After a hot and humid August I have been itching to get back on the trail, but the weather has not made for a comfortable hike, especially given the ticks and chiggers that afflict the trails I like best in southeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas. So for the past several weekends I’ve made long loops on the Pathfinder Parkway in the cooler morning air, biding my time for a hike along a more natural trail. Finally today I got up early, had a big breakfast at the Boulevard Diner, and headed north to Elk City, Kansas.
Six months ago I hiked the Elk River Trail between Elk City and Independence. I made three in-and-out day hikes, one from the west end, one from the east, and one in the middle to complete the 15-mile trail. Recalling the numerous ticks I picked up on the trails around Elk City Lake on my past excursions, today I wore long hiking pants and thoroughly soaked my boots, socks, and pant cuffs with Cutter insect repellent. I was delighted to finally find some Cutter spray at our Kmart awhile back, since it doesn’t stink like Deep Woods Off and also seems more effective.
Parking at the western trail head, I admired some purple thistle pines and then headed onward, finding the trail repeatedly crossed by immense spider webs. I quickly picked up a long tree branch and spent the remainder of the hike sweeping it back and forth in front of me to help clear the numerous webs. That combined with the high humidity and rising heat would quickly sap my energy.
I enjoyed a view of the river now and then, and the pattern of the morning sunlight on the eroded bluffs. But after a couple of miles my hand began to ache from swishing the branch back and forth and I could feel a blister forming. My forearms, glistening with sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, trailed numerous spider threads. When I reached a steep and slick waterway that would be a difficult crossing, I decided I’d had quite enough, thank you, and headed back. That was a wise decision, for a bit later I left the trail to get a better view of the river and found myself stumbling and crashing to the ground. Not yet recognizing how careless I’d become, I would later try going off trail uphill to see atop one of the many rock walls in the area. Again I slipped and found myself sliding downhill on my posterior for a few feet.
Chastened, I paid more attention from there onward and stuck to the trail back to the car. As soon as I caught sight of the trailhead, I celebrated by flinging my web-clearing branch as high and far as I could into the brush. I’m still eager for some long day hikes this autumn, but tomorrow, instead of fighting spiderwebs along a trail, I’m grabbing my life jacket to meet some friends at Copan Lake and go float in the cool, cool water.