Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Piney Creek Ravine State Natural Area

Piney Creek Ravine

So the other weekend we decided we were ready for yet another adventure after taking a little hiatus over the holidays. Our destination was less than 3 hours from home one way and with several stops planned we opted to find overnight lodging. Who wants to drive that far all in one day after hiking several miles? Not us, anyways.
The morning started with what is typical for us.....trouble. My husbands newer pair of jeans ripped out before we could even pull out of the drive. Nothing new, just a hiccup, head down and plow ahead, right? We'll this time we should have taken it as a sign but hindsight is twenty-twenty.
The drive up to Piney Creek Ravine was uneventful and we were thankful I had opted for a more scenic route along the Great River Road. Bald Eagles, Snow Geese, Canadian Geese and many more types of birds thrive in this flood plain that abuts the rocky ridges of the Southern Illinois Ozarks.
The weather was cold but we had layered up in preparation so when we arrived at the trail head I only needed to grab my pack. I almost forgot the trail map but my husband stated he got one off the trail head kiosk so I locked the car and we headed off.

To access Piney Creek Ravine you must stroll a mowed path between fields before reaching the actual reserve and trail head. Turns out it was a deceitful entrance to a RUGGED trail. The sun was shining but the wind blew a cold breeze against us, making me thankful I had layered up and grabbed my new crocheted beanie I had just gotten for Christmas.
Upon reaching the official trail head the mowed path disappeared beyond the preserve signage and a worn dirt path lead us into the forest. Downward into the ravine we went, spying frost flowers along the way, an unusual sight so late in Winter. We marveled at the rock bluffs beside us and soon found ourselves having to ford what I assume was Piney Creek. Our pooch Kennedy has never been fond of water and today was no exception. He refused to follow my husbands footsteps along the stepping stones and was soon in the creek. I used my Kelty trekking pole for balance and managed to keep myself from getting wet.

Soon we found ourselves at a crossroads of sorts in the trail. I remembered during my research that you had to take a dead end side trail to see pictographs and petroglyphs left by Native Americans on the bluffs but I wasn't sure if this was the trail. Signage seemed to indicate we where in the right area so I asked my husband for the trail map. I unfolded the little pamphlet to find the trail map inside only to discover it was simply an outline of the preserve showing the location of the trail head and no map of the actual trail itself.

My husband apologized profusely for the error but what was done, was done. There was nothing we could now but push onward, opting to focus on the main trail. We followed the well worn path around boulders, downed trees and eventually to the top of the bluff overlooking Piney Creek Ravine. We took a rest atop trees that fallen across the trail. My legs were cramping badly, I hadn't had my medical massage in a couple months and I was feeling it.

Hydrated and my cramps having relented we pressed onward again soon hearing the sound of a waterfall. We studied the creek below between the bare branches of the forest and found a waterfall flowing just upstream some way through undulating terrain. Taking a moment to enjoy it's beauty before we followed the trail down a steep slope that turned left into more steep slopping terrain.
The bottom of this large hill was again what I assume was Piney Creek and of course the trail crossed it once more. This time, fortunately, the rocks were actually large flat boulders and the water level was low enough that with a little jump across the cracks in the stones one could cross without getting wet. We entered the creek bed and began to explore a little when we caught sound of another couple hiking the trail in our direction. I paid little attention as I snapped a few photos before rejoining my crew on the upper boulder in the creek bed. It was at this point I realized that I had lost my new beanie!!! I had haphazardly shoved it into the front pocket on my hoodie and now it was gone, lost somewhere along the trail.
I knew I had it the last rest stop we'd taken so I immediately began bee lining it back up the steep slope as fast as my overweight butt could manage. I stormed the first hill like Grant leading a charge during the Civil War, my eyes scanning the ground along the way, but quickly ran out of steam and at the turn in the trail I had to stop for a minute to catch my breath. Huff, puff, huff, puff, sweat...where the hell is that breeze? Huff, puff, huff, puff....please let me find my beanie.......and onward we go. I managed to make halfway the next portion of the trail before I had to stop again. Hills are the devil, I thought to myself as my lungs sucked in air one deep breath after another. I started out yet again and spied my beanie laying beside the trail on a bed of moss. Exactly where we had stopped to admire the waterfall.
I picked it up, knocked the leaf litter off and did an about face, heading back down the devil hill. I made it back to the turn fairly easily and decided to rest a moment before tackling the next section. From this vantage point I could see my husband seated on the boulder in the creek and Kennedy looking up the hill at me, I waived my beanie at them, letting my husband know I had found it. I also spied the other couple a little further down the creek exploring it's nooks and crannies.
My face was red like a little kid from the effort, I was sweating, my thighs hurt just above my knees from bracing my weight on the downhill potions of the trail. The weather was still cold but warmer than we had started and now above freezing causing the ground to thaw. Feeling weary but ready enough I began the final descent of the devil hill. A few paces into my descent I planted my right foot and began to feel it slip out from under me. I tried to steady myself with my trekking pole but there was no stopping my foot from carrying my leg away from me and down I went.
I landed on the right side of my back, feeling a rock jab in my side just above my hip bone. I looked to my right only to see the other couple staring back at me like I was a Sasquatch throwing rocks at them. I looked down the trail to the creek bed where my husband looked back at me shaking his head and if a dog can show concern Kennedy sure appeared to be doing so.
For a minute or two I just laid there on the trail like a slug in winter. I sat up and studied the ground under my foot, finding a loose rock that had been hidden under the leaf litter. I kicked it off the trail like a pouting child then picked myself up off the ground. I started descending the devil hill again, the other couple beginning their accent, I assume now that the trail was clear for them to proceed. We politely greeted each other in passing them asking how I was doing. “Great, if I hadn't lost my beanie.” I replied making no mention of the obvious fall I had taken.
I rejoined my crew in the creek bed and took a seat in a notch on the boulder. The cold of the stone felt good as it penetrated my layers of clothes, after a quick rest and a selfie or two we started out on the trail again. The outside portion of my right foot began to hurt and we soon came to another trail intersection. Not having a map to check which direction we needed to go, I pulled out my cellphone and referenced the GPS tracking app I had initiated near the beginning of our hike. Thank god I had thought to do so as there had been no mention of any other off shoots along the trail so a 2nd intersection came as a complete surprise.

Looking at the GPS app I was able to determine we needed to continue on the trail to our right in order to loop back to the trail head. I could only guess the other trail went to the waterfall we had spied earlier and on a better day I would have been keen to explore it but that wasn't this day.
We followed the trail on a ridge overlooking Piney Creek from the opposite vantage point. I continued to check the GPS app on my phone to ensure we were headed the right direction and was grateful when we finally completed the loop portion of the trail. I tucked my phone back into my pocket and focused on getting myself out of the woods despite the ever increasing pain in my foot.
This wasn't my neuropathy acting up again, no burning, no tingling and no tiny needles stabbing me meant this was something else. The pain was not only in a different location but was a different nature all together. I protested to my husband about the pace he was setting or letting Kennedy set. Truth be told I would have much rather kept right on pace, out of that ravine but my foot was killing me. As we neared the trail head I questioned if I could keep going, the pain was becoming that bad.
I hauled myself up, out of the forest, off the trail on onto the mowed path. I was beyond thankful for relatively flat even ground with no boulders or trees to climb over. The pain persisted even once at the car. I spent twenty minutes trying to work what felt like a foot cramp out before climbing behind the wheel where I drove us to our next stop.
Historic Fort Kaskaskia on the banks of the Mississippi River where I hoped we could have our picnic lunch and get my shoe off for a few minutes. Once there we started to stroll about the grounds when it became apparent I wasn't going to be able to do much or anything more for that matter. The pain in my foot was so severe I couldn't bear weight on my heel and was forced to only use my tip toes on my right foot. I returned to the car and attempted to massage out some pain while my husband walked the dog.

There were no picnic tables at which to sit and honestly I wouldn't have done so, had there been. The breeze blowing up off the river was as cold as ice and no amount of sun that day could warm it. We dined in the car instead before setting out for the town of Kaskaskia, IL which is West of the Mississippi. My goal had been to see the Liberty Bell of the West with it's Revolutionary War heritage but again once out of the car I was relegated to hobbling and had no patience to wait for a care taker to unlock the building where the bell was housed.
We made our way to the hotel where a hot shower was more than welcomed as well as a good nights rest before setting out to Trail of Tears State Park but my foot had other plans. The pain was so great I couldn't sleep, my husband and dog were curled up comfortably sleeping away while I would lay down for 5 minutes before the pain would force me to sit up and massage my foot, time and time again. I was so tired at one point I almost fell asleep sitting up!
This was my routine until around 2 a.m when I finally relented to hobble back to the bathroom and let hot water run over my foot. It was enough relief from the pain that I was able to finally get a few hours rest before waking again. When I awoke it was daylight, me and my husband both agreed it was time to hit the road and head straight home which is exactly what we did.
On Monday with no improvement in my foot I took myself to the doctor, an examine, some X-Rays, and I sit here and type this 11 days later in a walking cast. Soft tissue damage was the verdict, no breaks or fractures. I'm hoping soon I can remove my walking cast and return to a normal gait but it maybe a few more weeks before I'm actually able to hit the trail again. Oh well, gives me plenty of time to research the next adventure!!
If you fall off the horse, you have to get right back on.

Adventure Awaits!

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