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This past weekend, I had a little bit of time to kill when I got out of work on Saturday, before my wife and daughters got back to my mother-in-law’s house after spending the day at the bounce house with all the kids. By “all the kids” I mean 7 of them. My nephews from Ohio were staying with Grandma and Grandpa, and they also decided to take my brother-in-law’s 3 boys as well. With my 2 girls, that made 7. I don’t know how they come upon the decision to do it, but they take them all at once every few months or so. That’s a whole lot of anxiety for an entire weekend. I honestly respect their gumption to handle that type of punishment.
Anyways, I got out of work, made it home quickly with no traffic to deal with, fed the dog, paid the bills, and packed up my backpack with a few snacks and plenty of water. I dressed in the proper layers to handle a just-below-freezing day and found a nearby trail that I hadn’t hiked yet. I was searching for one on the Alltrails app that was close to the house and not very lengthy, since I knew I didn’t have too much time accessible. I was looking forward to spending some time with my daughter, Abby, on her 7th birthday.
I ended up discovering the Red Oaks Nature Center, not far up the road, in Madison Heights at 13 Mile Road and John R that offered a 1.3-mile loop, rated easy. The trail was right in between my house and my mother-in-law’s house. It was suitable.
When I arrived, I parked my truck on the side of the residential street, grabbed my hat and my pack, and hit the paved road into the nature center on foot. As I arrived at the trailhead, I noticed that the trail was paved, not dirt. I personally prefer the more natural dirt trails on my hikes, as I am a hiker who strives to get as far away from man-made buildings, pavement, and the usual day-to-day normality of the city as much as humanly possible. This wasn’t a great start, but at least it got me out in the trees, or so I thought.
The first part of the trail headed in a northern direction; just along the fenced area I had walked down the main drive to get into the park. It didn’t help that it was still winter cold, and the trees still had no leaves on them. You could see straight through to the subdivision and houses and vehicles driving by and everything that I typically seek release from. You could still hear the traffic on 13 Mile Road. To me, this nature preserve was not hidden enough. It wasn’t nature enough. I didn’t feel like I was out in the woods and away from the world.
The path had a few curves to it, but the park was extremely narrow and way too close to the city life surrounding it. The trail headed north, almost all the way to the main road, curved sharply and headed south, back toward the trailhead. It did continue further south, to what a sign stated as the “Forest Trail.” I was again disappointed to see that the path proceeded as a wide, paved path; dirtless, lifeless, flat and boring. I never really reached any point on the trail where I was not able to see the houses or the apartment complexes or the trailer park through the trees, but hardly a stone’s throw away.
I didn’t feel a point of being in the woods, which is what I strive to experience when I hike. The woods, even along the “Forest Trail” portion, were not very dense. I was able to catch a few instances to watch the squirrels have fun, chasing each other through the brush. I actually noticed quite a few squirrels along the trail, either in the trees, on a stump, or playing in the fallen, dried, crisp leaves on the ground.
Even along the southern “Forest Trail” segment, I could still hear the cars driving by through the subdivision streets. I could still smell the city smells. I could hear dogs barking in the backyards. I wasn’t able to just stop and listen to my usual serene sounds of nature. I couldn’t enjoy the views of the woods when I could still see homes in the background. There was no elevation change, and it felt completely unrealistic and just thrown together. I was amazed that they even considered this a nature trail. There didn’t seem to be very many natural features of it.
I usually hit the trails to escape real life; to break free from the pressures of city life; to evade the anxiety of the concrete jungle that seems to weigh so heavily upon my shoulders. I seek placidity and quietude; a moment of serenity and the opportunity to clear my mind and dream. I bungled to procure these sentiments this time around. A discouraging attempt at imperturbation.
Even though this was a hiking trail and nature preserve not too far from my home, I don’t think I will be returning to this one. There are many others that allow me the release that I seek out when I choose to hike. Sorry Red Oaks Nature Center, but you have many things to be desired. Oh well. They can’t all be winners.