Feeling adventurous and eager to play with our new toy – the Canon 70D we recently fell prey to in a weak mood of self-indulgence – Bill and I hopped in the car and drove to the High Trestle Trail last night around 8:00, our spirits buoyed by the gorgeous fall weather, clear skies and that wonderful stillness that often takes hold once the sun goes down.
Driving Kramer-style with a tank of gas teetering toward empty, we arrived in Madrid to gas up before heading to the trailhead with a few miles to spare before our tank went belly-up. Full throttle now, we continued on our way. There was no moon to guide us and the gravel road leading out of Madrid was lit only by our headlights with occasional flashes of illumination cast off from farm houses along the road. After two false leads (we had to turn around a couple of times and backtrack) we found the parking area for the trail. We’d only been here once before during the day; funny, isn’t it, how things look so much different at night.
As we pulled into the gravel parking lot, another vehicle was just leaving. While we were prepping ourselves with the camera, tripod and bug spray, we no longer had the place to ourselves as a new car pulled in to the darkened lot. Late at night, no streetlights or moon overhead, I’ll admit once we stepped onto the trail that leads to the bridge it felt both exhilarating and a little spooky. The trail to the bridge opened up in front of us, a converging path toward a dimly lit target in the distance. The leafless trees provided dramatic silhouettes against the dark, starry sky. It was breathtaking!
A friend had cautioned us to wear some kind of reflective gear or to carry a flashlight as it is difficult for the many bicyclists and pedestrians who use the trail to see others on the trail ahead. I soon learned the truth of her warning when seemingly out of nowhere we were able to discern two adult figures walking toward us. It wasn’t until they were literally right in front of me that I noticed they were each pushing strollers with two small children in tow. They issued a friendly greeting and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. This was great fun and I loved being out there but when you’re on a lonely stretch surrounded only by trees and sky late at night during the week and no one knows you’re out there – well, let’s just say it was easy for my imagination to get the better of me at times. Still, we pressed on knowing there were folks just ahead of us as well from that second car parked next to ours.
Each end of the half-mile bridge is marked by two structures which are beautifully lit at night. These towers, artistically appointed, are 42 feet tall. According to the High Trestle Trail website, the dark bands represent geologic coal veins found in the area limestone deposits. As we approached the towers, I was reminded of our first visit here two years ago. The 13-story bridge, located between Madrid and Woodward over the Des Moines River, offers stunning views and is punctuated along the half-mile span with six overlooks. The bridge design includes 41 steel ‘frames’ covering the trail and extending the length of the bridge. At night, in the center of the bridge, these frames are illuminated by thin, cool, blue rods of light resulting in a dramatic burst of geometry.
For a mid-October weeknight (precariously close to our normal bedtime), the trail was surprisingly busy. Some, like us, were outfitted with camera and tripod to snap a few photos while others, including a couple of groups with small children and babies, were apparently just out for the fresh air, starry skies and unique location. Bill and I experimented with aperture settings, ISO settings, shutter speeds and generally just played around with some of the many features on our new camera. Some photos were fairly successful.
Others, not so much. (See the ‘ghost’?)
After an hour and a half of walking the bridge and experimenting with our camera, we headed back to the car. By this time, the others had left and we were alone on the trail. After we’d walked some distance from the bridge towers, we noticed a strong beam of light behind us. Turning around to look, my first thought was someone was driving a car on the trail which is designated for non-motorized travel only. On closer inspection, we realized it was a pair of bicycles with very bright lights. Again, the riders called out a cheery greeting (perhaps regular users of trails, especially at night, recognize all too well the adrenaline rush of those they are about to pass, in a place where thoughts of vulnerability are utmost in one’s mind when an unknown entity approaches amidst all that isolated darkness!) Their gesture was greatly appreciated whether or not their intent was to tamp down fear. In any case, mission accomplished.
We continued on (with both of us reveling in the intensity of their bicycle light beams even as the distance between us increased over time) until at last we reached the intersecting gravel road that led to the parking lot. Another moment of apprehension as a car drove toward us and then turned around. Its passengers, however, had simply made the same mistake we’d made earlier and overshot the entrance to the parking lot. Ten o’clock on a Thursday evening and here were two more daring souls seeking the peace and solitude of hiking this popular trail built on a former railroad bed on a beautiful October evening under a clear sky bursting with stars and wispy streaks of clouds while being serenaded by the sound of chirping crickets and a gentle breeze.
On the way home it occurred to me that while our recent trip to Colorado and the magnificent Rocky Mountains was incredibly inspiring, beautiful and fulfilling, so too was this little outing that I had just enjoyed with my husband, my partner by my side.