Well, I did finish it today, despite the fact that I tried to sabotage myself by bringing my camera and taking pictures every single time something caught my eye. Once I got to the top of Fox Rock, I put my camera away and gave myself a stern talking-to. But I did take some photos today to show a little bit more of what I've been doing these last 5 weeks. The above one is just down the trail from the Visitor's Center.
I had two trails left to do if I wanted to finish hiking all 10 trails. Which I most certainly did. I chose to do the more difficult of the two, the Geology Trail, first and to finish up with the easier Whitetail Trace. Geology Trail used to be called Fox Rock Trail and was the first that we went on when we first started coming to the CNC. I've hiked it many many times. Many times. Yes indeed. It can be quite a killer, especially if you opt to go down the hundreds of limestone steps to the trail, which I opted out of this time. Here is a picture from April, with the children at the base of the dreaded limestone steps.
With all the times I've hiked this trail, I've only gone in one direction. Today I decided to see it from the other direction and it was quite delightful. I also don't generally do the part of the trail down along the stream bed, so that was also new and interesting. I took many many pictures along the streams. I caught myself thinking, "Oh, I need to explain how it normally is because the water is usually not this low." Of course, y'all, not having seen it high, will just have to take my word for it. The streams were pitiful.
That trail of rocks that goes through the center of the picture is usually almost submerged in the stream. I've carried countless children, animals, and backpacks over that stream because of how dicey the path looked at any given time and I've gotten quite wet for my trouble on occasion. This was not an issue today. It is painfully dry here.
The following picture is another one taken along the stream, this one actually from the vantage point of the middle of the dried-up bed. I hope that y'all can see all those cool exposed, intertwined tree roots. That's usually half covered by water and I've never seen it before. This area had an extreme skunk smell going on. I was more than a little concerned that I would happen upon one of the little darlings, the scent was so strong. Happily, I did not and once I left the stream bed, the skunk smell left as well.
On to Fox Rock. This is an outcropping at the top of one ridge, overlooking the ravine on the other side. I don't know if there is actually a rock up there that looks like a fox or if they found a fox den up there (I saw a couple of likely places) or why exactly it's named Fox Rock. But it is and it is quite the monster hike. You start down here and, after taking yourself in hand, start up the staircase. The stairs at this point are very close together. I ended up taking them two at a time because it just annoyed me to be mincing up the mountainside. Or hillside. Whatever.
This is the staircase from about halfway up. There are roughly 4 sets of steps like this to get to the top.
There are, of course, lovely vistas if you were to turn around and climb backwards (or if you were coming down the other way, as I usually do). I was fascinated by the numbers of pawpaw trees in the valley. When I came through them on the trail, they were about chest high and numerous enough to invite comment. Apparently it was a bad year for the pawpaws, a late frost followed by a dry dry summer. They are the trees with the yellow leaves alongside the trail. This picture was taken from the halfway point.
Once you almost reach the top, you're faced with another challenge/opportunity. There is another set of steps that goes down and around the rocks that stick out over the valley. I knew the view was lovely but was wondering if I even cared at that point. I decided to buck up and go back down yet another set of steps to catch the view from beneath Fox Rock. Here are the steps. I didn't bother to take a picture. As you can see from the above photo, it is impossible to capture the majesty and sheer beauty of a large scene without the proper equipment.
I'm sure that you can now commiserate with my hesitation at going down yet another set of wooden steps that led ever ever down (then led ever ever up on the way back up!).
So, at the top of Fox Rock, I declared that I would take no more pictures, at least for a good long while. I walked, wrote down info from benches, and sketched interesting leaves that I saw along the way. The Nature Center has a leaf identifier and I found out what leaves I'd sketched (they were different from the usual oaks and maples that I see around here) but I've forgotten now what they are.
Whilst in the middle of sketching one of the unusual leaves, I heard voices behind me in the woods. Eventually, two men with loaded backbacks walked out of the woods. I was ahead of them for some time, then they passed me when I was writing down bench information. We all met at the bridge across the rapidly drying stream and I took the opportunity to ask them if they were training for something. Turns out that they are going to Philmont with a group of Boy Scouts in the summer and they were getting in shape for that. They carried between 25 and 38 pounds' worth of weights in their packs. They were the only people I've ever seen on the trails who were sweating more than I was. They said they didn't want to go ahead of me up the staircase back up to the trail near the Visitor's Center because they figured that they'd slow me down. So I said goodbye and hefted myself up the steps without stopping. That is not to say that I was not huffing pretty badly by the time I got to the top but as we were going in opposite ways at the top of the steps, I'm reasonably sure they didn't hear it.
Whitetail Trace is billed as an easy trail and it was. It took me across many many bridges and looped through a little over a mile of new woods. By new, they mean not old, but the trees were still pretty tall (30 feet or more). The woods up here smelled different than the woods down below. I didn't know if it was the difference in the trees (beech versus oaks and maples) or the higher altitude allowing the leaves to thoroughly bake rather than baking some and composting some. Anyway, it was interesting to realize that the woods even smelled different on different trails.
I walked part of Whitetail the first hike I took, back at the end of August, because Whitetail is the feeder trail for Redwing. It was here that I noticed the really cool things that people could do with benches. I read this inscription on one: "Two roads diverged in a yellow /wood and we chose the same one/ John and Sherrie/ Martha's Vineyard, 1989" Then below, a newer inscription, "Nicky" with a date after it. I just thought that was so cool and I was glad to happen upon it again today so I could write it down. (I didn't take pencil and paper on that first hike.)
I thought a lot on Whitetail. I thought about how walking and hiking the trails had, at first, been a way to escape the responsibilites at home, to get some fresh air and exercise, and to try to quiet my troubled spirit. They still are that but I've also come to appreciate the trails and the woods for what they are, themselves. They are all magnificent in their own ways and I've enjoyed coming to know them a little better. I've also come to admire myself just a bit. Most of the time, I just flat out don't like myself. But when I get out in the middle of the woods and know that I'm going to be out there for hours, something changes. I can see things a little more clearly. I can appreciate what I've got, what I'm doing, and who I am. If nothing else, I admire that I've managed to hike all of these silly trails in 5 weeks. But there is something so freeing about being out there and just walking and walking for miles with only your own thoughts to keep you company.
And, at the end, I thought about the end of the trail hiking thing. I won't be able to hike the next couple of Saturdays. Next Saturday, we're planning to meet Justin and Hollie at the Bob Evans Homestead and have a nice little visit. I hope that the 20th will find me in Greater Melvin, visiting with a bunch of Swedes and reconnecting. So I was kind of sad to think that the woods would not be in my immediate future. And I wondered what I would do without the goal of finishing all 10 trails. I do want to just walk and wander at my own sweet will, taking whatever trail looks good at the time. But I fear that, if I do that, I'll lose steam and quit walking. I also wonder what the winter will bring. I'm not adverse to walking in the cold. I've done it in years past, all winter long. But I don't know if I'll still want to walk in the woods in the winter.
Anyway, these are a few of the random thoughts I had running through my head today. I also thought that I should bring a laptop up while I hike so that, when all the ideas were rampaging through my head, I could actually type them out rather than hoping that my spotty memory would keep them all. Despite the positives I see in that, I won't do it, though. I just wish I could remember half of the things I was thinking up on the ridge.
So, I'm finished. I am now the proud owner of my very own Camelbak water bottle, courtesy of the Cincinnati Nature Center, and a completed Thru-Hiker's book. Who knows what comes next. Whatever it is, I hope it will be just as splendid.