Background to this episode is here:
We have been having a peaceful R&R morning in Shawneee State Park, Ohio. It is mid- week, Tuesday, and we are nearly alone. I count just five occupied spaces out of the many in our area.
I take to the asphalt, walking down to the ranger station to square up and ask about hiking in the area. There are park maps pulled out, as I inquire. Not seeing what I am looking for, I mention that we have been a way from eastern forested areas like this and we would like solitude, maybe some meditation.
There is a trail up the road. Suspiciously, it doesn’t sound quite right, but there is little else to go on.
A short trip up the road through the canyon is a boat launch and dam. A lower parking lot is empty. Nobody is around. We get our light gear and follow a sign, walking across the road over to a hole in the foliage. It soon becomes apparent, that this trail is all our own.
Just a few feet in, we confidently strip off. I toss my clothing into the pack and out of the way.
The liberation begins.
Pleasant in this forest, I’m still amazed by the biodiversity. Pair of well-done plaques begin to describe what we are walking into. One has in-depth descriptions of 14 different species of trees. I know Arizona vegetation, but I’m feeling like a duck out of water, overwhelmed by the unfamiliar natural bounty.
The first thing that gets me wide-eyed is that they actually mow the trails here.
It is an old road that leads to the ruins of a cabin and loops around. It is smooth and plain to follow. The grade is easy. I suppose that vegetation takes over fairly quickly. I’m used to wilderness, but this will be a fine secluded natural walk in the park, strolling nude. Still unsure, we dodge anything with three leaves appreciating the mowed trail. Nature is to either side.
We listen to a creek trickle all the way. There are pleasant features, like mossy rocks and water falling into clear ponds. The flow glitters in beams of light, shooting through the canopy from above.
A chimney from a 1790’s farm house is like a monument and difficult to miss. We imagine life’s challenges back then for a family. Here, so long ago, would be Indian wars. The French gone, treaties broken with the natives, a fledgling country was giving little support out here in the wilderness in ill-defined borders.
A plaque tells of planned burns and hillside plows, a must in the narrow canyon with a creek.
I hear the sound of someone, or something making its way down the hill to my right. It is heavy and not surefooted like a deer. We stop look and listen, while we get the cameras out. It continues past us still above. It is not aware of us, it seems, or perhaps it is. I hear it dropping down close to the trail a hundred feet away. It is low to the ground. Could it be a skunk, a small beer? It is too slow for a rabbit. A chubby raccoon passes across the trail. When it gets to the open, it turns and looks our way as if crossing a busy road. Unperturbed, it turns and continues toward the creek.
The trail is crossed by the stream. There is mud across the trail to step around.
From this point it gets steep, heading up the side of the hill. We decide to see what we see and take the high road. The trail quickly becomes much more steep. I wonder what buggy, or wagon used to use it. We begin to feel the exertion in our breathing. There is a determination to keep going.
We want to see what is up there and figure that a hill around here couldn’t be like Arizona, a mile, or two, high mountain. At the top of the third switchback, there is an old disused road running along the ridgeline. We know it to be a loop. Still, there is no sign of any vistas.
I see a rough “has seen better days” path going up the hill, off of the main trail. It may show me the view. I see sky over there lower than the trees.
I make my way on the broken conveyance under a large fallen tree.
It leads to nowhere, but I can see a vista of more green hills through trees. I begin to flash back, this “forest” looks like a South American jungle. The trees, the vines, the sounds of little gnats disturbing the quiet bring memories back.
When we return to the main official trail, we stop and stand to decide which way on the loop that we will choose to go. I feel something on me and look to see a tiny red tick. It is good to be naked. These pests have nowhere to hide. On the other hand, we have been told multiple times about the deer tick scare. Tick problems are something that Arizona hasn’t ever shown us. Very soon, we are finding more and more of these ticks on each other’s bodies. We, find nearly a dozen between us. Some are very tiny like the pin head on a sewing needle. We search each other intimately, where they often take root and probably find them all.
Besides feeling tired, the little problems have put a damper on our hiking attitude. We quickly decide to head back as we came. It may be a good idea to check with the Forest Service office and ask about the truth of this deer tick thing.
After our return to the trailhead, we are across the street in the small park by the visitor’s center. We sit at a picnic table taking off our shoes to go barefoot across the luscious grass lawn. In the process, we pick a couple more creepy red ticks off of our shoes.
We see two trucks in the parking lot with us. A cloud bursts hits, just as we get to the car. Our timing has been perfect.
As we begin to pull off our coverings, a bevel of people, two couples and children come running from the base of the dam/lake to escape the rain and gusts. Their arms are filled with fishing equipment. We watch them pass. They are too occupied to even consider our nudity, or presence.
Anyway, there is something about the way that they dress that clues us that they are not the kind of people who would care. Hard monsoon rains are first warm and then chilly. The group of fisher people and their kids are all deeply soaked. A mother wraps her dreadlocks to cover them. Their clothing hangs wet and sags, clinging to them. We aren’t in concern of cold wet clothing chilling us. We towel off a little. Once again, everything is better without clothes.
It is just before 5pm and I beeline to the Forest Service station. I wrap my kilt around myself under an umbrella in the parking lot to wade to the door. I’m not happy standing in air-conditioning at the desk, but I need some hard facts about those deer ticks.
“Oh no. Those aren’t the deer ticks, those are just ticks.”
I smile, “Okay, just ticks.” A different breed called “Just Ticks.”
I also get a good description of the dangerous critters. The rain drops off to a slight sprinkle as we return to the camp ground. We decide to take a walk along the beach and try the lake. Duck feathers are everywhere, the sand is squishy. We walk the green grass arm in arm under an umbrella. The rain, now sprinkle, drives people away. As the rain stops completely, we wander off the open area. There is nobody but us and no need for coverings.
The rains returned after a quick meal and have continued through the night. The tent is wet as is everything else in this world. Moister has soaked under the tent. Condensation has formed under the blue foam sleeping pads. The soaked front door pad oozes water from constant rain, as I step out onto it. We have to put on rain ponchos to pack up.
We hustle about, folding the wet camping setup. We just throw items into the trunk, before the dry belongings in the trunk get wet. We slosh through jungle mud. It is black and very slippery. This isn’t fun, peaceful, or pleasant. The plastic ponchos do retain some bare body heat.
Finally, I sit into the driver’s seat naked and exhale. We had planned to take our time exploring the Ohio Valley and perhaps another hike, but rain predictions change plans. We find a quick route, and disregard the scenic route, turn up the heater and bake naked skin.
It rains to Columbus. Then Cleveland is still wet and then still Akron.
Tired hungry and disgusted with the day we stop at a cheery sign called “Grandpa’s Cheese Barn.” There is a great deal of fun unhealthy food there, bins of candy and sugared chocolate, but no running water. The toilet broke. After a few hours on the road, relief is only found behind the barn. Out in the country, decisions aren’t made with health officials in mind.
A decision is made to just go it to Buffalo, where DF’s brother is awaiting our visit. I’ve been told that the visit with relatives will curtail our nude activities for a week, or so. I’m already working out wiggle room for that sentence.
The rain stops at the NY border with rainbows and view of the Great Lake Erie. Humidity out on the water oddly makes it look like ships are floating in the sky. Well, we have escaped the poor weather.
The next morning everything is drying out on a lawn and clothes line at bro’s house. There will be no mold and mildew.
Ya know, we’re freaked out, picking imaginary ticks off of us for days afterward.
Skinny-dippin’ in the falls.
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