After venturing out again last week getting to know the area surrounding my favorite bridge in Chattanooga; this time I wanted to get out right where I live – the Lookout area. I am in Lookout Valley but I see the mountains all around me and it has been gorgeous watching the trees become so vibrant this autumn.
No longer sore, I wanted to get some exercise and prepare for an upcoming group hike by going on a little trek by myself. I will go a little slower at the Y this week so that I can still keep it up. My focus is ‘staying with it’ and not trying to lose a year’s weight-gain in one week.
My son’s car was on the fritz so while he had to be in Cleveland over the weekend I had let him take my Jeep. On Sunday, I wanted to go exploring near the mountains. I can see mountains all around me when I step out on my balcony – that means I could probably walk to them, right? I wanted the exercise and - ‘so what if it was more than the one mile I can run’ (or the two I may be able to powerwalk)? This would just be a hike and I can go further when hiking because it keeps my attention when I have a goal before me.
Deciding whether I wanted to head to the right towards Raccoon Mountain or go left towards Lookout was a question that depended on how much of the highway I had to deal with. The hazard of walking along the highway is, there are many semi-trucks crossing and fighting the interstate ramps aren’t fun. The way to Lookout seemed less dangerous.
I would soon find out that the trucks were the least of my problem. Heading on Cummings Highway, I went under the overpass and saw train tracks and a gravel path. It made me feel safer taking that path and getting off of the highway. Lookout Mountain was not far away. I had no idea how far I would go and it didn’t matter to me or the fact that however far I decided to go - I would also have to come back that same distance.
I wanted to let my eyes do the walking; my feet were just the tools to get me there. I took the path off the highway by the tracks and it took me closer to the mountain and farther from the highway. I was sure to be headed on a good trail soon!
As I walked, I noticed that there was a big drop off of a kudzu embankment distancing me from the highway. I began taking a few pictures of the tracks and I recalled fond childhood memories of my sister and I being dare-devils near train tracks, flattening pennies and having little adventures. But I wasn’t a stupid kid anymore. Gone were the days of innocence where I didn’t understand the danger of things – or so I thought.
All of a sudden, I heard a rumble in the distance. I looked down the tracks both ways and didn’t see anything …but it was there. The faraway sound mimicked what I would imagine a herd of buffalo stampeding would sound like. I looked at the flashing red light by the tracks; yes a train was on its way. The track I was closest to was pretty straight and I didn’t see a train on it so it had to be on the side farther from me that had a bend. I kind of got excited hearing the roar of the train coming closer and having my camera ready to snap an up close picture as it went by.
I waved at the person in the front window of the train and I backed up as close as I could to the steep edge of the kudzu valley. I took a few photos but to be that close to the train and feeling the clang-clang of the metal going by and resonating with the beat of my heart inside my chest was as close as I wanted to get! If for any reason this train were to de-rail, there was no way to escape – kudzu valley was too tangle-y to try and run through and it was very steep.
After the train passed I headed on up the path to get to the mountain to begin my hike even though I had already walked a couple of miles already. Then I came to a bridge over troubled water. Well, actually the water down below was fine – but I was in trouble because there was only one way across! One narrow track with no path on either side – just the track! I had encountered this problem before when I was an invincible teenager in Kentucky crossing a 100-foot trestle. But that trestle was dead and this one was active.
I was aware that I could not cross the trestle – I may be adventurous but I am not crazy. I realized that it may not be typical to walk along the constricted path of active train tracks and maybe… just maybe I was doing something illegal by being there. Was I? I had no idea. I was just someone trying to head to the mountain to hike and I thought I was being smart to take the detour away from the busy highway. I was not an invincible teenager; I was 46 and very aware that I messed up! I wanted to walk as fast as I could back the way I came before another train came.
I passed the flashing red lights again. FLASHING? Uh- oh! I hurriedly assessed the situation. I saw a train around the bend but it wasn’t moving. Oh good - I could keep walking and get out of there before someone called the trespassing-authority-people. Then I looked on the long straight track closest to me; there was another train! It wasn’t moving either - thank goodness. I saw a white authority-looking truck parked way down the track by the train on the track closest to me. I could barely see that far but that was where I had to go. I began playing in my head what it was I would say when the authority person read me my rights.
I stopped and looked at the train on the farthest track. A man was standing out on the front of the train looking as if he were waiting on something. Did that white truck somehow tell them that some foolish person was playing on the tracks and to wait until she left before moving? No way--- trains have deadlines just like truckers and I know that truckers don’t wait for you to get out of their way – they just keep on trucking! I knew if I kept walking and the trains were waiting on me that it would take me too long to get down there and so I just pretended that I knew what I was doing. I backed up to the kudzu drop off and just stood at the edge staying out of the train's way the best I could.
I took a few more pictures as if to show them I knew it was okay for me to be there. Maybe it was – maybe it wasn’t; I did not see any signs that said I couldn’t be there so I just stayed there (where was my press badge when I needed it?). Then I steadied my feet on the kudzu embankment a few feet down to let them see I was a safe distance away. I really doubt they were waiting on me – but sure enough as I positioned myself as far from the track as I could, the train on the track closest to me began moving and I no longer saw the white truck. Whew! Maybe I wasn’t in trouble after all.
But then as the train came closer it had worked up more speed and that sound, that unnerving sound of the box cars swooshing along against the wind making me aware of its massive presence is exciting and yet daunting. As it moved closer towards me, I snapped a few photos and then had to take my eyes off of the camera’s view to see what was right in front of me. This train was a double-decker! It was so tall that it shook heavily as it slunk across the track. At that point, I was just standing there with my mouth open, my heart pounding as the monstrosity wheeled by.
I began praying, “Oh Lord, protect me this one last time and I promise I won’t get myself into any more messes,” but He knew… and I knew it was inevitable one day soon that I would walk into something else that I didn’t mean to. It isn’t intentional when I do these things – it is just that I never received the big-fat rule book that tells you where you can go and what you should do in life. I mean, sure – there’s the Bible… but it didn’t tell me anything about how to get to Lookout Mountain on foot or about the train tracks I walked near.
I also prayed, “Please Lord, don’t let this be a long train!” and He answered. It went by fairly quickly as opposed to the first one which had hundreds of cars. With the scary double-decker train gone, the third train was ready to have his turn on the connected track to head over that single-line trestle across the creek. I can’t begin to tell you the relief I felt knowing that Mama wouldn’t have to have a policeman come to her door saying that I got run over by a train. In fact, Mama didn’t even have to know about this at all! (Here’s hoping that she has a Scrabble marathon on the day this story runs and she misses it).