The brochure said that its remote location, about 17 miles north of the main attractions discourages visitors. Our cabin was about 30 minutes from Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave. Because we didn’t want to drive that far, Cantwell Cliffs, on the northern edge of Hocking Hills State Park was perfectly situated for a hike on the last day of our getaway vacation.
I developed my love of hiking in the Arizona desert and climbing some great mountains in Phoenix proper; Camelback, South Mountain, and the Superstition Mountains. I could almost always find a friend who was willing to venture out for an adventure on one of the many trails within an hour or so of Phoenix. I often came home with a bruise or two and a great story about climbing up one rock or another or walking out to the edge of something. That love was further developed on my visits to Costa Rica, where most of the trails are ungroomed and there isn’t always a bridge available to cross a stream. I’m convinced that waterproof Keen sandals were invented for hiking in Costa Rica.
Living in the Midwest for 16 years now, I have had to alter my definition of “hiking”. There really aren’t any hills or mountains here, at least none that compare to Arizona. So, when we set off for Cantwell Cliffs, I thought we would do a gentle 2-mile walk in some nice foliage and then head home. After walking about a tenth of a mile, I knew that I had found the Midwest hiking destination that I had been looking for all these years.
Looking down, we saw a valley bed dense with green foliage; compared to the sunlight above, the valley seemed dark and cool. To our left were stairs to get there, so down we went. The descent was precarious and the stone stairs that were cut out of the cliff were narrow, so we hung on tight. About halfway down was another path that veered off to our right. We explored it, and found ourselves trying to squeeze our bodies between two large boulders no more than 10 inches apart. It led to a ledge with another view.
After squeezing ourselves back through “Fat Lady Squeeze” as we later learned it was called, we continued down the stairs until we reached the valley floor. The cliffs rising above us were small stacked layers of rock that jutted out over the valley floor. Under this outcropping, there were rocks to climb, giant boulders that were just close enough to make the climb fun, but not particularly dangerous. Up I went looking for hand holds, being conscious of my footing until I reached a twelve-inch wide ledge that was about 25 feet off the ground. Every once in a while I stopped to look around.
Instead of coming down the way I came, I walked the length of the outcropping taking in the view of the from above and descended at the other end. I felt powerful. In everyday life, it is easy to forget these old feelings I used to get from hiking; exhilaration, deep contentment, desire to explore even more, that is, until I’m back in an environment that allows me to remember.
My mental muscle memory kicks in, and I want to climb just one more rock, see what is around just one more bend. I desire a messy muddy creek to cross, so that I can really use my Keen sandals. I find myself paying attention a couple of steps ahead so that I don’t lose my footing; climbing under and over fallen trees, avoiding trees roots, treading carefully through streams that are no more than wet mud.
I become so engrossed in the ground and putting one foot in front of the other that my JD and everything around me becomes background noise. I was in my own world. Look, step, repeat. Look, step, repeat. I had forgotten how spiritual and intense an experience hiking is for me. But on that valley floor, in the Hocking Hills of Ohio, I remembered; it was like visiting an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. And as I ascended and came back to the present, I felt refreshed and energized. At that moment, I felt like I had actually taken a vacation.