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A Cursed Path

Yesterday, Will, Jen, and I went hiking and it was a day of firsts.  The first place we went was Inspiration Point, a place I was happy to see for the first time.  It is simply beautiful and breath-taking there.  It is up on the bluffs (oh, bluffs, how I miss your great heights over the Mississippi!) less than 15 minutes away from my house.  You can see forever, it was a wonderfully windy and cloudy day, turkey vultures were circling overhead hoping we would fall and provide a snack.

Our fearless guide, Jen
Will, of course, found a cave. In like, five minutes.
This is a very cool little twisted tree. There were a couple of them up there, with twisted roots and trunks.

Inspiration Point was appropriately breath-taking and beautiful.  There is not much of a hike to the point, a fairly straight forward, maybe five minute path leads you right there.  I think I know where I am going to be spending a lot of my time this fall.  I loved being up high, being on the bluffs, and it was breath taking.  Literally – I think the adrenaline I got from being up high so long stole my breath there for a while.  It was great fun and I could have just sat and hung out there all day.

We get back to the car and as we are deciding where to go next, Will asks where the road uphill leads to.  Jen didn’t know so we drove to find out.

Most of the outings Will, Jen, and I have been on so far we fly by the seat of our pants.  What is that way?  We don’t know, so let’s go find out!  Whee!

I like to explore areas and roads I have never been on.  I love back roads and I like to know how everything is connected.  Luckily, Will and Jen seem to enjoy the same kind of thing.

Thus, we find ourselves on the Cursed Trail.  We get out at this area that is really part of the River to River Trail.  There was not a name on this trail that we noticed, but the description talked of a creek, and we thought it would be fun to hike to a creek as we had scads of time, seeing as it was only 1:00.

The first part of the trail, while muddy, was fine.  I slipped in the mud, but that is to be expected, mud is slippery.  Then we came to a fork in the path – we could take the King Hollow trail or the Clear Spring trail.  We took Clear Spring trail, the path that looked less traveled, and yes it made all the difference.  Not a good difference, mind you, but a difference.

Since the rain finally decided to give Southern Illinois relief from this horrible drought, it was muddy, wet, and the mosquitoes were insane.  I have been spoiled this summer because of the lack of mosquitoes everywhere – they are still around, but not in man eating droves like they usually are.  They were out in man eating droves yesterday.  For most of our hike there were swarms around each of our heads and a kind of constant high-pitched humming occurring.  It was very frustrating.  I really think that if I had been better prepared to fight off mosquitoes, I would have been a lot happier on this trail, but the Harrison Bergeron noise distraction of constant humming was really a demoralizing factor for me.

Jen had this really nifty, light weight, comparatively short machete that Will made good use of.  Most of this trail that we traveled, this Cursed Clear Spring Trail, had vines and grasses that were about the height of my waist, although in some places it was chest height.  I am short, so this probably means that the grass/weeds were about 4 feet tall.  I felt like a hobbit for most of this journey, as I was short, and the mosquitoes seemed to enjoy me (“What do they eat when they can’t get hobbit?”).  I once had a never list – things I never wanted to do and hike in grass up to my arm pits was one of them.  However, that never list was made when I was a lot more overweight than I currently and when I was ten thousand times more out of shape, so I consider it obsolete.  Part of the joy for me of this miserable trail was that I was able to go on it at all.  I didn’t take one look at the trail and say, “Have fun, I will meet you at the car!”  Something I would have done in the past.

The initial part of the trail, before we got to the Cursed Clear Spring Trail, took us maybe 10-15 minutes.  The Cursed Trail we hiked for 2 hours and 10 minutes.  In that time, Will cut himself twice with Jen’s machete, once on the backswing, but her nifty machete has a serrated edge on the opposite side, so it bit Will.  Will pulled up his socks (he was in shorts) to catch the bleeding from one of these wounds.  I kind of hoped his blood would attract my mosquitoes but alas, there were plenty of mosquitoes for all to share.  There were several large areas of downed trees and vines, lots and lots of poison ivy, and lots and lots of thorny vines that somehow sensed that my capri pants had a two inch opening in between the pant leg and the socks. My ankles were fairly well sawed on by vines with thorns.  Nasty buggers.

However, my misery could not compare to Jen or Will’s who were both wearing shorts and walking the same trail of evil.  When Will and I got home and assessed damages, the two very minor cuts from his machete had nothing on the multiple lacerations from the trail’s many blood thirsty vines.

We decided at one point – after many stops where we asked each other if we should keep going or turn back – that we would walk another 30 minutes.  My thought being that if it took us 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach this point, we would need the same amount of time to get back to where we started.  At 3:00 we gave ourselves until 3:30.

The Cursed “Trail” – there is a trail here, I promise. But the growth of plants was very high.

And this is where things got a little bizarre for me.  Maybe I was just tired and imagining things, maybe I went too long without a large amount of water as we were all sharing Jen’s water bottle at this point, but things started to feel and smell kind of off.  I was well and truly behind Will and Jen, but Will was sticking within eye sight.  For Will, any horror movie setting he is going to be a bit protective and a hyper aware.  Anyway, the trail started to smell weird.  There was a strong ammonia smell for a while, which I attributed to animal urine (does a bear pee in the woods?), but at the same time there also seemed to be a less friendly aspect to the trail.  I mean, the vines before were cutting us, the bees and mosquitoes were chewing us up, but none of that felt unfriendly.  It just felt like nature.  This part of the trail felt unfriendly.  Then I started to smell a weird kind of sulphur smell under the urine.  The trail started to feel a bit oppressive.  It was 3:20 and I did not want to be the person who called it quits as that has too often been the role I played in things, but I wasn’t going any further on the trail.

Will and Jen, in the friendly-ish and pretty section of the trail, which is to say we were only getting thorns and mosquitoes drawing blood

I told Will that I was going back.  He went ahead to get Jen, although he loathed separating in a horror movie setting.  He told me to wait where I was and he would be back.  He emphasized that I should not just go back without him.

I am not the most obedient of wives.  The smell of ammonia and sulphur was getting to me, as were the mosquitoes, and I turned and headed back.  I am usually the slowest person in the group, and Will and Jen move with a speed I envy.  I knew they would catch up so I just made sure I was within earshot.  When I stopped being able to hear them, I would wait for a bit.  They did catch up, and, yes, pass me, but I prefer to be passed than to have people waiting on me.  Neither of them seemed upset that I called it quits, which was a relief to me.  The last thing I wanted to do was tell people that I was smelling weird things and the trail seemed somehow to become nefarious and dark.  Because that is crazy talk.  While I am crazy, I do try to keep it to myself as often as possible.  Also, most likely I was just tired and thirsty and thus imagining things.

The milder part of the Cursed “Trail” with Jen leading the way.

The walk back was much, much quicker.  Poor Jen had to cut her scarf in two in order to wrap her ankles which were getting very cut up in the thorny, viney growth we were wading through.  Her white scarf was fairly bloody, once I could see her feet again.  She is a tough cookie, that one.  I would have been whining the whole way, but she just took all these cuts on her legs in stride, so to speak.  Not happy about it, but no whining from her, and her poor legs were pretty cut up – nothing deep or scarring, but definitely painful.

Since most of my clothes are slightly too big for me right now, my shirt had plenty of material for me to wrap it around my head to keep the majority of mosquitoes at bay.  I just pulled stuck my head in the material and looked like a bramble covered, blue habit wearing nun for a while.  Will spotted me and did the same thing and told me I was a genius for thinking of it.  I said that I was merely copying Jen who was clever enough to bring a scarf to tie around her head and ears to thwart the mosquitoes.  I am definitely buying a scarf or two for future use.  I do not look particular wonderful in a scarf, nor am I a hat person, but I think when hiking comfort over looks is the way to go.  Besides, Will tends to think I am cute regardless of what I do.  🙂

I asked Will at one point if we were getting close and he said, “Yeah, we are almost to Camp Crystal Lake.”  I told him he wasn’t funny, but laughed anyway, because yeah, there was definitely potential for a horror movie there.

We finally got back to the car, to the relief of all of us.  Will and I guzzled the water we did bring but were too foolish to take along on the trail with us, shared our water with Jen since we drank all of hers.

Then we drove home a different way since none of us had ever taken that particular route home before.  There were two or three interesting little roads off the road home, and if we were not all so worn out we probably would have explored those roads just to see where they went.  Maybe we weren’t as daunted as we should have been, but hey, no cursed trail can break our collective “Where does this go?” spirit.

Will and I decided in the future that a backpack with water, snacks, and a flame thrower is a must.  Jen decided that Will cannot be trusted with a machete and that anytime the three of us agree that something is a good idea, she isn’t doing it  (“I like the red dress.  You both like it, too?  Ok.  I am getting the blue dress.”) because clearly our collective decision making skills are somewhat lacking.

Later that night, Jen texted me with a map and information about the area where we were.  I started tracking our progress on the hike back to the car (round trip it was 7.8 miles, so 3.9 miles one way) and the map I was looking at basically showed that the trail was 2 miles long.  There was a triangle of trails, one of which went by this creek we wanted to see, but the entire triangle was 6 miles.  Anyway, in the process of perusing these websites (and later Will got on google maps as I have the longitude and latitude of where we went on my phone) Will pointed out this:   “Caution — You may encounter many user-made trails that are not described here — use maps and caution — it’s very easy to get disoriented in the rugged terrain of the Illinois Ozarks.”

Really, you don’t say?  I laughed for a long time at that little caution and the brilliant idea of maps.

So, also in the future, maps.

3 thoughts on “A Cursed Path

  1. I fully enjoyed reading this story, Jay! It’s one of those “look what we got ourselves into this time” tales; I love that you have the pics to go with it, too!

    However, I feel that I should also say that I’m really glad that I’m reading about all this and getting a firsthand account from you on this blog, rather than not hearing anything from you for a few days and then reading a “the bodies of three missing hikers were found today” article in the Southern Illinoisan. Maps, definitely! I vote maps! 😛


    1. Mary,
      No, Will and I always make sure that whatever weird path we travel we know how to retrace our steps. I am someone who gets “lost” frequently, but I always remember how to go back the way I came. Now, if Will was right and it was a horror movie type thing, we could always fall into the Blair Witch trap of walking for days but always being in the same place, but luckily, we avoided the Blair Witch Triangle and thus, made it back ok. Also, we had cell phones with GPS. If nothing else we would have called for help, but calling for help is the last resort of total and complete failure.

      But yes, I see maps in the future…


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