Two weeks ago, we set off to explore Big Shoals State Park near the small town of White Springs.
We’d read all about it. “Big Shoals State Park features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. Limestone bluffs, towering 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River, afford outstanding vistas not found anywhere else in Florida. When the water level on the Suwannee is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification, attracting thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Over 28 miles of wooded trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing.”
I donned my somewhat-new hiking boots, grabbed my walking stick and camera, and we hit the trail. I’m gonna say the trail was a bit challenging. Trip-hazards (roots & cypress knees) and moderate hills. But we reached the river and saw the rapids – at Class III stage. A little past the observation area, we found a way to climb down to a wide whitish-sand beach at the base of the rapids. M headed off with the camera. I walked the beach, looking for stuff.
Now, I’ve never been known for my grace or strength. I’m clutzy and can’t pick up much more than a full coffee mug. But I hiked along that beach and found what I believed to be a fossil. I took it down to the water’s edge, the familiar tea-colored tannic water of the Suwannee. I bent over to rinse the sand from the stone — and fell face-first into the Suwannee River. There under the water, I realized I’d lost my glasses so I stayed under and found them. Left the fossil for someone else.
M saw me fall. She’s used to it. She’s known about my lack of balance for right about 30 years. But when I didn’t pop back up, she thought I was dead and came running. Just then I flopped over and said, “I’m okay. Got my glasses!” I was wet from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet (Oh, my poor boots!), and we had a long hike back to the car.
I saw her a few feet away, taking my picture. Grrrrrr.
“Now, this might make you angry now, but you’ll think it’s funny later,” she said.
“I already think it’s funny.” But I was hurting.
You might not know this, but after you fall and kinda hurt yourself, it takes some time to recover. You don’t want to look UP to see the trail. But we had to climb. No other way. I was hurting. I’d fallen first onto my knees and then flat down. My head hit the river bottom. My legs were wobbly. It was hot, and I was kind of dehydrated. But we had to climb.
M sprinted up to the trail, looked down, and held out her hand. “Grab my hand. I’ve got you.”
What she didn’t know was that I didn’t have enough strength to make that dang climb. Man, I’m outta shape. So instead of taking her hand, I had to crawl up that embankment. I mean flat-on-my-stomach crawl. I got to the top and plopped down like a rain-soaked newspaper in the grass. As I struggled to my feet, my trusty walking stick (an oak branch) broke.
I knew we had to get back. I was okay. Thirsty, humiliated, weak, and dirt-speckled – but I could make it back. I wanted to make it back. On my own. No help. M blazed the trail in front as I huffed and slogged along behind her.
“What are you doing with your phone?” I managed to ask.
“Ordering you a walking stick,” she answered in a voice so perky I would’ve tackled her if I could have gotten to her. “I got you a red one. I know that’s your favorite color.”
We kept going. My mouth was dry and I was getting dizzy. “Just leave me here,” I groaned. Literally groaned. “It’s for the best.”
“Nope,” M chirped. “You’re going to get stronger! Look – we’re almost there. You’re doing great.”
At the edge of a swampy area, we stopped so I could catch a piece of breath.
“What are you doing with your cell phone now?” I wheezed.
“Watching the Gator softball game,” she answered – as if nothing had happened. “It’s important.”
And then I laughed. The hilarity of the situation hit harder than my full weight hit the bottom of the river. She was just fine, walking along smoothly, taking pictures, watching the game. I was behind her, a greyish blob, weaving, panting, and whining. That’s when I realized: I cannot quit. And whining is ridiculous.
Soon, we emerged from the woods. I looked beat-up. A young couple who’d been studying the posted map looked at me, and then at each other. I could imagine their words, “LOOK at that woman! Maybe this trail is too hard.” I smiled.
M brought me some water. I was still wet and didn’t want to ruin her nice leather car seats. “I’ll just ride on the floor in the back,” I said. “I’ll be fine there.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Let me go get the car. DON’T MOVE.”
And then the car was there. Floor mats on my seat. I got in, and we kept going. We had more to see and, after all, it was just a little dirt and water. Ouch.
I’m ready to go again.