For my first solo backpacking trip this past weekend, I went to Wildcat Hollow in southeast Ohio. A number of folks mentioned how much they want to do an overnight, but the idea of being out at night alone really freaks them out.
First, I am a HUGE scaredy cat of the dark. Despite my age, my imagination still completely runs away with me at night. Whether in my bed or out in the woods, I can imagine all matters of ridiculousness (and some not so ridiculous possibilities).
It all started many years ago, when I was about 5, when my father would drive down the wood-lined dirt road to our farmhouse. He'd suddenly stall the car and say to lock the doors, the Gamork was in the woods (from the Never Ending Story), and then pretend to not be able to restart the car. Needless to say, it absolutely sparked my life-long creativity and story-telling....and also freaked me the fuck out about the dark.
So how did I manage to get out there and make it through the night? Between Tin Can Man, coyotes, and no fire? And how the heck did I build up to doing it in the first place?
There was a couple of freaky things going on that first night alone in the dark. The most realistic problem were the coyotes. They were really howling. And not too far off. In Ohio, even in daytime, you have to be careful. They'll come right after you - or your dog. Luckily, they just freaked out my dogs (who knew enough to stay quiet), and never got that close to camp. But their yips were definitely unnerving.
I never did get a fire started, I got to camp RIGHT at dusk and all the wood was super damp. It just didn't happen. So it was a dark, quiet night at the beginning.
I was actually doing okay, until....Tin Can Man. It was SO weird. So at like one a.m., there was this weird, scraping noise from the direction of the trail. Like someone with a bag of cans and other, heavy stuff. They'd pull it, then it would stop for a second or two like they were resting. The dogs and I were like WTAF, and I didn't even poke my head out. Lasted for about 20 minutes until it was way down the trail. It was really unnerving. Next day, the ladies at the camp before me passed me on the trail and I asked about it. They were still up. Apparently, it was NOT my imagination, but a dude on the trail with a load of scrap metal from the weird shanty down that sits abandoned deep in Wayne (though there were folks there when I passed it...the ladies said the squat there, but I'm not sure if they were squatters or campers). So there was that. I was glad I had dogs and mace, needless to say.
So how did I stay calm and carry on?
1. (I think this was most important) I wanted to keep hiking over the winter, which with working full-time, that meant night hiking. I didn't realize it at the time, but it really acclimated me to being in the dark and every time I went out, and nothing happened, I got a little more comfortable.
2. It was a full moon at Wildcat, again not planned, but I think it helped tremendously being able to see without a light.
3. I downloaded several books on tape and several t.v. shows, and played them throughout the night, so the weird night noises didn't bug me or the dogs. I did have a battery pack to recharge my phone, and I think without the shows, I would have really just FREAKED out, because my mind would have focused on scary stuff.
4. I found a camp site on top of the valley, so I had cell phone reception. It was comforting knowing I could still reach the outside world.
5. My dogs were freaked out and needy, and I had to comfort them, which weirdly enough made me not worry myself. Cause they NEEDED me. Lel.
6. Sometimes, I would repeat a phrase from Stephen King's book, IT: "He thrusts his fists against the post and still insist he sees the ghost." I repeat it until I stop thinking about whatever it is I was thinking about.
7. And finally, my WANT to get out there, to go backpacking, to DO IT, got me out there. With no end in site for COVID, I didn't want to pause more of my life than I had to, while waiting to go with friends.
So that's it! That's how I got through the night. Seems like a lot, but it all really seemed to help. I don't think I'll ever LIKE sleeping alone, in the woods, and in the dark, but I now know it won't stop me from doing what I want to do. Everyone's different, but hopefully one or two will help get you out there solo!
Did you face any obstacles to your first solo overnight? Any tips or tricks? Comment below!
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.
One of my work friends (hi Jenny!) asked me the other day if I'm doing anything different now that the cold weather has descended upon us. Short answer, yes. I love the cold weather, and the fact the landscapes look like an apocalyptic wasteland (original Red Dawn anyone?) only adds to the fun. However, my legs and thighs, in particular, get cold in all the wind we get here in Cleveland....these would be great for under garb at LARPS, too. So I went and found myself the REI Co-op Talusphere Pants. In a nutshell? They're great. If you want a pair of shell pants that protect from moisture and wind, at a reasonable price, this is them, so go by them at REI. There are a couple of downsides, especially if you're short and fat, like me. If you want the full scoop, read on!
The Price Tag: $89.50
There's some things I really love about the Talusphere pants - they're made from polyester and they have some significant stretch so I can move freely, which I appreciate for scrambling. You can cinch the ankles tight, and it's waterproof, but by some dark magic also breathable. I haven't turned in to a sweaty mess yet. And I love that the pockets have zippers. They come in a whole range of sizes and shapes, both for men and women.
There are two main downsides to these bad boys. First, the sizing. I don't know what's going on at REI, but it was crazy trying to deal with the sizing on these. The women's goes up to an XL (little small for an XL) and the women's "plus size" goes up to 3X. The problem with the women's larger-sized Talusphere is that they don't come in petite unlike the S-XL. Well......I'm short and fat. Awwwwwkward.
If you want to purchase the larger sizes at REI, be aware you must search for "plus-size talusphere women plants." Yes, they're in a totally different section on the website.
When I went in to the store, I explained to the very kind helper that I was short and fat (as mentioned above), and she very happily hung out and tried to help me find the right pants. The men's hips didn't fit, even though they get ALL kinds of inseam options for leg length to waist-size.
I finally had to settle on the 2X Talusphere Women's Pant. You can see from the way they bunch at the ankles they're significantly too big, but I can move freely in them and I can put a lot of layers on underneath if I want. My biggest complaint is the length of the leg, and would be great if REI added some petite options in the larger lady sizes.
My only other complaint, and it's echoed by the reviews on the REI website, is the draw-string waist. It's very thin, and the toggle that holds it in place doesn't work the best, but I just tie a small knot. I haven't had any issues with my pants sagging down, but I have a booty. If you don't, beware!
In the end, I'm very happy with the purchase and they've held up great on the trail so far!
What winter "shell" pants do you use? (If any) What do you love/hate about them? Feel free to comment or contact me here.
One of the big problems getting started with outside adventuring has to do with access. Beginning hikers and walkers can find it difficult to determine if a trail they find online is appropriate to their ability, if they can even find trails around them. Once they find a trail, they want to know what the terrain is like and if there are any obstacles. Are trail bikes welcome? Horses? What about finding the trailhead? Navigating the trail? Any special wildlife areas they should be aware of, like bat habitats? Is it safe for their therapy or service animal?
I've had a number of folks the last few weeks ask what I use to gain access to the outside world, and my go to right now is AllTrails. Hands down, this is the best app I've found to give beginners - and experienced hikers - the access and information they need to get out in the outdoors.
Six or seven years ago, I got lost on a Cleveland, OH trail. I had a printed map of the park, but the trails in the Metroparks aren't very well marked in most cases. It was cold and snowing. I had no cell reception and it was getting dark - of course I hadn't brought a headlamp/flashlight. The parks aren't all that big, so I knew I'd eventually find my way out. An hour after dark, my dog Charlie Chuckles and I made it back to the car. I was tired and reallllly pissed off.
And this wasn't the first time I'd gotten turned around on the notoriously ill-marked trails in the Cleveland area. Or been unable to find a trailhead with sketchy directions from the internet.
Then came AllTrails. Queue rescue-themed music.
AllTrails has been wonderful, and really opened up my access to trails in the Cleveland, OH and surrounding areas. Trails I doubt I would have found, or had the courage to try, without it.
AllTrails is awesome - You can select what you want out of a trail and search for it - distance from your home, dogs allowed, length of hike, trail bike accessibility, difficulty, etc. This makes it a great tool for folks with disabilities that need to know if a trail is paved, if there are amenities at the trail head, etc. A nice bonus is that you're able to read reviews and see pics of the trail - great way to check for mud or other problems like downed trees/washed out trails.
And it's free. Hiking and outdoor adventuring is already prohibitively expensive for many, and anything that removes additional spending is great (pro-version is $2.50 a month, and gives you access to download/print different topo maps).
You can use it to track yourself AND record your hike while on the trail, even when your phone is in airplane mode.
AllTrails also has a directions option that will open your phone's GPS app and take you right to the trail head. This is A-mazing. Previously, I found myself constantly lost on back roads, and a few times I even gave up on the hike. As a new hiker finding remote trailheads was incredibly frustrating.
It helps build confidence, since you can view nearly all the trails immediately around you, allowing you to add/shorten your hike as you want or need to.
There are a couple downsides to AllTrails to keep in mind - it's not always 100% accurate in regards to length of the trail. I find the trails are often a half mile to a mile longer than indicated.
Keep in mind the difficulty rating of the trail tends to vary wildly. I did a 9 mile moderate trail last weekend, which was, to my surprise, easily and quickly accomplished even though it was pouring rain and I had to take a lot of breaks. Whereas I did a trail a few months ago that was five miles and very hilly, difficult terrain. Both were rated as moderate.
I always encourage folks to have a printed map with them as well, and to understand how to read it, especially if you're in larger parks/national forests.
Despite these issues, I recommend AllTrails for the access it provides.
Have you ever gotten lost on the trail? Do you use an app or stick with a map, or both? Comment below, or feel free to contact me here!