Use Sunday to rest, not hike

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

When I hear "nature trail," I think of gravel or bark paths through the woods, mostly flat and clearly marked for visitors with interpretative plaques to identify flora or fauna.

On the ideal nature trail for this plus-sized girl, one could wear and business suit and pumps and complete the route ready to go to the office.

I do not think of 50 percent grades, steep drops and constant brushes with poison ivy.

So that's probably why I blurted out two Sundays ago, "Hey! Let's go hiking at Trail of Tears." My big mouth ruined a typical, perfect Sunday of two newspapers, "Trading Spaces" reruns, pizza delivery and four jumbo loads of laundry.

The Other Half quickly acquiesced. He's willing to do anything that forces me off the couch and allows him to try the newest techniques revealed in his Runner's World magazine. When the first pair of anti-chafing, Spandex shorts showed up in the laundry last year, I knew that magazine had gone straight to his head.

We traveled north on Highway 177 and followed the arrowhead into the park, where we picked up a handy guide to the trails.

In all fairness, there is an easy trail like the one I described located right behind the visitors center.

But after several months of "Eight Minutes in the Morning" with my secret boyfriend Jorge Cruise -- who still refuses to return my heartfelt e-mails -- I felt I was ready to take on something a little more challenging. We took off for the three-mile hike that promised views of the Mississippi River.

Of the three miles, roughly 10 feet are level. The rest is either up, which meant gasping for air while trying to ignore the burning in my glutes, or down, which meant grabbing onto trees for support while trying to ignore the aching in my toes and ankles. As an added bonus, the trail is about half as narrow as one of my thighs, with "leaves of three, don't touch me" on either side.

I pressed onward and upward, pretending to admire some wildlife here and there as an excuse to stop moving.

But almost halfway through, when it was too late to turn back, I couldn't pretend to be a mere nature lover anymore. I was whipped. I beckoned to Mr. Half.

"Sweetie," I said. "I might not make it. If something happens to me and you have to go for help, be sure to tell the rescuers my actual size and weight. I don't want you and some other skinny guy trying to carry me out of here. I want a stretcher and a helicopter."

A few yards later, it got worse. A couple carrying two beautiful children on their backs passed me. They didn't appear to be sweating or breathing heavily.

"Hello!" they said cheerfully. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

I was leaning against a tree trunk and panting. I didn't even have enough strength left to muster up an obscene hand gesture. I'd consumed all my bottled water and half of Mr. Half's, and defeat seemed imminent.

But then, there it was: the mighty Mississippi, calmly gurgling past. I forgot about the helicopter and the poison ivy and the smiling couple and thought about how amazing it was that I got this much mass up that much of an incline, allowing me to see this gorgeous piece of our nation.

And something amazing happened. After a few long breaks, I actually trotted much of the way back to the car. TROTTED, I tell you.

Frankly, much of the motivation was another couple with some kids coming up behind me and my refusal to get passed again. Petty, but that's me.

It took me an hour and a half and probably blew the rest of my knee cartilage, but that hike taught me something valuable: Sundays are a day of rest. Use them for that.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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