Happy 2nd Anniversary!

Well, hello there! I’ve been gone for a while, but I’m back now and ready to get hiking again! It’s been, what? Six months now?  I quit right after I was supposed to really start making a dent in that 52 Hike Challenge I started at the beginning of the year. But that wasn’t entirely me just letting other projects/life events get in the way. It was mostly Mother Nature and my lungs ganging up on me for basically the entire summer.  But guess what? It has been 113 days since I needed to use Gus!

My relationship with my oxygen has been like a bad romance. We get along great for a while, then he cramps my style. Then I remember I need him, but I don’t want him anymore. Until this summer, I couldn’t live with him, but I couldn’t live without him. Then one day, after a particularly difficult stroll in the park, I realized I can, in fact, survive without him. (Keep reading … you’ll get the full story.)

I really didn’t have much to talk about this summer. Thanks to humidity so high you walk outside and drown, I got benched for a while. What’s that you say? I never let weather or it effect on me stop me before? You’re exactly right! I hadn’t – until a sunny day in June. Let me tell you a story about the day I finally said, “Uncle.”

When I last blogged, I was still on my springtime high – super excited that it was finally warming up and things were turning green again. Last summer, my hiking season stayed strong until mid-August, and I never thought that this year wouldn’t be the same. Well, dear Mother Nature forgot to take her Midol for about three months and hit us with the kind of heat and humidity the weatherman says people with breathing problems should avoid.

Did I listen to him? Psh, naw. Why would I do that? I like to learn things the hard way.

I tried to power through. Yeah, sure, I can still play outside when the heat index is over 100 degrees, but my lungs aren’t going with me. In a classic Cassie move, I thought I could handle a 7-mile walk around a park. I mean, it’s one of those multi-use paved trails. Easy, right? Ha. Hahaha. Hahahahahahahaha!

The trail runs between stands of trees, but it isn’t actually shaded. We were walking on blacktop with the sun bearing down on us. It was fun for about the first mile. After that, the plodding started. I refused to give up, dug in and turned my oxygen up. And I started getting really cranky. I’m used to people staring at me. I know I look like a weirdzilla with tubing wrapped around my face. Usually, I just smile and keep on walking. But on this day I had zero patience for adults who should have better manners. So I started snarking at people when they’d stare as they walked by. Not my finest hour. (Sidenote: Adults have corrected their children for staring at me while they are doing it themselves. And for the record, I don’t mind kids staring at me. It give me the opportunity to tell a white lie and say this is what happens when you smoke, so don’t ever start! Also, for the record, I have never smoked.)

We would get to a marker and I would say, “Just a half mile more and I’ll stop.” I thought I could half-mile my way around the trail.  We turned back when we thought we were a mile into the trail, but we miscounted and were closer to a mile and a half. I was almost through my water and halfway through my oxygen when we turned back. I completely ran out of oxygen about a half a mile or so from the trailhead. It supremely sucked. But, with any bad experience, there are lessons learned.

First, I realized oxygen really wasn’t helping me much anymore. It’s not that my lungs couldn’t use the boost, as they just reach a point when it doesn’t make much of a difference anymore. So even though running out of oxygen for the first time ever was kind of terrifying, it showed me that I can get along without it. I mean, slowly and leaning on everything around me, but I can do it.

Second, I realized that I really need to pay more attention to those weather warnings and stay the heck inside sometimes. And even though I’m having a good time picking on myself for this choice, I’m glad I did it. I can’t go so far as to say it was fun, but I’m proud of myself for completing almost four miles of trail in a 110-degree heat index.

Third, but not the least of all, my friend proved for about the billionth time how awesome she is. Even when I was fighting back tears of frustration, she never stopped encouraging me. It seems like the less I believe in myself, the more she believes in me.

After that day, I realized that summers like this one are going to mean that I’m not hiking much. I spent a few weeks feeling really sorry for myself, and thinking I was doing the very thing I swore I would never do in letting this dictate my life. But just because I can’t walk seven miles in the heat doesn’t mean I’m beat. It just means I have the opportunity to do other things I enjoy. Like kayak on a lazy river where I can float when I need to rest and jump in when I need to cool off. My big hiking season is going to be winter. The cold never bothered me anyway.

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Hike 8: Appalachian Trail

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I did it, folks! I finally started hiking the Appalachian Trail! I just decided there wasn’t anything to do but to do it and started out!

That’s a total lie. There’s not a bone in my body with enough spontaneity to ever seriously utter those words about anything except ripping off a Band-Aid.

But I did – FINALLY – knock out my first section hike.

It was about a 100-feet-long section – but it was still a section so shut your mouth. Also, I did it without oxygen. Yes, it was 100 feet on a road atop Fontana Dam, but I DID IT, darn you.

So saying I completed a section hike might be a bit of a stretch.

I read somewhere once that if the water levels in Fontana Lake are low enough, you can see the old roads that were flooded over. We didn't find them.

I read somewhere once that if the water levels in Fontana Lake are low enough, you can see the old roads that were flooded over. The water was still quite low, but we didn’t find anything but dirt.

My Hike Eight is a bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t help but throw this in here. The day we hit Juney Whank Falls, we kept driving around the area. I’m not really sure how or why, but we ended up at Fontana Dam.

Last year we came close to it when we visited the Road to Nowhere. We drove up hoping the water level would still be low enough for us to see some of the old road that was flooded out, but we either weren’t in the right spot or the water was already over it. Nevertheless, I checked out the giant Appalachian Trail board outside their visitor’s center and we all walked around the dam.

100 feet down. 11,447,040 to go.

Hike 7: Juney Whank Falls

And now, for a hike outside the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana tri-state area! Its been a while since I hiked more than 50 or so miles from home, but on my family’s annual spring trek to the Smokies I managed to talk them into a hike – however short it was.

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It was mother/daughter selfie time with a quilt about one of our favorite movies!

Every year there is a quilt show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for which Mom basically offers my brother and me a free trip. I go with Mom to the quilt show and Cory (my little brother) goes with Dad to do manly-man things. Everyone wins – including me because I get to look at something pretty and say, “Mom! Make me that!” Usually, she will.

Last year, the boys hiked somewhere and found and old, forgotten graveyard. When I tried to get them to take me to it the next day, they claimed they couldn’t remember where it was. This year, while Mom and I wandered through convention center displays, they bought tools and then went back to the hotel to sleep. Basically, it was their usual Friday.

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So now you know where I get my goofiness from. Dad was feeling rather victorious after tackling the switchbacks of the quarter-mile trail.

Saturday broke a rainy, gross, cloudy day. But by the time we got through a hearty, southern breakfast, the sun was chasing the clouds away and I managed to talk everyone into going waterfall hunting. I thought I found a relatively easy hike, even for my broken lungs and my parents’ old knees. But like everything in the mountains, looks can be deceiving.

Mom found a copy of The “Smokies Guide,” the self-proclaimed official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, somewhere and the “Places to go” section listed a couple of places I haven’t been before. We decided to choose a place none of us have been, and headed to Bryson City, N.C. to pick up the road to Deep Creek.

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The Deep Creek area is full of waterfalls. This Barbie-doll sized set of rapids is the first one you’ll see when you leave the parking lot.

I’ve been to the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area of the Smokies more times than I can count. The mountains in that area haven’t lost their majesty, but the traffic and the crowds certainly have. The last few times I’ve gone down, I’ve spent most of my time on the North Carolina side things. It’s not necessarily always less busy, but there at least seems to be more places that aren’t completely overrun with tourists.

 

The “Smokies Guide” calls Deep Creek off-the-beaten-path – and it definitely was. We passed through a holler outside Bryson City that looked like the kind you didn’t want to break down in, if you know what I mean. Right about the time my parents pointed this out, I realized this was just the kind of spot I wanted.

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This always makes me sad.

Although the Park Service advertises Deep Creek as one of the few areas in which mountain bikers are welcome, we didn’t see anyone on bikes. Just a mostly-full parking lot and several off-season couples and families wandering about. I’d say that even though the area is a bit off the main drag, it still gets very busy in the warmer months.

There are several trails of varying length and intensity in the Deep Creek area, and we chose the shortest one because no one enjoys being outside as much as I do, and my parents have old joints. Juney Whank Falls is the easiest to reach, but you climb about a quarter-mile of switchbacks to reach her. Once you reach the falls, the trail divides to go above and below the falls. You can either take the trail past the falls further uphill to loop back around to the parking lot, or you can turn around and take the devil you know back down to the car. We took the devil we knew and went directly back downhill.

 

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I’m giving this trail a solid middle ranking. It’s a very short, very clear and well-kept trail. By that I mean you won’t be tripping over rocks and roots. But it is almost entirely uphill, so be prepared for your cardio when you hike this trail.

The hike was short, but pretty. It was also not a hike I should have tried without Gus; my oxygen level dropped to 78 before I sucked it up and plugged in. After that, my rest breaks got farther apart than about every 15 feet.

If you want to go farther on the hikes, the North Carolina Waterfalls site has a lovely post that takes you farther along the Juney Whank Trail to show you the other two waterfalls in the Deep Creek area: Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.

Hike 6: Look, Ma! No Oxygen!

I’ve really been sucking at this whole 52 Hike Challenge and blogging thing this year. I can’t seem to get myself in any kind of groove. Basically, if I had a three-day weekend every weekend and zero other family/life obligations, this would be a lot easier. But, my creditors don’t care if working overtime kills my soul, and so I’ve been losing a lot of Saturdays to The Man. Nevertheless, I’ll keep plugging away.

So, depending on the order in which I publish the posts I’ve been working on this sunny, chilly Sunday afternoon, and if you choose to read them all (I wouldn’t), you’ll know that no longer using oxygen is finally on the table. It’s taken about six months of me rarely using Gus other than when hiking, of course, to get Dr. M. to consider this. That being said, with my pessimistic doctor finally on board, I’ve started considering what that actually means.

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The second I saw this guy in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I knew this is what I have to look like when I’m hiking – oxygen and crazy written all over my face. Except, instead of a huge gun, I have a rabid hound.

Might I hike without my “Mad Max” backpack of oxygen on my back? I decided to find out.

I went to a trail I knew well. Any ideas which one? Yes! Big Bone Lick SP. I suppose I could have walked around my neighborhood first, but, let’s face it. That’s boring. And my dog hates all our neighbors. So I decided to hit the easy-peasy paved trail at Big Bone.

It was great. Sometimes longer distances can start to wear my ol’ lungs down, but this wasn’t an issue, thanks to intermittent stops for my hound dog to inspect a clump of grass. Or a leaf. Or the wind. This path is basically a flat walk around a bog and sulfur spring (peeee-youuuuuuuuu), so I wasn’t expecting anything to be a huge issue.

So, since I was doing so well, why not push things a little? We headed off on a side trail I knew would take us up a slight incline to the bison pen, then dump us downhill before a final climb over a moderate hill back to the parking lot. I know how I usually handle this trail with oxygen, so I had a good baseline on which to compare results.

The inclines got a bit hairy at the end and that last incline got me down below 88 – my danger zone – but I was able to either slow down or stop to get my oxygen level back up again enough to finish the short hike without busting out Gus.

I call it a win.

Hike 5: Kincaid Lake

Typically, I start a hike with a particular milestone in mind.  I want to complete a particular trail or log a certain number of miles. Typically, I end up on a completely different path. Kind of like life, right? You start out on a path with your entire trajectory planned – if you’re me, anyway – and end up in an entirely different place. Hike five of my 52 Hike Challenge was sort of like that.

It was a breezy Saturday morning. Birds were singing. Curtains were wafting in the breeze. I was blinking into the bright light – of a computer screen.

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Seeing a creek without being able to get into it is real frustrating. 

Last Saturday was the first really beautiful day of the year. The temperature made it to 70 degrees, the sun was shining and a perfect breeze was blowing. Why did I shove myself into a corner with a stack of claims to process on such a gorgeous day? Honestly, the prospect of some overtime and extra money was nice. And then the sun lured me outside. But the problem remained: Where should I hike?

And then it hit me – like my excited dog nearly knocking the wind out of me when I get home – why not go back and show Kincaid Lake who’s boss? What better way to kick off the warmer weather hiking season and shake off the winter blues than by revisiting the site of my last 2015 hike?

The last time I attempted this hike it was in the heat and humidity of late summer … and I forgot water. That hike was doomed from the start. This one was different. I had everything I needed for a perfect afternoon out.

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Its hard to get a selfie with a tracking dog. 

Emme and I arrived at the park – with plenty of water and oxygen – intending to hike the same route as last summer. (The same hike that is outlined in the “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles” book.) We started down the hill, me letting Emme take the lead. I have a tendency to wander off-trail, while Emme follows the trail of other hikers ahead of us. Hiking with a hound comes in handy when you aren’t sure which trail to follow.

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It kind of looks like there’s a trail straight ahead. We decided to follow it and see where it led!

Once you get down the hill, you hang a Louie at the creek, following it down to a suspension bridge that separates the stagnant piece you just followed with a much prettier, babbling piece of the creek. When we came to the bridge, the hound wanted to cross so she could follow the hikers in the hills above us. It took me about a half a second to override that decision and take a disappearing trail just past the bridge that followed the creek.

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The first part of the creek is still and sort of stagnant looking. Farther up, it rolls over a rocky portion of earth. 

Whether this is actually part of the Spicebush or Ironwood Trails that the park advertises, I don’t know. After I crossed the first drainage pipe, I lost all semblance of a trail, but kept following the creek – much to the delight of my water-loving dog. (And no trip around water is complete without Emme nearly dragging me face-first into it.)

We eventually came back out and crossed the suspension bridge. The trail we planned to take went right – following that stagnant part of the creek again before heading up another hill. But going straight took us along the babbling, pretty part of the creek. Guess which way we went?

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Not exactly a white blaze, but they mark the trail. Kinda. 

One thing to note about the hiking trails at Kincaid: They aren’t extremely well marked. There are arrows at various points along the trail telling you which way to go, but the trails aren’t often travelled, making it easy to lose track of where you are between the markers. This phenomenon is a little worse right now because we’re still in winter – even if Saturday’s perfect weather didn’t know that.

For much of the trail we covered, the only trace of a path was a barely perceptible dent in the leaves carpeting the ground. I could only see it from a distance, and once I started following it, the wind was the only thing guiding me. That’s how I ended up thinking I was all cool, blazing my own trail, only to look a back and realize that I had been following a time-worn trail all along.

I didn’t face down my nemesis from last season, but I had a fantastic afternoon trying to not get pulled in while my dog played in the creek like a puppy. While a big part of my 52 Hike Challenge is pushing myself harder and tackling more difficult hikes, the bigger part is enjoying the adventure.

Shawnee Lookout: Life-sized Timeline

Caption: The lovely featured image of the old log cabin at Shawnee Lookout was taken by Cathy on Flickr. Check out her photo here.

Today, I was supposed to knock out three hikes and make up for some lost time. But, with the temperature in the single digits this morning when I started to head out, I thought I’d rather just curl up with a pot of coffee and get some busy work done. (Hiking in sub-zero temps may be OK with The Real Hiking Viking, but not for Cassie. Though I am enjoying watching his hike progress.) I was going to hike Shawnee Lookout today, but instead I’ll fill you in on some of the history of my second-favorite local park. Then next weekend, we’ll see how my lungs fare on its trails.

Shawnee Lookout spans a beautiful swatch of land between the Great Miami and Ohio Rivers, less than a mile from where the two rivers converge. Of the park’s three trails, the westernmost trail ventures into the point between the rivers, stopping near the floodplain between the two waterways.

I love to hike here, but it’s not really one of those places you can hit up and hope to feel completely disconnected and lost in nature. To me, it’s more of a place where you get a great walk in the woods – and see a life-sized timeline spanning more than 10,000 years.

I’m a long time removed from my seventh-grade Ohio History class, so I’m more than a little rusty on my facts. But, what I culled from dear old Google tells me that there have been more developments in the last 20ish years, so I don’t feel so bad for forgetting most of it. A 2009 study done by University of Cincinnati archeological students showed that Shawnee Lookout could be “the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement established by any Native American group,” according to an article published in “Science Daily.”  This statement is supported by artifacts found which date back 14,000 years and are attributed to the Hopewell Indians. Some of the more recent studies have shown that the most recent Native Americans to live in the area, the Shawnee the park is named after, are linked to the Hopewell Indians, thus creating this continuous Native American habitation for over 10,000 years.

Let’s take a walk through time.

Miami Fort Trail

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This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Even though artifacts have been found in the area that date back 14,000 years, according to the sign at the Miami Fort Trailhead, the oldest part of history you can easily see are the earthen mounds around the park. None are what you might call “plainly visible” because the trails are kept several feet away and trees and brush have been able to grow up around them. Still, several of these mounds are marked along the 1.4-mile Miami Fort Trail as it meanders its way around the mounds and gives hikers some pretty views of the rivers the park boundaries parallel.

Out of the three trails in the park, this one has always seemed to be the most difficult. It starts you out going up a pretty large hill, and then runs you up and over a couple of ridges once you’re at the top. Still, the cardio is worth it for the views you’ll get.

Between the name “fort” and the ridge top location between rivers, I always assumed this was a fortified position used for defense, but that may not actually be the case. Another blogger visited this park in 2010 and wrote that the Hopewell Indians used this hilltop as a ceremonial burial ground, not as a defense post. But a local newspaper published republished Tamara York’s chapter from “60 Hikes within 60 Miles” which said it was used as a strategic spot, so you can decide how you think it was used. I’m not sure if I prefer thinking I’m walking on a fort, or desecrating a burial ground. But since there haven’t been any reports of children in the area being sucked into televisions, I’m guessing we’re safe. (Also, if you’re into history, I’d encourage you to read all of the blogger’s post above. It has more interesting tidbits about the area surrounding the park.)

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This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Ancient history and modern day have an interesting juxtaposition along the Miami Fort Trail. On one hand, you are following a marked path along Indian mounds, and on the other you have some pretty fantastic views of the river below – and the power plant belching smoke on its bank. This is the first example of how you can’t quite get away from civilization on this hike.

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This photos was taken by Just Nora from Flickr. You can view her photo here: https://flic.kr/p/4RKMZD

Little Turtle Trail

After tens of thousands of years, the pioneer settlers showed up. On the only road through the park, just past the Little Turtle Trailhead, lies the Springhouse school and log cabin. Neither were originally located in the park, but both were built in the late 1700s and moved to the park in the 1970s to preserve them. Farewell, Shawnee. Hello, Europeans.

The Little Turtle Trailhead is across the street from the parking lot, just next to a playground. Measuring about two miles, this is the longest single trail in the park. Even though the trail takes you up and around a decent hill, the trail is still pretty easy/moderate for most people. Out of the three park trails, I’d rank it a second-most difficult, behind the Miami Fort Trail. The cool things about this trail are the scenic overlooks along the hillside where hikers can see the rivers below. They’re great places to stop, catch your breath and switch out oxygen tanks.

This trail has little else to remind you of the historical significance of the area. There aren’t any marked mounds along the trails and there aren’t many reminders of modern day unless you get a glimpse of something along the river.

But if you want to take a step forward in time, cross the street for the third and final trail in the park.

Blue Jacket Trail

I can’t walk this trail without Treebeard from “Lord of the Rings” coming into my head: “They come with fire, they come with axes…. Gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning!”

Even though you don’t have the (necessary, I’ll admit) ugliness of a power plant wrecking your view of the river, this trail is bisected by a wide swatch of land that has been cleared for power lines to cut through.

You’ll head into this 1.3-mile trail like you’re on a jolly jaunt into the woods, and start on your merry way. And then, BOOM! You’re in a clearing you think is a cute little meadow or something until you look around and realize there are hulking towers on either side of you and electrical wires buzzing over your head. I mean, I’m sitting here with a computer, cell phone, desk lamp, and various batteries charging, but I don’t want to be reminded of how my own materialism impacts the earth when I’m trying to pretend I’m one with nature. But then, maybe it’s a good thing to have that reminder?

Once you get past the power lines, you’re back into the quiet woods. This trail seems to be to be the least trafficked one, maybe because the only views it has are of trees. There are occasional benches, but there’s nothing to look at but woods – which is better than a power line, any day.

 

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.

stand off

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.