Cedar Falls Trail

For families, connecting with a trail can be a decades-long journey—the path stretching back a lifetime

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hat is it that motivates us to go out into the woods and follow the route laid out before us, weaving through trees and tall grass, scrambling over boulders. What is the goal? For some, it’s a matter of serenity, a desire to lose oneself in nature, marveling at the organic makeup of the Earth we inhabit but often take for granted. For others, it’s a means to exercise outside the static, fluorescent-lit walls of a gym. For even more, it’s both.

But what happens when a particular trail becomes a part of your personal history?

Gene and Tyra Reid have been visiting Petit Jean Mountain every year with the same group of friends for almost 40 years, and in that time, the tradition hasn’t changed much. “Everybody gets up there on a Friday night,” Gene says. “We sit around, we potluck, we’ll eat some chili and have a few beers and a few shots of whiskey, and we’ll tell jokes and see how hard we can make each other laugh. The next day, we have a little breakfast down at the lodge, and we hike down to the falls.”

And they’ve continued to do so year after year, even when other parts of their lives were undergoing drastic changes. Through marriage, the birth of their two children, their own separation and divorce, the Cedar Falls Trail has remained a constant in their lives.

That connection to the trail has been passed down to their children as well—particularly to their daughter, Alisyn. Here, Gene, Tyra and Alisyn chat with associate editor (and longtime friend) Wyndham Wyeth on how their relationship to this path through the woods has progressed over the years—and on what the trail means to them now.

petit-jean-3_tIs Cedar Falls the main trail you hike when you’re up there?

Alisyn Reid: That’s the most-hiked trail we usually do. I mean, we’ve done the Seven Hollows, and we’ve done the Bear Cave, but Cedar Falls is the one.

Tyra Reid: If you’re just going to do one, that’s it.

And I know y’all have been going there for …

TR: Many long times.

Almost every year, if I’m not mistaken?

Gene Reid: Mm-hmm, since 1978.

TR: Yeah, close to 38 years. Is that what that is? Yeah.

GR: I went up there the first time in 1980. The group we go with started going up there in ’78. So yeah, that’s what, 38 years? Whoo! So, I’ve been going up there 36 years.

The first time you went up there, I imagine you didn’t know you’d be going back for so long?

TR: We thought we’d all be dead by now.

GR: Right! We were young. … And it’s nice to go back and see how you changed as the years go by. Look at different things, different landmarks and stuff, and you realize, Well, at this point, this is where my son fell in the water when he was 7. We had to put coats around him and carry him back cause he hit his head. But now he’s grown and out of college. So it’s a way of kind of measuring your life in terms of events that have happened there.

When was the first time you took Alisyn out there?

TR: She was born in February, and for the life of me, I’m having trouble remembering if we took her up that year or not.

And the trip usually coincides with Alisyn’s birthday? You usually celebrate it up there?

TR: Right. I know for sure she was there the next year. I can’t remember if we took her up there as a newborn or not.

GR: Carried her in one of those kiddie backpacks. We carried her down there … and out.

TR: We kind of passed her around. Everybody took a turn. But for sure, by the time she was a year old, she was there.

Alisyn, do you have a first memory of being on that trail or being up there at Petit Jean?

cf2AR: Since it was every year, they all kind of run together. It was me and my younger brother, Adam, and then our friend Joseph. The three of us used to race each other down the trail to get to the falls. We’d just sort of take off running. The trail itself, I think, is like half a mile to get down. It’s not super long, so it was sustainable. So we’d race each other down, and then we’d hop around on rocks. Eventually, we got brave and climbed behind the waterfall every year. So, yeah, I have a lot of memories of us being little bitty kids together, sort of having the ability to take off on our own because they knew where we were going. We just got to wander through the woods by ourselves as young kids, and we liked that.

Gene and Tyra, I’m wondering how your relationship has changed with the trail as you’ve both grown—when you were married, then separated—and now with two children as well.

GR: Well, I guess one of the biggest things is that we don’t share the same cabin anymore. But we still go up there, and we still potluck together, and we still play music together, and the kids still hang out with the same people as always. But we each have our own space, so there’s that. But we’ve always managed to remain friends, and that’s been one of the ways—one of the vehicles—by which we managed to remain friends … and it just lent an element of stability to our lives, in general.

TR: With regard to my personal relationship with the trail, that is very much wrapped up in the fact that I’m 35 years older since the first time I went down there with this group. I always now have to factor in, How’s my knee doing? Can I do this this year or not? Well, if I go slow and I take a stick, I think I can still do it. But it’s always a surprise to me how easy it is. I mean, it’s almost like muscle memory a little bit. I know what’s coming next, and I can pace myself because I know what’s coming next, and I know it’s gonna be worth it.

What about you, Alisyn?

petit-jean-13_tAR: When I was young, it was a place that I could go hang out with my brother and my friend Joseph, and whoever else brought their kids. I could hang out with them with—I don’t wanna say no supervision because we were supervised, but we felt like we were by ourselves.

TR: Your leash was long.

AR: Yes! We had a long leash.

GR: It was more of a ’50s atmosphere in terms of the kids being out: Be in by dark.
It had more of that kind of a feel to it because it felt safe.

AR: Then when I was a teenager, it was a way to see my parents cut loose for a weekend, which was hilarious to me. Then when I was, I think, 22 or 23, I rented a cabin—I wanted to do something where I was by myself for the weekend—and I went up there by myself because that was like home to me. That year, it had been raining a lot, and the trail was kind of flooded. So nobody else was on the trail except me. It was, y’know, crazy, I guess. I had to climb up over rocks to get around the flooded part of the trail to make it to the falls, and it was just shooting out of the rocks. And I was the only one in there, and I’m like sitting here by myself in this cavern that is echoing.
GR: Ohmmmmmmm.

AR: That was pretty much what I wanted out of the weekend. And I’ve spent a lot of birthdays up there. Now, whenever my birthday is coming up, I associate it with being up there and doing that. Now it’s a family reunion for me, too. I’m one of you.

TR: I think the second and third generation of this group—I would not be at all surprised that they continue to do that particular activity in that particular space because it’s so perfect for what you’re trying to get from being outdoors with your friends. It allows for every age group to do pretty much the same thing up there. It’s not hard for the little guys. It’s not hard for us old farts. It’s plenty fun enough for the people in the prime of their life.

What do you think, Alisyn? Is that something you’d be interested in?

AR: I would. I’ve always wanted to.