The Urban Trail on a Saturday

The directional sign at the Spencer Butte trailhead. Photo by Tim Graves
The directional sign at the Spencer Butte trailhead. Photo by Tim Graves

The shiny and clean luxury cars in the parking lot were my first clue. The glossy trailhead directional sign was my next. I was not in eastern Oregon (or even my beloved Gorge)!

It wasn’t a bad trail. Quite the contrary, the hike up to the top of  Eugene, Oregon’s Spencer Butte was a physical challenge (though short) that elevated my heart rate. As I made the final rock climb to the top, my endorphins were already doing their job with my mood. Still.

Still, it wasn’t quite right in other ways. Maybe “right” is the wrong word. It wasn’t what I’m accustomed to on a hike. Even the less-used, more difficult west route was less rustic than most of the trails I hike. Sanitized is too strong a word to describe it but, well, even with the forest around me, even with the cougar and bear warning sign at the trailhead kiosk, it was hard to shake the city around me.

Most cluster in groups Photo by Tim Graves
Most cluster in groups at the top of Spencer Butte on a Saturday morning in Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

I know. I sound like a purist, or God-forbid a snob. Still.

When I reached the top there was a crowd! Most of the folks were chattering to one another. You know, that kind of  chatter? It was the kind of chatter with a wall around it that says, we are a group and you are not a part of it. “We don’t even see you.”

It is not that I expect to have long conversations with those I encounter while hiking. (I usually hike to be immersed in nature and the One I call God.) Typically hikers acknowledge one another’s presence. Sometimes we comment on the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Instead, I heard people chattering that kind of chatter with a wall around it. From time to time, phrases about peoples’ daily life escaped the walls. One woman even stared at her smartphone!

As I hiked down the crowded but easier, if longer, trail back to the trailhead I thought. Maybe the One I call God was still speaking to me even in this environment that felt simultaneously familiar and alien to me.

Reflecting, this trail serves a very different purpose than most of the trails I hike. It is a place for a quick jaunt for exercise. For some, it is like a morning jog. For others it is a place to gather with friends as you might for brunch on a Saturday morning after a stressful week. Clearly, not my cup of tea (or cheese omelette) but legitimate use nonetheless.

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