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.

new-mad-max-fury-road-trailer-shows-no-mercy

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.

Advertisements

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.

emme

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.

emmejpg

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.

still sign

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.

Hike 5

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?

still sign 2

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.

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.

DSC_6483

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.

booboo-edited

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

2015-08-09 15.46.15

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?

2015-08-16 12.33

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 

GusScaleLvl5 - cropped

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

2015-08-16 12.32

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.

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.

DCIM126GOPRO

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.

GusScaleLvl2

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.

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.