In Search of Secret Tunnels

Owen @ Sheridan Lake

I’ve been trying to make it a point to do a lot more hiking this year. Sure, taking a walk around the block is a nice bit of exercise, but trekking through hill and dale cleanses the soul and stretches the imagination as much as it does your muscles.

Growing up in a ghost town like Rochford, surrounded by lush pine and spruce, one couldn’t help but climb the hills you were surrounded by. The view from the top was always worth the work it took to reach it. You could always take solace in the natural ambiance; the rustling leaves, the sound of rocks tumbling underneath your step, the occasional woodland creature skittering away at the realization they’d been found out.

I could have been in better shape back then to be sure, but I was far svelter than I am now. Living in the Black Hills, there isn’t a single sound excuse I could really give as to why I don’t hike often. Being busy isn’t good enough; I could find the time if I was willing to.

The day I found enough time happened to be today.

Granted my wife and two youngest sons are away on a trip east river, but under any other circumstance I probably would have buried my nose in a book or plunked my butt in the easy chair and whittled away a few hours playing video games. Instead I packed up my hesitant oldest son Owen and a few water bottles and drove up to Sheridan Lake.

Sheridan Lake

A few weeks ago we’d hiked the same trail with my parents and their dog as a way of celebrating Father’s Day. Between the lake trail head and where it meets the Spring Creek path is a pretty leisurely stroll as far as hikes go. It skirts the perimeter of the lake until it comes to a stop at the dam. Most people go across the dam to a destroyed outpost and bridge then summarily turn around. The family and I once tried to find a couple of tunnels my wife Carrie faintly remembered from her youth, but a steep flume (hence the name Flume Trail) kind of waylaid us and forced us to turn around.

Without young and inexperienced feet to scare us away, Owen and I decided to press on.

Flume Trail 10The Flume Trail stays fairly narrow and steep for a good chunk. The only exceptions were when we came across the man-made junctures from the early twentieth century. The footing was a bit rough in spots, but nothing a little patience couldn’t overcome. There were a couple of hairy moments when an older fellow with a dog decided to run past us. I’m not sure what kind of a circuit he was taking, but we ended up seeing him two more times after that. It was windy but undoubtedly cool.

It was one of those rare chances to talk with one of my kids’ mano-a-mano, something I also don’t do very often. It’s always an interesting exercise in that you discover a lot about your child when their and your mind space isn’t taken up by whatever it is we happen to be doing. Owen asked a lot of questions (as do my other two boys, as a general rule) and let loose that he was a little worried about high school and the timing of which he’ll get his driver’s license. He may have whined a little bit, but he pushed on like a trooper.

Flume Trail 15When we reached the fabled tunnel, we quickly found it was totally worth the work it was to get to it. I’d guess it stretches for about a hundred feet or so, just enough to look imposing because you could barely see through to the other side. We started with the flashlight on, but quickly turned it off because that’s way more fun. It was slightly flooded from all the rain and hail we’ve gotten lately, but the board pathway kept us from getting too wet. Once through to the other side we quickly decided that finding the other tunnel was a no-brainer.

Owen quickly learned a lesson about distance and the difference between the relativity of taking a straight path as opposed to a long and curvy one. As we exited the tunnel and looked down, you could see a stretch of Sheridan Lake Road that is notorious for having a really sharp corner to it. There’s even a mannequin named Biker Bob resting on a rusting motorbike forewarning you of impending doom if you take it too quickly. From that point all the way to the trail head is a good distance by car. Walking on the hill just above it took far less.

Flume Trail 28The second tunnel, by all counts, wasn’t as spectacular as the first. It only stretched maybe twelve feet, and felt more like a structure of efficiency than a cavern full of mystery. Even though in all honesty said cave of mystery was built for the same reason. It was a nice enough spot to rest though, as we sat down and nibbled on a granola bar and drank our water, surprisingly still filled with enough ice to keep it refreshing.

The walk back was just as beautiful a jaunt as the way in. Conversation now turned to how to survive a zombie apocalypse, which I’ve quickly learned is perhaps the biggest concern this side of finding a girlfriend for a 13-year-old boy. When he isn’t disregarding what I tell him, torturing his brothers or ignoring his chores, Owen can be a very insightful and intelligent kid. Once the kinks that come with puberty subside, I think he’s gonna do OK out in the real world.

As a reward for hiking a little under five miles, feeling better about ourselves and seeing something few will get to up close, we made a pit stop at the Miner Brewing Company and had a celebratory root beer (and picked up a growlette filled with yummy oatmeal stout for later.) The drive home was quiet; we were both thoroughly worn out, the drive felt a little longer than the way in and the shuffle on my iPod was kicking out some great tunes.

I could get used to this. I should get used to this. I need a little more adventure in my life; the type of thing that not just makes me feel good physically, but maybe a little bit emotionally and psychologically as well. We have a year pass to a lot of spots; I’m jonesing to go check them all out now. And I definitely want to come back and bring Carrie with just to check out that view again.

Hiking, I’m missed you so. Let’s not stay apart for so long next time.




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