This weekend the wife and I are down in Council Bluffs, IA for some family stuff, but we still needed to get out for a run. My wife found a park just a little bit north of the city called Hitchcock Nature Center. A local trail running group holds races there in December, so we knew it must be a pretty decent course.
We arrived at the park just as it opened at 6AM. We paid the $2 entry fee and parked at the trailhead. Originally, I had downloaded the entire 13 mile course into my watch, but we decided we didn’t have enough time for that, so we just headed out on a loop of the southern part of the park, with the intent to get in a good 90-120 minutes of movement.
The trails on the map are color coded with either blue (easy), yellow (moderate), or red (hard). We opted to try out some of the yellow trails first, and see what constituted moderate at this park. As we progressed around the first part of the loop, we realized that the moderate trails were actually a bit more challenging than we were expecting. They weren’t insurmountable by any means, but they certainly kept us on our toes for the first half an hour.
Footing wasn’t that big of an issue, as the trails are all grass and dirt, with no roots or rocks to speak of. But being in bluff country meant a lot of climbing. In many ways the moderate trails were like the northern section of Murphy-Hanrehan park in the Twin Cities, with rollers that slowly sapped the strength out of you. Eventually we found ourselves on some blue trails, and it was amazing how much of a difference that made.
It made such a difference that we got turned around at a sign post, and ended up missing our turn and needing to backtrack. It was all good though since we were on very runnable trail and were feeling pretty good. Once we got back from the southern end of the park we decided to cut to the north by taking one of the red trails to see what hard was like. The footing wasn’t really any more difficult, but the rollers got VERY steep. As we climbed the steepest of them I commented that up in Minnesota we’re smart enough to just build stairs on hills like this!
After we crested the final big hill we decided to head out on a spur trail for a bit that was marked easy. We were really glad that we did because it ended up finishing at an overlook where we could see for dozens of miles across the flat farmland and prairie surrounding the bluffs. We stopped for a bit to take it all in, and then headed back to the visitor’s center. My wife climbed the observation tower, but my vertigo stopped me part way up, so I went back down and watched some of the birds at a local feeder.
We packed up our gear and headed back to get cleaned up for the rest of the day. It took us about 90 minutes to go 5 miles, but since this was a casual run before our race next week, I was fine with that. We ended up having a great time outside, running in a new place that we had never been to before. It was a great way to start the day and spend time together.