The main entrance road continued for another half-mile through thick forests, past another road leading to a second campground on her right. Then, as it neared the towering limestone palisades, it swung left and continued for another three-quarters of a mile to end in a large parking lot next to a small man-made lake at the base of the falls.
At not quite eight in the morning, there were only a couple of other cars in the lot.
Ro climbed out of the car, taking her keys but locking the fanny pack inside. She went around to the front of the car, near a picnic bench, and began what she thought of as her own version of a Tai Chi routine, which was, in fact, a series of muscle stretches to get ready for a run. With its slow repetitions and holds of various exercises, it took her a little under three minutes to complete.
Now ready to run, she returned to the car, retrieved the fanny pack with its bottle of Gatorade and clicked it on.
What was known as the Neshnala Loop Trail was a six-foot wide crushed gravel path beginning at the north side of the parking lot, but almost immediately turned into a series of switchbacks as it climbed up the face of the palisades next to the tumbling falls. At the top of the falls the trail became a loop of a little over two-miles following Rock Creek to the north, then swinging to the east through a large meadow where Neshnala stood. Then it curled back south and then west along the edge of the bluff, offering several spectacular overlooks of the Mississippi River and the Illinois shore beyond.
Most visitors found the climb up the switchbacks strenuous, with some even quitting, breathless, less than halfway up. For Ro, it was like the appetizer before a superb meal. She loved the feel of her calves and Achilles tendons stretching and working as she climbed upward, pumping her arms, throwing one foot ahead, rolling forward smoothly, only to bring the other foot forward, to roll forward yet again….
She was aware of her surroundings; there were still some shallow puddles in the gravel from a thunderstorm that had passed through just after midnight and the westerly wind was brisk, playing along the face of the palisades. But the low-70s sun was warm on her face and neck as she climbed back and forth up the bluff face.
At the same time, though, as she always did when she ran, she was slowly withdrawing into herself, focusing on her body. Not specific parts, like certain aching muscles, or lungs gasping for air, or sweat trickling down her side, or sharp rocks poking her through her shoes; but rather on her whole body, on the totality of her experience.
She knew the feeling well. It was what she always sought, was perhaps addicted to, and nearly always achieved when she went for a run, her runner’s Zen. It was easy to use words like “trance-like” or “rapturous” or “runner’s high” to try to explain the feeling, but they were like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who had never seen it, inadequate at best.
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager