We were headed to our favorite park to attempt a four mile loop my wife and I had formulated by connecting various other hikes, trying to tie them together like a kid building tracks for a train set. Eerie Live Oaks, creek beds, bluffs and steep grade hills, were all on the list. Underpasses and private land would be a challenge, but what’s a hike without an impasse?
We started off at our normal trailhead, the Mary Seawright homestead, and headed into a haunted house of a woods. Half of the reason I bring my hiking stick is just for the webs. Only visible at a certain angle of light, I always manage to step through countless numbers of these beaded strings like a monster from ‘Aliens’ pressing his face through slime. I could just picture a giant spider camouflaged in the trees above, waiting for fatboy to trip into a milky web.
We crossed the dam by the pink bench and skirted the big loop in the middle of the park. I had as our first point of interest the limestone bluffs over Slaughter Creek. Before we got there we passed an overgrown Live Oak with vines climbing over the trunk and branches, covering the tree like a robe. I told my wife that we should start marking waypoints on our hike, and name them. It would be fun for us and a great way to get our bearings.
I said the tree looked like a Wooly Mammoth, but they didn’t agree. My son condescendingly shot it down. (What else is new?) My wife, on the other hand, thought it looked like a Weeping Willow. So, she called this waypoint, ‘Patsy Cline.’ Patsy Cline it was. As payback, my son got to hear me croon “Crazy” for a mile to the creek, and he was not impressed.
When we made it to the end of the equestrian trail, we reached the bluffs. Now, it’s just 30 feet up, but, hell, a vista is a vista in city limits. We had spectacular views of the rockbed and all of its cavities and pools of shallow water. It looked like a lunar surface. We called this waypoint ‘Fraggle Rock.’ The banks are lined with 40 foot Maples, shimmering with leaves, and Jurassic elms bending over the water, as tall as coconut trees.
We found a fissure of rock to climb down (‘Cozy Cavern’), and explored the cliffs by the black glass creek and an area by a cowbell-swing that marked a secret trail entrance. After my son swung back and forth over the brook, I headed up that trail to scout it out for passage. As I hiked in, I wondered to myself whether a giant spider was looking down at me, rubbing its fangs and legs together, waiting to puncture my fat flesh to roll me up in thread like a spindle wheel. Eek!
I walked up the path and was happy to see passage to another trail, the very trail we needed to get to the other side of the highway. My wife and son followed and we entered an entirely different ecosystem. We were on the Moon. Now we were in jungle. The trees were older, at
least 150 years old, and overgrowth was everywhere. I was waiting for a pack of velociraptors to speed across the forest, stop, look back at me, shriek into the air, and continue on to their hunting grounds.
We hiked up to the underpass. I was hoping there was a reasonable passage underneath, but I was wrong. We were going to have to get on all fours and crawl under two separate bridges. I bear-crawled first, and the dirt on my hands felt like cement dust. I also wasn’t sure if we were going to intrude on a homeless camp. But this is part of hiking, right?
We made it to the other side and crawled out of a graffiti hole and onto the cliff rock on the other side. We dusted off like coal miners, and I hiked down to scout the trail. I saw a fence spray painted purple, so I led us away and down to the creekbed to avoid private property. After portaging, so to speak, we crossed over high grass and thorny vines onto a trail my wife and I had already hiked before. Glad we had the data from that hike on our Garmin, or we wouldn’t have attempted the tall grass crossing.
My son was starting to fade. I guess that PS4 only helps with thumb-conditioning, so we found a spot by the water for some respite, and had some grapes and oranges. My son was so tired he was talking with just one eye open. But house quarantine makes you tired in a different way, I said, so, “This is better.” He gave me the sarcastic thumbs-up.
I’m sure as he gets older, that finger selection will change.
We hiked right by the creek, but I could see the roof of a shopping center nearby. It’s always hard to reconcile the encroachment of civilization upon a greenbelt in Austin. It makes me uncomfortable, and sad, but Austin can pull it off, like a meme performer that dresses up like a bride on one side, and a groom on the other.
We carried on and headed for the next underpass further down South, and I tried to forget about parking lots and retail stores. I slowed my pace and noticed we were walking on ground completely covered with shingles. What? And just ahead, right by the edge of a cliff, a memorial: a sheet music holder with the stand removed, stuck in the ground with ‘R.I.P.’ written on the board along with a name. Behind it was a 20 foot drop down to the creek.
As we were looking around, I noticed a fisherman that I had seen earlier on the hike, heading our way. Weird, weird vibes. His body language seemed to tell me that he wanted our spot. He wouldn’t look at me, so I did it for him.
“Did you need to get by us?,” I said.
He mumbled a ‘no,’ and kept looking down the overhang, waddling closer and closer to us. He wouldn’t look at me. I saw another man down by the water fishing, so I thought he was probably just looking down for his friend. But I was annoyed. Eye contact and greetings are a form of ‘I’m Ok, you’re Ok,’ and anything else is annoying to say the least, and suspicious at the worst. If you can’t give me those basic gestures, as a man with a family, I’m going to entertain every scenario in my mind. Oh well, go catch you some fish and a few soft skills while you’re at it, young man.
We made it to the underpass and explored a few trails nearby before we re-entered Seawright proper. We added a few waypoints like, ‘Greyskull,’ a foreboding oak tree with knuckled boughs, ‘Chalkboard Rock,’ a limestone wall of powdery white rock overlooking a brass creek, and we finished up at ‘Purple Graffiti,’ an abandoned firepit by the underpass wall. I can’t tell you how much I love these underpasses by the greenbelt. It’s one place I don’t mind nature and engineering coming together. I can admire them both. I think we all feel the same when we stand before colossal manmade works, towering before us like monuments. I took off my cap and whistled in astonishment.
We decided to head back into the park but we had to hike past the most putrid spot of the Nichols Branch crossing. I don’t know what was going on with the water there, but it smelled like methane and sulfur coming out of the bowels of the earth. It reached all the way up to my frontal cortex with a pair of birth forceps. My wife darted out like a roadrunner, and we weren’t far behind.
We finally made it to my favorite section. The hills. Steep climbs. Steep declines. On three or four consecutive hills. We saw a kid on his bike one time dive straight down one of them like it was the X games. Easy money.
My wife prefers to run down these hills rather than waste time looking for sure footing. Always a hoot to watch her take a couple steps, decide to run, and launch down every one of them like one of the Ingalls girls. Sure hope you don’t fall, girl!
After the hills, we reached my son’s recently discovered climbing tree. He gave it a go, but I didn’t feel as confident as last time, knowing how tired he was. But he proved me wrong and stood on top, like John Wayne looking over raw country. I knew he was spent so I convened a carb snack break, and we laid out that pink blanket, nibbling down on our granola bars like chipmunks. After chugging down all of my Camelbak water, he laid back on the rock, beat. I smiled with satisfaction. It’s good to wear him out for a change.
We ended our loop at about 7 o’clock, when the deer come out with their silver and blue eyes, jumping through the woods like minnows in a stream. The glow of fireflies would soon follow.
We put on our headlamps and walked out of the park to the car, tired, but satisfied. We threw everything in the trunk, buckled up, and drove out of the parking lot, past deer grazing on grass, back onto the streets of the city.