My first hiking trip didn’t start off so great. The day before, I had driven down to Colorado Bend State Park with my boyfriend Will and been shocked to see a raging river blocking the only entrance. Disappointed but still hopeful, we decided to try another park the next day. We woke up to find not only a dark, cloudy sky but temperatures in the 40s. Although we had only packed minimal clothes for warmth (a rookie mistake), we pressed on and made our way to the park.
It wasn’t just our will to hear the sound of birds chirping and smell the fresh scent of pine that kept us going. The Corona Virus had taken its toll on the US, closing down everything from shops to schools to gyms. Stuck in our houses and feeling the onset of cabin fever, we wanted to get away, to feel that freedom that seemed almost impossible to find. And it was the experience of the wilderness, of getting lost in the woods, that seemed the only cure.
Will and I had chosen to visit Bastrop State Park a few days before. It wasn’t one of the highest rated trails on the alltrails website, but we had been entranced by pictures of beautiful green ferns covering the forest floor. We weren’t looking for anything special, and the allure of the bright plants was irresistible.
Upon arriving at the park, I immediately noticed the lack of trees, and the ones that were present were pitch black with no leaves. Most were fallen on the ground while the ones still standing were dangerously close to tipping. Will and I looked at each other in confusion. Were we at the right park? This surely didn’t look like what we saw on Google Images.
Nevertheless, we parked the car and prepped for the trek ahead. Luckily, even with the cloudy sky, I was wise enough to apply plenty of sunscreen before our hike. I checked that our backpacks were loaded with the essentials (or all the unnecessary things I thought I would need), and we loaded them onto our backs, finding them heavier than expected. Will and I smiled at each other. It was no secret that we were first-timers.
Following the map, we walked to the head of the Scenic Overlook Trail where our confusions were cleared. Before the path was a large sign explaining the odd state of the park. In 2011, one of the largest wildfires in Texas history had run through the park, burning hundreds of trees and destroying the homes of countless animals.
It would be an understatement to say that we were surprised. Were we walking through a dead park? Although we wondered if our wilderness adventure would now be ruined, we decided to hike on and see what we might find.
We learned a lot those first few minutes. The trail was narrow, and it didn’t take long to realize that walking side-by-side wasn’t an option. Although our hands were cold since we’d failed to pack gloves, we quickly learned that putting our hands in our pockets was like asking for a wipe out. The rocky trail made it more than necessary to stay focused and use our hands for both balance and padding in case of a fall.
Although the trail was mostly surrounded by charred wood, a further walk led to beautiful tunnels of surviving trees and gorgeous views of the land below. Even deeper into the trail, we found the beauty that had inspired our visit: the shining green ferns.
It seemed like thousands of them were side by side, growing in an open field, soaking up the sun’s rays. It was when we were standing before them, dazzled by their elegance, that we realized that they weren’t ferns at all. They were in fact pine tree saplings. The park wasn’t dead after all. It was bristling with life!
The remainder of our trail was observed with fresh eyes. The scorched trees weren’t just dead wood taking up space, but they were now homes for multitudes of wildlife. And the space around them wasn’t empty but thriving with new life, just starting to break the surface of the soil. The park was, in fact, very much alive.
It was when I looked at the park anew that I realized the important message it had for us: there is no greater blessing than a fresh start. The wildfire that ravaged the park was a disaster that destroyed the homes and lives of the wildlife there. But nature cannot be stopped. Bastrop now grows stronger than ever becoming once again healthy and grand.
I couldn’t help seeing the connections of this inspirational forest to our own experiences. Life after the Corona Virus pandemic will be a new beginning, allowing us to correct our faults and continue in the direction of safety and health. And how fitting that our first outdoor adventure was in a park that was itself brand new? We knew then that our hike wasn’t a one-time experience but the start of a long and beautiful journey.
Sometimes, when your goals seem out of reach and you’re far from the person you want to be, the best option is starting over. It is a conscious decision you have to make for yourself. Decide what is holding you back and let it go. When you’re lost in the woods, finding every direction unknown, turn around to where you started and find the path again. It’s okay to backtrack because there’s nothing better than a fresh start.