I’m pretty sure I ate one. I mean, it’s not out of the question. I don’t know if it’s because it’s 2021, or because we are in a plague, but there are thousands of silk worms hanging from trees like hooked bait squirming on fishing lines. It always happens, too, when I’m in the middle of a ‘moment.’ A fly orbits my face when I finally reach an overlook. Or I step off-trail for the perfect photo of a redbird and walk through an invisible spider web like a tongue pushing through bubblegum, stretching it out, trying to tear it off of my skin, only to watch the cardinal flutter away. And in this case, I walked into a creek bed to better admire a cliff face, and like a mouth-breathing FROG, I stepped right into a wide-open bite of a creepy-crawly that was now fighting for its life in the back of my esophagus. Prime the Camelbak, swallow, and charge it to tha game. (After my wife asked if I was ok and turned back around, I secretly touched my Adam’s apple so I could overthink everything and fake-cough, pretending not to worry. “I’m fine, right?”)
We were on our way to find a stretch of the Greenbelt I’ve never set foot on. It’s a small clearing of land on top of a hill with red dirt, almost like clay. I can see it from my motorcycle when I’m riding on the Mopac bridge over Twin Falls. It looks like it has a great view, and possibly a trail that leads up to it. But how to get there. It was time for a little Hike & Go Seek, and I needed to hurry and come up with our itinerary quickly, because my wife was threatening to pour herself a glass of wine.
We were in familiar territory: The beautiful Violet Crown Trail at the 290 trailhead. Truly one of the most beautiful descents into a greenbelt, if not the loveliest, in all of Austin. I love the switchback over the jagged rocks winding down to the valley floor, my version of a staircase down to a grand ballroom. We started late, so we got there right on time for the golden hour’s play of light over the treetops, the sunlight passing through the leaves of Cedar Elms in the ravine. I was right where I wanted to be, and I was in a good mood.
We arrived at the flat section of the trail, and I noticed the cliff walls were glowing. The sun lit up the cliffs revealing all manner of chiseled lines and grottos, stained black in spots, not unlike the smoke marks of chimney flues. Mosquitoes and gnats scribbled in the air, and we swatted them away. I looked over to my right and saw what could go for a dining table for cavemen, set with plates, and an enormous ‘chia pet’ boulder, at least two thousand pounds, covered with the leaves and red flowers of Cedar Sage. We stepped back onto the trail and I coughed, my hand on my Adam’s apple, biting down on my Camelbak valve.
This section wasn’t as lush as I thought it would be for a Spring bloom, but the Violet Crown Trail has always been under a canopy, a canopy of trees hanging over the trail like a line of patio umbrellas in a café. Which is why it’s the best place for shade, and hiking in the summer.
We reached a fork in the trail, and went left to see the clay ‘pot’ cave along the cliffs. I’ve been up there a few times, and if it’s muddy, it is a gnarly climb into its recess. We also passed the trail that led to Twin Falls on the left, and finally reached the dry creek bed. The crossing was full of stones like a caliche road. There was a tree in front of us, with roots exposed, and it looked like a seal coming out of the water, in agony. We looked at the MoPac bridge to our left, and crossed the rocks under our shoes, shifting, crunching, making us slide, off-balance. I stayed left and found a staircase of tree roots ‘slithering’ in clay dirt. We climbed to the top and saw the sun setting over the two bridges. One bridge bone-white, the other striped green. Hugging the edge of the cliff, we made it to a clearing, and I knew we had made it. The miner had found his gold. I leaned on my staff, well-pleased, and looked below. Quite a drop. I looked to the horizon, the toil always worth the view.
We followed the green concrete to the end and found the access to the MoPac Pedestrian and Mobility Bridge. TXDOT and the City of Austin worked together to build this bridge in June of 2017. Price tag: $14.5 million. They built this monument to encourage people to cycle to work downtown. Shortly thereafter, they monitored cycling traffic and found that only 3 cyclists per hour crossed the bridge. A lot of people weren’t very happy about this expenditure. Oh well, I was gonna use it; use it like a Jedi strolling around Naboo. As we started to cross, I noticed a young couple to my right, walking hand-in-hand past us, one carrying a bottle of Sriracha, and the other, (get this), carrying a large pan of stir-fry by the handle. The aroma followed them. They proceeded to stand by a balustrade, front pelvis to front pelvis, feeding each other hand to mouth from their pan of food. No silverware, nada. Just nom nom kissy kissy. They’re lucky there were no tortillas lying around or I would have dipped out a scoop myself. Tortillas are my kissy kissy nom noms.
The farther I walked across the bridge, the more I realized I was high. Very high. ( LOL I know it’s 4/20, but not that ‘high’). When I looked up, It occurred to me that I could reasonably hi-five a motorist travelling on MoPac. After looking down, I knew why. I was almost 7 stories up. I got stiff and slowed my pace. Real stiff. My wife, on the other hand, was literally hanging over the balustrade like a baby trying to climb over a crib. She was on her tippy-toes trying to take pictures. She was obsessed with a floating piece of paper rocking back and forth in the air as it fell down to the ground. She was also trying to take a picture of a cowboy hat she saw lodged at the top of a tree. I felt like I was fighting 3 g’s in a F-16 just walking in a straight path down the middle. I couldn’t get off that bridge fast enough.
We turned around at the end of the sidewalk and enjoyed the view of the greenbelt alongside MoPac. The Austonian skyscraper in the distance glistened in the sun like a flash of red lightning. We continued down to the Gaines Ranch area and bushwhacked back into the woods. Last light was fading. We’d never been in this section, and we scrambled down slippery leaves and stumps of rocks down the side of a hill. My wife’s Gaia app said we were near a trail we’ve traversed before, so we carried on. We found a proper trail, but then, out of nowhere, we passed a bicycle chained to a tree. I then almost got clotheslined by steel cables tied to trees. I saw clothes hanging on the cables ahead of me. We passed a portable toilet with a freshly dug hole in the ground beneath it, and then, in the darkness, we could make out an army tent, the flaps open and whipping in the wind. Hanging cookware jangled on a wire. I knew someone was waiting, watching me from the shadows inside. I did my best to make out a trail with the lack of light, but it seemed like it was going directly to the front of the tent just like a board game. Head back? or find a way around this abode? I could feel his eyes on me. But I couldn’t see anything. I wanted him to come out so I could tell him, “Hey man, once we can find the trail down, we’ll be out of your hair.” But all I could hear were those pots jangling like wind chimes and the tent flaps gently blowing open, and closing again. I sensed a darker shadow behind the darkness inside the tent. We were getting closer and closer to the front of his tent when we both noticed erosion logs to our left. We sighed, hiked down, and got outta Dodge. We were at the bottom of the ravine. I told her to check that Gaia app real good, because we were deep in it. All the way in it. Like she always does, she checked her ‘radar,’ charted a course, and after a rock-scramble and a few branch-lashings, we made it to the trail.
I swallowed a worm today. Walked across a 14 million dollar skywalk over the Greenbelt, and stumbled into a homeless camp in the woods, at night. 4/20? Maybe so. But I settled for a beer at home that I never opened, and fell asleep.
See you on the trail.