Conquering Wildcat Mountain
When I hike, I can really let my mind go. That is such a hard thing to do otherwise. If I am not trying to solve a problem at work or answer someone’s question, I am thinking of things I need to remember to do, planning out my next sewing project, reading a book or scrolling through my phone. Hiking allows me to let it all go. I have to concentrate on where to put my foot so I don’t fall. I work on deep breathing to help me get up the hill.
One morning’s hike was a “simple” 1.3 mile hike straight up Mt. Husag in Wildcat Mountain State Park. We took this hike two years ago, thinking, oh, 1.3 miles is nothing. Nothing that is until you realize the first half is all uphill. While I remembered that, it was still a tough climb made more precarious by a seemingly inability to keep my equilibrium in tact. My balance was not there - possibly because we don’t usually hike in the morning, I’m not sure. As we headed up the steep staircase made of logs, and through the first narrow path on the side of the hill, I questioned my strength and ability to conquer this trail.
The trail winds around the west side of the hill, overlooking the very crooked Kickapoo River. We have kayaked on this river during the previous two summers, it is a shallow, usually clear, gentle, winding river. Viewing it from the hill had me aching for a trip in the kayaks. Soon enough that will come. Back to concentrating on hiking, we stopped at the first clearing - an overhang of rocks into the river. When kayaking, these rock shelves hang over the water providing shade and beauty. With frogs serenading us, the trail continues along the river, then turns to begin the trek up hill. Small switchbacks attempt to provide a lesser incline, but it is still steep. My heart was pounding and my breath shallow as we made our way up.
Watching out for exposed tree roots, we continued our ascent. The forest, bare of leaves now, is dense as the moss growing on rocks confirms. The temperature was cooler at the bottom, but the wind continued to provide a welcome breeze. We finally reached the narrow path at the peak and made our way to a natural platform, surrounded by handmade wooden rails for safety, that overlooks the countryside in three directions.
Way below us the river meandered in and out. Rolling farmlands dotted the surrounding riverbanks, and hills on the horizon faded into the sky. The wind blew stronger through the trees. After a stop to drink in the views, we headed back down the other side. This is no where near the size of mountains hikers conquer, but for me, it was more the mental freedom I felt when I reached the top - I had conquered the clutter in my mind and let it go.
While trees provided us a place to grab and pull ourselves along as we went up the mountain, they also provided something for us to grab and stop from falling on the way down the other side. Still steep. Still narrow. Packed mud slippery from the dew meant slow steps in some places. A rock outcropping made a natural bench to rest on. Near the bottom, we passed a second babbling stream turned mini-waterfall. It’s soothing movement a treasure to hear. We went down the same steps we started on and returned to the river bank.
Soon. Soon we will be on that river. Summer will bring warm temperatures, and sparkling clear water once the spring rains are gone. In the meantime, another exhilarating, successful hike is on the books and one part of Wildcat Mountain has been tamed for the time being.