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Sometimes, getting off the trail brings the best view.
Sometimes, getting off the trail brings the best view.
Photo Credit: Teak Phillips

Great adventures wander off and on the beaten path

Veering off a trail might seem like a risky move, but it offers opportunities for exploration and discovery

My daughter and I bushwhacked along a creek to a waterfall on a recent outdoor adventure. We stopped to let white sand slip through our fingers, identified skunk tracks in muck and negotiated under fallen trees and around thorny shrubs. We ate lunch on a St. Peter sandstone platform at a small pool formed by a downed sycamore. She got piggyback rides to ford the creek, and we heard a wild turkey gobbling over the ridge.

An hour later, a half-mile into the bush, there was no waterfall. I was confident we were going in the right direction. We weren’t lost, we just weren’t where I wanted us to be. The waterfall isn’t printed on the topographical map; the route was supposed to be a shortcut. So, back along the creek we trekked to the trail, blazed in orange and marked on the map.

Even for a petite 8-year-old, my daughter’s spirit is big. She didn’t complain about the hike or the extra mile.

“I just like spending the day with you, daddy.”

Still, the waterfall was the destination, so we followed the worn path to the place, a little past some prickly pear cactus, where you have to know to scramble down a bluff and follow a creek bed. The spot is hidden but not hard to access if you know about it and don’t try to shortcut the route with inadequate directions. Perhaps God was teaching me a lesson here.

The water descends about five feet from a hole in the ceiling of a small natural amphitheater, into which we crawled. We listened and watched. We forgot about going in the wrong direction.

The break must have been refreshing. My daughter climbed back to the trail the hard way by scrambling a steeply pitched rock face and celebrating the summit.

“Onward!” she declared.

For the remaining mile-and-a-half, she insisted on being the hike leader. She clambered over outcroppings and tree trunks. She briskly traversed, ascended, descended and serpentined through the Ozark foothills woods — confident and knowing. When we got to the fork in the trail, she chose the path back to our SUV she calls The Official Adventure Vehicle. She was ready for rest.

Veering off a trail might seem like a risky move. Sometimes it is. Often, it’s an opportunity to explore and discover, learn problem-solving and find opportunities. Likewise, following the trace can get us to our destination assuredly. That route is comforting.

Some of the best adventures wander on and off the proven path.

Phillips is the editor of the St. Louis Review. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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