A Hike to the Falls

My legs ache, a slow numbing that pulsates with my heart beat. I’ll know tomorrow that I was over-enthused today. It started out as a simple walk. Just up the hill for a quarter mile or two. I opted for the short walk instead of hiking to Fall Creek Falls. At least, I did in the beginning.

The breeze gave an extra bit to the cool afternoon air, making me wish I had brought a coat other than my leather jacket. I’d even left it hanging in my room. But this wasn’t supposed to be a long walk. And a leather jacket just didn’t seem right to walk in.

Near the top of the hill, my cell phone came to life – beeping and buzzing. I had several voice messages and some text messages as well. I tried checking my voice mail but had problems since I was quasi-roaming. I called work to see what they needed. As soon as I dialed, another tone told me that I would have to keep the conversation short. My battery was dying. I had left it on the night before and used it as my alarm clock. It must have used up all of its juice searching for a tower. In the dense woods of the park, the signal is nearly impossible to find. Cellular coverage was the topics of several conversations at the park’s inn. Someone even suggested holding up a fork for a signal boost. I didn’t try it.

After I ended the call, I made some rough calculations and realized that I should be able to walk the two and a half miles to the falls and make the return trip with time to spare before dinner was to be served. Weather.com said it was supposed to rain the next day and I really wanted to see the falls in all their glory without the filter of a truck windshield. I wanted a more personal view.

I backtracked to the inn and crossed the parking lot which put me at the trail-head for the bike trail to Fall Creek Falls. The trail is broken into three sections. From the inn the trail meanders 1.35 miles along the lakeshore until it reaches the road where it crosses the levee. From the road, the trail continues another .65 miles to the falls overlook. The first two trail sections are paved without significant increases in the grade. The last section is much more treacherous. From the overlook, it continues a short .4 miles to the base of the falls through a series of incredibly steep slopes and switchbacks. Switchbacks, I discovered, are nearly 180 degree turns.

Of course, I didn’t read the information on any of these trails and my guide was hand drawn map that had been copied umpteen times. I queued up the Celtic playlist on my MP3 player, adjusted the earbuds in my ears, and went be-bopping along the trail. I kept my pace brisk, knowing that I had just under two hours to complete the round trip. At the time, I only had a rough idea how far it was from the inn to the falls overlook.

I saw several people on my way to the falls – mostly IT people here for the symposium, like myself. There was an old couple riding bikes near the beginning of the trail. There was a couple of ladies searching for items on the scavenger hunt. We talked shop, focusing on the hottest topic – the statewide system conversion, while they occasionally stopped to pick up a leaf or a twig. I walked with them until we reached the road when they parted to return to the inn.

I popped the earbuds back into my ears and unpaused the playback. The gentle plucking of string instruments and ocean waves splashing against the Irish shore began their tranquil lullaby. Pianos, woodwinds, and violins soon added their soothing voices.

I felt invigorated. Deep breaths filled my lungs with a blissful serenity that quickly spread throughout my body. The Celtic soundscape, provided by my MP3 player, allowed my mind to wander. I imagined I was an explorer in a distant land – laying new trails, bravely entering a world that was not my own. But somehow, I felt at home. I felt welcomed by the surroundings – not like in my childhood. Nature expelled me, forcing me to suffer countless allergies. As I grew older, I guess my constitution overcame my childhood illnesses.

I came upon a fork in the path. I took the path to the right only to discover that it ended in a loop about an eighth of a mile down the trail. Off to the side, however, I noticed a dirt trail leading north. I followed the rarely used trail that quickly connected to an east-west trail. The new one was in better shape (but only slightly) and looked as though it had seen its share of traffic. The road was covered with a dusting of powdery earth that would have given away anyone’s tracks. It appeared that no one had come this way for some time.

I followed it east, my trepidation creating a sense of uneasiness in me. The sense of being lost slowly creeping up on me. I searched for the falls overlook sans music. The trail was rough-hewn in stone, roots, and dirt. Occasionally a sign warned of entering the area, but each was placed on the sides of the trail, not in the path of the trail, so it was difficult to understand which direction the signs were prohibiting.

The sound of crashing water grew closer the further down the trail I walked. The air smelled wet and moldy. I figured I was getting close to the falls. I came to a four-slat iron railing. After testing its sturdiness, I peered over. From this vantage point, I could see the crest of the falls. At least a portion of it. I couldn’t see as much of the falls as I’d seen in pictures. I obviously made a wrong turn. One thing I did know was that the overlook should be bigger and definitely more accessible.

I doubled back to take the left fork. After returning to the familiar territory of the paved trail, I continued listening to the exuberant Celtic landscape. Another eighth of a mile deposited me at the overlook. Several others were there as well.

The fall and crash of the water drew me to the edge where the rails would have wrestled me to safety if I were too careless. I took in the sight of the main falls and noticed there was a smaller falls nearby. The father and son falls were a remarkable sight. Probably forty foot wide at the crest, the father falls sends hundreds of gallons of water crashing down the two hundred sixty feet to the bottom of the gorge. I was amazed to see something so magnificent, something so powerful.

The son falls, about a hundred feet to the right, mimics its father as any son might do. It aspires to be as majestic, as powerful, as primal as its father. And someday perhaps it will.

Scanning the base of the gorge, I noticed a man and his son climbing onto a precipice jutting out toward the falls. The man was as small as a fly, maybe smaller. Just then, the idea struck me. The overlook gave a great perspective of the falls, but not the only one. Down at the base, I imagined the best perspective waited for me. In fact, it seemed to call to me.

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