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.

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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.

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.

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.

Getting a taste of Yellowstone in Kentucky

Seeing bison tagged and penned in as if they were cattle didn't exactly feel like Yellowstone, but it isn't bad for being more than 1,600 miles away.

Seeing bison tagged and penned in as if they were cattle didn’t exactly feel like Yellowstone, but it isn’t bad for being more than 1,600 miles away.

Its late January and we’ve been getting hit with cold and snow pretty consistently  for a couple of months now. Taking the dog for a walk has become an exercise in endurance for both of us — and that’s on the days where she doesn’t just run out, do her business and then make a bee line back to the door. Cabin fever has set in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. I would much rather be dealing with temperatures on the southern end of 70 degrees, wind chill or not. Pulling on a pair of thermals under my pants is no big hardship to me. And living in that big, bulky hoodie for a few months? I welcome it. But what do to on those days when you’re tired of being cooped up and you feel like if your dog runs a circle around the room one more time you just might hog-tie her and hang her from the ceiling fan?

I slap on one more layer of clothes, grab the long leash and take the dog on some nature trails. In the spring and summer we love to hit Shawnee Lookout and we’ve been to the Cincinnati Nature Center. But this time I wanted something different. I’ve been looking at pictures from Yellowstone National Park lately and it got me thinking. Why not go see one of Kentucky’s own geological masterpieces? So last weekend we headed to Big Bone Lick State Park.

Emme was impatiently trying to drag Dad up the hill going back to the bison pen.

Emme was impatiently trying to drag Dad up the hill going back to the bison pen.

All right, we’ll pause here for a minute. Yes, I said Big Bone Lick. I know, so many jokes. I had been living in Kentucky for almost a year before I realized there was such a place. So I asked a friend who grew up here what, exactly, is a big bone lick?

“Its … a lick. … A land formation. …I don’t know,” is the response I got.

Well, the story behind Big Bone Lick, according to the park service, is once upon a time millions of years ago it was a marsh that drew all sorts of big animals to feed around the mineral deposits in the area – in this case, salt. Then those big animals died and left their big bones behind. Actually, nothing specifically said where the “big bone” part of the name came from, but scientists were pulling enormous bones out of the earth for several decades, so its not a far stretch. (Anyone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on any of these points.)

So, its one big salt lick that used to have some big dinosaur bones in it. Bison have been reintroduced to the area, and we even have a sulfur spring. (Take that, Yellowstone.)

One of the things I love about snow is being able to see the trails that my mutt sniffs out in the woods.

One of the things I love about snow is being able to see the trails that my mutt sniffs out in the woods.

So, bright and early last Sunday morning I set out with the dog and my dad to get a little nature and exercise. As the humans trudged through the couple of inches of snow on the ground to get back to the bison herd, the hound darted back and forth, taking full advantage of the 16 feet afforded to her by the retractable leash. And I realized another thing to love about snow: It reveals to me the tracks of animals that Emme is attempting to hunt down. Instead of me just rolling my eyes as she runs to and fro, I can see the rabbit and deer tracks crisscrossing the path. So while Emme busied herself hunting wabbits, I had some fun taking pictures of snow tracks.

And of course once we got to the bison, my little 40-pound, hound dog mutt thought she should have a crack at one of them. She barked at the bison, pulled on the leash and pawed at the ground until I swear I saw one of the giant beasts roll his eyes at her.