thanks, perhaps, to the Aleeve I popped just before I left home to
drive the 26 miles to return to Raccoon Creek State Park.