Sunday, February 2, 2014

The View

"Let's hike at Castlewood State Park at 2 p.m. Sunday," said the hiking group. When I got to the park, a former resort for the swells of old St. Louis, I saw that everyone on the planet had the same idea. Castlewood has three parking lots. They were all filled. I drove around for 10 minutes, more slowly than the pedestrians walking their dogs, enjoying the 58-degree winter sunshine, sporting shades and shorts (always, someone prematurely wears shorts because it's very important to identify oneself on all possible occasions as a party animal). I gave up and was backing out -- couldn't hike if I couldn't park -- when I found and seized a spot. Children ran around. Cars nosed along the road in a long slow line. Bikers and cyclists powered through. A woman fished in the little creek. The park was crowded and we -- 20 hikers -- were only making it worse.

The trail we chose had been churned into mud by other hikers and big dogs and off-road bicycles. Almost nothing is more slippery than mud except for the watery ice we encountered on the next section of our trail. Traction was impossible. Some hikers turned back. Leaning on my hiking poles I bypassed this through a netting of brush. When regrouped, we took an alternate trail known to be rocky rather than muddy. Then approaching the cliff top we met with, like, a runway of mud again, and dozens upon dozens of people and dogs enjoying, in the rare sunshine, the view of the Meramec River. The way back down was a wooden staircase, thank God, but the path along the riverbank was muddy. At least it was level. We got our hike in, and the bluff-top view that the swells of old St. Louis thought would be forever theirs alone.

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