August 21, 2020
Mom: age 77
Dad: age 80
I started taking notes as Dad was describing the beautiful Loess hills of Western Iowa as “slicker than deer guts on a doorknob.” I figured this was going to be one of those stories we’d want to keep track of. Enjoy.
“Getting lost is just another way of saying going exploring.” Justina Chen Headley, North of Beautiful
Mom pines for adventures. She always has. If they’ve spent too long hanging around the house, I begin to expect a phone call saying - We’re going to hit the road for a couple of days to *insert destination here.* I got the group text yesterday, saying that they were heading out. Just a day trip, Waubonsie park near Nebraska City, not far at all.
I wasn’t expecting to hear back from them until early evening, which I did, saying they’d returned safely. I didn’t get the whole story until this morning.
"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness" -John Muir
They parked the car in one of the assigned areas, after paying the newly requested $5 fee to enter. It’s an unsupervised box where you put money in an envelope of your own good will, which, of course, they did.
They scoped out a lookout point, from which they could see the river, and the highway. The hiking trails were lost in among the trees, but it didn’t look like too much overall space to cover, and they were there for a hike, so they dove in.
My folks walk every day. Generally, they do a couple of miles, although mom’s been putting in more like four each day of late, thanks to pandemic restrictions. Nothing much to do, and walking gets them out of the house and into the fresh air.
The day was pleasant, if warm. They hike carefully, picking their steps. Mom has fallen more than once in the past, and Dad had another heart surgery this spring, thankfully just before the Covid-19 virus began upsetting apple carts all over the world. My folks aren’t exactly fragile, but they’re not 20 anymore, either. Dad carried his binoculars around his neck. Mom wore her floppy sun hat. There were sensible shoes, cell phones, and insurance cards tucked into pockets.
They do a lot of things right, my parents. But Mother Nature requires us to do more than a lot of things right, even when the hike is on a well-traveled path, surrounded by nearby roads and facilities. There was a laundry list of things they reflected on later and have promised themselves to do next time. The most important of these was most likely the water bottles. The ones they left in the car.
“Perhaps Wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” -Anthony Bourdain
The first leg of the hike was fine, short and sweet. They came out of the trees onto the road, and decided they hadn’t had quite enough adventure yet, so they headed back into the trees. And they walked. And they walked. And they walked.
At some point between the 12:51 timestamp and the 2:26 one on the app we jokingly refer to as, Lurk My Parents they started to feel lost.
The path just went on and on, they said. There were no signs, the sun was hot, they were sweating and thirsty, and the knowledge that they’d left their water bottles in the car was plaguing them pretty severely. There was no cell service available for calls or for maps, and things were getting a tad dire.
A note about Dad, he passes out sometimes. Particularly when over-stressed and tired. He’s got artificial heart parts, so he has to take Coumadin, a blood thinner, among other things. Mom was getting pretty concerned and insisted he sit down and rest.
There was talk of her continuing on and coming back with the car, although the logistics of that were unclear enough that it was dismissed. She did relieve him of the burden of his binoculars, which had grown quite heavy. She also struck out slightly ahead, and when they spotted a rise up ahead, she left Dad to rest in the shade.
The hill made her hopeful that she could get their bearings, perhaps spot the road and the best direction to take. Taking the high road is not new to my folks. Like I said, they do a lot of things right. Watching her attempt the steep climb inspired Dad, and he decided that he was game for the ascent himself.
He’d picked up a walking stick at some point, and that helped a lot, he said. This is the part where I got the brief geological history on the Loess hills. Visitloesshills.org calls them, “hills made almost entirely of windblown soils. Toward the end of the last ice age, winds picked up soils that had been ground as fine as flour and formed dunes along the ancient waterway that became today’s Missouri River.”
Dad’s description leaned more heavily on the winds having picked up chunks of the Sandhills and plunked them back down again there, making Mom’s climb slippery and treacherous. Slicker than deer guts on a doorknob in Dad-patois. She scrambled and clawed and used weeds to haul herself up. His walking stick dug in just great and he got up next to her, only to discover a clearing and another hill they were going to have to ascend.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are more hills to climb.” -Nelson Mandela.
They did it. Together. They climbed the second hill and that’s when they spotted the stairs. Concrete stairs. Someone had been here before. Someone had built here. They were close to civilization.
They continued on a bit further, and found the road. The first picnic area they came to had bathrooms and drinking fountains, but the water wasn't turned on, so they kept moving. Pretty shortly thereafter the car was in sight.
It was here that Mom stumbled. She’d been holding it together this whole time, looking out for Dad, as she does, and trying to stay on top of things. She’s a fighter, my Mom. But sometimes just seeing the finish line is such a relief, it gives you a turn.
She didn’t fall. They kept going, together, and reached the car, the water, the air conditioning. Shortly thereafter, once they’d caught their collective breath, there was a trip to Arby’s for wraps as big as a sleeping bag, and a LARGE order of curly fries.
They drove over to Arbor Lodge from Arby’s and ate their lunch in the car, staring out at the majesty of nature.
Dad said he learned that despite the fact that he faints when he doesn’t consume sufficient water, his legs are in pretty good shape. Mom said she was glad I didn’t give them any grief about it and ruin their adventure. She also said they had another day left of their ‘vacation’ and they were going out again today in search of … I don’t know what. In search of more hills to climb together? Most likely.
Their plans have expanded to encompass this experience. Equipment belts are being shopped for, the kind with loops for water bottles. Light colored clothing is being laid out. I asked them to take a selfie the next time they ventured out, because I have visions of Mr. and Mrs. Indiana Jones exiting the house on Leighton Avenue, brimming with hope and light.
It also served to remind them that some adventures require more of us in the way of preparation, and strength, hope and fortitude, and that a little uncertainty can show you that life is a wonderful adventure.