Freedom’s Just Another Word For, “What The Hell – I Already Look Like A Doofus”



I love to hike.  Scrambling up hill, down dale, fording streams and generally giving Mother Nature a run for her money, I like to think I’m as nimble as a young mountain goat.  Turns out I’m not.

In the natural order of things, right about now those of us in the Midwest would be slipping & sliding on ice, shivering & yearning for the first non-parka day of early spring, which won’t arrive for another month yet.  Instead we’ve got summer.  We had 68 sunny degrees here this weekend, while my kids were shivering in the mid-50s in San Francisco.  Bizarre.  I’m not complaining mind you, but it is none-the-less bizarre.

I woke early on Sunday planning to pack that gift-of-a-day with activities, including a hike in the Great Outdoors and some recreational shopping.  I got to Matthiessen State Park by 10:30 figuring I’d beat the throngs, but it was already too late.   I used to have the place to myself before tourists discovered it a few years ago.  Now the parking lot was full to bursting and they were repelling boarders.  Everyone and their dog had decided to commune with nature.

“Don’t people go to church on Sundays anymore?” I grumbled to myself as I drove through, back out to the highway, and considered plan B.  I didn’t even bother with the main parking lot at Starved Rock State Park– it’s even more popular than Matthiessen. Instead I went to a lesser-known trail on the outskirts on the park, and got one of the last open parking spots in the lot.

I wish everyone would get out and experience the joys of nature.  In theory.  In practice I wish they would wait to experience those joys when I’m not around.  People in general are an annoyance when one is seeking solitary contentment and screaming children are, in particular, a menace to peace. Helpful parenting tip here:  Why not keep your children at home until they are old enough to behave in polite society?  Around age 25 seems about right.

As usual, my first task upon hitting the trail was finding a suitable walking stick.   You never know when you’ll need one to help climb steep trails or ward off unfriendly dogs.  Or children.   Our way-too-early spring thaw drew moisture out of the frozen ground and turned most of the trails to muddy quagmires intersected by spontaneous streams, but I trudged on joyfully, accumulating ½ inch of mud on my shoes every yard, and breathing great, gulping lungsful of the fresh, warm air.

My first major obstacle was a stream that’s a problem in all but the driest times.  It is about 15 feet across, it spans the valley and there’s no way to get around it; the only options are up and over or through.  I wasn’t turning back this soon so I reconnoitered and found 3 likely spots to cross, each fraught with danger.   I chose a jumble of fallen branches and rocks at the far end of the stream up against a canyon wall.  I chose badly.

The walking stick came in handy here and I plunged it into foot-deep water to steady myself as I inched slowly across the 10-inch diameter log which formed most of my bridge.  But it was round and slick with mud and just as I reached the end and was considering which rock or branch to leap onto, gravity had her way with me.

I went over with an undignified flailing of arms.   I’m sure it looked pretty funny, and I would have laughed heartily had it happened to you.  I landed on one foot, teetering and tottering on the rocky, branch-strewn creek bed and managed to stay upright by sheer luck.  I trudged the remainder of the way through the water, through muddy quicksand aggressively trying to keep my aging sneakers, used a low-growing sapling to scramble inelegantly up the opposite bank of slick clay, and stopped to take stock.

My tennies wore mud overboots and the bottom eight inches of my pants were soaking wet.  A quick look around revealed nobody had witnessed my dunking, thankfully, but it’s not as if I could hide the evidence.  One look at the tell-tale ombré of my jeans, light blue at the top blending to indigo at the soaked bottoms, would tell all and sundry of my hiker’s shame.

I didn’t give up then, not precisely, but slow and careful seemed rather pointless.  This was just the first of the many streams I encountered, and I wound up with about a 30% failure rate.  Not impressive.   I wasn’t cold or uncomfortable, just a tad self-conscious.  I squelched when I walked.

On the way back I stopped at a stream I had safely navigated on the way out, and now found a line of people waiting to pick their way across a bridge improvised out of rocks and fallen limbs not big enough to be called trunks.  One young woman, obviously terrified, was moving as tentatively as if she was The Great Santini crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope without a net.

In the immortal words of Janis Joplin, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. “What the hell!” says I to me.  I skipped the line and splashed the 10 feet across the stream. The water was a measly schmeasly inch deep.

I didn’t mind about my wet pants after that.  That last dunking was my choice, and that choosing cancelled out all the inadvertent wettings, at least in my mind.

As I neared the parking lot a crop of fresh hikers came toward me on the trail.  They glanced at me, took in my wet pants and muddied shoes, and hastily averted their eyes.  “So what?”  I silently rebelled.  “At least I put myself out there.  If others think I’m a clumsy doofus, well, to hell with them.  I’ll bet good money more than one of these people will be similarly soaked on the way back.”  I held my head up high as I squelched by the pristine newbies.

I ended up skipping the shopping trip after the hike.  It’s not because I was ashamed of my soaked pants – I wore them proudly.   They were badges of honor.  They bore witness to my determination to get up off the couch, go out in the fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty that is one of God’s greatest accomplishments!

The thing is, I was exhausted.  What with the 5 gallons of water that had soaked into my jeans and 10 extra pounds of mud on each shoe, my little nature hike wound up being a total cardio workout.

About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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43 Responses to Freedom’s Just Another Word For, “What The Hell – I Already Look Like A Doofus”

  1. SickChristine says:

    I love this! Especially this, “I’m sure it looked pretty funny, and I would have laughed heartily had it happened to you.” Best chuckle I’ve had in awhile.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who attempts to be one with nature and ends up on the wrong end of her. Or on my wrong end. Whatever, it’s invigorating and makes me feel like a kid again being able to flounder in the mud (usually because I can’t get up). Good for you, Peg!


  3. I’ve always been jealous of the people that I see with soaked and muddied boots. It makes me think that I’m a wimp for wanting to be dry.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Relieved you survived communing with Mothah Natchah! Next time I’ll go along with you. I should warn you, I’ve been known to trip over a blade of grass. But this will come in handy because I’d probably make a great cushion for your next fall into the mud.


    • pegoleg says:

      I was secretly mortified that I couldn’t navigate 1 out of 3 obstacles without falling on my tuchus. I love to watch that American Ninja Warrior show (which my husband says, every one of those shows looks the same, to which I reply, you mean like ever football, basketball and baseball game I have to sit through with you?) but it’s becoming apparent that I won’t be auditioning for it anytime soon. Meh.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Al says:

    Did not know hiking was a contact sport! Are there teams also?


  6. The weather is wonderful in the northeast too, and I saw my first robin on Sunday. I’m just aching to go hiking in the woods. Responsibilities are keeping me inside and it’s driving me nuts! I would just love to fling open all off the windows and let the smell of the forest into the house, but Mom is always cold, so that cancels that out as well. Maybe I could just open one a crack and stick my nose out…


  7. marymtf says:

    As I read your post,, Peggy, the song ‘don’t fence me in’ invades my consciousness. Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
    Don’t fence me in
    Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
    Don’t fence me in…
    I’m proud to say that I am writing this response curled up in my favourite armchair.


  8. Elyse says:

    Peg, we should hike together. I am not terribly fleet afoot, but usually color my clothing with mud I slip into, rather than water I splash through.

    But I’ve earned. Insteaof finding a stick, I bring my own hiking stick. They are well worth the price, especially since my husband bought them for me. Unfortunately in spite of the fact that I looked up the link for mysticks but I can’t paste it. LL Bean has great sticks. I not only use mine to stay on my feet, but I use the to keep Duncan from eating yucky things or doing other things I frown upon.


    • pegoleg says:

      I’ve thought about that, Elyse. Lots of my fellow hikers are sporting them, but I don’t want to be encumbered or have to worry about losing one. A suitable specimen is almost always to be found within 15 minutes of starting out. Besides, I don’t know if I’ve “earned” a fancy one like you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Elyse says:

        Or maybe you’re not as clumsy as me! That said, I don’t have to ford any streams in my walks, there are always bridges.

        I had my first one for 20 years and always found it when I misplaced it. It wore out — the twisty thing stopped tightening and sometimes I would lean on it and it would get short quite quickly. Wish I had film of that!


  9. Elyse says:

    Learned. I learned. Oy


  10. mellewisblog says:

    Love it! Embrace life!


  11. Having too many people will around will always harsh your buzz. I don’t mind when I’m in Manhattan but, dammit, if I’m one with nature I don’t want to see another soul. Please tell me there’s a film of your flailing arms. Can you get that up on YouTube for us? We went to the Washington Zoo to see Bao Bao the panda before he left for China. 60,000 people had the same idea. The line to see that stupid panda was like a Disney line. People. FEH.


    • pegoleg says:

      I know what you mean. Stupid people.
      Whenever I hear that John Denver song about the Rocky Mountains, I can’t help feeling it’s a tad hypocritical. He complains that’s it such a treasure to people like him who move there in search of a mystical communion with nature, but now their high is being ruined by all the stupid people who are moving there in search of a mystical communion with nature.


  12. I got to enjoy the warm too – I took to the urban streets for a walk.

    In flip flops.
    In February.

    We’re all set here to be brutally slapped in the face with reality tomorrow – the weatherman is predicting temps in the 30’s, and snow this weekend.

    Look on Amazon for walking sticks – the one I have is a an actual wood stick, lovingly smoothed & polished, with a removable rubber-tip covered spike on the business end.

    Rubber for the road, spikes for when you wanna go all muddy.


    • pegoleg says:

      We’re bracing for snow this weekend, too, but in the 70s today. 70s!

      I like the idea of a walking stick with spikes – in case the rambunctious children really get annoying.


  13. List of X says:

    Well, it’s not really being in touch with Mother Nature if you’re only touching her with the soles of your shoes.
    As for children, it may be a courtesy to others to keep kids at home until they’re 25, but since you’re a parent, you know that’s just physically impossible. Instead, if you fall into a stream in full view of a family with kids, just pretend the fall was intended and a lot of fun. Let the parents spend the rest of the trip dragging their kids out of streams, and maybe next time take them somewhere less Mother-Naturely.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I believe this is why they invented Virtual Reality Goggles. May your next hike be Virtual. Get some of the room spray stuff for the fresh pine scent, have a bag of chips by your side to eat or just crumble for the leafy-crunching sound. Let us know how that experience works out for you. 😉


  15. “I wish everyone would get out and experience the joys of nature. In theory. In practice I wish they would wait to experience those joys when I’m not around.”

    Truer words have never been spoken, Peg! A few years ago, I drove out to PA to the beautiful Bushkill Falls State Park. I should say that I assume it was beautiful. I couldn’t get close enough to even hear the falls with all the crowds. The whole time I was thinking, I came here to get away from you people!


    • pegoleg says:

      That’s why I rarely go to Starved Rock once the weather gets warm, unless I can sneak away on a weekday. Too many obnoxious tourists. I have a couple other places I walk, though, that are so undiscovered I’m gripping my pepper spray and walking with one eye over my shoulder because my body wouldn’t be found for a week, if you get my drift. Le sigh.


  16. JM Randolph says:

    I think you’re on to a new exercise trend: mud weight cardio. Add in squelch burpees and people will pay money for that. Also, please don’t make me keep my kids at home until they’re 25. Please.


  17. Dan Antion says:

    At least you were out there and brought us a humorous tale back from the drink. We just barely beat the full parking lot crowd on our hike. You offer sound advice to parents. I hope they listen.


  18. judithhb says:

    How did I miss this Peg? I love the idea of walking out into Nature and glad that when you fell you weren’t injured. Since my adventure last year, I’m particularly careful of where I put my feet so I would not have been a good companion to you on this particular walk. But keep walking where you will and I shall keep walking where there are bridges to cross the streams.


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