It was at West Branch State Park, which has two large loops. This is good for avoiding folks during the pandemic. I'll do a full review of the trail later, but it was a lovely one.
The first six or so miles followed closely to the reservoir, which was beautiful. This will sound weird, but I actually had a dream the previous week about hiking a longer trail. I hadn't planned to, I was going to stick to my normal 10 mile weekend one. But on Saturday morning, as I was driving to my normal loop, I went to put on the directions from All Trails and this one - literally across the street from the one I normally do - popped up. It said 11 miles and I figured, "PERFECT." Of COURSE with All Trails, I should of figured it would be longer.
Lucy and I even set up the camp stove for lunch at the turn around point. I wish I could say I sat there, looking out over the water, thinking deep thoughts, but truthfully I just pet Lulu, ate some food, and listened to my book on tape.
I didn't see anyone on the first leg, but I did on the second - two rabbit hunters running their dogs, who were in the wild life portion. The dogs eventually found us on the trail but were VERY nice. The second gentleman I encountered was also very nice - and carrying a pistol - which was a little unnerving.
I walked through the pines.
I walked through the trail that meandered up a creek bed.
I saw the view of the water and trees across the way.
I saw fields.
I saw many a fallen tree.
I saw the old rock wall in the quarry.
I heard the haunting sound of baying hounds as the wind carried it to me.
It was amazing.
I did it.
I didn't have anxiety about it.
And truthfully, while I was tired and ready for a real break, I wasn't exhausted. I even went out the next day for another hike on Easter.
My back held up.
Lucy held up.
We did it. It's taken a long time to get there, but we did it.
Even in dark times, there are spots of light.
What adventure did you get in to this weekend? Comment below or feel free to email me here!
How is COVID-19 affecting National Parks and those that make them their livelihoods? My good friends Jeremy and Emily were in Wyoming, visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Jeremy offered this perspective on what it takes to maintain nature:
"A moment to reflect as we leave this wintery wonderland and return back to the reality of a COVID-19 world. We may be facing unprecedented challenges with social systems, with our supply chains and economy. In Jackson Hole we met many people whose lives are about to fundamentally change. Being in the tourism / hospitality industry they are facing massive layoffs with no hope of alternative employment or unemployment compensation. Many are leaving, as the rent prices are close to that of Seattle. The Commercial properties are closing permanently as they cannot afford $60k a month leases.
This all puts into perspective what it takes to keep wild areas wild, even in the current commercialized world where you can visit national parks on a whim. This may not be the case in the future, or there won't be as big of an industry around it.
Enjoy nature as you can. Stay safe as you do, and if we end up with quarantines of course follow them, but until that happens - you'll find us in the woods."
Pronouns: He/Him and She/Her
Wyoming - This land originally held in stewardship by the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute tribes (and possibly others).
Pics Courtesy of Jeremy.
Have you noticed changes in the outdoors and outdoor spaces due to COVID-19?
This past weekend, Lucy and I decided to do an adventure of (semi)-epic proportions. So we donned our gear, grabbed some food to take with (McDonalds, don't judge, Lucy has a very refined pallet) and drove down to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to check out a- supposedly- 5.5 mile loop comprised of three separate trails - Perkins, Riding, and Furnace.
But it wasn't 5.5 miles - it was nearly 8. And TOUGH. SURPRISE B! I'm always surprised by what my body is capable of, which apparently is some big ass hills. Read on to get the scoop on the trail and all about our adventure!
The entire trail was beautiful - really lovely - with a lot of changing scenery. If you're up for a good challenge, I'd highly recommend it.
To start, Perkins - just magical, with moss covered trees and glinting light. The weird? SOMEONE CAME THROUGH AND LEAF BLEW THE TRAIL. I was super confused. It made the trail seem weird and unnatural. And privileged in a way that made me uncomfortable. I'll talk more about this in another post.
All three trails had a LOT of elevation (three and a half near mountain limits of 1000ft.). The entire trip was basically "up/down up/down."
Frankly, I was surprised by how well I held up.
After heroically carrying Lucy through the briars, I wasn't going back through it. So I finally found a place to shimmy down. Then I had to cross - which I did by walking across a log. Even in winter, the water was knee high. I'm guessing even less passable in Spring.
I'm sure the rest of Furnace was pretty, though by the time I got through the creek I was beat, dusk was falling, and I still had 2 miles to go....SURPRISE....as I was already at 5 miles.
The last 1/2 mile of Furnace was comprised of dozens of stairs. Not great.
Wrap-Up: It was a real challenge, mainly due to the elevation and the distance I hadn't planned on. I felt *really* good about it at the end - my back held up with the pack.
I'd definitely do Perkins and Riding again, but would dodge Furnace.
Have you ever been surprised by the length of a hike? Or a trail "disappearing"? Comment below or contact me here.
I need to be kind to my body. I have to remind myself of this more often than I care to admit. I often get frustrated by my limitations when I'm in the outside world. I want to hike further, explore new and more remote areas, and climb technically difficult summits.
And I can't always do that.
It's my back injury. I know that if I push too far, go too far, I'm going to end up in a lot of pain and unable to get back out there for weeks, maybe even months. And that's definitely not worth it.
I have to do things differently. I have to use lighter equipment. I have to make sure my boots have the right support. That my pack doesn't press in to certain areas of my back - 52 packs later and I finally found one!
I have to take breaks and do stretches throughout hikes, even shorter ones. I need to remember that high mileage hikes two days in a row may be a problem. Heck, even hiking two days in a row may cause a problem.
In other words - I need to be kind to my body.
Despite my frustrations, I need to remember to thank my body for what it CAN do. It CAN go on hikes, and take me to places I haven't seen, deep in to forests. And that there are people with able bodies that will never see the hidden, secret places I will.
And while I may have to take it slow and easy, that's just part of what makes it my journey.
So happy birthday to me - and my body.
And remember, be kind to yourself and your body.
Do you ever get frustrated with the limitations of your body? What do you do? Leave a comment below or contact me here!
The video at the top of this post is how I envision night hiking - always ready to FLEE. As the days begin to cool and the temperatures drop, the sun dips out of sight faster and faster.
And it's *F83king* scary.
I normally hike alone, which as a misfit hiker, already puts me on high alert thanks to the unique hazards that poses.
This post is specifically about night hiking for beginners......who hit those dark and dusty trails all alllooooonnnne.
If you have an active imagination like I do, you literally think the worst the whole time. Aliens. Monsters. There are two reoccurring images that constantly pop in to my head as I'm hiking in the complete blackness of the forest. First, that I'll turn around and there will be someone just standing on the trail, legs slightly apart and head cocked, and they'll be staring at me. Not moving. Just standing.
The second image is that someone will come running full sprint through the woods at me, like in "Get Out."
The third is it will be like the Blair Witch and I'll stumble upon a cabin in the middle of the woods.
The fourth is I'll be walking, and just keep walking. And walking. And walking. And the trail won't go anywhere. Okay, so maybe more than 2....
The dark has always been an awful and terrifying thing for me, every since my father terrorized my fragile five-year-old mind by stalling the car out on a wood-lined dirt road and yelling about how the Gamork (the monster in the Neverending Story was about to get us. He'd then "manage" to get the car started and would careen down the road to our house. You know, tender moments of parental bonding that last a lifetime.
But as the sun fades quicker, I don't want to find myself limited to hiking on the weekends. I want to still be able to go after work.
So what do I do to prepare myself mentally and so I'm physically safe when I'm out hiking alone?
1. Headlamp: I bring a lightweight headlamp with me, and I make sure I have extra batteries. I use the Black Diamond Spot Lite 160, from REI, which was a cheap $26.00 bucks and has done me well.
2. Know Thy Trail: I wouldn't recommend doing an unfamiliar area in complete darkness. Does it take some of the scary fun out of it? Yes, but losing your footing on some loose shale and snapping your neck falling down a cliff will ALSO put a damper on the fun.
3. Choose Carefully: The trails I head out on at night are ones that are moderately difficult, but not crazily technical. As a night-hiker beginner, I only do trails at night if I've hiked them a number of times in the light, after reading reviews and having an idea of the general safety of the area. I also familiarize myself with the wildlife, so I know what's going to be scuttling around me. Why take chances?
4. Cell Phone: I carry a fully charged cellphone with me so I can call for help if I need to, and it gives me a backup light. If you're going in to really remote areas, get a personal GPS - to figure out the right one for you, check out this article from REI.
5. Implements of Safety: get a small canister of pepper spray. I won't link what I have, because it doesn't have a keychain/way to connect it, and I wish it did. Make sure you can attach it somewhere, because the one instance I really needed it I couldn't get it out of my pocket in time. Pepper spray will help defend against coyotes, dogs, wayward hilljacks, etc. I carry 2 to 4 oz. I also carry a small knife. Though the rule of thumb is if someone/something (i.e. Pennywise) can get that close to you, you're probably &^%$$ anyway.
6. Hike Buddy: Make sure someone knows where you're going, when you start, and when you plan to be done. Every. Single. Time. If nothing else, they talk you down when you see crazy *&^% on the trail at night (see image on right)
7. Hiking Poles: I always use hiking poles, especially in the dark. Helps me keep my footing, and has saved me from tripping and falling a number of times.
*Always take your regular gear, too, like water and a map.
Once I'm on the trail, I check behind me at regular intervals (about every 50 feet). I don't wear ear buds for my book on tape, for two reasons: so night runners, etc. will know there's someone else around and so I can listen more acutely. I also keep an eye out upward for any potential deadfall (branches or trees about to come down on my head).
You want to be extra careful during hunting season, that some yahoo poaching deer doesn't mistake you or your dog for the big kill of the season. Be sure to check local park pages to see what's in season and when. At night, consider reflective gear, too.
Some folks like to turn off their headlamps and hike in complete darkness. That isn't me. Besides my imagination, it's a safety issue for me, as I hike in areas with a lot of rocks and tree roots. And monsters that I want to be able to see coming.
If you're like me, and your imagination can carry you in scary, unhelpful directions, have a phrase you can repeat to redirect your attention. I like a line from Stephen King's "The Stand" - He thrusts his fists against the post and still insist he sees the ghost.
And finally, have fun! Night hiking isn't for everyone, but if you're willing to try it, it is a TOTALLY different experience.
I'll be sure let you know if it gets any less scary!
Do you hike at night? Have a good story of terror in the darkness of the trail? Have any additional tips for hiking at night or have a question? Post away or contact me here!