First day log (CMH to PDX)

Got off to the airport without a hitch. The backpack duffle I picked up Friday night, Trump traffic be damned, worked out very well. It even had space to spare for my trekking poles, foam bedroll and my still muddy hiking boots from Burr Oak State Park. I over packed with the intent of editing it down once I get a feel for the overlaps between Doug’s and my gear.

Hanging out in the DFW airport now for a couple hours. Chatting with Eddie & Doug. Sent Nick, Lori and Marsha a picture from the Hurricane Ridge webcam to give them an idea of the ending area of our journey. Treated myself to an extremely rare lunch at Chick-Fil-A. I loved this place when I lived in Dallas. It reminds me of a woman whom I used to work with named Rechelle. She got me through a lot of tough times and I always loved her indomitable spirit and her room-filling laughter. There’s just something good about a piece of fried chicken in a soft white bun accented by pickles. It’s cardiac poison of course, but damn if it does not remind me of some really incredible tiny moments when I used to live here in Dallas.

Spent a good chunk of the layover reading from Anthony Skura’s hiking guide and people watching of course. The reading was specifically about bears. So, evidently, my Ursack is great for mini bears… but since I’d have to hang it, if the land manager even allowed them, it seems like I will be leaving that behind at Doug’s house instead because of the following piece of data. Anthony cites that bear hangs do not work at all with bears. Which differs from my naïve research on YouTube about the PCT method and ways “guaranteed” to protect your food from bears. I’m hoping he is right that as long as you let them know where you are, then they are mostly afraid of you and don’t see you as food. Also, reading a humorous article on bear bells, from the bear’s perspective, the jury seems to be out on the effectiveness of those. I think I will be taking that with me but not being too complacent about not clapping or yelling out to the bears on a regular basis. I just wish I knew what kinds of spots they frequent. To me, and this could be true as I don’t know, they could be everywhere. On another note, I have heard of the Leave No Trace guidelines before but, as I had time to spare, I read them for the first time and really like the ideas they tout.

Tonight is a huge treat. Dinner at Farm Spirit with my best friend and hiking partner, his husband, and his husband’s boyfriend. It should be an interesting evening. Note to self. Please please please don’t dominate it with talk of heart disease or camping. Talk about, maybe, dealing with anxiety? Work? Eddie? The hike? But mostly them. What are they doing? What’s going on? Movies? Pool? Food? If all else fails, cats.

While on the flight from DFW to Portland, after watching a movie on my Kindle, listening to some relaxing nature sounds, and trying not focus too much on the screaming kids directly in front of me or their parents who were doing a great job at consoling them and each other, I stumbled across a podcast I had saved. It was an interview where the topic evolved into the idea of placing fear directly square in the center of our paths. It made me think of the fear I was sitting on today. The fear of our upcoming hike. Fear of the unknown. Bears. Getting lost in the real wilderness. Hiking up 6000 feet with a 28 lbs. backpack on my back. My cranky right knee. Heart disease. Money. Career. Being out here without Eddie and missing him already. Being tired from only sleeping 4 hours the night before didn’t really help matters I suppose. My mind sort of took that fear thing and ran with it. “Observe, don’t react.” One of my mantras that is in heavy rotation right now.

Still, I plan to use memories of previous hikes and camping experiences. Of running half marathons and feeling like I would need to stop. A good lesson there. Because when you feel that way, that’s exactly what you need to do. Stop. Walk. Catch your breath. Reframe your perspective. I suppose that’s what sort of broke me out of that cycle. All while realizing I was already doing what the interviewee was talking about. Putting fear directly ahead of myself. Or, more accurately, putting myself in the way of fear (to turn a Cheryl Strayed phrase a little inside out).

This article on the HOH TO SOL DUC VIA HIGH DIVIDE TRAIL is pretty much exactly what we are planning on tackling starting Tuesday. It’s going to be a serious challenge but I’m excited about the prospect of seeing what we see. That and a full night’s rest tonight.

Lunch was at this awesome little ramen shop called the Boke Bowl. Totally hit the spot. We went back to Doug’s place from there and I had to take an emergency nap as it was closing in on 7 back home. I was exhausted from the trip, not sleeping well the night before and still processing lunch.

Next up? Dinner at Farm Spirit. A restaurant we went to last year which totally blew my mind and did again tonight. It’s a place where you get assigned seating at a bar. On the other side are the chef and his staff preparing dishes in succession like something you’d see on Top Chef. A narrator describes the dish, the components, and structure and then talks about the farmers who make the products used in the dish Everything sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant. The menu was extensive which I will have to circle back to later but for now, it was nothing short of a perfect experience even though we got shushed by the chef t one point as we were excitedly talking about our lives. I love that it’s truly locally sourced and uses waste nothing practices. Four friends, one night, great conversations and a shared excitement about Doug and my week ahead.

But first, a day full of packing and editing the backpack weights down, just as I did withthe Burr Oak hike recently, with both creature comfort and physical comfort in the balance.

 

Posted in general

Butterflies

Writing this the day before I leave for Portland Oregon as Doug and I make final preparations to start our Olympic Mountain hike on Monday. While packing today, I thought about all the trips I’ve had with this gear. The hiking, campsite cooking, campfires, sleeping in either my tent or my hammock, the sounds of the forest and streams. Crickets and turkey sounds.

Doug and I will be sharing a tent and taking only duplications that are for safety so my pack gear for this trip is a little skewed. I am taking more than I will probably head out with on Monday. I’m on the fence about the extra tarp I am bringing for impromptu rain shelter. My Big Agnes air mattress – I like it but it’s a little heavier than I prefer and I sleep well enough on the bedroll. But things like my solar panel and my battery? Must have. Camp lantern? Skip. Knife? Take.

To be honest. I am nervous about the difficulty of the Hoh Lake Trail. Climbing 33 switchbacks up 6000 feet over 6 miles. That’s going to be extremely challenging. Dealing with my fear of bears and then seeing all sorts of wildlife that is alien to the Midwest. I guess that’s what makes an adventure, an adventure.

Deep breath. Trust my path. Keep moving. Be grateful for every mile.

Posted in outdoors, personal

Onward

I was lumbering along the trail, sweat pouring out of all my pores and dripping from the brim of my hat like a leaking water tower, clothes soaked through to my undershorts, covered in spider webs, bug bites (everywhere), thirsty and exhausted beyond my normal effort range. There was a clearing of trees where I could see two fit guys wearing cutoff technical shirts, in Kayaks gliding along the lake like sunlight over silver. “Why didn’t I fucking choose that hobby?” Is the question that crossed my mind at that exact moment. Answer. Because I didn’t.

Saturday, day two, began at 6 am. Alarm going off right next to my head in my 1 person tent at the Burr Oak State Park campgrounds as the forest night just began to thin. I had hiked in the day before from Wildcat Hollow bursting out of the tree line like a raging bearded, spider-covered, dripping wet, tattooed, trekking pole wielding mess.

There was a funny, yet crass, review of this trail on All Trails about two weeks ago by Corey Andres. The author compared the Burr Oak trail to an “angry grumpy man that crapped himself.” So yeah. This dose of reality, after 8 months of personal research, just before heading out to do this hike. The 22 mile Burr Oak trek was to be my pre-Olympic mountain zenith. A shakedown trek before heading out to the Olympic Mountains with Doug in about a week now. A week.

Burr Oak? He really made me work for it. I’m physically and mentally spent. Yet, with most things in life, if you present, don’t back down unless it’s a bear, he usually returns in kind. I have to mention, and give credit to, Jason Wish for his excellent YouTube video of his hike of the same trail. I’ve watched it like 40 times. He makes it look so effortless. But yeah, back to the grumpy old man.

The Ohio Trail connector from Wild Cat Hollow was foul. Wet, muddy, humid, hot and close. It reminded me of how Tolkien described a fen with dead soldiers from ages long since past at the bottom. Rotting. The word “fester” comes to mind. Then again, and I used this technique through the whole west side of the trail, it was absolutely teeming with life. I was just a visitor. Perspective. The trail, going counterclockwise from Wildcat Hollow, all the way down to the State Park was like this. Easy to miss the beauty because you had to focus on not to losing a boot to the suction of the deeply muddy equestrian trails full of horse shit, water, and toads. On the incline. Hills mind you. It was pretty intense. Something I will watch out for in the future while planning hiking trips. No horses or ATV trails. Ever.

 

Still, the effort was the effort. I hate to look at it like that because it really was pretty damn beautiful country. But this is my shakeout trail. My hike. The one that will help me to mentally brace myself for the alien terrain of the Olympics. But that’s a future story that has not happened yet.

As I mentioned before, my night at the State Campgrounds began with me bursting out of the treeline. Sweat dripping through my shirt and in a regular stream from my running cap brim. Spider webs now woven into my beard along with newly cocooned spider food dangling like bits of falafel that my co-workers would kindly tell me “um, Jeff, you have something in your beard.” Well, Friday? I had a whole spider feast in my beard. I was a smelly mess.

Thankfully, they had a shower and the kind lady at the front desk proffered a free bar of travel sized soap for me to use. I’m not sure if that was there for similar situations or not, but I appreciated it tremendously as I skipped on packing soap in favor of going “light.” I was thinking that “in bear country I won’t want sweet smelling stuff.” Little did I know about the reality of Burr Oak country on a hot August day with intermittent rain.

I got camp setup then showered. After that I got to the business of brewing coffee and making one of my favorite trail meals. Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings by Pack It Gourmet. So damn good. I had hung my clothes on a para cable line. This was supposed to be for my bear bag exercise, but everything was dripping wet, including my pants, so I decided to pivot. Fortunately I had a Patagonia lightweight climber hoodie and extra underwear for the next day that looked like swim trunks to hang out in as the night fell.

I finished Brené Brown’s new book “Braving the Wilderness” that night. While it has little to do with being outdoors. It has everything to do with it. I made a ton of notes on my Kindle while reading this. Note to self, send aunt Lora a copy because I think they think exactly the same way about people, life and connection. Nothing about what tribe you put yourself into and all about the risks you take with those whom you know and don’t know.  That woman is amazing. Both of them.

My neighbor at Burr Oak State Park was this super-hot, cut, half-naked guy in his early 30’s. The strange thing is that I made that observation, very discreetly, within a 2-minute window on Friday night. After that? He stayed inside his tent. And remained there until after I left the next morning evidently. Cooking sounds. Smoking smells. Screen lights. All inside a synthetic material bubble. No campfire. No conversation. Of course, that’s OK. It’s just not my take on what it means to be outdoors among people. I want to ask questions. Say hello. Be seen. Hear others stories. Share what we have. He made me think about Brené’s closing statement to her readers as I headed out that morning for the second part of my three-day hike.

“You are the wilderness.”

After my heart attack, I turned to running. It was a way for me to set milestones along my path. Something to keep me motivated to take care of myself. I got pretty decent at it for my age. Not great. But I held my own. So it was that I ran a race called the Big Bad Wolfe Run once. The 20-mile race. I meant for it to be my shakeout run for the Columbus Marathon. I finished. I was second to last. Still, I finished and I knew what it was like to feel my feet, calves, knees, quads, glutes, arms and lungs on fire. What it taught me was huge. I learned that Sunday after my shorts got pulled down because of a water belt malfunction. Mooning everyone around me. The lesson? I am not a marathon runner. I might be capable of doing it. But it’s not what drives me. I love running to this day. But I love a little bit of the random more. Taking on something like a marathon takes crystal clear focus and balls of steel.

Burr Oak echoed the same lesson. I will admit, I had illusions of doing a trough hike. After Burr Oak? No fucking way. While I love nature. Camping. Exploring and getting lost. Things would go horribly wrong in my head if I ever did a Cheryl Strayed and left City life behind to trek through seemingly endless trails. In a weird way, it makes me want to return to running again. On familiar City streets that I absolutely love.

These are the thoughts that coalesced in my mind on the second day of the hike, as I conversed, man to man, with the cranky old trail. I had every intention of staying overnight at a camp along the way but it didn’t come to pass. The campsites I had marked to check out on the East side of the Lake going North, counterclockwise, were jam-packed. People who were just coming out to the lake for a night outdoors of drinking, laughing and having all shades of fun.

I kept going North and stopped at the Nature Center to ask questions about the last two campsites ahead. The kind attendant showed me a shortcut using another trail. This was less twisty-turny than the Burr Oak route. I thanked her, filled my water bottles using her garden hose, and headed off to the new trail. At the end? I found myself in a grassy opening with picknick tables, shelters, a makeshift outdoor amphitheater and open hills with what looked like campsites. It was almost “Twilight Zone” perfect. Exhausted, I picked a hill under tree cover but still open. Stopped. Shucked my shirt, horse shit covered boots, socks, and headband. Unrolled my bedroll. Grabbed a water bottle as sweat was still pouring off of me like light from the sun. Only grosser. Thinking that it would be amazing to be here at night. No light. Clear skies full of stars. With absolute privacy. Buck naked if I wanted to. But where was the Buckeye Trail? The shortcut didn’t directly connect back to the main trail I was on. Given that I only had three days and I had no idea what shape my body would be in the next day, I suited back up and decided to attempt the remaining trek back to Wildcat Hollow. And my car. But again, I will get to that in a bit.

From the State Park Campground, it was a short walk over to the access trail. Marked by two wooden posts with yellow blazes. It was an awesome, paved, walkway out to what would become 21 miles of OMFG. I had to work through some pain that I had not experienced since my 20-mile race. Out came all of my coping skills too. The breathing exercises. The mantras. The cussing. Music. Talking to myself. Everything all while my beard collected more and more spider webs and half-digested bugs. My trekking poles were covered in the same as I used them as spider web clearing devices two-thirds of the time.

Still, there were sweeping views of the lake. The dam. The spillway. The rotting picknick table that Jason Wish documented along with the wooden walkways and the metal bridge he captured. It felt as if I had been there before in a way.

Maybe I had. With a couple of my toenails bruised from being in sweaty wool sock encased boots across twenty plus miles Saturday, I can’t help but think about the Big Bad Wolfe Run again. What is it that drives us? Does it teach us something about ourselves or others? My personal answer to that is “I’m working on it.”

I think that is what drove me to take down my armor, to borrow a Brené phrase, and let myself go gay camping at an awesome place called Freedom Valley last year with my husband’s support and encouragement. He’s not a camper. And gay camping? Well, that’s a lot of fancy at times. Big 8 person tents for 2. Titanic-sized air mattresses. Disco lights. Electric fans. But I love the fact that both straight and gay folk are all the same.

But, as with the people around all of the free sites Saturday and the lonely hidden campsites along the trail. There’s something archetypical about spending a night outdoors with other people or by yourself. Burr Oak was a noteworthy companion this weekend. It felt familiar. Not just because of the months of watching Jason’s video, doing research and buying/testing gear then editing and re-editing my kit. I think because I have been here in my life before. Places in time like the Big Bad Wolfe Run. Moving to Dallas with my husband. Going to various art shows Eddie had been in. Traveling with him to places like Chicago and New York City.

Every experience is an opportunity to either learn something about yourself and others or, quite simply, to learn how to be in the moment and let the events happen and just observe and enjoy. Like getting out of my tent at 2:30 am to relieve myself only to look up and see this blinding display of stars through the tree line overhead.

And so, body aching, on Sunday. My thoughts now turn to the journey ahead. Cleaning my backpack, boots, sleeping bag and other gear in odor free and water repellent soaps. Packaging everything up and mailing the stuff that has made it possible for me to spend so many great times outdoors. Thinking ahead to what the next adventure is going to feel like. What in the hell does a bear actually look like? What does it feel like to touch a glacier? Soak naked in a hot spring off the trail? What does a rainforest sound like? All these things are, as of now, possibilities. Just like this exact moment. Yesterday, while crawling back up the asshole of the cranky old trail on my return approach to Wildcat Hollow, toward the end of my hike, I envisioned sitting at my desk, on my laptop writing with a cup of coffee, my cat Monkey sleeping on my bed, Eddie fiddling around up front in the kitchen with a good movie on in the background. Home. As a heart attack survivor, I have learned that you never know what is going to happen from one moment to the next. The space between all of our experiences, however, is sometimes more important than the actual goal itself. There is a magic outdoors that lives in those slivers of consciousness which exist in the most common of places.

Onward.

Posted in outdoors, personal

Wildcat Hollow (short loop) & Burr Oak Lakeside Trail Shakedown Hike

Update


Thursday night. The learning process began early. And since this is truly a shakedown trial run before heading out to Washington, I’m grateful for the fact that I took some time off to accommodate such an effort.

First off, I was scrambling to document the PCT bear bag hanging method, and while we don’t have bears in Ohio (for the most part), I want to have some experience with this because I am guaranteed to run into that situation in a week or so according to our guides. Secondly, since it’s raining really hard this weekend. 80% to 90% chance of it from Mohican to Burr Oak State Park (the latter is where I will be tomorrow) I may have gone a little overboard on my packing. Normally I am packing about 22 pounds. Tonight? Thirty fucking seven. Ummm… yeah, no. Yeah, it was manageable going down the hallway. Sat well on my body. But damn!

I think that’s the point where I realized I wanted to sacrifice the six-mile short loop through Wildcat Hollow that I was rushing to get to after work tonight. This would have entailed hiking in the dark through a trail I have not done yet. And yeah. Rain. So I emailed my emergency contacts and let them know I’d be leaving early tomorrow and not tonight and that my target was still the Burr Oak State Park Reservoir loop trail. Big trees down or not on the West Side (ranger station side) – I called earlier to check trail conditions. Always let your people know what your plans are when you are going off the grid.

Another thing I did was to watch this guys YouTube video titled “Learn to love hiking in the rain.”

So as I upack my backpack tonight. I will be lining it with a strong unscented flex garbage bag. Dropping my tarp that I was going to take as a shelter away from my tent. Opting to cook and eat in the rain when it permits. Dropping my inflatable mattress and just using my Thermarest foam roll instead. Pairing down my clothing bag by dropping my rain pants, keeping my rain jacket, dropping my swim trunks and long underwear, adding a weather resistant rain shell that I have for running and adding a Patagonia mid weight base layer. Beyond that, since I will be in an area that has water, I can drop a couple liters of water as I can use my filter as needed as well as I won’t be in Wildcat Hollow.

We will see what the weigh in tomorrow morning looks like I suppose.

Here’s to lessons as they come! (And tomorrow’s forray to do a hike I’ve been watching vicariously through others now for over 8 months).

Original Post


Sitting here at one of my favorite burger places here in downtown Columbus watching the rainfall. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not what you think. They have this vegan burger which tastes damn near like the real thing. Close enough for me anyway.

So, I’m almost ready to go spend the weekend back in Wayne National Forest. 3 nights and 3 days. In the rain. Roughly 27 miles. Roughly 9 miles a day. Given that Lake Vesuvius Lakeside Trail racked up just under 9 miles and I didn’t feel crippled the next day, I feel confident about those targets.

Of course, I’m second guessing myself and my advertised love of being outdoors right now. Rain. I’m a creature of comfort I love summer. Campfires. Open air. This weekend is gonna be all about the rain suit, a pack cover and sitting under a tarp, on the ground on one of my foam bed rolls, or inside my 1-person tent. Again though, thank goodness for REI and the “expert Advice” pages they maintain. I read the “How to go hiking in the rain” page. Which of course led me to the “Blister and prevention care” page. While I have the Smartwool socks already and a pair of boots I’ve been breaking in over the summer, I did a WTF when I read about “sock liners.” Really? So I guess I need to take that into account when I buy shoes next. Just part of the learning process I suppose.

This is meant to be my shake out trip before heading off to Portland Oregon and then driving up to the Olympic Mountain ranges to hike from the Hoh Rainforest all the way to a place called Hurricane Ridge. The prep work is already giving me some much needed advice before heading out to the Northwest I suppose.

Still, I will be taking some of my favorite trail foods with me. I’m not sure if I will bring my Jet Boil or not, weight is an issue this time as the first overnight over six miles has no water to speak of. So, I am looking at upwards of 4L being stuffed into my already full pack with the extra rain gear. I may skimp that back down to 3 L and see where the weight shakes out though.

It’s funny to me that my sanctuary is my bedroom. Grown ass man and he likes his own cave. Right? I left dirty clothes out for the cats in addition to putting fresh pheromone atomizers out to abate some of the anxiety issues. Sent notes out to my emergency contact folks and got my satellite messenger ready. Downloaded my custom All Trails map which is a composite of the Wild Cat Hollow and Burr Oak Lakeside trails. If this all works out I will only have one more Wayne National Forest trail to complete for 2018. Then it’s off to West Virginia and Kentucky I suppose.

The week started with terrible sleep and a couple bouts of anxiety. Lot’s going on and not so clean living to thank there. Circumstance and personal choices. As the hike approached however, my sleep got better as did the panic levels.

I plan to spend a fair amount of time meditating, reading a couple books on my Kindle and audio logging some thoughts. Maybe journaling a little bit too for the actual post. Failure or success. I’ll see when I see I guess.

So, here’s to hiking with heart disease. Solo. In a National Forest. In the rain! What’s not to be excited about?

Posted in outdoors, personal

Cook kits, a podcast, a book & motivation

Doug and I have been doing some last-minute gear shifting in advance of our trip to the Olympics in a few weeks. My goal has been to lighten up where I could. This included, at last, buying a much lighter cook system by Toaks. I love the JetBoil and still plan to use it for camping, but where weight really matters for hikes over 5 days and such, lighter without going ultralight is definitely an asset.

One Esbit tablet gave me enough fuel to boil 500 ml of water plus bring another 500 ml of water to a simmer. So, You could definitely make a dinner and then some coffee or tea with one tablet. Another upgrade I am super impressed with is my food cozy from Packit Gourmet. I’ve written about them in the past and I am absolutely in love with Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings meal they make. Seriously. I could eat that stuff at home and enjoy it.

I have another “training” hike coming up this weekend. I will be trying out Archer’s Fork Saturday and Sunday. Looking forward to trying out the Toaks on the go and doing some water filtering. Maybe having a campfire too if my knife comes in time. Well, that and, logically, also the miracle of not chopping off a finger in the process as I in no way have proper bushcraft skills. Still, as author Scott Carney says in his new book which I am reading, “What Doesn’t Kill Us.” The reason why his book caught my eye was for the elusive idea of personal challenge and building strength. I don’t think I will be jumping into icy water anytime soon, but I might do some hiking in the colder weather and feel OK about going it shirtless at times.

On a related note, I was listening to an interview with Cheryl Strayed this morning at work. “On hiking, getting outside, being kind, and writing like a ‘mofo.” The thing that spoke to me was that she said she signs up for half marathons. She says, “it’s the thing” that keeps her motivated. Not running specifically, but any goal. Just as I did during my brief running days after my heart attack. The part that resonated with me was that for the past two weeks, I have been dealing with variable levels of depression due to a complication in Nick’s health partly. But probably just my normal ebb and flow of personal motivation. Negative self-talk that tells me I am not doing enough. Not being outdoors enough. I am just not enough. And then there is one of my go to mantras that I use during panic attacks, stressful meetings, and yes, when pulling myself back out of a rut. “I am enough.”

I guess the reason behind all these #Outdoors posts of mine, the new treadmill, my weight equipment, the naked Yoga classes, meditation sessions and struggle with the Mediterranean diet is just that. It’s all part of this journey called life. So yeah, maybe it’s time to put my running shoes back on and enter some races this fall when I get back from a month of travel in September. Some new outdoor adventures which might include the Dolly Sods if I am lucky enough weather wise in October/November. But I think most importantly, remembering to be kinder to myself and others. Every day. I wonder what is going to go through my head as I hike through the Hoh Rainforest. Up the mountain ranges. Soak in the Hot Springs. This trip is going to be one of my highlights of 2018 for sure. But the whole entire set of events that are prepping me for it is just as, if not more so, because I’ve made new friends. Played outdoors with my buddies. Made campfires. Started a hiking program and a walking routine with Eddie. All in all, low points or not, I’ve got a lot to be grateful for this year.

Posted in outdoors, personal

Family night

So, my Dinner Party Prep paid off big time. Eddie and I had the pleasure of enjoying the company of my cousin and her girlfriend tonight over a big heaping pile of my very first crab boil and, thanks to advice from my mom, peach cobbler. The peaches, corn and redskin potatoes were all fresh from this past weekend’s haul from the Clintonville Farmers Market. They also served as the inspiration for tonight’s menu when I was Googling “what to do with this big pile of vegetables” on Sunday.

Everything turned out pretty damn good. Of course, over the years, Eddie and I have thrown many many parties. Yet there are nights like tonight that give me a fresh take on what it means to actually be physically and emotionally present with your tribe. I guess you could say, one of my favorite things about life is the simple act of sharing a family meal together now and then. It makes all the difference in the world actually.

Next up? A weekend full of hammock camping, time by the pool and some Jet Boil Ramen experimentation with any luck!

Posted in food

A summer dinner party prep

“Oh, the summer night has a smile of light, and she sits on a sapphire throne.” Bryan Procter

I don’t know what it is about this summer, but it feels like a big one. The quote I opened with reminds me of how I feel right now. How I felt at camp this past weekend. Hiking. Grateful for the apex of a career that has to lead me to become an architect for collaboration platforms at one of the biggest companies in town. More open to making new friendships and actively working on reaching out to others. Being a better husband. And, yes, cooking for friends and family.

So the fresh Ohio corn I got at the Clintonville Farmers Market on Saturday inspired me to try something for the first time. A crab boil. Or Low-Country boil depending on where you are from. I am a huge fan of seafood, especially stewed. I’m also enamored with the idea of a meal that is so large that it’s meant for a celebration with neighbors, friends, and family. It’s what Eddie and I have always enjoyed about cooking. The time spent with people, laughter, storytelling, and mirth.

I’ve prepped the peaches for skinning. Staged the cobbler ingredients. Talked with mom about her tips on the best way to make the cobbler. Defrosted the crab, shrimp, and sausage. Tomorrow brings the test however in cooking two things I have never made before. We are having my cousin and her girlfriend over for dinner to celebrate sharing company together.

So here’s to summer… and his sapphire throne.

Posted in food

Books, coffee & fresh vegetables

I bought a Kindle copy of “No Recipe” by Edward Espe Brown last night before shutting down for the day. I guess I was sort of inspired by my trip to the farmers market and another book I am reading titled “Zen in the Age of Anxiety.” I was reading the second book yesterday morning at an old favorite restaurant of Eddie’s and mine called “TheWildflowerr Cafe” in Clintonville. This whole meditation and mindfulness thing I am pursuing right now is interesting. What I did not expect in the Zen book was the idea that there would be a time when mediation actually became onerous. Not enjoyable. That’s when a light went on in my head. You see, my practice faltered and stopped pretty much a few months back. I’ve beat myself up numerous times over that fact too. What I read kind of helped me to recalibrate my thinking on what it means to actually practice meditation. Like for the long haul.

That aside, I got some really great produce at the market. I may not be ready to forego recipes just yet, but who knows, maybe a series of “chef” meals are in our future once I read the new book?

What I’m sort of planning this week are the following:

Posted in food, personal

My Lake Vesuvius lakeshore hike

After months of research, planning and calibration I spent my first night in Wayne National forest this weekend. When I was up in Portland visiting Doug last year I picked up a used copy of “The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide,” by Andrew Skura. There is an excellent section where he talks about the various types of outdoor experiences. Backcountry hiking, backcountry camping, and <car> camping. Since 2017, I have been primarily a car camper. It’s been a great deal of fun too. Yet, I have been intrigued by taking another step. Especially in light of my goal to hike the Olympic Mountains in September with Doug.

I’m grateful to Jason Wish, the guys from SBOutDoors, Bryce Newbold and Outdoor Adventures for the videos they have posted on YouTube. These comprise a very important part of my research. As a non-Boy Scout, the education from the documentation they have compiled has been a huge asset. I must, however, return to something Anthony Skura talked about though. He was getting a little coaching when one of his hikes was falling apart. He was told to do “whatever is right for you.” As a man with underdeveloped outdoor skills, and heart disease, reality is definitely a constant reminder for me to “do what is right for me.” The new book that I am reading on my Kindle Paperwhite by Brené Brown, “Braving the Wilderness”, is talking about being your true self a lot right now. One of the things I liked most from my reading at camp the other night was the idea of writing permission slips to ourselves for various things that we might not do normally. This is also consistent with the saying that Anthony Skura mentions. “Hike your own hike.” HYOH. Mantras and ideas sometimes flock together. Maybe it’s indicative of the Universe trying to teach us something. Or our own clouded quests toward growth. I don’t know. But I am giving myself permission to explore hiking. To get lost. To make, hopefully non-lethal, mistakes. To have fun. To be myself outdoors. To hike my own hikes. To create more balance and harmony than darkness and anxiety.

Iron Ridge Campgrounds is a truly wonderful place. Finding it was pretty simple and only a little over a two-hour drive from Columbus. It’s set inside of Wayne National Forest so the tree cover and geological makeup are very pretty. Situated on the very southern border of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, the area reminded me of my trip to Shawnee State Forest last Fall. Nicknamed the “Little Smokies” since the landscape is comprised of large tree dense hills which hold mist in the mornings that hint at what you see in the Smokies proper.

I stayed at site 33 further back in the campgrounds. You drive up and pull off onto a ledge. From there you walk down a stone path to a landing below the road line which hides you from the rest of the area to a large site surrounded by white oaks, with a nice metal fire pit and a picknick table. Dinner was Outdoor Herbivore Pacific Crest Vinaigrette and Good to Go Mexican Quinoa Bowl with some Folgers instant decaf coffee. Both dishes were delicious and something I’d repeat. After putting the food kit away, I started a fire and got out my Kindle. It’s July so the temperatures are a little warm right now. But around 9 ish a cool shift started to happen as the sun began to set. I like to think of this as the microclimate within Wayne National Forest. It felt great as the moon began to rise and stars started to pop out between the gaps in the tree canopy overhead.

At around 11 or so everything was still and the only sounds were of the forest itself, bugs and such, and the crackling of my modest but roaring fire. I noticed that I smelled sort of off, bug spray and sweat, and decided to hoof it up to the shower room to clean up a bit before turning in. Like I said earlier, Iron Ridge is an excellent facility. The restrooms and showers are clean and modern. Pretty luxurious for camping in a forest. I didn’t expect to have that so I didn’t pack a towel or soap. Regardless, the shower felt good and served to wash the grime of the day off of myself. As it was dark and no one was around, I hoofed it back to my campsite in my underwear and sandals then stripped down back at my picknick table and air dried in the cool air while reading more by the firelight.

I didn’t know whether or not there would be trees suitable for a hammock so I brought my Kelty 1 person tent, my Therma Rest bedroll, and my new Big Agnes air mattress. I slept on top of my sleeping bag as it was still a bit warm, albeit comfortable. Taking a gamble with the prediction of rain, I left my rain fly off so I could watch the trees and stars overhead as I slept. I had a great night there and I would definitely come back to this spot again.

Morning came and I rose pretty early so I could start the hike in time to get out before the thunderstorms rolled in. While Iron Ridge does connect to the Lakeshore Trail at Lake Vesuvius via the Whisky Run trail, I only had my site reserved for one night so I packed up and drove the short distance to the trailhead by the dam.

Now came the part where I needed the permission slip. While I am averaging over 50 miles worth of walking and running per week right now. Sometimes with a weight vest. It’s an entirely different experience to strap yourself into a 23 lbs. backpack however and then head out for an 8-mile walk. Once I reached the trail entrance, going clockwise, I remember one moment where I thought “you can turn back.” Instead, I did a little walking meditation and paid attention to what my body was saying. It was telling me that my pack was imbalanced and aggravating my right shoulder. So I stopped. Took the pack off and reconfigured its contents. After that, It was a whole different ballgame.

I was clipping along at about 3.5 mph and enjoying the morning sun and wonderful views from the bottom part of the lake. The rock outcroppings, trees, Lillie pads in the water, flowers wildlife and smells were beautiful. While there was very little elevation gain, yeah, some hills that I’m still feeling in my quads today, the experience made me a trekking pole convert though. They helped me balance. I suspect they also helped with pacing as well. I broke my first pair of poles by using them the wrong way of course. But my new Black Diamond Pro Shock poles were awesome. They also doubled as spider web removers as well.

Toward the north part of the first half of the loop, the lake narrows and you run into more bugs. Still, it was beautiful to be surrounded by trees. Some of the guides and maps I read talked about walking along a road. Which I thought was actually walking on the road. Wrong. It’s just a segment of trail that runs adjacent to a road which you can’t see. That was a nice surprise.

The one thing that sort of went wrong with my packing, which I became aware of the day before while driving… I forgot my boots. Instead, I had my camp sandals on. This was the footwear I bought at REI in 2015 to climb Saddle Mountain with Doug. And while not ideal, they worked in conjunction with my wool socks treated with Permethrin to ward off ticks. That is until I stomped ankle deep into a pool of mud. Once I got over the mental distraction, it was totally fine.

I stopped for a fruit and nut bar and to fish my rain cover out of the main body of the pack to put in the front outside pocket in case the thunder I was hearing turned into a full-on storm. It was pretty though hearing the raindrops hit the leaves above while impacting on the lake surface a little further away. It was, again, just as wonderful as running in the rain. Maybe more.

I came across a family of deer at one point. Heard the deep bellow of frogs. Saw all these beautiful magenta flowers at the water’s edge. Walked beside amazing rock outcroppings that were peppered through the green landscape consistently. As I made my way south toward the end of the trail, I got the elevation gain they talked about. Again, grateful for the trekking poles. Even under shade, it was warm enough that I was happy for the moisture wicking clothes I had on. I was sweaty from balls to skull. Still, I felt dry enough that I wasn’t feeling chafing or uncomfortable. Here’s to Patagonia Quandary Pants, 2UNDR boxer briefs and race running technical shirts.

There was one beautiful rock outcropping about two-thirds of the way through the trail going clockwise, however. This would be a wonderful lunch spot for anyone doing this hike and probably has been. I was not hurried, but I decided to skip this in an effort to avoid any severe turns in the weather.

Once I got to the end, I saw the dam proper. There is this beautiful bridge you walk across back to the parking lot though. It’s just, well, perfect. I am immediately planning on coming back to witness the change of color this fall. Maybe to reflect on the Olympic Mountain trip thinking back to this hike as the moment where I gave myself permission to live a little more freely. Outdoors. With just myself and my thoughts in nature.

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Hocking Hills hike

Today brought an opportunity to return to the Hocking Hills region for another training hike. I went out with another group from Hike Ohio, which I am quickly beginning to really enjoy. It’s just a great group of people doing what they love. It reminds me of running races only it’s sort of the opposite experience. No one is running and everyone is talking to one another sharing stories and information about the experience. While this may be the way I did racing, I found that I would “zone out,” listen to my breath and count the miles toward the goal. Both hiking and running are wonderful experiences, but like I said, I am really enjoying the company of others at this stage in my life.

Hocking Hills Hocking Hills Hocking Hills

As we were gathering early in the morning before all the family cars arrived, the resident Naturalist told us about Grandma Gatewood. That she was basically the mother of the ultralight movement as she decided to “go for a walk” one day with just a potato sack, a pair of Keds and a shower curtain for shelter. He also talked about the actual man whom the Old Man refers to as the trail’s namesake. Some crazy old guy who chose to live out here with his dog away from society. There are some days when I feel the same way I suppose.

FitBit Hike Log

The time came to head out and we all single filed through the walk ahead though. We hiked around 7.5 miles of the Old Mans Cave tail networks. Climbing roughly 2000+ ft elevation gains under mostly cloudy skies in Ohio summer humidity. It was a pretty beautiful way to get in a workout. We came upon a lake where Dan, our hike leader, talked about how he and his dad would come out to this spot when he was as young as 15. I thought that addition was really great. Something that I think Brené Brown would have smiled at. The courage to share. Make it personal.

Selfie with Dan and the folks from the head of the pack

It’s funny though, as a white guy, I kept noticing how white everyone on the trails were. That is, with the lucky exception of my hiking crew. We had a handful of different nationalities. I really enjoyed the diversity and shared perspectives. I mean, come on, what’s not to love about a guy named “Yoga?” Or the Hispanic women who were laughing and having a ball together bringing in the rear of our troop? This was quite possibly one of the best-organized hikes I’ve been on to date. An experience I hope to repeat.

Almost there End of the road

Next up? I am planning a solo shakedown hike and overnight at Lake Vesuvius. This trail has been on my radar after having done months of research and watching others guys YouTube hiking videos which, since I am not a Boy Scout type, have been equal parts education and entertainment in some ways. It’s also a hike that my tattoo artist Andy Johnson told me about last year, no doubt to keep my mind off my back. Anyway, this will be a tent camping trip since I am still working on my knots, but there will be a fire at night so I am looking forward to reading at the end of the day while sparks float gently upwards into the summer night air.

It’s funny, this whole goal of hiking through the Olympics, and the training involved to get there, is making for an exceptionally memorable summer. I can’t help but close this blog by stating, again, how grateful I am to be alive. Enjoying the once unrealized possibility of returning to the outdoors. Life is good.

Lunch break at the waterfall

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