While Lon was at Whitewater with Scouts, I decided to go for a walk at the Rice County Park south of Northfield. The drive down the gravel road to get to this park always gives me the willies. The houses along the way are Deliverance-like. There is the house with the sheet covered windows that I’m sure is a meth house. Nearly all of the houses have lots of junk in the yards. This park is hillbilly-ridden on the summer weekends, due to the free camping. The park is between Northfield and Faribault, and honestly, Faribault has more than its share of wackos. So, I took the dog along for the appearance of protection. She’s 12 years old and getting slow. She does still have a wicked bark, though. When we got to the park there were no cars in the lot, which I took as a good sign. We started down the path that goes along the river, but I soon realized that this was going to be too much for her. The path was ice and snow covered, too rough for her old paws. So we headed back up the path and took the marked Nature Trail that leads up into the hills. There was more bare ground for her on this path. I was surprised from the start how well worn the path was. There were lots of footprints. Also, lots of plastic garbage, which is unusual for trails around here. There were a few Jennie-O Ground Turkey roll wrappers on the trail, which I didn’t give much thought to. It was a beautiful day and my shoes and clothes felt just right for the 15 degree temperature, so I just kept walking along enjoying myself. The dog was having a great time plodding along behind me, sniffing all the way. At one point I wondered where the garbage might have blown in from, but it was just a fleeting thought. The walking was taking quite a bit of attention, due to ice on the trail and slick muddy spots. I noticed that there were shoe prints in the mud, but I’m no tracker. They could have been there for a month, for all I know. As we went along, the amount of garbage on the trail increased. It was when I saw the Taco John’s Potato Ole container that the Faribault connection became clear; Faribault has a TJ’s, Northfield does not. So, it was obviously a Faribault slob messing up the park. Still, no worries. There hadn’t been a car in the parking lot, right? We had been walking at a pretty good clip for 30 to 45 minutes (don’t know for sure, again I was lost in how good it felt to be out) when I smelled fuel. I wondered fleetingly where the odor would be coming from, but kept going. There was a slippery creek bed in a little ravine to get through, so I had to concentrate on not ending up a muddy, broken hip mess. I got across (the dog made it look easy) and walked a few feet when I saw an Angel Soft toilet paper wrapper on the trail. That’s when the alarm finally went off in my head. Nobody carries an entire pack of tp into the woods for a hike. I finally looked around to see what this might mean. I looked to my left up the hill and there is garbage everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. Jennie-O wrappers were prominent in the mix. It was shocking to see trash all over the hillside. There were plastic grocery bags and wrappers and debris of every kind. As my eyes traveled up I saw that just over the crest of the hill was the blue of tarps. There was something hanging in a tree, maybe a backpack or coat. I stood like an idiot while I realized that I was standing below what clearly was someone’s camp. Now, if I’m going to wander into a homeless camp, I need to be expecting it. Like most things, I want it to be on my terms. I want it to be under a bridge, or in an alley, or (in Bellingham, WA) along a busy street. Not out on a trail, by myself, with an old dog who is running around thinking she’s in heaven because there are turkey wrappers to lick. Also, if I’m going to stumble upon a homeless person in the woods, I want them to be rugged and tidy and living in the woods by choice. We might sit down in camp and have a cup of coffee from his clean cooking area. Not this. I stood, transfixed, looking for the person who might have created this disaster. It was clearly someone who was not in his (I’m assuming it was a man…had to be) right mind. I stood there and stood there, not knowing what to do. Clearly I needed to leave as quickly as I could. I am reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and had just learned about deaths along the AT. Transients = Danger. Simple as that. I didn’t want to go back the way I had come. The trail was too slippery. So I finally pulled myself away and started moving along the trail. I was pretty sure that it went downhill soon and would join up with the trail along the river. I called Nikki and left her a message, then called her again. No answer. I tried Lon and he answered. He took me seriously, which caused me even more worry. His advice? Keep the dog near me. It sounds reasonable, only at this point, she is plodding along far behind me, clearly exhausted and ticked off that she had to leave behind all that delicious licking. Nothing about her looked menacing. I started wondering and hoping if dogs get adrenaline rushes when threatened. Nikki had called while I was talking to Lon, so I tried to call her back. No signal. Of course. The trail beyond the littered hill was faint and harder to follow. I guess the creepy person who lives there doesn’t venture beyond their camp. Fortunately, the path soon went downhill and rejoined the path along the river. I flew along hoping that the dog would keep up, constantly keeping my eyes on the hill above waiting for some raggedy-ass man to be lurching down towards me. He wouldn’t, couldn’t be in his right mind and would want to kill me, I was sure. My mind was going faster than my legs could keep up.
I cruised along the trail as fast as the dog could keep up. After all my fear, of course, nothing eventful happened along the way. We made great time getting back to the car. The dog was exhausted and hobbled her way onto the back seat. I locked the doors, texted Nikki and Lon that I was safe, then drove quickly back along Deliverance Lane.
I really want to go back to the park and walk today. The park is my new obsession. The walk is beautiful along the river, with an eagles’ nest and lot of birds at this time of year. I am going to call Rice County parks today and report it. Sorry homeless person, but you’re keeping too nasty of a camp for me to not call it in. Hopefully you can find someplace more remote (not visible from the trail…duh) to live. Besides, this is Minnesota and we had a horrible winter. Don’t live outside here. And, don’t let your trash be everywhere. But I’m glad you’re getting enough protein in your diet. And that you have nice soft tp to wipe with.