“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.

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“The Appalachian Trail Girl’s Guide”

After I finished “Four Boots, One Journey,” I switched things up and read a “Part Memoir, Part Manifesto” from a girl’s point of view on the Appalachian Trail. Megan Maxwell’s mission with her book “The Appalachian Trail Girl’s Guide” is to inspire more women to hike and camp and be confident in their outdoor abilities.

Sold! I’m so sold. In fact, I was going to stay home and clean out my car this weekend before I go on a canoeing trip, but I’m so stoked for hiking that I’m going to let the dog hair and Coke Zero bottles keep piling up and go hiking. Then I’m going to go canoeing – and probably hiking if I can convince my cousin to abandon the canoe long enough. But for real, by the time this post goes live, I’ll be panting along a trail at Big Bone Lick. The car wash will still be there when I get home.

But all shenanigans aside, this was another great book. Before reading it, I was solely focused on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Not that I didn’t want to hike the Appalachian Trail, it just didn’t appeal to me as much. But after reading this, I’m dying to hike this trail and I’m plotting a way to knock out a section hike, ASAP.

It was also a nice contrast to the book I had just finished reading. “Four Boots, One Journey” was written by someone older taking a very different kind of journey, and it had a very different vibe. “Girl’s Guide,” was written by a recent college graduate who enjoyed hiking. She wasn’t on a quest to find herself or get over a tragic loss. She was just trying to hike.

The book was full of helpful information for things I wonder about, such as dealing with feminine hygiene on the trail, and what it’s like to be a woman on a trail dominated by men. She keeps the trail guide vibe and lays out section hikes to try, the best places to see, and trail angels along the way. (Trail angels are people who help hikers out or let hikers stay with them, either for free, a small fee or work trade. See, I’m learning the lingo already!)

Added bonus: She’s has a blog and she’s still very active with it. (Check out http://appalachiantrailgirl.com/) I fell down a wormhole with her blog and found myself reading for almost an hour when I was supposed to be writing this post. It’s full of information about more hiking (like this post about the Great Sand Dunes), gear, jobs for thru-hikers and other adventures (like biking along the Pacific Coast with her mother).

Bottom line: If you’re interested in a thru-hike or sections of the Appalachian Trail, pick up this book.

“Four Boots, One Journey”

Layout 1Title: Four Boots, One Journey

Author: Jeff Alt

Short Description: After his wife’s brother commits suicide, the author and his wife embark on a healing thru-hike on the John Muir Trail, a 211-mile swatch of land in the Sierra Nevada that mostly follows the Pacific Crest Trail.

My favorite part: This book has a lot of great information about depression and the JMT.

“Four Boots, One Journey” has been on my reading list for a while, and I finally got around to it a couple of weeks ago. What initially got my attention about this book wasn’t the depression awareness campaign that was attached to their hike; it was the fact that they hiked at all. I’m on my annual summer hiking kick right now, and my current obsession is thru-hiking.

Long-distance hiking is something I thought about before I got sick, but now that I know my body is in armed rebellion against itself, I figure if I give my immune system and the rest of my body a common enemy (i.e. huge physical challenge) they can finally unite. (I know, I know. It doesn’t really work that way.)  So I’ve been reading as many hiking memoirs as I can find to get some perspective – and fun stories – about long hikes.

The first one I read was this one, by “Hiker Jeff,” an author and speaker. I get the feeling from his writing that he’s a very practical guy. His writing and descriptions were no-nonsense – by that I mean no fluffy, flowery language and no embellishing of the truth. I appreciate his writing style, even though I’m prone to pontificate and use overly colorful verbs and adjectives for the sake of telling stories. Even without over-dramatization, the funny parts of his story stick out – like when his wife got caught with her pants down – literally – by a park ranger.

Hiker Jeff’s wife wasn’t a hiker, but she promised him when they got married that she’d give it a chance. After losing her brother, she agreed to hike the John Muir Trail with him in an effort to raise awareness about depression and how hiking can help people who suffer from it. Even before their hike began, they started sharing their message about depression awareness to others. Jeff shows us how they raised funds to donate to a charity, gathered sponsors to help them with their hike, and set up a website that chronicled their journey. Sadly, I can’t find this website now; HikeforMike.com redirects to Jeff’s own homepage.

Their journey over the JMT was a healing one for Jeff, his wife and their family. Throughout the hike, he referenced various aspects of grief and depression, tying it in to things they witnessed on the trail. For example, when they crossed the “Golden Gate of the Sierra,” a suspension bridge along the trail, Jeff references the high rate of suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and how this bridge in their path only solidified the reason for their journey.

I have close family members who struggle with depression and anxiety, and two of my friends have committed suicide. It’s a terrifying, unfathomable thing to try to understand. Ten years later, you will still wonder what you could have done to help them.

Even though the premise of the entire hike is rooted in a devastating tragedy, it doesn’t overshadow the story. There is still plenty of helpful information about the JMT, how to hike it, places to stay, and the kinds of people you will meet. One of my favorite characters appeared at the end of the story, on the last day of their hike.

When Jeff and Beth ascended Mt. Whitney they passed a woman with whom I could identify. They said she would “take five, small, shuffling steps and stop for a period longer than it took to take the steps.” The couple tried to help her, but she refused, saying she was “just fine.”

I like this woman.

Sometimes when I’m hiking something not nearly as strenuous as Mt. Whitney, I do this exact thing. I’ll move 10 feet and then have to stop to breathe. And I never want help, either. I appreciate the offers, but no thanks, even though I look like I’m dying, I’m doing just fine.

Jeff and Beth met the hiker again later in the day and we learned more about her. This time she was in some obvious discomfort as she rested on a rock, but she explained that her father had many health problems when he died, and she expected she had some of the same.

“But I will get over this mountain,” she told them. “I’ve got all day.” She still kept her sense of humor when she called out after them, “After this trip, I think I’ll stick to car camping.”

I would tell her NO! Don’t car camp — climb another mountain. It will only get easier. Still, I like her spirit. It’s something anyone can relate to – whether you have a chronic illness or depression or just a really bad case of the Mondays.

You can get over that mountain. You’ve got all day.