Eagle Rock Loop, AR….. Thanksgiving 2018

As the car weaved along the windy road on the day after Thanksgiving, I began to ponder upon the fact that I never used to get carsick.  As the car approached the trailhead, I just kept very quiet and still and stared at the road ahead, regretting trying to figure out how to use Drop Box on my phone earlier, and regretting eating carrots and guacamole for breakfast.

This trip was my second attempt at a trail that I had previously aborted prematurely.  In October 2017, I just tried to do this trail in just two days. The trusty Guthook app tells me that the trail is 27 miles long, but others on the trip indicated to me that somehow they calculated the loop as 30 miles.  Either way, I learned on that first trip that I cannot do 15.5 miles out of the gate without injuring myself; however, I did learn that it is really easy to make friends on the trail and I met lots of helpful people who ended up getting me back to my car safely after completing only ¾ of the trail.

I knew that hiking this trail was going to be a challenge for me, but since it was something I had previously started I had to finish. This would probably be my last big adventure until next March, and my last time to really dial in on what I liked and needed to fix/modify with my gear, and just my last big push for a while with this particular group of friends.  It was a special time.

Also for extra fun it seems that there were some extra challenges added to this trip.  One was that I had not much sleep the night before. I had literally packed between 9 PM and 12 AM the night before.  I tried to reactivate my In-Reach as well that night, since I knew there would be no cell phone service on that trail, and my In-Reach would allow me to call for help or reach others by text message if needed.  However, I ran into problems with that and figured why should I bother for just a weekend trip.  And my last lovely challenge was that I had been taking a medication that… caused my heart to beat irregularly, which I had just stopped taking a bit earlier that week due to that side effect. That was a super great combination to add to not bothering to activate my In-Reach. 

Brilliant thought process I had at 12 AM in the morning.

So the first day of hiking did go well, I felt so energized just getting back out there, so grateful to be in a forest on a mountain-or-hill type geological formation, and not in a car, and walking, and just there.  Oh and very happy that the rain from earlier has ceased, although extra rain gear testing would not have been terrible. 

As I was walking, prayed about and determined that I really wanted to be in the moment this time. That instead of getting distracted by having to capture every beautiful sight with a picture or video, that I would just revel in it, except for one photo/video per day.

That afternoon, the cold rain turned into my absolute favorite type of hiking weather.  A misty fog settled onto the forest as we climbed up and down our one peak for that day.  It was like hiking through the Haunted 100-Acre Wood… It was glorious and deserved one picture.

That night, I was a bit concerned about my heart rate, which felt a bit weak and fast.  At that point I became concerned about my lack of In-Reach.  A friend was planning to stop at our first campsite for the whole trip, and if I stayed with her I would have easier access to a vehicle if something went wrong.  It was a bit scary to be out there with no way to call for help… I’m grateful to be able to regularly have my security blanket In-Reach.  But there was nothing I could do but deal with what I had at that point.  I wandered out away from the group, stood in the dark forest, and looked up at the near full moon and asked what I should do, asked God to keep me safe, and said that if He would get me through that weekend He could get me through anything. 

By the way, I’ve found that some of the most special times for me out there are the times at night when I go off for the restroom or something, and then just turn off my headlamp and look around or look up.  People who dwell solely in cities and do not hike off into the back-country do not get to see that.  I love it so much.  Those nighttime trysts are where it is me and God and His creation and all of the splendor that comes out at night.

So the next morning I had to decide what to do, and there really was no option I could imagine but continuing forward.  I felt OK, and if I stayed I would not have been at all happy with the outcome of the trip. Plus I would have been really bored and just concentrated on the problem.  Plus, I actually felt better walking and hiking than standing still.  So I stuffed everything back into my pack, filtered 3 liters of water (because I still have not grasped the concept/skill of hiking in a plentiful water area), and off I went.

The next day consisted of climbing 5 mountains/hills/some really steep inclines and declines.  I was just so joyful about them.  It was weird.  I was just so happy to be out there climbing up stuff and moving and being there.   One of them was pretty steep… but I did not mind, I knew I could climb stuff… I’d certainly lost the group by that time but it was really nice to just go at my own pace, one step in front of the other,pausing when I needed to and also to just look around and see the valleys around and everything, and just be there doing it.  I don’t know why that was such a big lesson of this trip for me, but just being in the moment was really my theme.  And I loved it.

At one point we hit a clearing, which was so spectacular and beautiful in the morning light.  That got my second picture.

We completed all 5 peaks by around 12:30 PM, and then it was must more even grade with some inclines and stuff but just done with the mountain climbing.

I was able to spend breaks and lunches with some other hikers who seemed to go around my pace, and I did hike with them at some points, but half the time I hiked alone. I like the time and the trail conversations with others, but also, I like to be able to really just take things and my own pace and see all of the things and just think, pray, reflect,or think of some random simple thought all the way up the mountain.  I really firmly love both types of experience. 

That night, as the jubilant and exhausted hikers gathered around the campfire, it seemed like such a time of celebration.  We had made it through our hardest day, when the day before I was doubtful of what that day would hold.  We even hiked a bit further than planned because the people in the front kept going and picked a later campsite.  But it was a wonderful campsite.  We had a blast as some tried to roast their socks and shoes in the fire to dry them out [I’ve learned to never put my shoes near the fire, and I had already burned one of my socks in the fire the night before….].

WATER CROSSING LESSONS LEARNED

On this trail, we crossed the water more times than any of us could count… water sources were very plentiful!  I learned a few things about water crossings. 

 Lesson #1:  Learned on Day 2 – falling hurts way more than getting your feet wet!  Even though I was a bit wet from the day before, I had dried out some and was trying to gingerly balance on rocks to stay dry. I fell in and cut my leg and decided to never do that again!  My shoes are mesh, dry easily, and are not even that uncomfortable to hike in wet, but the deep puncture wound on my leg is still healing.  Also, when I did fall I just sort of thought, “oh I am bruised and bleeding” and just kept going.  Perhaps next time I will stop and do something like wiping it off with an alcohol wipe or water, and maybe at least look at the wound to see if I should tape it up or something. 

Lesson #2:  Learned on Day 3 – crossing rushing streams by yourself is both precarious and fun.  I got separated from the group sometime before our big water crossing of that day… the water was not very deep, but it was running fast.  Maybe up to my knees or a bit higher.  There were rocks and boulders throughout the area.  The rocks were reassuring, in that if I fell I was likely not to be swept for miles downstream, but I would probably get banged up and possibly lose some stuff and/or really test the waterproofing system I had going on in my pack.  Ideally, we do not do these things by ourselves.  But I think everyone was ahead of me at that point… so, I unbuckled my hip belt and sternum strap, and gingerly stepped in.  I had four points of contact – two feet and two trekking poles, and only moved one at a time.  I walked diagonally upstream, and with each step or trekking pole movement, I made sure to really plant it into a secure spot. It was scary, but the moment I stepped onto that opposite shore I felt extreme exhilaration.    I happily continued down the trail, so thrilled that I had conquered that one alone with only Jesus with me.  Not advisable from a backpacking safety standpoint, but really amazing after the fact. 

On the final day, we passed the point where I had previously aborted the trail, and suddenly everything just became extremely beautiful!  I could not believe that I had missed that the time before. There were cedars and a view of the river from high above (which claimed my third picture!). I definitely had to stop for a snack at this place, and thus fell behind the group.  The whole rest of the way was like wandering through some wonderland… I kept the stopping in awe to stare at views and I was just wandering so distracted to the end of the trail loop.  I knew others were waiting on me to get thereto go for our victory lunch, so I tried to not mess about for too long as I rapturously took in all of the surroundings on that part of the trail.  At the very end there was this amazing waterfall that I couldn’t believe I had missed the first time!

It is interesting that though I saw views of mountains and valleys, beautiful and rushing water crossings, and massive waterfalls, the three pictures I took were the foggy trail, a clearing, and a cedar tree…  actually I did take a couple others but they were not worth speaking of or sharing here.  I think that another lesson that I took from this trip is that there is more to admire than the big monumental things in life… there is so much joy to be found in the little things, if one dares to look and experience them.

I made it out, completed the trail, and was met by cheers from my faithful friends.  And now the adventure is only beginning.

The Haunted 100-Acre Trail
The Morning Clearing
Trees and the River
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