Friday, March 4, 2011

SFTR: Pedestal Rocks, AR

There is a hike in the Ozarks that is commonly alluded to on hiking website after hiking website focusing on the region. In the photos corresponding to the hike descriptions, there are these enormous rock structures that look like they will tumble at any moment. Dozens of them, narrow spires seeking the heavens from the plant-ridden abyss below.

The canopy of the Ozarks makes a sound. You can hear it through the subtle breezes and the cacophonous locusts. It sounds like "dead air" on a television screen. A loud, somewhat high frequency whir. I imagine it as the trees sweating. Maybe because, well, you do a lot of sweating on summer hikes in the Ozarks.

The hiking websites make muffled warnings about the hot weather. They seem to forget the part about the bugs. I am deathly afraid of most bugs. That is because I am deathly afraid of wasps, and in general, I associate all bugs with wasps. And there are many, many wasps in the Ozarks. There were moments on the sweltering hike when I was dead-sprinting, for fear of what turned out to be a horsefly or, at one point, a butterfly. How I confused a wasp for a butterfly, I will never know. But it was small, and it flew, so I ran.

Most people who have known me for a lengthy enough period recognize the yellow backpack. It has been with me for a decade, and I have no intentions of letting go. My backpack has been on many hikes with me: from Glacier to Carlsbad, from Yosemite to Acadia. I have taken the backpack across America time and time again, and the more I travel, the more I refuse to give up that bag. I want to be buried with that backpack, preferably with some beef jerky and chex mix. A man's gotta eat, even when he's decaying.

The one flaw (well, maybe one of many) of the yellow backpack is that it is yellow. That color tends to attract bugs, primarily because a lot of plants/flowers are yellow. One of those bugs happens to be a bee.

The buzz of a bee is perhaps the funniest sound of nature when heard in isolation. It is heard on television, typically in jest. I can think of a few instances in which a show is shown in the perspective of the bee (or fly, or whatever) with that buzz burgeoning the speakers. The buzz, in the Ozarks, is terrifying. It never -- ever -- goes away.

But by the end of the hike, I had figured out why. A bee had followed me the entire hike, never once threatening to sting me. Instead, it was trying to pollinate my backpack. I imagine it was not very successful in its task.

Despite the brief sprints and the profuse perspiration, the hike itself was pretty amazing. Despite the pedestal rocks being well camouflaged from the permabrush, the rock formations were still beautiful. Occasionally, a long look at the horizon was available. At times, it seems the forest never ends -- a constant reminder of the incessant heat and humidity that these trees are prisoners in for their long, long lifetimes.

I think the Ozarks are the most underrated region of the plains, in part because they are not plains. Rolling hills, forests, and occasional rivers and reservoirs are endless here. And the roads are beautiful. Ever drive on a twisted road, in which the forest canopy only lets a brief glimpse of sunlight shine through? One of my favorite parts about driving -- the crepuscular rays of sunlight amidst dark needles in a haystack. Hiking here is the same -- except longer, maybe a little warmer. Buzzier, too.