Weekly Walk: Steep hills, mosquitoes, but lush trails
The Weekly Walks for Aug.15 and Aug. 16, 2017
The Tuesday hike, reported by Marvin Herman:
On this hot and muggy late afternoon, only four determined hikers arrived at the U.S. Highway 12 meeting place to participate in the regularly scheduled hike. Half of the group was named Nancy. Jake was absent and had nominated your reporter to lead the hike. I chose a clockwise path around Lake LaGrange, a distance of near three miles. We zoomed around the trail in just over an hour, including a brief stop at Russ's Bench and even more brief stops to admire the flowers: black-eyed Susan, the very invasive spotted knapweed, bergemot, sunflowers and tall shafts of a plant or weed called mullein, a non-native from Eurasia used by monks in the Middle Ages to cure disease. We also saw one or more monarch butterflies near the milkweed pods and we noticed that the sumac is coming into its own with seeds gone dark red.
As we passed the tall corn stalks, the mosquitoes became fierce and those of us that had not pulled on head nets did so.The little buggers were thus kept away from our heads but they were feasting on my back through my shirt and I thanked the hikers behind me for swatting them off when they could. We hoped for a breeze but found none. When we returned to our vehicles, Nancy C. handed out quarts of fresh chilled blackberries to the hikers that wanted them. I took a container for my wife who was pleased to receive them as ingredients for her smoothies.
All hikers enjoyed the hike very much and were thankful for my leadership during which we did not get lost.
The Wednesday short hike, reported by Ellen Davis:
Thirteen short-hikers successfully crossed Highway 12 and were about to start up the Ice Age Trail when we were suddenly joined by a young woman with a baby in her arms. She was indeed intending to join our hike, and we waited a few minutes while the baby was secured in her back carrier. We started up the first hill. Any doubts about hiking with a 14-month-old baby quickly disappeared within the first ten minutes. Mom was a fit and experienced hiker, and baby was an experienced spectator with an avid interest in his surroundings.
This section of trail has always been studded with rocks and roots, but our group kept up a good pace in spite of these minor obstacles under foot. A light breeze kept most of the mosquitoes at bay, and a few sumac leaves showed hints of fall color. Jake allowed us a short break just past the power lines, then on to the next stretch of trail, accented by giant jack-in-the-pulpits here and there -- many showing a knobby green seed-head atop a tall stem.
We were soon in the pines, now cleared of undergrowth for ease of logging. After a stop to admire Norwin's rock, it on to Esterly Road for a longer break before the return trip on the horse trail. The group was soon strung out over quite a distance, conversing easily on a variety of subjects on this wide trail. Those of us at the end of the line shared interest in wildflowers, and felt lucky to have experts Mariette and Dave Nowak hiking with us to answer our questions. At one point Mariette stopped, listening intently. We stopped and listened too. Faintly but clearly there was a bird call that I'd never heard before, identified by Mariette as a yellow-billed cuckoo -- a bird that feeds on tent worm caterpillars. (We need more birds like that!)
By now the temperature had risen and the mosquito population was out looking for lunch. They were bearable as long as we didn't stop. As we topped the last steep esker, the realization that we were only fifteen minutes from the trailhead sped us along through the woods, the meadow, and another short stretch of woods leading to Highway 12.This had been one of the most relaxing (despite the hills) and pleasant hikes of the season--with excellent company. Some of the group went on for lunch at the La Grange General Store: a delicious ending for a very companionable outing.
The Wednesday long hike, reported by Marvin Herman:
This was a great day for a midsummer hike with a sunny sky and temperatures around the low 80s. Sixteen long hikers regrouped at Emma Carlin trails in Jefferson County to hike the bike trails. Our leader started us off in the same direction as the bicycles in the belief that there would not be very many bikers out in the heat and he was right. Only twice did we hear cyclists coming up on us from behind and we jumped to the side of the trail each time yelling out a warning to those hikers in front of us that they should do the same. We also encountered a smaller hiking group that passed us on the trail.
There were no spring flowers to stop and analyze on this hike so we concentrated on getting up the steep hills of the trail designated on the map as green and avoiding the stumps, rocks and roots which were partially obscured in the dappled sunlight. The group was split eventually into two sections and the front group didn't have to wait for those of us in the rear until the overlook. But by then everyone wanted a longer break and Jo broke out some wonderful melon for us as she often does to give us a boost of energy for the finish.
We wound up hiking five miles. Although many hikers slipped and tripped over the many natural obstacles, one hiker fell, sustaining only superficial injuries. We were done well before 2 p.m., closing time for the Edge of Town restaurant in Palmyra where most of the hikers reconnected for lunch, icy cold drinks and plenty of friendly conversation.