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Ralph Walter: With help from an expert, even a knothead can learn to love hiking

Over the years, I’ve given my girlfriend some real duds as gifts.

The birthday tickets to see Pink located directly behind the stage. The highly forgettable Christmas two-pack of an ice scraper and “Love, Actually” DVD that I accidentally gave in successive years. The Valentine’s Day flowers that arrived a week late and completely dead (not my fault!)

That’s why I was so excited a year ago when I gave Jeanne the gift of the great outdoors.

And it only cost me $20.

And it’s why – as I’m scrambling to come up with an idea for her birthday this week – I’m realizing how impossible it’s going to be to top last year: An autographed copy of “Day Hiking Eastern Washington” ($18.95), co-authored by former Spokesman-Review outdoors editor and good friend Rich Landers, and a guided hike with the legend himself.

It didn’t come without risks. This was Rich “The Purveyor of Roadkill Meats” Landers, after all – the guy who taunts me with a text every time my favorite sports teams lose, the guy who makes fun of everything I write.

But my hopes were high as we set off one beautiful Saturday morning last spring for Jeanne’s birthday adventure.

Landers suggested we do a portion of Knothead Loop, an 8.2-mile triangle of trail segments featuring stunning views of the Little Spokane River. Located past St. George’s School in North Spokane, the route gains more than 1,500 hundred feet of elevation.

The Little Spokane River overlook, according to Landers’ book, “takes you from the depths of the river canyon to a high overlook, offering a top-to-bottom perspective of the habitats that attract waterfowl and eagles, muskrats and beavers, raccoons and coyotes, rattlesnakes and mountain lions, deer and moose.”

The Knothead Loop Trail along the Little Spokane River Natural Area combines a triangle of trail segments for an 8.2-mile loop with a spur that leads to three successively higher viewpoints directly over the Little Spokane River. Knothead itself is a granite outcropping that overlooks the confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane Rivers. The route gains 1,533 feet of elevation. No dogs or mountain bikes are allowed in the natural area.
The Knothead Loop Trail along the Little Spokane River Natural Area combines a triangle of trail segments for an 8.2-mile loop with a spur that leads to three successively higher viewpoints directly over the Little Spokane River. Knothead itself is a granite outcropping that overlooks the confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane Rivers. The route gains 1,533 feet of elevation. No dogs or mountain bikes are allowed in the natural area.

In other words, this was going to take awhile. (Did I mention how much I despise hiking?)

Joined by my teenage daughter Ava, the four of us began the gradual climb toward the high point at Knothead summit.

“The joy is gone,” Ava cracked just minutes into our ascent. Definitely a proud dad moment.

The farther we climbed, the more beautiful the scenery. After stopping to take in the soaring views along one of three impressive overlooks, we encountered a sweet, middle-aged couple as they headed toward the towering vista.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” one of them asked.

“Be careful near that cliff,” I responded. “We used to have five in our party.” (Ava laughed as the couple seemingly hurried away. Again, another proud Dad moment.)

Farther up the trail, Landers continued his expert guidework, pointing out everything from native plants and trees to butterflies and birds. And when it came to identifying animal droppings, he was like Sherlock Holmes. (The guy really knows his … stuff.)

After about an hour, we finally reached Knothead, where we relaxed with sandwiches and drinks and our peaceful surroundings. Suddenly, Landers unveiled a second cooler he secretly hauled up filled with four beautifully iced cupcakes as we soaked up the final moments of our peaceful views and celebrated Jeanne’s special day. (Together, I thought, Rich and I would make one terrific boyfriend.)

“The views alone are worth the hike,” Landers described in a Spokesman-Review story about Knothead a couple of years ago.

He was so right, although the one knothead in our group (me!) sat the whole time with the views behind him. Oh well, maybe next time.

As we began the trek back down, I started to reflect on the day, realizing how much I actually enjoyed it.

And I have to admit, it was all because of Landers. And it got me thinking.

Wonder what he’s up to this Saturday?

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