50 Hikes 50 States–Missouri
By the time we got to Missouri, we had knocked out three states in two days. Our four-day stay in Missouri meant I could ease into the hike. But the weather insisted I get out to the trail as soon as we arrived, as miserable and cold were forecast. So Monday morning, I threw on my warmer hiking skorts (get 25% off with this code 344CESSA) and scooted out to the Lewis and Clark Loop in the Weldon Spring Conservation Area just outside of St Louis to do my Missouri hike of this wonderful 50 Hikes 50 States Project.
Hiking Alone with the Monkeys
But for this hike, I’d be alone. If you read my blog post from when I hiked alone in Ohio, you already know I’m not a fan of solo hiking in the woods. Fairy tales of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and other ominous tales of boogie men in the woods still rotate in my head. I’m never comfortable hiking alone in the woods. In the city, I’m happy as can be; but the woods, ugh, not so much.
When I arrived to the trailhead, I found several cars in the lot. But no one was around. Therefore my number one strategy of solo hiking (make friends with someone at the trailhead) was not available. I took pictures of the trail map, consulted my own notes, and set off into the woods for a 5-7 mile hike to the Missouri River.
And then the monkey brain started.
What is Monkey Brain?
It’s what I call the anxiety I get when I’m scared while walking alone. It’s not actually fear; it’s more just what my brain does as it runs on a hamster wheel of a thousand thoughts. Below, I present to you what I am thinking about as I hike alone.
Woods. What kinds of trees are these? No leaves.
Mud. Step around the mud. Don’t fall in the mud. Glad my shoes are waterproof.
I brought the right shoes. Oak tree? Turkey oak?
What are some famous trees in Missouri? Will I see those.
Mud. More mud. Oh, look at those prints. Too bad the trail is getting wider.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer.
God that’s such an annoying song. Why did I have to get that one stuck in my brain?
Walking back from our house Christmas Eve.
Why not Jingle Bells? Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock.
Wrong Jingle Bell.
What’s that noise? Sounds like Yeti. Must be big. Where’s it coming from? Deer?
Oh, it’s a squirrel.
Missouri squirrels are big. Gray. Big fluffy gray tail. Bigger than Colorado squirrels and scrawny Florida squirrels.
Maybe I should do a book about squirrels I’ve seen while hiking in the U.S.
I’d need a squirrel expert. Too much work.
Oh, wait, but there’s an idea. The 50 Hike State Challenge. That’s a good idea for a book.
Jesus. Here comes someone.
Do I make eye contact? Oh wait, what is going on? It’s a woman. She’s got running tights on. And she’s carrying something? A gun? No. Wait. She’s barefoot. She’s running barefoot.
No response. What is it with people in Missouri? They never say hi. I walked on the Katy Trail and no one said hi. Midwest. They know I’m not from around here.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer.
Jesus. This song is ridiculous.
Squirrel! Still big. Gray. Fluffy tail.
Oh, the trail is going up. This is nice. Not too steep. Good trail, nice views. Oh, water!
It’s the Missouri River! This is were Lewis and Clark were.
Trail sign. Lewis trail that way. Clark this way. Which one am I doing? Let me look at my phone.
Text message from my kid.
Hi honey, good luck on finals.
What was I doing on my phone? Oh, yeah, photo of map. Where is it?
I’m taking the Clark trail. It’s shorter. I need to do shorter cuz rain is coming.
What’s that noise? Yeti? Boogieman? Oh, it’s two people. What are they doing? They’re off the trail. Hunting for something. Not making eye contact. They look like a couple. Maybe they’re looking for the meteorite that has a $25,000 finders fee attached to it. They are scavenging. Still not making eye contact.
Okay, up the trail I go. Grandma got ran over by a reindeer.
Tired of this yet? This is monkey brain. It will go on like this for almost two miles. But then after about 45 minutes, I’ll finally relax into my hiking rhythm and enjoy myself. But lordy, it takes a long time to get there. How do you relax into a hike by yourself? Do you like it?
And Then, I Breathe
Thus, this is how my hike went for 5 miles. Up and down through the woods chasing monkey brain. When I finally reached the Missouri, the views captivated me and released my mind from the monkey. The signage told of Lewis and Clark’s adventures through the bottom lands where I had hiked, and this info allowed my brain to go down a healthy internal conversation about history, adventure, and discovery.
As I was starting to settle in and really enjoy the hike, I came across a pile of rocks up against a tree. Each rock held a message. Most of the messages were just names and dates, but right on top was the message I needed for the day. “Just Breathe.” Perfect for the monkey brain. Thanks D.U.
Shortly after my rock sign, I decided I needed to take a picture of myself alone in the woods. I wanted a full body shot. Thus, I’d need to learn to use the self-timer on my phone and find a place to put the camera to take a shot. Both of these were easy tasks, but they felt triumphant. Not only had I survived and even enjoyed my solo hike in Missouri, I could document it without help too. Throwing arms up in the air in victory, I snapped this shot below in my Skirt Sport.
By the time I got back to the parking lot, the wind had picked up and rain was soon behind. I googled some lunch which I found at the nearby Jason’s Deli. But on the way to eat, I passed an intriguing spot in the road that declared, “Visitors Welcome. Stop on in!” I couldn’t resist.
All Toxic Piles Aren’t the Same
In Denver, I live across the street from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge and down the road from Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge. Both of these locations, now managed by US Fish and Wildlife, had been munitions builders for World War II and armament disassemblers after the Cold War. Their toxic gumbos were cleaned up and Refuges remain. It’s a history I’ve studied many times while living in Denver. So you’d think I’d recognize a toxic site cleanup from a distance.
But this was different. Department of Energy flags and signs ushered me into a well-oiled public relations site where a friendly DOE employee welcomed me. She wanted to share this location’s history. It was nearly the same as those near my home in Denver. Toxic awful stuff. Some nukes. Clean it up. Create open space. Thus, I had stumbled into the Weldon Spring Conservation Area headquarters that included not only the hiking trail where I had just explored, but also the Busch Memorial Conservation Area, a shooting range, and a giant pile covered in rocks.
Whereas the refuges in Denver keep people away from their dirty piles the Army created to put the toxic goop into, the Department of Energy highlighted it as a destination and encouraged visitors to climb it. I figured what the heck, if it’s toxic, I’ve already hiked in it, used the restroom in the Visitors Center, and read all the propaganda of the cleanup. Why not climb the toxic cell of activated uranium too? So up I went to the top of the poisonous pile that the DOE lady assured me was safe.
Maybe this is what caused my monkey brain an hour before?
None the less, I summited the pile, took in the amazing 360 degree view, snarked at the fact that the place was “safe enough” to put in a high school next door, and then dodged the first rain drops on the way back to my car. Let’s just say that I’m glad I got my Missouri hike in, the monkeys had relaxed, and I was looking forward to dinner with friends. But as for the hike, I probably wouldn’t do this one again.