Starved Rock stands out for many beautiful visits and one near-death experience. The latter occurred at a conference that was snowed-in thirty years ago. The Lodge was a perfect place to be snowed-in, with its huge central fireplace, comfortable accommodations, and hospitable staff. Time came for a break from the meetings, and the sun was shining, the temperature just a few degrees below freezing. Park snowplows had cleared the inner ring of roads, although the highways outside the park were still closed.
The crystal shining environment called for a walk to balance the hours of sitting and talking, so out I went, following the road a mile, having it to myself. Two feet of snow kept the trails off-limits, with their fantastic sandstone formations and ice sculptures, but the branches thickly coated with ice and snow, and the rolling bed of the forest floor blanketed in white, made the walk a dream-time. On I went until I found myself in the flat open plateau along the river immediately below the lodge.
From the road where I stood to the sheltered stairway, that climbed up to the lodge, was a short distance of two hundred yards. If I turned around and headed back the way I came, the walk would take another thirty minutes, another mile. Two hundred yards seemed quicker and easier than one mile. No one had cleared a path between me and the stairway, but surely I could pave the way with my own boots. The first few feet were easy, as I climbed over the crusted bank that the snowplow had piled and packed hard. Then I began to sink, more and more with every step, into the pristine two feet and more of softer snow. Every step became harder, not with the sucking force of mud, but with a gravity more subtle and mesmerizing. By the time I had struggled one hundred yards I was exhausted and surprised to find myself so. There was no turning back. I pressed on, with the help of the nitro tabs I carried in my pocket.
In other times and places people knew about snowshoes. Now I knew why they were needed. Less than one hundred yards to go, and I felt the threat of death, and the foolishness of it when help was so close. Yet I had told no one where I was going. No one would miss me for another hour or so. Who knew how long it would take before they found my body? The half hour that I would have walked I spent in a desperate struggle to move my aching legs, heaving chest and winded lungs one more step at a time.
Finally, I reached the bottom of the stairway, but what would have been an easy one hundred or so steps, now took even more resolve to climb. The two-fold motivation of love for my family and total embarrassment pulled me up, along with a prayer for every step.
Now I write from the perspective of many other close calls of various kinds, and thirty years. Possibly I have learned something about taking too much for granted, thinking I know more than I do. At the very least, I know why people wear snowshoes.