Check back next Tuesday for more words of inspiration!
So, a couple of weeks ago we encountered a rather large alligator blocking the trail at the end of a five-mile hike. The hike was a loop, and the trail was bordered by water on either side. We could see our car. But the alligator was an ALLIGATOR, and not the six or seven foot ones you see everywhere in Florida, AND it wasn’t moving, probably because it was too full, because, to be honest, its bulging gut made it look like it had already eaten a hiker.
Plus side, it probably didn’t have room for another hiker in its belly.
Minus side, it was. Not. Moving. The sun was setting. And I figured that if we did turn around and hike the 5 miles back the other way, that it would probably just waddle the hundred or so yards to reach the trail at the other end of the loop to block us that way, too.
You may think that I’m giving a reptile too much credit, but as I told my husband, we had no way to know if it was a regular alligator or an evil genius alligator without first backtracking the 5 miles we’d already hiked to find out. (I won’t tell you the rest of the conversation because there were a great many words said that I shouldn’t type, many bracketing the adjectives we were using to describe said alligator.)
We started creeping behind the alligator, and it raised its head to look at us, which was the first it had moved besides simply opening an eye, and we hightailed it back what we thought was a safe distance to rediscuss our plan of action.
At this point, I was sure we were indeed dealing with the Hannibal Lecter of the reptilian kingdom because it settled back to sleep and who could sleep at a time like this, even though it was probably just faking and laughing, which made me mad, so I took my pack off and walked behind it, and this time it didn’t dare look at me because if it did I was going to shove the bag that I’ve been sweating on for ten years down its throat and prove that a hungry woman is the true king of the jungle. After that, I just had to wait twenty minutes for my husband to work up the nerve to join me, and since he had the car keys….. I waited. Patiently, I promise.
That somewhat roundabout story brings me to my point – hiking is hazardous. We’ve encountered many injured hikers over the years, and have done our best to help patch them up. We’ve taken classes on Wilderness First Aid, read books on ‘survival in the bush’, and have reached a point where we feel comfortable in our ability to safely navigate our way back to civilization in the event of an injury.
But what if the hazard isn’t a broken bone or a sprained joint or a wound of some kind? What if it’s something else you encounter on the trail. Like a giant alligator? Or an overgrown, prehistoric turkey. Because this wasn’t the first time my path had been blocked. Or the first time I’d been made to feel unsafe on while hiking.
Only a month before, I’d taken my camera and gone hiking on my own. Let me begin by saying that there are only certain trails that I’ll hike on my own. One of my requirements is that it is out in the open so you can see far and wide in every direction. But that doesn’t always keep you safe from an attack.
It was a beautiful day in December, sunny and warm in the way that Florida is known for. I was well acquainted with the area, a wetland reserve that receives plenty of traffic by both hikers and wildlife, and was searching, in particular, for the kingfisher who hangs out there and has been (still is) eluding my lens.
Like many trails in the area, there is water on both sides of the path. Unlike other trails, this one zigzags in a series of connecting loops and you can see several miles of the twisty, turning road from about 85% of the path. I was on one of the short stretches where you can’t see everything, heavy camera aimed at a stump in the distance where the kingfisher was taunting me, when I first heard the noise. I’d heard the call before – I was pretty sure in one of the Jurassic Park movies – and it carried the way sound sometimes carries over water, where you can’t determine which direction it’s coming from.
Lowering my camera, I said a few choice words to the uncoperative kingfisher and hurried along the path. Overgrown cattails ceded to the dried husks of outbloomed water hyanthinths, and I could once again see almost the entire trail. And I discovered I was alone.
Not only could I not see any other hikers, a rarity in this area because of its picteresque nature that draws both locals and tourists alike, I also couldn’t see what had made the noise, either. But as I stood there, looking around for the source of the bone chiling cry, it came again. Louder. And I was fairly certain, angrier.
I’d been on the trail over an hour already, and it would take me at least a half hour to get back to the parking lot taking the shortest route back, so I decided to call it a day. I slotted my camera back into my vest harness (told you it was heavy) and quickened my pace towards the exit . . . when the sound came again, this time from behind me.
My skin tightened in that pre-goosebump sensation one has when their adrenal gland hasn’t quite decided how to respond and their entire body is on edge waiting. I spun to face the very loud assailant closing in on me, only to see a Sandhill Crane storming across the trail. Now, don’t get me wrong, they’re very pretty birds. Large and grey with an almost heart-shaped patch of red on their heads. They can also be very aggressive. And although I only saw one, they almost always travel in breeding pairs that mate for life. Then a low flying shadow emerged from over the water, landing on the trail on the other side of me, and the mystery of the single Sandhill Crane was solved.
Both birds proceeded to yell at me with their prehistoric war cries while strutting closer and closer. There was water at my front, water at my back, and dinosaur relatives approaching from each side. (In case you’ve never been on the wrong side of a Sandhill Crane, imagine being penned in by agressive, prehistoric turkeys. And yes, I know that there’s probably a better precursor than a turkey, but if I said velicoraptor you’d assume I was embellishing – though not by much – and if you imagined a rabid turkey on steroids I don’t think a Sandhill Crane would be far off.)
I just barely managed to skirt past the one in front by tiptoeing along the water’s edge, and the duo continued to chase close behind me for the better part of a half mile. And this, people, is why hiking is hazardous. And why you should always be prepared. Even if there are some things out there that you absolutely can’t prepare for. Which, again, is why hiking is hazardous. But so is walking across the parking lot at the grocery store (no lie) so I guess I’ll keep taking my chances.
Last year I took 2.5 million steps. Well, according to my Pacer app two million, five hundred and thirty-eight thousand, two hundred and twelve to be more exact. And that’s only counting the steps I took with my phone on me. But it’s also counting the steps my phone thinks I take when I’m driving on a really bumpy road, usually on the way to a trailhead, so I’ll call it about even.
I like to walk and it’s one of those things I’m really good at because it’s low risk and I rarely ever fall and even when I do, I do all my own stunts so I’m usually just fine, and since I got a real camera last year instead of just using my cell phone I’ve learned to be a lot more careful. Really I should start carrying it around at home because that’s where most accidents happen because statistically, your house is actually a very dangerous place, and my plan to eradicate anything with a corner or an edge in my home met an early end because of – walls.
But even though walking is something I enjoy, it’s not always something I feel like doing. Half the time I don’t really want to go until I’m on the trail, and even then I’m sometimes grumbly because my body likes to conspire against me and I’m walking with a headache or a backache or knee pain or a wonky hip and really it’s not fair because I’d prefer not to be this way, and I never asked to be hit by a car or to have arthritis and joint problems and a muscle disorder or any of the other little things that occasionally add up and feel like big things, but here’s the actual most important thing – walking always makes me feel better.
The couch is not my friend, and over the years I’ve learned that I’m going to ache regardless of what I do, so why not make the most of it and do what I enjoy doing?
I find nature and fresh air and wildlife restorative. Hiking on a trail gives me something to focus on besides myself. It helps clear some of the fog that sometimes settles around my brain and brings clarity. And even though this part doesn’t really make sense, it takes away my fatigue. That’s not to say that after an eight-mile hike I feel energetic, but the general malaise gets burned away and replaced with a different type of tiredness.
One that lets me know that despite everything, at my core I’m strong and healthy and able.
Those 2.5 steps helped me work out the plots for several novels and short stories. They helped curb angry words and soothed upset feelings. They helped me focus when I got super excited when an acquisitions editor wanted to develop one of my novels into a series. And they helped me recenter when the editor left the publisher and her replacement decided not to proceed with the project and I felt shattered.
On the days when I feel like following my dreams is a waste of time, I make myself walk.
On the days when just getting out of bed feels like an enormous effort and I need something to give me a sense of accomplishment besides just adulting, I leash up the dog and get outside.
When my husband and I start griping at each other because we’re overwhelmed with everything we have to do and there’s never enough time, we make it worse by taking a long hike together – which makes it so much better. We’re blessed to have the opportunity to see so many wonderous things, and they’re all the more special when we get to share the experience.
Even if he does get scared and yell at me when I do my own stunts. If he really wanted to help he’d do something about all those sharp edged walls in the house since they’re the real enemy. 😉
If you enjoy this week’s photo, be sure to check back next Saturday for more Seabirds at the Seashore!
(I’ll be guessing at the identifications, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)
If you enjoy this week’s photo, be sure to check back next Saturday for more Seabirds at the Seashore!