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Hike 4: The Hike That Wasn’t

Today I planned to tackle a brand new, three-ish mile hike. But we should all know by now that when I plan to do something, nothing at all goes the way it’s supposed to.

Everything started changing when I kept having these gut feelings that I should avoid that hike. I never have these kinds of feelings, despite family members constantly asking me if I’m afraid to hike alone. The answer is no, actually I love it. Not that I don’t also love hiking with my friends, but it’s nice to get out into the woods on my own to clear my head.

The hike I was planning to do is a bit further out, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s no cell service, so if I fell, or broke something, I’d be on my own. Despite the total likelihood that I’d be fine doing this hike with only my dog like every other hike, I paid attention to the nagging voice in the back of my head and decided to hold it until my friends are available to join me.

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The Lakeview Trail was only visible by the divot it left in the earth. Under those leaves was squishy, sucking mud.

Instead, I decided to hit a park I haven’t visited since I was a kid: Stonelick State Park. This park was built around another one of those man-made Clermont County lakes I would advise against sticking a toe into. There is a beach and a boat ramp, but I couldn’t tell you if anyone still swims here. The state of the park would suggest few people use any of its amenities, but I think that’s deceptive.

The park was created to become a haven for outdoor sportsmen, and it appears that is really all it’s used for. The hiking trails appeared to be little-trafficked, the only one that seemed to be getting much regular use was the Lakeview Trail, which followed about a mile on one side of the lake.

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The “60 Hikes” trail begins here. Note the pool of water in the foreground. The author warns of these along the trail, but not that it is a public hunting area.

I started out trying to follow the “60 Hikes” path through the park; normally I just take her notes and pick my own path. But I drove past the trailhead twice before I found it, and then nearly ripped the undercarriage off my car turning into the parking lot. I think the last time anyone parked there and took that trail was in 2009 when her book was published.

There was a sign at the Beechtree Trailhead announcing a public hunting area. Despite another sign forbidding hunting on Sundays, and that most hunting seasons are over in Ohio, I just don’t trust people enough to actually follow regulations. Not that I think most hunters turn their nose at the law; quite the contrary. Most of the people I know are careful to follow the law and practice safety because they don’t want to lose their license or hurt themselves or someone else. But there’s one in every bunch, and with my luck that one would be wandering around Stonelick the day I decided to hike it. It didn’t help that while I was pondering the pros and cons of hiking a hunting area that someone started target practice nearby.

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The Lakeview Trail would be easy if not for all the downed trees across the path.

I finally decided to hike around the lake a bit, and parked in another decrepit lot that was more dead weeds than pavement, just past a marked Sycamore grove. There was a spur trail that brought us down to the Lakeview Trail. The quiet serenity advertised on the park’s website was ruined by a rowdy bunch of fishermen on the complete other side of the lake. I could make out every ridiculous comment they made. When listening to them got to be too much, I turned around and headed back down the trail the other way, trying to get farther away from their ruckus. I never really did.

The trail was a slippery slide of mud covered in a thick layer of leaves. If it weren’t for the leaves on the ground, instead of the trees, the Lakeview Trail wouldn’t give any views of the lake. Couple my slip-sliding with a stubborn hound who was doing some hardcore tracking, and I was basically skiing down this trail. It wasn’t fun. But it would have been much easier if there weren’t trees down every twenty feet or so on the trail.

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That darn dog would have dragged me into the lake if I would have let her.

When a dog is trying to drag you after something and you have to keep hopping over logs, her tugging while you’re in the air is enough to make you eat mud, every time. Thank goodness for trekking poles.

Totally frustrated with my more-stubborn-than-usual dog, and the hilljack fishermen across the lake, I hauled my dog back to the car and left the park more annoyed than when I got there, completely defeating the purpose of my weekly hikes. Thus, the hike that wasn’t. I logged less than a mile before I removed my frazzled self from Stonelick woods.

The moral of this story: I explored this park and determined that it’s not somewhere I want to hike. However, if you want to hunt or fish or hang out with a bunch of noisy fishermen, it’s your kind of place.

Hike 3: The Aborted Hike

I won’t take the space necessary to discuss how much of a fail this particular hike was. I called it “The Hike That Wasn’t,” until Hike 4 earned that title. (Stay tuned for that lovely story.)

You ever have one of those days where every time you start to do something, something goes wrong? And then every time something goes wrong you kind of laugh (not really) and think to yourself, “Why did I get out of bed, again?” And eventually you stop laughing, and just get annoyed. That was my day for Hike 3 of my 52 Hike Challenge. And now, I’m far enough away from it that I can finally chuckle a little bit about it. (Not really.)

So what do you do when everything in your day is just going super-duper wrong? You get lost in the woods, of course!

Since it was a weekday, I decided to go to a park that stays pretty packed on weekends, Shawnee Lookout. Its part of the Hamilton County, Ohio, park system and has three nature trails, a golf course, nature center and historical cabin.

Before I left, I couldn’t find my GoPro. Even though the picture distortion drives me crazy, it’s a lot more portable and easy to deal with than my DSLR, especially when I’m carrying 20 pounds of oxygen tanks on my back. But I ended up grabbing my DSLR and taking that instead. When I got to the trailhead and started trying to take pictures, I realized there was no memory card in the camera.

Then, I decided I’d use my iPhone. They have great cameras, right? That didn’t work EITHER. Helga’s (yep, I named my cell phone, too) memory was full, because podcasts had been downloading automatically. (I didn’t discover and correct this until later.) So I have zero photos or videos or anything of this hike.

But wait! There’s more. I went to this park intending to hike all five miles of trails, something I haven’t done in well over a year. But that didn’t happen. You see, I need a wrench to open and close my oxygen tanks. When one empties, I take a slim, black piece of plastic with a hole in it and close the empty tank, remove the regulator from the top of one tank to another, and use that handy piece of dense plastic to open the new tank. No wrench, no oxygen. You’d think I’d remember something this important, but I’m chuckling as I type because this isn’t the first time I’ve forgotten it.

I realized I didn’t have my wrench almost halfway into the first trail – in just enough time to get back to the car with just a few minutes of oxygen left. This is the part where I quit trying to turn my day around and went back home.

I managed to hike a total of one mile. Go. Me.

Hike 2: Gobbler’s Trace Trail

Well, my second hike was supposed to be at Shawnee Lookout, but I decided to stick closer to home because of weather and, well, because I just love being able to hike so close to home. Besides, I have a couple of little nooks and crannies to explore before I run out of new things to see at Big Bone Lick SP.

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For the last year, every time I’ve hiked Big Bone I’ve planned my hikes to avoid this steep, slippery hill. But, like any other bully, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be once I finally just climbed it.

There was a gap between my first and second hike because of weather, but the little bit of snow and ice leftover was mostly gone by the time I hit the trail. What was left in its place was ankle-deep mud. I spent a few minutes bemoaning this fact before I realized that this mud is going to be my constant companion until July, and then I just jumped in.

Even though the snow was gone, it was still freaking cold a couple of weekends ago. I stayed warm enough while I was hiking but when I stopped to change tanks I felt the cold through my sweat-frozen headband.

Usually when I hike Big Bone, I take an access road to the bison pen and then take the Cedar Run Trail up the hill to Gobbler’s Trace and back down to the parking lot. This route starts out relatively flat, but takes you up a moderate, yet long, hill before you reach the crest and take a shorter, steeper route back down.

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There was an intense standoff between Emme and a doe on the trail ahead of us. Fortunately, Emme didn’t try too hard to take off after her and drag me down the trail. 

I went into this hike planning to hit all four trails in the park: Big Bone Creek, Gobbler’s Trace, Cedar Run and Coralberry Trails, starting with the shorter, steeper hill at the Gobbler’s Trace trail head. This way, I had the worst of the hike over at the beginning. The rest would be minor ups and downs through the woods.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t complete all the trails. Did I mention it was cold? It was really cold, about 20 degrees, and windy. It was muddy – really muddy. I would have thought the ground would be more frozen from our January cold snap, but the sun was so warm it thawed everything, even in denser parts of the woods. We were ankle-deep in mud for the entire hike. When it started to snow, I decided I would cut the hike short and head back to the car.

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That blood spot and the prick in the middle of it is from a giant thorn – on a TREE! 

Even though this hike was abbreviated, I still feel fantastic about it. I faced that big, honking hill I’ve been afraid of since my lungs broke, and conquered it with nothing but a very bruised knuckle. When there’s a gigantic tree down across the trail, look out for the giant tree thorns when you’re climbing off-trail. If you don’t, they’ll dig into your knuckle down to the bone.

Out with a bang

So I originally wrote this post in August, the week following this doomed hike. But I wrote it at work (on my lunch break, of course), and emailed it to myself to post – or at least I thought I did. I don’t know where the email went; I don’t know where the document went. Either I dreamed writing it or it vanished without a trace. So I got annoyed, and then got busy and I’m just getting around to telling this story.

Wrapping up my hiking season

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My best hike last year was a 5-mile trek at East Fork Lake SP. It wasn’t much of an elevation gain, but it has been the greatest distance I’ve had post-busted lungs.

Last summer, my hiking adventure hit its peak with the East Fork Perimeter Trail, the day I beat out five miles for the first time since my lungs were declared busted. I didn’t dwell much on how accomplished I felt in my blog post, but I did go on a rant on Instagram that day. I felt fantastic.

The next weekend wasn’t quite the same. I picked two hikes out of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles”: Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park and Kincaid Lake State Park. I wanted to top my distance from the week before, and I thought two, three-mile hikes would do that, and give me a good rest in between to help me make the distance. It was a great plan.

How to not hike a battlefield

Blue Licks is about two hours south of Cincinnati – about 20 miles from Maysville, Ky. – and it was about an hour and a half from where I was living at the time. Kincaid Lake, near Falmouth, Ky., is about an hour south of Cincinnati. My plan was to leave early and time my hikes so I finished before the heat of midday. Last summer was pretty moderate when it came to heat and humidity, but summer had caught up with us by the time I took this hike.

Well, I screwed myself over. I’m notorious for being late for everything, and I was late getting up, late getting out, and late getting started. When I finally got to Blue Licks, it was a reenactment weekend. (Note: If you’re planning to hike a battlefield, check the schedule, especially in the summer.) This particular location is the spot of the “last battle of the American Revolution,” according to the “60 Hikes” book. For someone like me who likes history and hiking, this park could have been a jackpot. But I pulled in and turned right back around. There was little to no parking and I didn’t feel like exposing my breathless hiking to hordes of people.

By this time we’d been in the car about an hour and a half, and lost our first hike. Emme was about as upset as I was, and she made it plain with her whimpering and whining out the back window as we pulled away from the park.

Who needs water?

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Because I’m brilliant, I forgot to bring water on the trail on a hot, humid day. I would normally let my dog drink from the creek, but this one looked disgustingly stagnant.

Even though I’ve forgotten some of the details of this hike, I specifically remember packing water. However, it wasn’t to be found. Halfway through, Emme started whining and looking at my backpack – where she knows the water and treats come from – and I was holding my hands up in the symbol she recognizes as “all gone.” She’d whimper and put her nose back to the ground.

The trail does follow a creek for a while, but it was mostly dry. Where there was water, it was covered with algae and flies. I didn’t want to deal with a sick dog on the way home, so I steered the hound away from that.

Let’s talk terrain 

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I’m ranking this trail a five based on my prior experience. It really isn’t that rugged of a trail, but it has a long, gradual incline that my lungs just didn’t know how to deal with.

For a normal person, this would be easy/moderate. You’re basically hiking down and then back over and around a couple of ridges. Nothing too major. The only people I saw were four women hiking out from the campground. One of them was carrying a Victoria’s Secret bag, and none of them had broken a sweat, if that tells you how easy this trail is for non-broken people. They looked at me funny and cooed over my dog when they passed, the normal response I get when I hike alone. I get it. What young person wears oxygen and what idiot who wears oxygen enjoys hiking?

I had one problem with this hike: inclines. My pack is usually 15-25 pounds, depending on how much water and oxygen I’m carrying. Metal cans containing compressed air are freaking heavy, man. The hills, while not steep, were long. The trail slipped around the hills, making the incline longer instead of steeper. Flotsam and Jetsam (my lungs) don’t like long inclines.

I threw a trail tantrum

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Despite my best efforts to dehydrate my dog, she just kept trotting along, leaving no leaf unsniffed.

I was hot, tired, thirsty and gasping for air. My dog was wimpering for water and I felt like the biggest jerk for forgetting it in the car. There was nowhere to sit – no benches, no downed trees, no nothing – so I flopped down in the middle of the trail, in the middle of the hill, and seriously considered going back. But I had to go uphill either way I went, so I decided to keep going.

My rest didn’t last long. Black flies were out in swarms. I think I even saw a buzzard circling over my head. I flopped down, but I couldn’t stop moving because when I did, the cloud of flies around me landed on all of my limbs. My rest probably lasted a couple of minutes before the flies chased me onward.

The rest of the trail was miserable. I may or may not have let a tear or two fall. It was pretty much all uphill back to the car. I don’t have a fond memory of this place, but that’s not the trail or the park’s fault. I gasped through an entire tank of oxygen on the second half of the trail – about a mile. I typically use about a half a tank for that distance and terrain.

Usually, when I complete a trail that was difficult for me, I get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment – a huge rush of endorphins that makes me feel like I could climb Everest without oxygen.

I didn’t get that feeling this time.

I was irritated with myself for getting so upset and half-killing my poor dog. Determination, not self-pity, would have made that hill a lot less intimidating. But instead of kicking myself in the butt and going on, I beat myself. That was the last hike I attempted until October, and I haven’t tried anything so ambitious again.

It’s time to change that. I can guarantee you I’ll be hitting this one again very soon, just to prove it’s not the boss of me.

“60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati”

I could have sworn I blogged about this before, but I can’t find the post. I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t, because it was one of my favorite gifts in all of 2015.

My friend Karli – you may also know her as The Beatkeeper – got me a bagful of hiking things last year for my birthday. Among them was a book called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles.” I have the Cincinnati version (because that’s where I live), but there are others for a myriad of of other cities in the country. I highly recommend picking one up.

I’m a serious list person. I love to make them and check things off. So getting a book with a list of hikes in my area was like the coolest gift ever. (Spoiler: She got me another book for Christmas, this one “Travel Listography,” a book in which I can list different traveling bucket list items. It’s basically the best thing ever.)

The book includes hikes in the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana area (Ohkiana?) and are divided out by state. There’s a map of the tri-state in the beginning with the numbers of each hike in its geographical area.

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I don’t want to share too much information from the book (go buy the book!) but I wanted to give you an idea of how they were set up. Every hike starts with a plethora of basic, necessary information. 

Each hike has directions, an elevation chart, maps of the trails and descriptions of the hike, often including a little history about the park. Even reading about hikes I’ve done a hundred times showed me something new about the trails. I got this before I was aware of the 52 Hike Challenge, and decided I was going to hike my way through this book. Now that I’ve started the challenge, this book will be a fantastic resource.

I wanted to hike every trail in the book, but I probably won’t.  Cincinnati is full of wonderful nature preserves – that do not allow dogs. I tend to boycott parks that do not allow pets. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t bring your best friend? Still, you can see in the picture I have several parks marked out that I plan to visit.

1 hike down. 51 to go.

52 Hike Logo

For more information, visit 52hikechallenge.com.

It’s only January 3 and I already have one hike under my belt! Go me! Last night I packed up some oxygen and dug out my neglected hiking shoes. This morning, I pulled on some layers and set off just past dawn for my first hike of the year. And boy, let me tell you, it felt good. There is something about getting the old lungs blown out to make them feel better.

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Hike one of the 52 Hike Challenge was a half frozen one around Big Bone Lick SP’s sulfur springs and creeks.

My choice for my first hike was my favorite local park: Big Bone Lick State Park near Union, Ky. I’ve blogged about this park about 47 times in the last year, so I won’t drone on about it again here.

I am getting over a cold, so I started out taking the pansy trail, a.k.a. the Discovery Trail, a mile-long paved trail that loops through sulfur springs and bogs. It’s pretty flat and anyone who can walk, or even uses wheels to get around, for that matter, can do it.

Along the way are boards with park history printed on them so people can learn about the history of the area. (Spoiler: Lewis and Clark had a big bone dig, old-timey spas popped up around the salt and sulfur springs, and, finally, someone operated a salt mine before the spot became a park.)

Except for the sour-rotten egg smell around the sulfur springs, I felt better and better as we walked this easy-peasy trail. So, we veered off the paved Discovery Trail and took the Buffalo Trace Trail, about a half mile of trail that connects the Discovery Trail to a park access road behind the bison pen. The trail meanders along Big Bone Creek, following an old bison migration path still etched in the earth. The bison would come down from Indiana, load up on salt, and head back north. Even though the wild bison are long gone, the buffalo clover on the trail remains.

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The Buffalo Trace Trail is pretty easy – even for me. I’m rating it a two only for the tiny baby hill to get out of it.

This was the first time I took the Buffalo Trace Trail, and it was super-de-duper easy as well. I don’t know if wheels could make it, but anyone who can walk should be able to do it. It isn’t paved, but it’s flat and wide, and any roots crossing the path are small and mostly buried. Added bonus: We were so close to the creek that we could hear it running over rocks when my feet weren’t crunching the frozen buffalo clover lining the trail. I give this trail a two on the Gus Scale; it was just that easy.

Once you exit the woods, there will be a paved road. To the right is a park residence, but to the left the parking lot and museum are at the end of the road, just up a slight incline. Now, I say slight, but it was long, and enough to get me winded. But, you have an incline to get back up to get off the Discovery Trail as well, so pick your poison.

When you’re going up the hill, there will be a gravel drive open up to the right. You can take this to see the bison; they usually graze on this side of the pen in the early morning. If you take this route follow the trail out to the bench, and then you can veer left to keep hiking along the fence line and onto the more wooded trails, or you can almost double back and take the trail through the trees. This will take you right back to the parking lot.

I can’t come to Big Bone without a visit to the bison, so I took Emme and headed around the bison pen, but they were nowhere to be found. They had more sense than me and were probably snug in a barn somewhere.

Next weekend, I think I’ll tackle the trails through the woods and see if I can pound out a few miles over some (pretty small) hills. Even though I’m not sure I am quite ready for it, the Hocking Hills Winter Hike is Jan. 16. It’s a pretty rugged six mile hike from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave. For the event, a shuttle will bring you back to Old Man’s Cave, instead of having to hike the six miles back. The fact that I’m unsure if I can do it makes me want to prove myself wrong. We’ll see.

One hike down. 51 hikes to go.

Next up: 52 Hike Challenge

Blogger’s Note: (Logo above courtesy of 52hikechallenge.comI wrote this post, oh, probably three months ago.  I tried to start the challenge introduced in this post in October, but it was a fail. So was restarting my blogging at that time. But, we’re through the holidays and on to the lonnnnng haul of winter, where there’s nothing to do but wait for spring. (And hike!)

My life is a mess of halves right now. I have half-unpacked boxes stacked in corners and shoved into closets – even though I moved almost a month ago. There are half-written blog posts and half-edited pictures and videos littering my laptop. I have a half-eaten sandwich next to me. And don’t forget the half-dead mutt laying in the floor next to my desk because I’m ignoring her begging right now. Eventually, I’ll get my life together again. But until then, I’ll stop neglecting my blog.

Summer got a bit nuts there at the end. I wish I could say I took off on a grand adventure, or spent more time outside than on a computer but I don’t even have anything that awesome to talk about. I went back to work in the office for a few months for training, decided to move and had a blue million different birthday parties, wedding and baby showers, baby gender reveal parties, festivals, non-baby related parties, and oh-my-god I can’t even think of everything else that’s been going on. Nevertheless, it’s been crazy. I haven’t even hiked since the disaster that became my last foray into the wilderness. But more on that later.

Right now I want to focus on all the exciting things that are coming. Even though all the holiday festivities are getting ready to start, I’m starting a new project, because why not pile something else on my to do list? After all, as my friend Lacey loves to remind me, we can sleep when we’re dead. I add to that: While we live, we hike. Thus, my next endeavor: The 52 Hike Challenge.

It’s simple: Hike 52 times. The suggested method is once a week for a year, but there’s no hard and fast rule, no minimum requirements. Which is perfect for someone to can do a moderately easy five-mile hike one weekend and completely die on a two-mile hike the next weekend, a.k.a. someone like me with half-busted lungs.

The Challenge’s founders wanted to start something to give people a chance to decompress and get into nature. I was basically doing this earlier in the year, but without fanfare. I started the summer wanting to walk every day and hike every weekend, but heat (and self-pity, if I’m honest) stopped me for a couple of months this summer. I don’t know if it’s the break in the heat or just the seasons changing that has me finally coming out of this fog and ready to go. Maybe with this challenge, the next time I think about giving up, I’ll have a better reason to keep going.

So here we go. Boxes or no boxes, the second I find my backpack and hiking shoes, we’re off.

Fifty-two hikes to go.

Zion National Park

Featured image: I wish I could claim credit for the photo, but that goes to Wolfgang Staudt. Thanks be to him for making this photo available via Flickr Creative Commons. 

One of the best things about a road trip is stumbling onto things you didn’t even know existed – and loving them. Of course, on the other hand, you spend the following five years of your life kicking yourself for not seeing what was right in front of your face.

I’ve mentioned our serendipitous journey to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when we intended to go South, but that wasn’t the only twist of fate for the day. When we left the wrong rim, the route we had planned to take to Las Vegas obviously wasn’t going to work. So we fired up the GPS – dubbed Sheila – and followed her lead.

Now, you have to know this was the most ridiculous GPS unit I’ve ever used. She was something built into the rental car that they threw in for free. It was nearly impossible to tell it where we were going unless we were headed to something preloaded, and of course nowhere we went was loaded in the thing. We didn’t call on Sheila and her split personality much. When we did, she got us lost more often than not. But on this day, Sheila came through in a big way: She introduced me to Zion National Park.

Our path from the Grand Canyon took us along State Route 9, which cuts across the southeastern corner of the park and takes you to the main entrance. Honestly, I had no idea we were passing through another park. For once, I wasn’t looking at the map; I was just letting the GPS do its thing. I can’t remember if I picked up the camera before or after I realized we were in Zion, but I know I couldn’t put it down the entire drive through.

As we passed through canyons in just a small corner of the park, our breath was constantly taken away by the view. This section of highway will take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930, according to the Park Service. This tunnel was created to connect Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. Its long. It feels long when you’re going through it and if you’re like me you have to push that panicked feeling to the back of your mind when you start thinking about how much is on top of you. This tunnel kind of skirts the edges of the rock and you get gargantuan windows that let in blinding natural light, providing a glimpse of the vista outside.

As with everything else in the Gypsy Trip, we only got a tease of what the park had to offer. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back and explore more. Zion offers backpacking, hiking, bicycling, camping, canyoneering, boating and more. When you go – because you know you want to – you may as well hit up Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley.

East Fork State Park

Featured image: This freeze frame from a GoPro video is of one of the trails that cross the bridle trails in East Fork State Park near Batavia, Ohio. The park has 46 miles of uncrowded, backcountry trails – not including bridle and bike trails –  ripe for the hiking. 

The first time I announced I was going to East Fork Lake State Park in Clermont County, Ohio, the response I got was a look of bewilderment.

“Ew. Why?” was the question that went with the look.

What I didn’t know before my first visit some five or six years ago is that the lake the park is named for is known for being kind of gross. It’s one of those man-made lakes that was created to help curtail flooding. The dam was built and the lake filled – covering everything left behind in water, including buildings, bridges and whatever else trash was left behind.

The gross part is the lake issues warnings periodically because of a toxin created by algae in the water. Some level is safe, but as recently as last summer park officials had to issue a warning for people who are very young, very old or have compromised immune systems to stay out of the water.  Nevertheless, the beach stays busy but not overcrowded, there is a new bathhouse (that actually has doors) and a boat ramp. Oh, yeah, there’s also 46 miles of backcountry trails, and miles of bridle and biking trails that allow hiking. For all these miles of trails, I can deal with a dirty lake, moss-covered ponds and and random, rusted-out hot water heaters tossed out on a trail.

I probably make this park sound much worse than it really is. For the record, the first time I went to the park, I went only to the beach, played in the water and didn’t die. I’d never do it again, but that’s because I have a “compromised immune system” – a.k.a. I take drugs to beat down my immune system so it doesn’t kill me. So even if there is no health warning posted, you won’t find me dipping a single toe in that water. Now, if I could just keep my dog from drinking from stagnant pools – and then subsequently yakking everywhere – I’d be in business.

What trailheads?

The second time I went to this park was earlier this summer. Lacey and I headed out one Sunday afternoon with the intention of logging some miles. We got to the park and an hour or so later, we actually got on a trail. Which brings me to my only real complaint about this park: It’s next to impossible to find a trailhead.

If you enter the park from the State Route 125 side and stop at the Visitor’s Center, there is a kiosk outside chock full of completely useless maps. Roads aren’t named, they’re numbered. But matching up the road you’re on with the road on the map is nearly impossible.  The only trail that was easy to find is the backpacker trail. It’s on the right, just past the visitor’s center. Parking is to the left, just past the putrid pond. The trailhead in the parking lot is the start of the mountain bike trail, which also allows hiking.

Part of our problem was that the trail rating on the map listed the backpacker trail as moderate/rugged and I wasn’t feeling particularly rugged that day. So instead of just hiking the trail we could find, we spent an hour trying to find the trailhead for one of the shorter, easier trails, which we never found. But we did find the trailhead for the bridle trails on the State Route 32 side of the park, and hiked about four miles on them.

Bridle Trails

For anyone else, I'd rate the bridle trails as easy, but they can border on moderate with busted lungs. The trails are almost flat and have few obstacles in the way.

For anyone else, I’d rate the bridle trails as easy, but they can border on moderate with busted lungs. The trails are almost flat and have few obstacles in the way.

There are one or two obvious problems with bridle trails: Horse patties and trail damage. Couple that with the wet summer we’ve had and if you’re not picking around one you’re picking around the other. Even still, there was usually enough room to walk around or pick up a spur to the side of the trail to bypass the mess.

This is another freeze frame from a video, so please excuse the quality of the image. But you can see the kind of trail damage you'll cross on the bridle trails.

This is another freeze frame from a video, so please excuse the quality of the image. But you can see the kind of trail damage you’ll cross on the bridle trails.

These trails were almost completely flat. If you’re looking for a good trail and you want a quiet walk without having to go up and down a bunch of hills or climb over fallen logs, take a tour of the bridle trails. We passed a couple of riding parties, but that was about it. There are several trails that intersect with the main bridle trail, so if you get bored with what you’re seeing, just take a side trail. We took several, I can’t even remember which blazes we followed, but none of them disappointed.

Backpacker Trail

A step up on intensity from the bridle trails, the Perimeter Trail would still be fairly easy for a normal person. The hills aren't difficult but there are roots, rocks and fallen trees to navigate along the way.

A step up on intensity from the bridle trails, the Perimeter Trail borders on rugged for the busted lung club. The hills aren’t very difficult but they are frequent, and there are roots, rocks, creeks and fallen trees to navigate along the way.

The third time I went to this park was about a week ago. I was coming off a couple of weeks of zero days and out to prove a point. My goal at the beginning of the summer was to be able to hike eight miles – my pre-diagnosis best for a weekend day hike – and I was determined to make it. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t make it.)

This is a freeze frame from a GoPro video, so please excuse the image quality. But this is a piece of one of the  trails that cross the bridle trails at East Fork. This is what most of the trails I've seen look like.

This is a freeze frame from a GoPro video, so please excuse the image quality. But this is a piece of one of the trails that cross the bridle trails at East Fork. This is what most of the trails I’ve seen look like.

Lacey and I hit the park, and this time I didn’t let the moderate/rugged tag scare me. In fact, we were about a mile and a half in when I declared that the trail wasn’t that bad – and it wasn’t, really.

If you park at the lot behind the putrid pond and then walk back out across the road, you’ll find the Steve Newman Worldwalker Perimeter Trail. This 32-mile trail circles the park and has four primitive camping sites along the way. I’m not so sure the campers who used the spots believed in packing out their trash, because it was partially bagged and left in the fire pit. I guess at least it wasn’t strewn about the site?

The trail winds around and over some smallish hills, through some narrow, mostly dry creeks, and over some fallen trees. It isn’t nearly as easy as what we walked on the bridle trails, but even I still wouldn’t consider it rugged. We hiked out about 2.5 miles before my lungs started betraying me and we turned back. Our total for the afternoon was 5.1 miles, and even though that’s not a lot, it ain’t too shabby for some busted lungs.

Big Bone Lick SP

Featured image: My favorite thing about Big Bone Lick SP is the bison herd. 

Big Bone Lick SP gets a four on the Gus Scale. The trails are easy to moderate, with a couple of hills in between.

Big Bone Lick SP gets a four on the Gus Scale. The trails are easy to moderate, with a couple of hills in between.

If I don’t get out to Big Bone Lick State Park near Union, Kentucky, at least once a month, I get an itch. Maybe it’s the cute baby bison, maybe it’s the way I can loop around the park 700 different ways depending on my mood. Maybe it’s the light traffic that I – and my dog – both like. Or maybe it’s the lake that we stop at about halfway through the hike. Whatever it is, I haven’t found many trails I enjoy as much as this one that are still close to home.

My favorite route to take at this park is by starting down the access road past the museum. The marked trail head is right next to the parking lot and takes you to basically the same place, but you don’t get to go by the entire bison pen. I like my way better because it takes you along the entire bison pen. If you take the trailhead, you may miss the herd because it brings you out to about the middle of the pen.

From the access road, take the first left slightly up a hill and soon you’ll see a fence to the right. You’ll recognize it as the bison pen from the signs every 10 feet reminding you that bison are dangerous – a fact that people in parks across the country always seem to forget. Granted, the bison don’t run wild here like they do in Yellowstone. They remind me more of a pet cow than a wild animal, but I know that if they really wanted to, they could charge that fence and it wouldn’t stand a chance.

Once you get down the access road and follow the curve to the left, the trail runs along the side of the bison pen.

Once you get down the access road and follow the curve to the left, the trail runs along the side of the bison pen.

Once you reach the fence, just keep following it. You’ll reach the point where the trail from the parking lot dumps out, follow a bend to the left and go straight for a bit. Once you get toward the end of the bison pen, the Cedar Run trail will take a left up a hill. Up to this point, the trail would have been fairly easy with a smooth, relatively flat trail. Here’s where the hiking begins.

The "lake" is more like a big pond.

The “lake” is more like a big pond.

But the lake makes a great place to stop and force your dog to get her picture!

But the lake makes a great place to stop and force your dog to get her picture!

I’m not going to go over every step of this trail. Instead, I’m just going to point out a couple of trouble spots for me:

  • Cobwebs. There are a lot of them once you get in the woods. And ticks. I pull three or four off my dog every stinking time we are at this park.
  • The hill leading from the bison pen isn’t particularly steep, but it is long. It took me three or four hikes to be able to get up it without having to stop for breath.
  • When that hill ends, Cedar Run intersects with Gobbler’s Trace Trail. If you go left, you’ll keep going uphill for a while until you finally start going down a long, mildly steep hill. If you hike this in the rain/after it’s been raining and/or with a dog, be prepared to ski. You can catch Gobbler’s Trace from the parking lot and head up that hill, but I don’t. That hill is killer.
  • If you take a right on Gobbler’s Trace, the trail levels off a bit, but you’ll still be going up and down some moderate hills.
  • When you reach the campground, Gobbler’s Trace ends. You need to keep walking straight to find the trailhead for Coralberry Trail. There may be someone camped in front of it, but it’s across from the dumpster and there is a sign. (I had trouble finding it the first time because there was a tent in the way.
  • Coralberry Trail takes you around the lake. There may be some people fishing there or a trail runner or two acting crazy (running through the woods is nuts to me). There are benches around the lake and it’s a great place to stop and sit a spell.
  • There are trails that go down the hill on either side of the lake. If you are facing the lake, I take the one to the right because it is more direct. They both lead to a small parking lot at the bottom of the hill. This is a great cheater way if you don’t want/have the juice to trek back through the woods. Once you get to the bottom of the hill, you take a left and follow the road straight back to the museum. It’s an easy walk.
Since all the big bones are long gone from the park, they have displays like this along the discovery trail. I'm not sure if this part is to teach people or scare them?

Since all the big bones are long gone from the park, they have displays like this along the discovery trail. I’m not sure if this part is to teach people or gross them out?

If you’re looking for something easier or just to add on some miles, there is a paved loop trail that goes out from the back side of the Museum/Visitor’s Center called the Discovery Trail. The trail takes you back through the park’s history and has informational signs along the way. You’ll also pass through sulfur springs, so bring a clothespin for your nose.

I just love these kids - but the younger two weren't as impressed with hiking as I wanted them to be. From left: Mandy, Ella and little Olivia.

I just love these kids – but the younger two weren’t as impressed with hiking as I wanted them to be. From left: Mandy, Ella and little Olivia.