This week, Delaware Diversions tries out the Delaware State Parks Trail Challenge by walking 7.5 miles at Lums Pond State Park.

    When I went to New Jersey for a family Independence Day party last week, I tended to run through the following conversation:
    Family member: “Hi, Becky! How are you doing?”
    Me: “Well, pretty good, but my feet kind of hurt. I walked 7.5 miles yesterday.”
    Family member: “Why?”
    As my limp faded in a far-too-slow manner over the ensuing days, I had to wonder. To be honest, I’ve wanted to do a column on the Delaware State Park’s Trail Challenge for a while, but the hugeness of Lums Pond’s Swamp Forest Nature Trail made me hesitant. The little voices of doubt in my head kept saying, “Seven and a half miles is impossible!” and “Can’t I just go do the 2.5 mile trail at White Clay Creek?”
    But I countered them with, “I once did an 8-mile AIDS walk” and “Lums Pond is the closest park to where I?live,” and somehow it worked. I coated myself with sunscreen and park-bought bug spray, armed myself with a 32-ounce bottle of water, a pair of sunglasses and a map, and set off.
    Lums Pond actually has four walking trails: the 7.5-mile Swamp Forest Nature Trail, an equivalent 7.5-mile Multi-Use Trail which allows bikers and horseback riders in addition to hikers, a 1-mile Life Course Trail with exercise challenges and a .1-mile, handicapped-accessible sensory trail. However, only the 7.5-mile and the .1-mile trail are part of the Delaware Trail Challenge.
    I took the sensory trail first. The brochure for the trail challenge said the Nature Center would provide a blindfold, but since they did not seem to be open I decided to just close my eyes and go. While the idea of walking through the woods with your eyes closed may seem creepy, the entire trail is on a raised wood platform with railings to guide your way. So the worst that can harm you are a few splinters.
    Walking without sight is a unique experience, too. The chance to hear the tweets, trills and caws of the local birds undistracted is wonderful, but I preferred the sound of the wind through the trees. With my eyes closed it seemed like I could hear it pushing down on every individual branch and leaf. At the end of the trail, you open your eyes and look out on a meadow. When I went a few robins were resting there.
    But .1 miles, even .1 miles of listening to the wind, is not exactly strenuous exercise. So I began the 7.5-mile Swamp Forest Nature Trail. Once again I psyched myself up: I told myself how hardcore I was, I used my old marching band trick of chanting “The route is still much longer” whenever I wanted to complain. I told myself my father does these types of crazy things all the time.
    Which is true, by the way. My father loves to exercise with a fervor few understand. He’s missed family gatherings to lift weights. He’s ridden his bike through three towns to get to work. If our hotel on vacation didn’t have a gym, he’d sulk for a day and take an early morning run.
    At any rate, a large amount of the way in I realized I was prepared for my walk in a few good ways. I rationed myself enough water. I probably should have worn long pants as an extra precaution against ticks but overall my clothes were lightweight and did not bother me. I had my cell phone in case of an emergency. While most of the trail is in shade, my sunglasses also protected me from the occasional strong ray that would seep in.
    However, I was not prepared in one very big way: I wore boots. My thought process for doing so seemed reasonable at the time. I knew the trail would get wet after rain and figured boots were the best way to get through it. What I did not know was that 90 percent of the trail is latticed with numerous easy-to-trip over roots that my stiff boots constantly got caught on. The stiffness of my boots also gave me blisters the size of a quarter on each heel. When I took them off at the end of the trail, I was shocked I wasn’t bleeding.
    I also had a lot of trouble reading the map, because other than some major landmarks like the campgrounds and the fishing piers, there were few indications on the trail to show where I was on the map. This was frustrating as I was walking for a very long time trying to figure out if this curve in the road in front of me was equivalent to that curve on the map. I think some mile-markers would go a long way toward encouragement in that regard.
    Still, the trail is lovely, and remained lovely even in the last parts of the trail when I was just concentrating on finishing it. I did not see any of the foxes advertised in the brochure, but I did see a rabbit, two gophers and a large selection of dragonflies unlike any I had ever seen before. My favorites were these large black ones with blue stripes on their wings.
    It took me three to four hours to finish the trail – not a great time, but for someone who is only somewhat active, not bad either. Overall, I’m glad I did it, but until I can practice again on some of the smaller trails – perhaps the ones at White Clay Creek – I don’t think I’ll be doing this one again. I think my family will find that reasonable. Except for Dad – he’s probably packing his bags right now.