Trail Headquarters at Bear Wallow is the center of several hiking trails administered by Ken Tuxhorn, who laid out most of these famous Indiana trails in 1949. This is his sixtieth year in operation. He has the record of every hiker who has ever done one of his trails. I last hiked the American Heritage Trail with my son, back when he was eleven. That was 22 years ago. I'm sure he has my name on a card in his file boxes somewhere, along with others showing me hiking as a boy and as a Scout leader in other units.
The American Heritage Trail is a step or two over twelve miles long. There is no map for this trail, but the trail is well-marked with blazes and signs. Along the way are several orange code boxes. As the group discovers these boxes, they write down the simple letter-to-number codes inside, which then enables the group to decode a famous saying by a great American. This, plus Mr. Tuxhorn's questioning after the hike, enable him to certify that each Scout did, in fact, complete the hike. Shortcuts are not done.
Orientation takes a while. You can't hurry Mr. Tuxhorn. Finally, we got off on the trail about quarter after nine. It was the most butt-busting hike we've done since starting this adventure. It felt like twelve miles of going uphill, both ways (that's Brown County for you). We finally dragged ourselves in eight and a half hours later.
Debriefing takes even longer than Orientation. Mr. Tuxhorn finances Trail HQ through the sale of trail medals and patches, and he has to explain every one of those on offer (and some that aren't, any longer) before he allows the hikers to buy their souvenirs. After we finally got away from Bear Wallow, we drove in the rain to the Bloomington Armory and joined the rest of the Troop at their annual overnight Lock-in. (I went on home after pizza and finished my sermon for the morning.)
It was actually a quite nice day. It rained on us a little bit now and then, which caused us to keep putting on, then taking off, our raingear. Spring was getting a move-on (finally), and there were lots of daffodils and forsythia in bloom. We saw a woodpecker, lots of squirrels, four whitetail deer, a rabbit or two, and (on the drive over) a big ol' Tom turkey. We passed a firetower and a water tower, a private lake, and lots and lots and lots of hills. Still, the woods were lovely and the company, congenial.
Pictures are posted, below. A rant is included below the cut after the pix.
Click on a pic to enlarge.
The one thing that really irked me on this trail was the use of cell phones to intrude upon our hike. I had my cell phone with me, in a pocket of my pack -- turned OFF. I carry it in case of emergency, and I've had to use it for that, before. But there is no emergency, however dire, that I need to hear about from others while I'm out hiking. After all, it's not like I can drop everything and get back any faster. My own two feet have got to get me back to civilization, anyway -- and the same goes for everyone else out on the trail.
People who think they just must call us while we're out hiking or camping -- for whatever reason -- are merely showing that they are impatient, immature, or ill-mannered, or maybe all three. As soon as we got back to Trail HQ, I turned my phone on. Late as we were, I figured I'd have at least one VoiceMail asking me to call back, and I did. I would have had the boys call in and update parents at this point, anyway.
This is not just my special quirk. I wish I could get people to understand that the point of hiking or other outdoor activity is not just to fill in time or tick off requirements. While we are out in the woods, we are in a special, cloistered situation. We are all there for each other, as well as for the experience we're having. We talk to each other while we walk along. About everything. It's Quality Time™ spent with kids. And for me, it's ministry. We're all out here, with God calling the tune, and I'm trying to be open to whatever God wants me to hear from these boys -- or to whatever he wants me to say to one of them. People who cannot control their buttinski ways and keep wanting to call us -- or have us call them back -- are a gigantic pain in the gluteals. It's a distraction. And it's rude.