Young Atlas on the Brice Creek Trail

Remember that time when my family went on a hike through private property to a bone-filled shack? Oh yeah, it was only a couple days ago. Today, my dad was planning a hike through a knee-deep swamp.

I spent last night gnawing my fingernails and searching for an alternative- any alternative- to the journey. If we found bones in the shack, we would probably discover a cadaver floating in the swamp, and I couldn’t imagine what my sister Emma’s reaction would be then.

That’s when I realized that I’ve almost completely transformed into a City Person. I know restaurants, I know cafes, but my outdoorsy electives have dwindled since my Boy Scout days.

Luckily, I know someone who would probably live the Walden life if she could. Her name is Kelsey Ivey, she writes the Joyful Shoehorn, and I last saw her at the Coburg Christmas Light Battle of 2011. On the ride there, she told me about her new and improved bucket list, which is chock full of ideas for rugged voyages.

That’s how I happened upon a post recounting a pleasant hike to waterfalls near Cottage Grove, ending with a cliffhanger involving a broken-down car (in classic Shoehorn style).



I didn’t realize how closely our journey would mirror that of Kelsey’s until I saw this notice posted in the parking lot of the Brice Creek Falls trail head. The Shoehorners spotted some people panning for gold in the area during their hike in July. Could the plea, dated less than a month later, be from the same folks?

Maybe little Lisa Mae and Bobby Joe Jr. were playing Frisbee with the pans when they done throwed them in the crik. It seemed like a bad omen. On a different note, don’t you love the handwriting?


… asymmetrical, rough, slanted…

The next step of our very Shoehorn adventure was to take the wrong path, which I accomplished despite the fact that Kelsey included a warning in her post. We walked for quite a while before my dad realized the mistake, but it was all right because it gave me time to ponder the art (or craft?) of trail construction.

The trail is like a loose, winding string pinned down by points of great tension. “When can I evade an obstacle, and when must I meet the bedrock in battle?” asks the trail builder, knowing that it’ll be a losing fight.

The builder’s weapons are shovels and saws, extruding bolts and rough wood, extreme caution and an ability to carefully direct the flow of crushing kinetic energy. Despite these tools, the human effort is quickly rendered uneven, asymmetrical, rough, jagged, slanted and warped.


Even dynamite won’t ensure an ultimate human victory. A curve in the trail exposed a mangled rock face whose spikes and fractures looked horribly violent. The little brown trail winding below had momentarily won, but it was clearly no match for several precarious boulders waiting for gravity to tip the odds.


When we finally reached the falls, we found the casualties of a more recent fight between nature and humankind. A tangle of logs had been cut from the rocks and deposited in the calm water near the shore. It’s done to prevent stupid people from climbing over the falls, but it made me wonder once again why we try so hard when we know we’ll be thwarted again and again. I suppose it’s all a lesson in humility.

On the way home, I hoped upon hope that our car’s engine would hold out… and it did. No cliffhanger here! Thanks for the adventure, Kelsey.

BONUS PICS: Here’s a photo of a tag I found near the falls (extra credit if you can figure out what it says), and here are some more shots of bulging bolts and creaking bridges.


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