Lost in the Woods
The idea came out of left field. Why not take my extremely indoorsy children to the great outdoors and then make them walk a bunch? Moving under the power of their own two legs is among their top three least favorite activities. The other two, of course, are cleaning up after themselves and eating anything that could be considered even remotely healthy. They’ll die before they finish their mashed potatoes. But as unlikely a fit as hiking seemed for my brood, the idea had a certain appeal. The kids were off midweek for a teacher in-service day, and my wife Lola and I both put in vacation time as well. The forecast called for unseasonably warm weather, so spending the day inside for a movie marathon or an extended trip to the museum seemed like a waste. Surprisingly, the kids weren’t entirely opposed to hiking. Partially, it’s because they’ve never walked on a trail in their life. Sometimes they need new and novel experiences to learn all the things they hate. The other reason they went for it is because it sounded hazardous. There would be ladders and steep drops where a wayward child could easily fall and break a leg. Danger and fun always go hand in hand.
We got off to a leisurely start late in the morning. I figured the kids would almost certainly want to quit early, which meant we didn’t need to worry about getting to the park right when it opened. It was an easy hour drive from our house. If we had even a shred of appreciation for nature, we would have taken the kids there years ago. It has some of the most unique scenery in Indiana, which isn’t saying much. The biggest hill in our suburb is an interstate overpass. Parks in this area are interesting by default because it’s the only land that wasn’t flat enough to turn into a cornfield or a subdivision. If a patch of ground is useless for anything better, Indiana is happy to let the deer have it. But even they don’t always want it sometimes, which is why they wander onto roads. You know it’s bad real estate if the local wildlife prefers suicide by motor vehicle.
I don’t usually name the places we go for fear of unfairly making them look bad. That’s not true. I mostly don’t name names so I don’t get sued. It’s much harder to win in court if you first have to prove you’re the proud owner of the undisclosed venue I said smelled like cat pee. But in this case, I think it’s harmless to say where we went. We liked the place, and any misadventures that happened there were strictly our own fault. The park is called Turkey Run, and it’s a not-so-hidden gem in west central Indiana. The park supposedly got its name because turkeys used to congregate in its canyons for warmth during the winter. Naturally, early settlers used these choke points to set up turkey massacres. You know you’re in a quality park when the venue is named after animal genocide. Thank goodness no one ever told the turkeys they could fly.
The same canyons that enabled these drumstick bonanzas also make for some of the most rugged and breathtaking trails you’ll find anywhere on earth. When I say breathtaking, I mean that literally. The trails will quickly make it clear just how out of shape you really are. Anywhere else in my life, seventy stairs without an elevator would be a deal breaker. Here, it was the price of entry. Once again, I mean that literally since it’s all we paid to get in. The actual admission price was supposed to be seven dollars per vehicle, but there was no one in the ticket station at the park entrance. We looked around for a donation box or some other way to pay, but there was none on site. It felt like we were shoplifting nature’s wonders. Then, on the way out of the park, Lola noticed a sign that said admission was free from November through February. Even the park rangers know no one wants to be outside in Indiana when it’s cold. We were there on March 1st, but apparently the staff hadn’t gotten around to setting up billing for the season. Either that or we just got lucky on the way in and out and hit the guard shack at both of their daily coffee breaks. If we were supposed to pay, I probably shouldn’t be admitting my crime in this newsletter. If the Indiana State Police are reading this, I deny everything.
Figuring the kids would throw in the towel after one trail, if not less, I immediately steered us toward the hardest one: the infamous Trail Three. We paid zero dollars to get in, and we were going to get our money’s worth. It features attractions with names like the Punch Bowl and the Ice Box, which used to be called the Devil’s Ice Box before it was renamed. I guess the Devil’s legal team sent the park a cease and desist letter for using his name without paying him for the rights. The park should have gone for broke and claimed other unauthorized supernatural endorsements for all their terrain features. “Slenderman’s Punch Bowl” has a way better ring to it. With our ominous destinations picked out, we embarked on the trail. The kids had no idea what they were getting into. It turned out to be a day they would never forget.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Exploding Unicorn by James Breakwell to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.