Map of the hike. Athens in in the lower left; Dow Lake/Strouds Run in the in the upper right
Map of the hike. Athens in in the lower left; Dow Lake/Strouds Run is right of the hike outline.

As the semester grinds down, I catch myself looking intently at any stand of trees I encounter. For 16 weeks, I’ve allowed my urge to hike, bike or kayak be suppressed by teaching duties. It’s bullshit, really. I could easily carve out time to spend in the woods during the semester. But I don’t, leaning on this convenient crutch to indulge my sloth.

And then it’s over. No bang. A few whimpers. Grades submitted. Crutch splintered. Time to go hiking.

The bridge over Cucumbertree Run on Rockhouse Trail
The bridge over Cucumbertree Run on Rockhouse Trail

As Fall 2016 fell into the rearview mirror, I set off for Sells Park, a short drive from my house that I’d bike in warmer weather. From Sells, I can hit the Athens Trail and create several interesting little loops to get my hiking mojo back.

The Rockhouse Trail blaze
The Rockhouse Trail blaze

I headed out Rockhouse Trail to Turtlehead Cave, where I shot a few 360 photos, then picked up Athens Trail, Finger Rock Trail and Trace Trail to do a big loop around the ridge that slices between Athens’ east-side strip-mall hell and Dow Lake. It’s a wonderful contrast. Half the hike snakes above east Athens and all it has to offer — Walmart, Lowe’s, Kroger, McDonalds, a confederacy of cars and lots and lots of asphalt. The buzz of traffic on East State Street rises up into the leafless woods, tires squeal, and dogs bark in the buffer zone subdivision between my sylvan retreat and the chaos of East State.

Benz selfie on Rockhouse trail
Benz selfie on Rockhouse trail

The trail zags north, a dog threading its owner through rabbit-infested fields, until it turns north, following the ridgeline toward Dow Lake. It enters Strouds Run and gets quieter and quieter and … bird sounds. A random tumbling branch finding the leaf-strewn forest floor in a muffled snap. Solitude.

This is two separate hikes.

First, the urban hike, one of my favorites, wherein I get to smugly float above city sprawl. My life has been filled with variations on this hike. A bucolic stroll through Denver’s Washington Park, enjoying green space and lakes in the Mile High City. A romp with Ozzy through D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, a wonderful green knife that slices into the heart of the District. Commuter cycling along the daybreak arroyos of Albuquerque, watching dawn traffic on the Big I,  pedaling cloudlike above it all, troubled only by potential encounters with the occasional passed-out homeless person strewn across the bike path.

Second is the remote ramble. Sometimes, I need to get farther from the exhaust and crush and cacophony of civilization. I retreat to Big South Fork, Mount Charleston, the Buckeye Trail. Or the second half of this hike.

Moss-covered boulders along Rockhouse Trail
Moss-covered boulders along Rockhouse Trail

The trick now will be to keep going. I always close the semester with an orgy of activity only to sink back into my day-to-day sloth. A head cold already is conspiring to lead me in that direction. But I’m determined to make the most of this intellectual cease-fire between semesters. Aside from my other goal: to finish off the wily, elusive Gravity’s Rainbow.

Here’s a 360 photo I shot at Turtlehead Cave:

Topo map of my hike
Topo map of my hike
One of the coolest things about hiking in and around Stroud's Run is the informational signs along the way. i always stop to read them, even if I've already done so multiple times. This one is for Turtlehead Cave, a key sight along the Rockouse Trail
One of the coolest things about hiking in and around Stroud’s Run is the informational signs along the way. i always stop to read them, even if I’ve already done so multiple times. This one is for Turtlehead Cave, a key sight along the Rockouse Trail
This sign is on a stretch of Trace Trail that I hadn't hiked before. Love these informational signs.
This sign is on a stretch of Trace Trail that I hadn’t hiked before. Love these informational signs.