The Trail to Youth’s Fountain
Many places claim to house the legendary Fountain of Youth. They charge exorbitant fees to tourists, and you’d be wise to avoid them. This one, however, is different. Its powers are very real.
Skeptical? You’ve got nothing to lose by seeking it out. At worst, you’ll get to enjoy a pleasant hike, and there’s nothing bad about that!
Distance: Just right
Difficulty: Depends on you
Finding the trailhead:
Drive slowly along Adventure Road, past the visitor’s center and park where a sense of excitement seizes you. You’ll know it when you find it. If you can’t find it, perhaps you aren’t ready for it; consider the Contemplation Ridge hike as an alternative.
Tip: Keep your phone off throughout this hike. Your boss can’t bother you here, and there’s no signal anyway.
From the parking area, stroll down the sun-dappled trail. Breathe deeply of the fresh air. Do you smell spring flowers? Autumn’s fallen leaves? Stop at the frequent overlooks to watch hawks riding the updrafts, and imagine the feeling of stretching your own wings.
At mile 0.8, cross a stream. Choose between walking a fallen log like a balance beam or jumping between rocks like hopscotch. You remember hopscotch, right?
The trail will start to descend. You’ll hear the rush of water on your right, and soon you’ll round a bend to discover that your little stream has become a 20-foot waterfall! Generally, hikers should stay on the trail to protect the undergrowth, but in this case, go ahead: break the rules just a little and make your way to the falls. Get close enough to feel the spray on your face. Check and see if there’s a secret cave behind the falls. We’re not saying there is or isn’t, or what you might find inside—that would ruin the fun of it.
Continue down the trail. At mile 2.1, you’ll pass a cluster of boulders twice your height. As you stop to climb on them—yes, climb on them, you know you want to—you may reflect on the incredible power of the glaciers that deposited these boulders here eons ago. Or you may instead notice that from a certain angle the tumbled boulders look exactly like a dragon turned to stone by some ancient wizard. Whichever sort of magic you prefer, look around with wonder as you explore.
Before you leave, pick up the prettiest small rock you can find, then keep going.
At mile—oh, who’s really counting at this point?—you’ll reach a suspension bridge over the stream, which runs much larger and faster now. The bridge will sway under your feet. Run across as fast as you can, or else stop in the middle and bounce. If your noisy crossing happens to wake anything below the bridge, be polite: offer it the pretty stone you picked up earlier, and it will let you pass.
You’re almost there now. The trail descends quite steeply. You may prefer to sit and slide down on your bottom. Your pants will get dirty, and that’s just fine.
At last, you’ll come to a burbling pool fed by an underground spring, ringed about by wide, flat rocks. The Fountain of Youth always seems touched by sunshine, even on a rainy day. Listen carefully. Does the flow of the water sound like fairy laughter? Does the wind in the trees whisper secrets to you?
Take off your shoes and socks and dangle your feet in the water. Don’t drink it, though! Not only because it might contain giardia (which it absolutely does. Being youthful does not mean being stupid; please don’t drink untreated water) but because you don’t need it. You’ve already found all the magic you need.
Stay as long as you like. Before you head back to your car and grown-up concerns, close your eyes and make a wish.
Will it come true? Maybe, maybe not. Having wishes is the important part.
About the author:
Jo Miles writes optimistic science fiction and fantasy, and has stories in Strange Horizons, Analog, Fireside Fiction, and more. You can find Jo online at www.jomiles.com and on Twitter as @josmiles. They live in Maryland, where they are owned by two cats.