By Kevin Williams
The idea of disappearing into the wilderness and just being at one with nature has always been vaguely appealing to me. It shouldn’t be totally surprising that a person who’s job is writing about and chronicling Amish culture has a bit of an isolationist streak. There’s just something satisfying about self-sufficiency and today’s 21st century world seems to offer fewer and fewer opportunities for it. And ever since I read Bill Bryson’s wonderfully comic yet poignant memoir, A Walk in the Woods, I’ve thought it’d be such a neat, life-changing challenge to hike the Appalachian Trail. But who has the time for that? One would basically have to put life on hold for six months.
So several weeks ago when my wife told me about the Twin Valley Trail Challenge, I jumped at the chance. It’s hardly the Appalachian Trail, but, unlike the fabled AT, this trail is practically in my backyard. I could at least be a hiker for a day. The TVTC offers a bit of something for everyone. The longest hike is a 41-mile leviathan. Those hikers started out at 5 a.m. The other, more “modest” route was 28 miles, followed by a 20-mile option and numerous other lesser ones. I wasn’t sure which route I’d select. I figured I’d just start and go until my legs told me “no more.” These are not pancake flat trails, by the way. The trails of Twin Creek can be rather rugged with steep grades and challenging switchbacks. It seems, at times, more West Virginia than Ohio. I had hiked over 6 miles of these trails at a time in the past, but I was always a bit tired after those jaunts. Still, I figured if I really pushed myself I’d be able to do at least 10 miles today.
TRAIL SELFIE: Okay, I vowed I wouldn't do it, take a selfie, I don't like selfies, but here's one from the trail at the 5 mile mark.
With the trail staffed by volunteers with water, snacks, and maps, during the TVTC there was no need to strap a big pack on my back. And I had been training for months anyway carrying my 20 pound daughter around. So without her I felt like I was as light as a dandelion seedling blowing along.
The event was advertised as starting between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Just show up whenever during that time, register and start your hike. Rule #1 I learned: arrive early. Especially if you want company. If you want the trails to yourself, come at 9:30.
I arrived at 9:30. The parking lot was full but the registration tent was ghostly empty, save for the volunteers.
“How far are you going to hike?” someone asked me.
“Well, you could go on a little stroll, 1, 2 miles maybe,” the man suggested.
Grrrr, I thought to myself. Do I look like I’m just out for a stroll? Do I look that out of shape?
“Oh, no, I’d like to go at least 10 miles, maybe more, “ I said, perhaps a bit more tersely than I should have.
I signed a waiver, took some maps and began my hike.
The trail was eerily empty, as if no one had hiked this way. A small bunny skittered along the trail with me for a few paces. But otherwise it was pure solitude. I even had to walk through a web a spider had spun across the trail. I wondered how far ahead other hikers must be for a web to have been spun during that time. But I mostly enjoyed the quiet, although I was partly unnerved by it.
The reality is that I’m troubled by the tide of technology that seems to have swept over everything in my lifetime. I’m among the last generation that remembers life before cell phones, the internet, Ipads, instant information and 24/7 connectivity. Yet I also harbor a certain culpability for not taming the tide, I use it too much myself. My phone is like a third limb, from mindless pleasures like Words with Friends to texts and email.
Recently when Aster was napping on my shoulder I found myself desperate for a connection to a book, not my smartphone and its endless supply of instant but often unsatisfying information. So I grabbed the first thing within arm's reach of where I was sitting. It was a novel called Snow Child, I bought it for Rachel last Christmas. A Pulitizer Prize ficton winner, I thirstily drank in the words on the page. The book is about the collision of self-sufficiency and fantasy in the Alaska wilderness. A childless couple make a snowman in their yard on a cold night, actually a
"snow child" who comes to life. Or does she? You'll have to read and decide for yourself.
INHERENT BEAUTY - A cardinal flower blooms along the trail
Yet as much disdain as I feel for technology, I am also a voracious user of it. How does one reconcile this apparent paradox? I pondered this as I walked. But I also grew concerned. I had charged my Iphone all night and yet 3 miles into my hike my battery was drained down to almost 50 percent. I didn’t want to be on this hike checking email, posting selfies or statuses on Facebook, I just wanted to hike. But I did want to be able send a text to Rachel asking how Aster was or to use in the event of an emergency. With half the battery already gone there was no way it would last for the rest of the hike. I cursed myself for being so dependent on the technology, but its the reality.
I sent Rachel the equivalent of an SOS.
“Switching phone to airplane mode to conserve the battery. I’ll turn my phone on in a couple of hours and check-in.”
I remember the days before cell phones when people could be gone all day without checking in, you’d just leave a message on an answering machine.
Meanwhile, I passed crimson-colored cardinal flowers, vivid golden rod, all soaked in a June day with pure sunshine and azure skies. Crisp creeks rippled over smooth rocks carrying their liquid lives to some distant destination. Otherwise not a sound.
I was completely alone.
PART TWO TOMORROW
Nice writing Kevin. Looking forward to tomorrow's installment.
is this trail something formal that one could access at any time or is it something put together just for this event?? any other things to access nearby ?? always curious for family that makes their way back there for vacations to have involvement in things beyond the traditional "covered dish dinners"
Good question, Brenda...yes, the Twin Valley Trail is a permanent trail that can be used and accessed year-round....it truly is a gem! (Other stuff in SW Ohio? There's actually a lot...Dayton is full of aviation history, Kings island amusement park is nearby...Lots of bike trails, more bike trails in the Dayton area than anywhere in the country, I have heard)
Carol Crowe Phillips
I completely agree with you on this. I feel the same way. We are close in age and I think this is part of the tug of war that we feel. We grew up along with all of this technology. So for our childhood and teen year and even our twenties, we did not have a lot of it. To have a video game or a computer (Apple or commodore, etc) was a status symbol and made you the envy of the other kids. I had neither of these. I did have an Atari 260 which I loved. Video games were at the skating rink and the mall and the game rooms and even in the corner of the stores. It was a symbol of our generation and set us apart from our parents. Now that same technology as grown up. We have tiny computers a fraction of the size of those we first learned to use. They are in virtually every home and office. Our phones as teens were attached to a cord (hopefully a long one that we could drag around). Then there were the lucky kids who had their OWN phone. Then came a phone without a cord. We could move around everywhere with this big clunky rectangle held to our ear! And we were really moving up in the world. The first cell phones--that was the absolute most! To drive and talk on the phone without a bag phone. Now our phones can take the place of all these things. The problem is we rely on them. Perhaps we rely on them too much sometimes. If we had car trouble we walked to the nearest house and called someone or asked a neighbor that we probably knew quite well for help. Now we don't even know most of our neighbors. If we left home for a trip, we called when we got there. If we had an answering machine, we could see who had called and left us a message. Otherwise we just had to be there to get the call. I have seen stories recently of people taking a vacation from their phones, computers, etc. I think maybe that can be a good thing. I have family out in MT that go camping and they have to do without because they have no signal. They enjoy this time together and I wish I could do that, too. I did not own a cell until just over a year ago (my husband insisted I get one). I do not use it often. I use it more for music than anything else. I have taken a few pics with it, do not text except when one of my kids texts me and I have to answer them and they are where I cannot call them. I am guilty of relying on my computer for a lot esp. researching literally everything but I do still have my shelves full of books that I would rather use. There just aren't enough books in my house for all subjects though. Where should we draw the line to tame technology? That is a very good and very individual question.
Carol - Good points all (Ah, I had forgotten about the "have your own phone"...you really had "made it" as a teen if you had your own land line...of course that was just as much parents wanting to free up their own house lines)...it is a tough balance...but I am glad we remember those pre-internet days...my daughter will never know them...in SOME ways I think the world was a much better place without, the paradox is that in SOME ways it is also better with it...SIGH...