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  • Nicole Olsen

An Animal Trail Can Also be a Hiking Trail


Since hiking to swimming holes is now our thing, I made sure I found a great one near-ish to my mom's house. At first, no one seemed to mind the 90-minute drive to Waterwheel Falls to do a 2-mile hike along a river, but that is usually how most people feel before getting into a car with 5 very loud children and an overly cautious and slow driver at the wheel. These 90+ minutes will make you feel like nothing could possibly be worth the torture you endured to get here.

When we arrived we all put on a smile and pretended it wasn't that bad, ready to stretch our legs on a great hike, but we soon realized none of us had downloaded the trail map and without signs to guide us and no internet to turn to we had to rely on the seemingly knowledgeable bystanders wading in the river by the parking lot. "Do you know which way the trail is?" we asked her. "Sure she said as she pointed us to a hint of a trail about 3 feet wide covered by trees and vegetation. "it's pretty rough, feels like you are in the jungle," she laughed. We, my sister, mom and myself, being the smarties who traveled all this way without a clue where to go once we arrived, laughed back at her as we ushered our children through the thick brush an on our way downriver.

You are probably beginning to realize by my tone that downriver was not the correct choice, and maybe by now the title to this blog is coming back to mind. If so you are already much further ahead of the game then the 8 of us were at this point. We trudged on with lessening confidence through very thick brush, a vanishing trail, river crossings when the banks became impassable, rock scrambling, backtracking, and that one time we found ourselves inexplicably very high up and not knowing how.

As the reality of our hike began to sink in we all dealt with the potential fiasco in different ways. My mom and I chose to trudge on, unwilling to accept defeat and determined to get to our destination. We lead the group on fully aware of the daggers Amy was throwing at the back of our heads with her angry glare. We moved on with absolute denial, refusing to turn around for fear we'd catch one of her looks full on. Amy, on the other hand, held up the rear and in addition to her threatening stare, she also hit us with sarcastic remarks that doubted my mom and I's completely unearned confidence. "This is an animal trail, not a hiking trail," she kept saying loudly from the back of the train.

Sensing trouble, several of the kids began to wonder if we'd ever make it out, while other's took advantage of the wild terrain and off-trail hiking, leaving the last few to complain that this was the worst day ever.

I must admit that while all signs pointed to a bust, I wasn't truly convinced we went the wrong way until we were greeted by the highway overpass above our heads and the sounds of traffic passing over the same road we'd just traveled down an hour earlier. We hadn't seen the water wheel or a waterfall I'd promised would be along the trail. "Could we have missed it?" I asked the group, knowing full well there was no way.

So finally having realized our defeat, while Amy smiled her I told you so grin we decided to backtrack along the river in search of a place deep enough to swim or wade in so that we could attempt to salvage our day. And then we found it, the best watering hole ever, not ten minutes from where all hope was lost. Those who feared we'd never get home were immediately relieved, the adventurous ones found exploring the water to be just as fun, and those having the worst day ever went on to have the very best time. Because we knew we could easily find the road and walk 15 minutes back to our car instead of the hour it had taken us hiking on the "trail" we were able to stay until dusk swimming, jumping, sliding, rock skipping, playing and making great memories, ones that even the 90-minute wet car ride home couldn't ruin.


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