Day Fourteen of Todd’s SCDS Surgery, Part 2: The “Longleaf Pine Loop” Hike of Death, Mandeville, LA

SCDS is superior canal dehiscence syndrome, a rare condition of the inner ear. Its main symptoms are autophony (hearing your own voice in your head when you speak), dizziness, and balance problems.

Northlake Nature Center, view from the boardwalkWe left for the Northlake Nature Center about 10 am because I wanted Todd to see the cypress/tupelo swamp there. I saw a sign for the Eagle Trail and asked Todd if he wanted to take it. He said yes.

It turned out to be a bad decision. The brochure I picked up at the entrance showed the Longleaf Pine Trail doubling back from the beginning of the Eagle Trail. Although it wasn’t marked with numbers the way the other two trails were, it looked shorter. So we kept heading that way, and then we came to the first bridge to nowhere.

I should have been clued in by the narrow, overgrown nature of the short path to the bridge and the fact that trees were growing up through the bridge. We stood there for a while enjoying the bayou and then tried to exit the other side. There were many fallen trees to climb over (second clue), so I went ahead and scouted. I saw an area that seemed to have many interesting birds but no path to speak of. So Todd and I returned over the bridge, and I kept trying to follow the Longleaf Pine Trail.

By the time I decided that the trail was no longer in use, it would have taken us just as long to go back as it took us to go forward. The trail tapered off more and more, and we were saved from getting lost only by the pink streamers on certain trees. We spent a lot of time crossing wobbly two-by-four bridges and climbing over logs. Finally we stumbled out near Pelican Lane and found our location on the map.

We decided to follow the power lines, which took us to a bridge that had been boarded off. (Third clue, anyone? Or perhaps fiftieth, if one counts all the downed trees?) At this point, I was getting scared, so I crossed the bridge first to make sure it could hold our weight. As I reached the other side and motioned Todd to clamber over the barriers, I received a call from Pontchartrain Surgery Center, where Todd had had a spinal tap on Friday. She wanted to know how he was doing. I looked at him walking across the bridge and wondered how much I should tell her. I left it at, “He’s fine.”Second bridge to nowhere, Northlake Nature Center, Mandeville, LA

I could go into more gory detail, but I think the letter Todd composed as we were walking back says it better than I could.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to you today as the regional representative of the Shittiest Nature Trails 2009 contest. While your entry “Northlake Nature Center” was a finalist, it lacked a few things that would “push it over the top.” This letter outlines some of our panel’s suggestions so your entry can attain a higher score in 2010.

1. First, though your trail had confusing and mislabeled signs, we feel it could be made even worse with the complete removal of all signage. We’re sure you will agree that hikers stand the best chance of having a shitty experience on your nature trail when completely lost.

2. Second, we felt that your designers did a masterful job mixing well-groomed trails with forgotten tracks. But most of the trails were not nearly challenging enough. We recommend the addition of land mines, scattered throughout your trail system. At the end of this letter is contact information for a GSA-approved anti-personnel mine vendor in your area.

3. Third, we encourage you to create a trail-naming scheme that is more misleading than your current one. Our field testers tried the Eagle Trail and the Longleaf Pine Trail. Though they reported seeing no eagles, the possibility exists of seeing an eagle, and therefore we recommend choosing a worse name. For comparison, the 2009 winner of Shittiest Nature Trail includes a trail segment called Sunrise Trail that circles the inside of a deep gravel pit where the sun never shines. Perhaps you could choose a trail on the east side of your property and name it West Nature Trail. Get creative!

4. Finally, the pocket-size paper map available at the trailhead is only about 50% inaccurate. We encourage you to make it between 80% and 95% inaccurate. Especially important is to mislabel trails, show wildly inaccurate distances (adding or removing decimal points is helpful here), and include trails that don’t actually exist.

In conclusion, thank you for your submission. While you have a truly shitty nature trail, it’s just not quite shitty enough for Shittiest Nature Trails of the Lower 48. We encourage you to reapply in 2010.

Todd Bradley
Regional Coordinator
Shittiest Nature Trails of the Lower 48

Truly, my lack of planning and inability to quit something once I’ve begun can produce remarkable results. As far as I know, Todd suffered no damage from the hike, but I was supposed to be taking care of him on this trip. Dragging him through the swamp was not on the original agenda.

Anybody else out there have stories about well-meaning excursions gone terribly wrong?