Monday, August 19, 2013

Further Thoughts on Hawk Hill at Forest Glen

It's not the longest incline I've ever walked. It's not the steepest, and certainly isn't the worst footing, or most dangerous incline. Heck, it isn't even the highest or steepest climb at Forest Glen. All of that given, why does Hawk Hill (a.k.a. the path to the Vermilion River and the tower), give me such fits?

I've written about this little trail before, and how it humbled me after a few hikes which had given me confidence in my abilities. With even more distance, I continue to take a positive outlook, and have accepted that what's more important is getting to the top of that hill, even if it takes one (or more) stops to get there.

In fact, I've reached a point where no uphill climb really worries me these days. I just stick to a planned number of steps, take a break to catch my breath, and repeat until I get where I'm going. I wouldn't go far as to say I enjoy going up, but I certainly don't hate it as much as I used to*.

For years I've wondered why that short stretch of trail bothers me so much. It's not the length, as it is less than a quarter mile from the bottom near the river to the observation tower, which is at the end of the tough part. It's not necessarily the height, which foot for foot isn't any steeper (and actually less steep) than the 600 feet in .5 mile at Clingman's Dome, or the stairs at Amicalola. Sure, it's damn steep for Illinois, and is one of the worse inclines at Forest Glen. However, there are worse inclines there***, and a similar incline on Tall Tree Trail isn't nearly as awful to walk up. The mystery continued to elude me.

Then one day it hit me. The reason the trail is so damn difficult is because it is deceptive. I see it's short, and know I've walked worse hills. However, because those steeper walks were also longer, I go into it with more realistic expectations. As such, I pace myself so I don't overdo it. Plus, on those longer treks I can't see the end of my hike, at least not until towards the end. Other than maybe on the curve at the beginning, I can see the end of steep part of the Hawk Hill trail the entire way. What's more, the steepest part is at the beginning, so that the less steep part is what I see. Thus, my eyes tell my brain "it's OK, this isn't too bad", while my legs are saying otherwise. Not only does it cause me confusion and frustration while hiking, it sticks in my memory, making me less likely to want to walk it, at least temporarily.

So why do I still do it? I suppose part of it is to test my progress. I haven't walked it in a while, but I figure the next time I am down in the area near Forest Glen, I probably will make that walk. I like walking down to the Vermilion River and watching it flow towards the Wabash. It's the best way to get to the Hickory Ridge trail, one of the least accessible trails in the park. Finally, I walk it because it's there.

As my hiking training plan continues, I hope to take this trail in stride one day. People in much better shape than I can attest to its difficulty, although they do it while not having to stop even once. I'm sure I'll get there some day. But even if I always have to stop, just being out there walking through nature is reason enough to do it. Even if I'm red faced and out of breath when I get to the tower.

*On the other hand, I've come to hate steep downhills. Stopping going up solves a lot of the uphill problems (i.e. being out of breath), and my trekking poles help with the strain on the knees and back. Taking a break going down does little (and might actually make it worse, depending where you stop), and I've yet to really get a feel for using my poles going down.
**Almost exclusively on the River Ridge Backpack Trail, although a couple on Big Woods are pretty strenuous.
***I always take a break by the bench which unofficially marks the point where the hardest part ends, and becomes a bit easier.

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