Finding Myself on Trail 2

Writer’s block. I had it. It had been weeks since I had really written. I came back from a writer’s conference renewed and eager to finish my novel, but when I sat down the only thing that flowed was my tears.

Life got in the way. Annual budgets. Twelve hour work days. Family drama. The start of school.  My mind simply would not work.

I read books on writing. I read and analyzed novels. I sat staring at the blank computer screen or worse yet, erasing everything that I had written.

I needed a mental health day. My mind went back to a favorite childhood memory….a park that I had not been to in nearly 30 years. I was going hiking.

My kids and I eagerly threw our stuff in the car and drove two hours to our destination. On the way, I told them about the falls. I told them about the giant leaning rock. I told them about trail 2–the one that ran the entire length of the park along the river bed and passed nearly all of the falls.

We parked the car, off-loaded butterfly nets, trail snacks, and pulled out the map. Trail 2 should be just ahead.

I immediately recognized some of my favorites, but I also sensed the difference. The large leaning rock where I had posed as a child was now blocked off with a fence.  The overhang was smaller, the riverbed dryer, the falls now partially hidden behind overgrown trees.

We walked around in circles for close to 30 minutes trying to find the entrance to trail 2 without success. Finally, we saw a sign that pointed in the opposite direction.

The path was beautiful…it curved along the edge of a cliff with a rock wall and wooden slats to protect hikers from the deep ravine. It headed straight for the base of the waterfall. With renewed energy, we set out.

We were not on the path long, however, before we came to an impassable concrete wall. Access to trail 2 on this end of the park was shut off. Hikers had fallen and been killed.  The beauty of the waterfall was so close,  but it was impossible to pass.

Our only option at this point was to drive to the other end of the park and try to pick up trail 2 from there. After winding our way down a steep incline beyond the base of the observation tower, we found the marker pointing to the river bed. Trail 2. We were on our way at last.

The trail was beautiful…though a lot drier and rockier then I remember as a child. My son took off after butterflies and crawdads. He tried to capture fish and splashed his way through the riverbed.

My daughter and her boyfriend started taking pictures and looking for fossils. The water was crystal clear. They climbed on small ledges that hung over the water. They skipped stones. They laughed. They were oblivious to the dangers that I saw around them.

I was apprehensive. Once on the trail, I did not see any markers or other hikers for that matter. Instead of looking around, I looked down trying to watch my footing on the piles of jagged rocks weary of water snakes and other creatures we would not want to meet.

After several hours of hiking, I grew even more concerned. We had only encountered one other group of hikers on the trail and they had turned back. I pulled out the map several times trying to find our location, but landmarks did not match up. We pulled out a GPS, but reception was poor. I decided that we needed to get off the trail.

We began looking for the intersection with trail 4, but the longer we walked, the less likely we anticipated seeing it. The river did not bend where we thought. It did not branch like the map showed.

Finally, we saw a marker pointing to the name of a look out point and I guided the children off of the river toward the opening in the woods. Once inside, the path branched 3 directions. Each of them deteriorated into overgrowth. There were no more markers. We were lost.

I insisted that we could go no further on the path and we made our way back to the riverbed. We again searched our maps thinking that perhaps we needed to go just a littler further. After hours of walking, however, and dehydration setting in, I knew that we had to turn back.

Reluctantly, we gave up on making it to the base of the falls and headed back in the direction we came. Hours later, we made it to the base of the hill that led us down to the ravine. The journey up when I was at the point of exhaustion was not going to be easy.

I made it back to the top after stopping to rest several times. My mental health day did not work out exactly like planned, but it was effective. While getting lost, I found my voice again.

On the way home in the car, I looked around and saw the beauty around me. Stories poured out of my mind like the water that hurled out of the mountainside and over the cliff.

“Look, kids. Look at that bull with those huge horns! Look, kids, at the way the sunbeams are filtering through the clouds,” but they were fast asleep.  I drove home in silence with the world opening up around me.

I do not know why the map still listed trail 2. I do not know why we missed the sign, but I know we survived and can even laugh about it now. And even though I will never again attempt trail 2, I now have confidence that I can tackle my journey towards publication. I may not be able to take the direct route. It may be rocky and sometimes misleading, but I will get there slow, but sure.