Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nothing graceful about Swan Creek

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Patience is something I didn't have much of today. It was my first real day to explore and I chose Swan Creek Trail because a book at Barnes & Noble promised a 4-mile trek through a forest. I even double checked online, where Metro Parks Tacoma showed three pictures of a meandering creek and told me that $1 million in improvements were being made.

The 322-acre park looked like what I was after. It was close to home so I didn't have to spend much time on the jam-packed freeways. Established in 1966, hikers could travel a trail that circled a sediment pond and gain 400 feet in elevation. I grabbed my white sneakers and jumped in the car, beaming with happiness and excitement about my first jaunt outdoors.

It was a nightmare. Forget patience. I was like a tea kettle slowly gathering steam. My GPS found a Pioneer Way in nearby Gig Harbor and I went there first, taking a short drive by the water before realizing that I had been duped and was in the wrong city all together. I paid my $4 toll fee to return to Tacoma... where I was promptly stopped in slow crawling traffic on the 16. Washington may have a reputation for being cool and overcast, but today it was pushing 90 degrees and the blazing sun was beating down on my face as I sat in my convertible with the top down.

I finally made it to the 167 and veered right like my directions instructed. I was keeping one eye fixed on the GPS map as I neared Swan Creek County Park, the other eye scanning for a sign pointing me in the right direction. There were no signs and frustratingly, my map showed me driving an arm's reach from the park. After nearly an hour of zooming up side roads, trying to find my way, I stopped at the 76 gas station and asked for help. The girl behind the counter shrugged helplessly and told me there was no park here. Hopes of a relaxing day-hike had dissipated but determination won over and I turned around to find the damn park. At the height of frustration, I yanked the wheel to the right to study the map one last time and found myself in a tiny gravel lot. An old faded sign on the other side announced that here, in fact, was Swan Creek County Park.

After parking and grabbing my picnic lunch, I opened my door and caught the eye of two disheveled, unwashed men that made me feel like I had transported to a redneck region where teeth were a luxury. One taunted me with whips about how my mama must have never let me out of our "high house on the hill" before. The other just stared. I was uneasy, about leaving my car next to these men and about walking onto an unknown path where they clearly could see I was headed.

Hunger won out. I slipped on my pack and started walking, ignoring the catcalls in the background. Still uncomfortable, I stopped at the mouth of the trail where three women were playing with their dogs in a deep pool of muddy water. I sat on the bench and pulled out my sandwich, making small talk with one of the ladies who warned me not to walk too far on the trail because it was overrun with tweakers.

Lovely. I had picked a winner.

As I debated what to do with the remainder of the dwindling day, the big-mouthed creep from the parking lot showed up and seemed surprised that I had only made it this far on the trail. I nodded noncommittally and stared straight ahead, hoping he'd go about his business. But it quickly became clear that he had headed this way looking for me so I waved goodbye to the women and snapped open my cell phone, practically sprinting back to my car with him moseying right behind.

Nature did not reveal herself to me today, or share any secrets that could help me find my way. That's the thing, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded me. I need patience.

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