“It made me want to cry,” my sister said afterward, only half joking.
The first few miles were invigorating. Wide frosty grass paths with plenty of ups and downs but not much to trip you up, as state park trails go. When we crossed the Gatehouse road from one side of the park to the other, we figured we were about half way done. But looking back, that’s when the banjo music started and our descent into an infinite, circuitous tour of a watery hell began.
The trail that had been so well marked with pink and green flags earlier got more confusing. I took a spill, got up covered in mud, and we blundered off into a dead end. A blissful reprieve on a dirt road that took us past a restroom only momentarily raised our flagging spirits as we circled lake after lake without ever catching sight of THE LAKE that marked both the start and finish.
After a treacherous trek over a narrow muddy path in and out of a series of ravines that threatened to send us tumbling with every step, we finally got a glimpse of our ultimate destination, Sand Lake. But then the trail cruelly spun us off in another direction, spiraling farther and farther away and then, even more cruelly, forcing us back into the north side of the park.
“It can’t be that much farther,” I said. But it was. At one point the pink flags went off in both directions at once, indicating we’d need to make a circle and come back. We anticipated a small loop. But no. There was yet another lake to be circled.
This was the low point. But coming off the lake afterward became the high point, because a short while later we realized we’d been much closer to Sand Lake than we’d realized. The end was in sight.
So, do I exaggerate a bit on the difficulty of the second part of this course? No question. Tackling a new trail is much more intimidating than a road course, because you can’t see what lies ahead until you get there. It helps to get to know the lay of the land, as we’ve done on our “home” course at Ouabache State Park. That trail once seemed endless and intimidating, too.
This one run-through is all we’ll likely have time for, but we’re so glad we did. We’re not going to remember every hill or swamp, but at least it won’t be so intimidating next time.
As we were packing up on Sunday, we were already breaking the 15-mile loop up into segments that felt equivalent to (albeit tougher than) one of our 5.6 mile loops at home. And as for those hills? Next time we’re just going to walk ‘em all to save energy.