The Perks of Suburbia, and More Adventures (with Eli)

So, as you probably read in Dave’s latest blog post, the KOA here in Eureka, Missouri has been quite a shift from the Shut-Ins.  And, as Dave said, there have been some perks.  I admit – though being out in the boonies was spiritually fulfilling – being near the city and suburbs has undeniable convenience.  Need gas? It’s down the road.  Need more goat’s milk for Eli?  Whole foods (which is in my mind, the fru fru of fru fru) is 20 miles away.  Want to stop at REI?  Sure.  Why not?….

It certainly begs the question: what is the definition of “camping?” Whatever it is, we aren’t doing it.  Even at the Shut-Ins, we had shelter, running water, a refrigerator, carpeting…. Clearly we are living on the road.  No doubt.  But this is a strange in-between.  Our latest magazine subscription describes it best with its title: Trailer Life.

We stopped at a RV dealer in town here (because, hey we can now that we are in a major city) and had a ball gathering small touches to add to the camper.  We got a stronger latch for the screen door (to protect our little Sir from a weak screen door), a grate to go over the screen (to protect the screen door from our little Sir), a collapsable step stool, and wrap-around carpet pieces for the oudoor stairs.  Now, I was a little bit too excited about the carpet pieces.  They just look so good and will help us keep dirt out.  Why is this so exciting to me?…

I also got some hooks to hang bags and coats, gripping cabinet liner so that our dishes stop trading places every time we tow, mesh drain catchers, and 20 feet of velcro to solve pretty much every problem ever.

See?… This is the kind of stuff that happens when trailer life meets suburbia!

Now, it wasn’t all pavement and parking lots.  We did get a touch of paradise.  Eli and I spent Thursday afternoon hiking at Greenfelder Park just a few minutes away.

When we first arrived I took a look at google maps to find the “green.”  Greenfelder showed up as a true beauty, a county park just down the road.  With over 20 miles of trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding I knew it would be good.

Which trail to choose?  Well, obviously…. We have to walk the “Beulah” trail!!!

So Thursday afternoon Eli and I head out to the park for our hike.  The Beulah trail sounds managable: 1.8 mile loop.  The website didn’t really say anything else, so I’m assuming this county park will be an easy breath of fresh air.  Yes and no…  Plenty of fresh air, and very nice.  Not so easy 🙂

Know too that the park is behind the massive disturbance that is Six Flags.  That’s right…. aside from being next to the train tracks, blocks from the expressway, and surrounded by campers, we are also less than a mile from a Six Flags.

Anyway, so we’re driving to the park and all of a sudden – as though we walked through a stargate – it was all trees, and birds, and peace.  Up and up and up the winding road we go as we get deeper and deeper into the lush forest.  We pass one car, maybe two, and the truck engine is working to make this happen.  I’m thinking, “Wow, this park is SERIOUS.  Maybe I should have worn my hiking boots instead of my 15 year-old Chacos.”  Hmmm.

We get to the parking area for Beulah.  No one is there, and I am grateful for the peace and quiet.  Eli and I gear up with sun screen and water bottles and I load him into the hiking backpack.  He hates the boarding process into this thing, but loves it once he’s finally up and getting his 360 views.

I approach the trail and notice the sign for the trail.  There’s an illustration of a hiker, a biker, a horse, and a yellow triangle that reads, “DIFFICULT.”  So I’m thinking, “Okay… There might be something stronger than “difficult,” like, “VERY DIFFICULT,” or, “DON’T DO THIS.” And even if it’s difficult, what’s 1.8 miles?…. (famous last words.  Keep reading, I have a few more of those.)

So we start on the trail and it’s quite pleasant.  Non-descript, but quite lovely.  Trees provide a nice amount of shade, and rocks and roots make the trail pleasantly challenging.  Eli passes out in about 10 minutes so I also have the assurance that he won’t “need anything” for a while.  We’re also going down, which I am noticing with a little anxiety.  What goes down must come up, especially in a loop.  Meh, it will probably be fine.  So far so good.

Then, I get to this sign.  A peculiar sign that I’m not sure how to interpret fully.  It reads, “NEW TRAIL IN PROGRESS. RETURN TO THIS POINT.”  Now, part of what confuses me is the return business.  If the trail’s not done, why would I return to this point?  Wouldn’t I go all the way back to the parking lot?  And it doesn’t say, “Don’t continue,” or anything of the sort, so is this a warning or what?  The other thing that’s tricky is that this is a FORK in the trail.  The sign is right in the middle of it.  So which path is the new trail and which is the old trail?  The new trail is incomplete, but the old trail obviously would still be a loop.  Right?….

I like this logic and decide that the old trail is clearly still a complete loop.  But which is the old trail and the new trail?  I look back and forth, back and forth….  The sign is slightly closer to the upper trail, so clearly it must be the upper trail that is new.  But the lower trail is rugged, so clearly that must be the trail that is incomplete.  But the lower trail is heading downward, which means it has not yet come back up, which clearly means that the lower trail is older.  And the upper trail is so clean and clear, that must be the new trail.  The lower trail looks untended, probably because they’ve abandoned it for the new trail, so clearly this must be the complete loop.

I settle on that.  Down the lower, rugged trail I go.

It’s rough.  It’s dirty.  It’s steep.  But it’s also very much a trail.  Are you a little afraid?  Just a little?  That’s where I was too.  Just a little afraid.  Looking for those reassurances that I wasn’t wandering into nowhere.

And I had a few reassurances:

(1) Horse poop.  Fresh piles, old piles…. any pile of poop was a good sign to me that this was a trail still traveled.

(2) Hoof prints (in the direction I was going).  Hoof prints alone were somewhat reassuring, but I was particularly settled by the constant appearance of hoofs going in my direction and NO prints going back.  This to me was a clear indication that this was truly a loop and no one felt the need to “return to this point.”

(3) Trail!  As long as I saw a trail, I felt safe.  And every now and then I saw that beautiful red donkey trail marker letting me know I was indeed on the Beulah trail.

(4) Bike tracks.  Slightly less reassuring because I couldn’t tell what direction they went, but again more people coming this way was good enough evidence for me.

So with dirty feet, a heave backpack, and an adventurous spirit I continue on and on.

It gets particularly spotty at the bottom.  Now either I have a particular nack for losing trails or I have been picking trails where rangers have a particular nack for marking them and tending them poorly.  Either way, I lose the trail a few times, for 2 reasons.

First, trails and dried up creeks look remarkably similar.  And they intersect frequently.  Lucky for me, I also have a nack for catching myself when I’ve lost the trail.

Second, fall is not a great time to go hiking on trails.  At the bottom in particular, there are leaves everywhere!  Undisturbed, they create a brown and orange blanket of confusion.  Trails, creeks, everything was just one display of leaves.  But again, I somehow stay in the game.

We continue on and all of a sudden things get more challenging.  Like I said, things that go down must come back up.  The way up is gruelling.  It becomes more apparent to me why this trail was named after a donkey, and why I’ve been seeing horse hoof prints and bike tire tracks but no shoe prints.

I have to cock my head up 45 degrees just to look up the hill before me, and the ground is unsteady.  There’s loose rocks, sand, loose soil, branches, fallen trees.  I’m starting to regret my decision to continue on an untended trail.  But just a little.  I could use the exercise and I’m clearly still on the trail, so what’s the worst case scenario?… (more famous last words)

The trail starts to get tricky to find.  There are sandy waterways where the rainfall has collected and drained, muddy sections where even hoof prints aren’t deciferable.  Eli’s still asleep, thank goodness.  The last thing I want to do is take him out of the pack on this hill.

Then I see ANOTHER peculiar sign.  HORSES (arrow upward), BIKES (arrow to the right).  Now, there is no identifiable path to the right, and the way upward seems like the trail.  Where is the arrow for hikers like me?  Should I go where the bikes might, or the horses?  I decide the horse route at least look like a trail.

Well, you can imagine it maybe.  This was not terrain for a person, especially a person in sandals with a baby on her back.  I’ll spare you the details.  In short, it was steep, and unstable, and not really a clear trail.

But then, hallelujah!  A very clear and walkable trail!  Still steep, still winding, still not sure when this will ever end, but oh oh oh a TRAIL!!!

Eli wakes up.  At this point I am remarkably out of breath and moving slowly but surely.  Rejuvenated by this clear trail, I start narrating to him my thoughts and inquiries.  “Oh, Eli we did it… That was a little sketchy, but…. oh, we did it.  Yes…..If we just follow the trail now… Yes, if we keep going… Cuz we are going, yes…. Oh, this is such good news…. Now… I am starting to understand this horse thing….Now, I wouldn’t want to be on a horse right now, but…. Oh, yes…. I can see the value in BEING a horse right now…. That…. That would help.”  It goes on and on like this: me heavily breathing and introjecting random and constant thoughts.

I am hopeful, proud, determined.

And then it happens.

My twighlight zone, impossible, devastating blow.

I get to an intersection of the trail in the shape of a T.  In front of me is a pillar with a trail marker on it.  It’s a blue eagle.  Now to you (since I have not explained it yet) this might not seem so bad.  I’m on a trail, right?….  But to me, who researched each trail ahead of time, knows that this is unthinkably strange (and bad) news.

It’s unthinkable because the Blue Eagle trail is ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PARK, literally a few miles away.  It is also unthinkable because at no point does the Beulah trail intersect with ANY other trail, let alone the Blue Eagle trail.

And let me tell you why this is bad news.

The Blue Eagle trail is an 11-mile loop.  So I am potentially looking at an 11-mile hike.

I look around and try to piece it together.  Where is the red donkey?  There’s an arrow pointing to the left for the eagle trail and an arrow pointing toward the path I just came from for the eagle trail.  The trail to the right is unmarked.

But this doesn’t make any sense!  I didn’t see any signs for the eagle trail at any point on my journey, so how could this be an extension of that trail?  The eagle trail is on the other side of the park… have I really walked so far off the trail so as to find it?  And what is this trail to the right?  Is THAT the Beulah trail?  But it’s going downwards, that can’t be right.  I want to go up….

One thing I don’t even consider: going back.  I literally don’t even think of it.  It would be too crazy.

I pull out my phone.  There’s a signal (unlike the last hike).  I pull open the google maps.  More impossibly strange news.  I am outside the park, staring at my flashing blue dot over a white empty backdrop.

F*$k…….

More questions race through my mind as I try to piece together the confusion.  Outside the park? But this is a trail post for a trail inside the park?  Google maps is maybe wrong?

I try calling the park office, hoping that someone might recognize the intersection I am facing and direct me to the right or left for salvation.  No answer.  Of course.

I try calling Dave.  Why, who knows?  What’s he going to do?  At the very least, I just want to let him know that I am maybe kind of in a crisis, and I might not be home for -say – 7 more hours.  And, you know, if I just disappear for good they might want to look for me.  No answer.

But honestly, overall I am really keeping it together.  My mind is racing trying to piece it together, but I’m not panicked.  Flabergasted and concerned, but not panicked.

I open my compass (bless you, iPhone), and calibrate.  The trail to the right heads northeast and downhill while the path to the left heads southwest and uphill.  On the map, I appear to be about one mile northeast of the park.  All reasoning indicates that I should go left.  But that eagle sign…. It keeps throwing me off.  And the path to the right is unmarked, maybe that is the Beulah trail?… But it simply can’t be.

I turn left and prepare myself for 11 miles of mistake.

Dave calls me and I briefly walk him through my conundrum.  I anxiously keep checking my google map, waiting for that beautiful moment when my flashing blue circle is once again over that green backdrop.

Slowly but surely I end up back in the green and can see that I am getting closer closer closer to that blessed parking lot.  Eli, happy as a clam, continues on as my quiet passenger.

And then, a little piece of suburbia lets me know I am home free… On a hilltop just over the way I can see through the trees the cement bumpers of the parking spaces.  Oh, yes!

What could have been 11 miles ended up being about 0.5.  Pride returns, and relief joins in.

As soon as I see those cement blocks (and not a moment sooner) pain rushes into my shoulders and I can’t get the backpack off sooner.  Over the hill I see Beast parked by her lonesome in the lot.  I’ve never been so happy to see a vehicle.  Little flavors of suburbia calling me home.

Now certain that the crisis is averted, Eli and I head over to the “Beulah Shelter” to enjoy some water, snacks, and a well-earned seat.  We head back to the truck, strap in, and take a slow, winding drive out of the forest and into the suburbs.  The drive is steep and I feel like I’m falling out of the sky back down to the Earth.

What world was this?….  I never really figure it out.

And as quickly as I enter it we are spit back out next to the albatross of Six Flags, the highway, and the hustle and bustle of rush hour.  We get back to the camper and its almost the same as before.

As I said, suburbia has its conveniences.  So far though, it seems that adventures (with Eli) happen off the map.

 

2 Responses to The Perks of Suburbia, and More Adventures (with Eli)

  1. Mom

    Incredible piece. Even though you clearly got back to Beulah and thank goodness for the horses, I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen!! Amazing, suspensful and YIKES!

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