It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, but that wasn’t a bad thing. That’s actually one of the reasons I came. That and also, to conquer a fear deep inside me.
The Godwin Trail is for me a formidable foe. One that can test your sanity, especially if you treat it like a out-and-back trail.
It has been well over fifteen years since I have been here, which seems like an eternity ago. At that time I didn’t even have proper hiking boots. I just hiked in some high-top shoes I wore to work, but after I finished hiking that day, my feet forced me into obtaining proper footwear.
Now, I am back for a second round, but this time it is different. I am here to prove to my 40-year old body, that I still have “it” in me.
My body had taken a beating last year as an incompetent outpatient doctor “poisoned” me with unnecessary prescription drugs. Even now, eight months removed, I still have side-effects that range from insomnia to involuntary muscle twitching.
That day I lost my trust in doctors and in my health, as I disintegrated into a walking zombie. The days were a struggle just going through the motions of life. For months, I tried to function on 2-3 hours of sleep as my body continued to revolt against “The Poison”.
The weight of my backpack is familiar as I hear the sound of the earth reverberate with each footstep.
I have been slowly training my body to function again as a hiker, again. For the last two months my mileage has went from one mile to a consistent seven miles.
My leg muscles are growing and my lungs are expanding, but more importantly mentally I am healing. The thoughts of not being able to go for long hikes dissolved as I plowed my way through winter.
Planning long-term goals returned as nature slowly slipped by as I walked. The person I knew before the incident was returning in a form that I could recognize.
I am heading for the heart of two wilderness areas. My immediate goal is Hutchins Creek, about three miles down the path. Hutchins, in my opinion, is the most scenic creek in all of Southern Illinois. It actually seems out-of-place in Illinois. It’s more like an Missouri Ozark stream without the high-powered springs to feed it.
The trail descends the ridge top and heads toward the valley. Even though the leaves are off, the forest here is thick with briars and branches making it hard to see off to the sides. Stories from the locals seep into my thoughts. Meandering tales of howls, growls, and hisses expand my senses as chirps and squirrel movements are amplified into something more horrific.
Officially cougars/mountain lions do not exist in the Shawnee National Forest and as the trail opens up to the sound of percolating water of the Hutchins my mind is cleared of such thoughts, as I took a break on the creeks rocky banks.
Push Forward – Play it Safe?
A decision had to be made at this point. Should I push forward into the ridge tops of Clear Springs Wilderness or should I turn back the way I came and make it a comfortable six-mile hike?
I am here to physically challenge myself. The temperature is cool and great for hiking. If I do go into Clear Springs I will be confronted with another three miles to Pine Hills Road and then back.
Looking at my watch, I notice time is not a factor in the decision, I have more than enough time to get there and back.
That’s it I’m going.
Walking up a narrow path, I ascend the ridge line and look into the deep ravines off to my sides. The first two miles go by smoothly. Spirits are good and so is my energy, but as my GPS starts to tick over the 6 mile mark, I take out my map and confirm where I am.
The squiggly elevation lines of my map and the digital lines of my GPS indicate I am still a ways off from the trail head at Pine Hills.
I question my motivation and sanity at this point. Why continue on? I should have been to the Pine Hills trail head by now, according to the signage.
I push forward. The scenery all begins to look the same. I continually check my map and GPS. Why, keeps going through my mind. Glimpses of Pine Hills Road, encourage me as I reach the trail head. My watch states 7.14 miles.
I made IT!
Time to Head Back
The sense of accomplishment rushes over me, but now I must do the 7 miles again in reverse.
The trip back is much easier. I know where I’m going and I know how long it will take to get back. I arrive back at the Bald Knob Trailhead, beat, relieved, and just happy.
Happy to know that I am on my way. On my way to feeling better. On my way to LIVING again.
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