We were late before we started. The pecking of my wife’s hiking poles on gravel tick-tocked away the time in Silver Falls State Park. We’d chosen to rent a cabin there for a mid-summer’s getaway. Our creaky bodies appreciate day hikes as opposed to backpacking, an activity for which our future is behind us. So, upon arrival in the afternoon, we chose to clip off a portion of the Trail of Ten Falls. The Maple Ridge section heads north under a canopy of deciduous trees and old growth fir.
The time pressure had to do with dinner. The trail began at the South Falls Lodge, a masterpiece of timber and stone constructed by the CCC during The Depression. If we arrived after it closed at 5:00 pm, we’d have to drive 20 miles back to Silverton, OR for dinner. Not. Going. To. Happen.
We began the three mile loop at 3:30 figuring that, even at our age on a strange trail, 90 minutes was a generous amount of time for a three-mile loop. Of course, we didn’t account for dawdling due to admiring the forest’s beauty. At mile post 1.2, the ridge portion made a long descent into the river canyon. At the bottom, we agreed I should push ahead with my longer stride. Of course, again, in the world of hiking, what goes down on a loop trail must eventually go back up. The ascent begins just before Lower South Falls, one of two iconic waterfalls that allow hikers to walk behind a rushing curtain of water.
I rambled along, high on steroids, full of scintillating narratives for books and essays, all of which disappear when the inevitable “roid crash” occurs in the days ahead. At South Falls, I encountered a young family with three pre-teen kids, oblivious to trail etiquette. The two older sisters teased their little brother and blocked the way. I excused myself, and skittered past them with our time constraints in mind.
The Canyon Trail, at this point, makes up much of the elevation loss with a remarkable stone staircase of 185 steps. Halfway to the top, I had to stop, feeling the effects of my age and probably the new meds I’d started earlier in the week. Steroids make me good at Sudoku. Somedays, I can even see into the future. I’m always rewarded with energy. But stamina? Not so much. Nowadays, whenever I go up hill on foot, my body searches for reserves of red cells to deliver oxygen. Basically, though, I’m running on empty. Chronic anemia, related to my cancer, leaves me lacking reinforcements. Soon, the young family was excusing themselves as they climbed, full of air, leaving me gasping on a railing above the canyon. I pretended to take photographs.
Once recovered, I pushed on and arrived at the lodge at 4:57. The snack bar with its delicious menu items remained open. A young man worked the counter. He belonged to a group of Czech students who come to work in American parks during the summer months. I apologized for my late arrival.
He apologized back, with impeccable English, on the shortage of menu items. “I’m sorry, the grill is off, but we can make cold sandwiches.” Perfect. Turkey for me and a vegie on whole wheat for my wife. That and two cold beers, which I asked him not to open until she arrived.
Before long, I heard the clatter of my wife’s hiking poles. She arrived just as the meal was served. We sat at a hightop on the sheltered porch. The shade cooled us. We toasted the trail and returned to our cabin well fed and relaxed.