Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stoney Ridge & Eagle - The Final First Steps

As I have become more and more enamored with the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, my involvement in my volunteer chapter has increased. My motivation and excitement for every new segment has grown My want and desire to share and educate other about it has become more of a passion. Ultimately, I want to hike it all, but every large journey begins with a small step, and I consider this latest hike the final steps on the first leg of this incredible journey: my final first steps.

The first portion of becoming a 1,000 miler started right here in my home county: Waukesha. Finishing these two final segments led to my completion of the Walk the Wauk program. I felt it was especially important to complete my own chapter's segment first not only because of their location being in close proximity to my residence, but because of their importance to my planning for the hiking program I coordinate, Tyke Hikes, and Summer Saunters.

Starting off at the Blue Springs trailhead of the Walworth/Jefferson County Chapter, I took a short road hike to the beginning (or end) of the Stoney Ridge segment. Just as I entered the forest, I saw the first of a multitude of ground dwelling birds throughout the segment. Though they resembled ducks, I knew they weren't. They were quick to dart off the trail every time I tried to get a closer look. My ornithological identification isn't where it can be, but I am guessing they were pheasants, or something closely related, based solely on their tailfeathers. I was also impressed with the diversity of ground cover. Over this three-mile segment, I walked on beds of pine needles, acorns, mud, leaves, grass, and sand.

From there, it was on to the Eagle segment. On this journey, there were wetlands, dry prairies, forests of oak and pine, stands of birch, and rock formations galore, including the exquisitely exposed dolomite that is known as Brady's Rocks. Though trees take most of my attention now, including a decimated oak among taller giants I call The Fallen Soldier, rocks and geology have always been an interest of mine. I was very thrilled to see these amazing rocks.
"The Fallen Soldier"

This picture does no justice to Brady's Rocks.

In the spirit of Halloween, the fog lifted only near the end of my hike. However, the mist wasn't the only element that made this an eerie excursion. With the ground cover so colorful and thick, hearing the movement of birds and small mammals was constant, though the visuals were not. It almost made me feel as if I was being followed. The blasts of gunshots throughout the trail was also a bit nerve-wracking, especially when I turned a sharp corner only to find a startled hunter decked out in orange surprised to see me. Luckily, he wasn't trigger happy. I wore brightly colored closes to help stick out among the dullness of the naked trees, but the sight of the many, many hunters I saw creeping in the tall grasses and near the trail left me a bit unsure at times. Meeting a trio of hunting dogs at different points eased the tension a bit. Beautiful and well-trained Lancelot and Crabcake let me know they noticed me before heading back to their owner while 8-month old Sophie was more interested in playing than training to be a hunter, much to the dismay of her owner.
New IAT mascot???

However, I did make it back to my vehicle safely and with the clouds clearing and plenty of time left in the day, I headed out for more outdoor adventures, making stops at the nearby Paradise Springs Nature Area and the Kettle Moraine State Forest Headquarters and Natural History Museum.

A wonderful day to complete a much-anticipated goal and an overall feeling that this "end" is just the beginning.

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