It took me a year to get back to the Banks-Vernonia Rail to Trail pathway. I vowed to do the whole trek, my own little pilgrimage, and was sure I’d get back out there sooner. It’s only a half hour drive from my house toward the coast range. With parking at several trailheads, the 22 mile trek can be walked in several shorter sections, so conducive to taking on smaller hikes at different times. A no-brainer, right? Somehow life and allegiance to the couch intervened, and more of the latter I’m afraid. Now fall is winding down, and the weather is less inviting; I’m concerned about my lack of oof. My list of hikes-to-go-on grows, while my list of hikes-already-done stays static. I know I need a routine, but knowledge and action haven’t yet combined into habit. Anyone else have this problem?
There’s a national movement toward tearing out abandoned railroad tracks to create trails, encouraging hikers and bikers to get out into the countryside and off the usual beaten track. There might be one near you! This particular trail was used in the ’20s to haul logs and lumber for the logging industry, until it was logged out in the ’50s, after WWII. A smaller logging industry toils on, and trucks now to move wood to port.
The path winds through some beautiful Oregon countryside that is otherwise hard to access. I enjoyed the first few miles (between the towns of Banks and Manning) with my friend Patty at the end of November last year, when Fall colors were pretty much spent, most trees bare, and everything quite damp. That first section parallels a few roads, so while it’s completely rural, there is some traffic in the background, fading as you go along. Still, it’s lovely, a flat easy walk, and offers a peek into the farm life bordering the path. A small stream runs alongside, and fog lays heavy on hilltops, veiling trees, fields and farms, enveloping enormous barns, and casting a mysterious shroud over all.
Photos from late November of last year – late wildflowers, fall colors have fallen, trees are bare, and the fields are already quite green:
It took an invitation from my Retired Women’s Meetup hiking group to get me back out on this trail, and that’s why I love them. Once a date is on my calendar, I’m there. On my way out I made the mistake of listening to a live press conference on the radio, and Trump’s appalling altercation with the CNN reporter. He scolds like a bad parent, and is evasive, interrupts, answers questions that aren’t asked, creating fictions from rehearsed responses. I’m as angry as I was last week and last year, but try try try to take heart from the wins being full of women, people of color, and flipping red to blue. Perhaps the tide has turned.
ANYWAY. I go hiking to let go of all that, and this was no way to start. But soon enough we hit the trail, and the world quickly fades away. If nothing else, I’m easily distracted once I’m outside.
This second stretch of the trail (between the towns of Manning and Buxton) rises gently, winding through a landscape of bucolic rolling hills and occasional farms, but mostly we walk between two walls of dense woods. In early November all is yellow and gold, the path strewn with colorful leaves, everything fairly dry from the lack of rain. We start out in a thick cold fog, and I wear gloves and scarf, jacket zipped up under my chin. Soon brilliant sunshine breaks through, banishing the low clouds, the layers come off, and the world is a glorious place. Fog rolls in and out a few more times over the course of our hike, continually changing colors and lighting, narrowing the view to what’s just in front. A breeze whips up, and a flurry of maple leaves, small and large, spiral down like snowflakes, glimmering in dappled sunlight, making me turn in surprise when they graze my head from behind as they descend.
The tall trees on either side of the long path envelop us in a lovely silence with no sense of the world’s chaos surging against nature’s outer edges. We pass through the long border of trees and my eye is drawn toward the few isolated houses, the wide expanses of fields around the sprawling farmhouses and barns, a greenhouse, a gazebo, a dock on a pond with two red Adirondack chairs, all picture perfect amidst woods and pastures. Animals barely move – cows lying or feeding, goats huddled together, a hefty pig in the distance. The sole movement is a Great Pyrenees dog bounding over to check us out, working diligently at what he was bred to do.
The neighbors seem friendly, willing to share their piece of paradise. A box of flyers tell us about someone’s farm, a crudely constructed bench is marked, “Rest awhile,” and a box is left out on a table labeled “Organic Fuji apples, take one.” They are crisp and sweet, a perfect interlude. If I didn’t enjoy the comforts and entertainments of living in the city, near family, I might be living in one of those farmhouses.
I’d like to try biking this trail, because even as I’m distracted by the surrounding beauty and the company of others, the asphalt is hard on my joints. By mile five I grow a little numb. But with an epsom salt bath, a stretch, and some good remedies, I’ll be good as new.
Soon enough I’m back to being distraught, wondering whether the political climate change will manage to outpace the atmospheric climate change, and I guess that’s just the way I’ll feel for awhile. Enjoy life’s sweetness, rage at the iniquities and powerlessness, retreat to some personal bliss, repeat. Many of us are now a bit less complacent, more willing to be informed and proactive and take an active part in democracy. The structure is there for everyone to be an activist at some level, large or small, and that has to be a good thing going forward. I just need to remember to pepper it with beauty and nature.