One day in May, my wife Julie held out her phone, saying there was something she wanted me to see.

TOP PHOTO: Shady trails offer some relief for summer runners, but a daydreamer could be in for a surprise.
Photo by Sonny Rhodes


It was a video of a fellow taking his first steps on a hike. The hiker, the spouse of one of Julie’s college friends, wasn’t going for just any hike. He was setting out on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which stretches 2,627 miles, between Mexico and Canada, winding through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges of California, Oregon and Washington.

We marveled at his gumption.

It seems lately that my wanderlust has been whetted more than usual. For my birthday last October, my son gave me a book, The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, about a pair of middle-aged brothers who in 2011 drove a mule-pulled, covered wagon from Missouri to Oregon. So I spent part of last winter vicariously urging three mules across deserts and through treacherous mountain passes.

Then spring brought a flood of news reports about people undertaking amazing journeys. For instance, there was one story about a guy hiking across the United States, from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic. There was another account of a fellow canoeing the Mississippi River from its headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. And then there was the one about a young woman, Whitney Clement, who graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville on May 14 and set out three days later for a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Like the Pacific Crest, the Appalachian is not just any trail. Roughly 2,200 miles long, the Appalachian runs between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. Typically, it takes five to seven months to hike the Appalachian from end to end.

I dream of such adventures. But my dreams invariably are tempered when my thoughts turn to preparations.

Clement told a reporter she spent a year and a half preparing for her journey. I cannot even imagine. It takes me two hours to pack for a weekend jaunt to Memphis. On a typical workday, leaving the house involves at least three trips back inside, making sure all the lights are out, retrieving my cell phone, wallet or keys, checking to see that a sleeping cat hasn’t been closed up in a room. The list goes on and on.

For now, I’ll just have to be content to fantasize. I was caught up in one of my little flights of fancy recently while running along a shady dirt trail beside White Oak Bayou in Burns Park. It was a warm, muggy morning, but the shade was invigorating, and the run had me feeling blissful. I imagined myself bounding along a jungle path a thousand miles from nowhere.

A large brown bird swooped down out of a tree, then vanished somewhere in the thick canopy of bottomland hardwoods. I figured it was a barred owl, since these birds can be seen in the daytime. A barred owl has a call — hoohoo-hoohoo, hoohoo-hoohooaw — that has been likened to someone calling, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

I do a fair barred owl impression, having once called up three during a National Audubon Society bird count. Just for kicks, I began doing my barred owl call as I loped along the trail.

Then there was the snake. Stopped beside the path, it caught me right in the middle of a hoo-hoo.

More precisely, I said, “Hoohoo-hoo … AIIIEEEE!!!” Leaping, I could have been going for Olympic gold in the long jump: kicking and clawing at the air for all the height and distance I could muster.

I’m pretty sure the reptile was a racer. It was black, with a white throat and chin, and looked to be about 5 feet long. Like most snake species in Arkansas, the racer is non-venomous and feeds on snakes, frogs, rodents and insects. It likely was on its way to the bayou for breakfast when it paused to let this crazily hooting human pass.

Even with no one around, I was embarrassed by my jumpiness. Running on, I decided that if the snake was still there on my way back I’d take a picture to post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. It was gone, of course, but it gave me something to tell Julie about that evening.
Someday maybe I’ll set out on an amazing journey. I’m thinking I’ll need a companion, though, to keep my head out of the clouds and save me from jumping out of my skin.

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