Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two days in the woods then a change of plans

Lemons often become lemonade if you take the time to let the sour meld with some sweetness.  For me there's nothing sweeter than discovering non-motorized trails that connect with one another--trails that can take me from horizon to horizon, trails that let my heart soar as I ramble cross-country day after day using only the soles of my two wandering feet.

With one of my two support vehicles in the shop for major body work, I've had a chance to do some trail scouting.  The car is at a shop in Chillicothe, Ohio, about twelve miles from the closest pass of the Buckeye Trail.  But I've discovered that Chillicothe has its own trail, right in the heart of town.

I first noticed it driving in and out of town.  It's a paved bike path.  Lots of cities have them, so they're not something I normally pay much attention to.  But with my changed circumstances and a new frame of mind, this time I decided to do a quick Google search for "Chillicothe bike trail" and I discovered that what I had seen beside the road was just the tip of quite a gigantic iceberg.  One that may sink the Buckeye Trail's ship.

More on that in a moment.

With my changed circumstance I'm currently limited to hiking out-and-back day hikes with one vehicle--park at a trailhead and hike into the woods and back out.  Since the other vehicle went into the shop I've done just two of those, taking three other days to take care of a mountain of paperwork and logistics.

The bits of trail I hiked were on either side of US 35 between the quaint little town of Londonderry and the Scioto River at the western boundary of Scioto State Forest.

I passed through Londonderry on Memorial Day, and the Friends Church there has a huge cemetery with a veteran's memorial.

People were assembling there for a Memorial Day Parade followed by a Memorial service in the church/meetinghouse.  I was there a bit too early and didn't take the time to stick around for the parade, but I saw some antique cars and a number of fire trucks driving in, and could hear a band or two warming up in some staging area down the road.

Outside of Londonderry there two nice trail sections on private land.  One crosses a rolling pasture that I was sharing with a herd of mama cows and their calves.  Fortunately no bulls.  Fortunately cows don't have the same mindset as bears when it comes to protecting their young.  They vacated the area and left me with the wind in the grass and a few old oaks for company.

After a two mile road walk south of the pasture, the trail enters the woods again on private land and later passes under US 35 through a hiker-dedicated culvert.

It then parallels the freeway where it cuts through the side of a hill.  The culvert is visible again in the second photo.

Between the sites of the above pair of photos is a section of hand-built foot-only trail, newly opened just a couple years ago as far as I can tell, that has been utterly neglected since it was built.

I found this section totally overgrown with blackberry thorn bushes.  The lower part had been well blazed, but the upper part of it was so badly blazed (not blazed at all) that it was trial and error, and the only clue to the course of the trail was the side-hill hoeing work buried deep beneath the overgrown vegetation.

It was a bushwhack, and tougher than most bushwacks that I’d actually attempt. Each step I had to gingerly push aside thorn bushes or step over or duck under them. So it was really slow going . . . and then I had to hike back through it on the way back to my vehicle.

Pretty discouraging, especially at a time when I'm fighting off a general sense of discouragement.

Worse yet, the vegetation I was wading through was heavily infested with ticks. I picked dozens and dozens off my legs as I walked. Most of them were the pernicious little deer ticks that carry Lyme Disease. When I got back to my two-ton steel tent I kept finding more, eight or ten I pulled off my legs and flung out the window as I drove. And back at the motel I found still more. A dozen more before I finished finding them.

Back on the previous reported hike in Tar Hollow State Forest I had encountered equally overgrown trail and nearly as many ticks.  Suddenly my 'gold standard' woods-trail hiking was losing some of its luster.  I normally seek out and look forward to the woods trail sections, but these I would recommend avoiding until maintenance can be done, and had I known the conditions beforehand I would have bypassed them.

There were good times too, though.  Once up on the ridge the route passes what I estimate to be Ohio's best viewpoint--certainly the best I've seen by a long shot.  It's from 'Hang Glider Hill' beside a microwave tower and overlooking the Scioto River valley.  The photo up top was taken there.  Here's a look at the nice grassy knoll where the Hang Gliders launch.

So as I reported with Tar Hollow State Forest, the hiking was a Jekyll/Hyde sort of experience.  Immediately ahead of me on the Buckeye Trail is Scioto State Forest.  Then a road walk, then Pike State Forest.  And on ...

What if there was an alternative trail where Dr. Jekyll is in control of himself, and Mr. Hyde seldom appears?

At this point I might be tempted to take it.  And at this point I just happen to have found such a trail.

This brings us back to that bike path in Chillicothe.  My dream for this country is to build an Interstate Trail System that is every bit as robust and connected as our Interstate Highway System.  Ideally this would include government acquisition of continuous public rights-of-way where necessary, and government funding to build and help maintain the trails.  I'll be posting more about this concept soon.

One of the great existing sources of rights-of-way is abandoned railroads.  It turns out that the bike path I noticed in Chillicothe is part of a 34 mile paved rails-to-trails bike path called the Tri-County Triangle Trail.  It roughly parallels US 35 west-northwest from Chillicothe to the town of Washington Court House.  But that's not the end of it.  After an unfinished gap, the trail resumes east of Jamestown and continues through Xenia and all the way to downtown Dayton, where the Buckeye Trail just happens to pick up the bike route heading north out of Dayton.

Suddenly I have two viable choices:

A.  Follow the Buckeye Trail to Dayton.  This alternative involves 355.0 miles of trail, 192.3 miles of which is road walking including some particularly dangerous road in the vicinity of Cincinnati according to BTA Director Andrew Bashaw, and more than half of the off-road portion is woods walking in State Forest land, which my experience has shown is seldom hiked and unevenly maintained.

B.  Take the Tri-County Trail, the Jamestown-Xenia Connector, and then the Creekside Recreational Trail straight to Dayton.  Including the 12 miles to get from where I'm currently hiking up to the start of the Tri-County Trail in Chillicothe, this involves 92.2 miles of trail, only 30.4 of which is on roads and virtually all of the rest is paved, tick free, underbrush-free, non-motorized bicycle trail.

I've chosen plan B.  From my perspective this is the more 'connected' route (much less road walking).  I'm already having some regret, wondering what I might be missing in the woods.  But the fact is, it wasn't a hard decision.  I could always go back and hike the woods sections later.

Lemonade.  I'm looking forward to a cool, tall, refreshing glass.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Took four .45s to the body. Still ticking, but I’m off trail

… until the auto shop can fix the damage.

No, I’m okay, really. It was overnight vandalism to my unattended car. You see, I have two vehicles with me, hiking “leapfrog style.”

Amazingly, the car took no mechanical damage.  I could drive it away.

Two side windows were shattered, though, making for a drafty trip back to the two-ton steel tent.

Bullet one was aimed toward the engine but got stopped by the framework inside the quarter panel. That’s the hole in photo above.

Bullet Two passed clear through both front doors and would have hit me in the legs if I was sitting in the driver’s seat.

Bullet Three came through the passenger front window and lodged in the driver’s side door frame right behind the window. That bullet would have gone through my torso, had I been sitting in the driving seat, and might have been fatal.

Fourth bullet hit the right rear door at the window line and shattered that window.

It's all covered by insurance, except for a deductible.  I may have the option of having the insurance company cut me a check then do the repairs as I see fit.  Potential big profit ... if I leave the bullet holes.  What do you think?  Should I get the four bullet holes fixed or should I keep them as conversation starters? I’m still thinking about that. Maybe I’ll keep one. Maybe the photos are enough. Yeah, the photos and the memories are probably enough.

The vandalism occurred in Tar Hollow State Forest. The officer who responded is a State Natural Resources Police.  He was wonderful and helpful.  He's determined to track down the culprits.  He retrieved two of the slugs.  That's his hand holding one up top.  And he found all four shell casings at the scene.  Likely these are carrying fingerprints and tell-tale DNA evidence.

Of course the purpose of my being in Tar Hollow State Forest was to hike the Buckeye Trail section through it, so I still need to report about that.

Hiking Tar Hollow was a real Jekyll/Hyde affair even without the punctuation of the vandalism at the end of my last leg through the forest. The trail varied from virtually grown shut with shoulder-high thorn bushes to freshly weed-whacked with a boulevard-wide swath cropped right down to the ground.

Scenery was mostly non-existent—it was quintessential green tunnel walking except when I passed the Tar Hollow Fire Tower

The day before I entered Tar Hollow found me doing a road walk with rustic farm scenes like this,

and some newly blooming tall weeds.

The most interesting part of the road walk was on a truly gnarly 4WD road.

And there was a nice section in the woods on property owned by the Buckeye Trail Association. Here there was a campground, some pretty woods walking

And an excursion through a recently clear-cut area that provided contrast, if not scenery.

I don’t know how others would react to the experience of such mindless vandalism, but I guess I knew something like that would happen eventually, leaving a vehicle unattended overnight in unfamiliar territory. I’ve read plenty of examples of it happening along the AT. I’m inclined to go on as before. I have a few days to think about it while the repair work proceeds, so in the meantime I’ll be doing out-and-back hikes using my other vehicle.

Here are screen shots of the GPS Tracks for the three days covered here.  Interactive maps are available through my Wikiloc page.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hocking Hills State Park - Ohio's Crown Jewel

Do not underestimate Ohio.  I did.  It has some world class natural beauty.  And today I passed through the heart of it.  According to the girl helping me at the park office, the Hocking Hills area is Ohio's best.  This area boasts more big sandstone rock shelters (natural cliff dwellings) than anywhere else in the east.  It even has slot canyons.

It's like Utah with forests, though I don't know of any natural arches here.  If you're a particular fan of 'walk-behind' waterfalls, as I am, then this is the go-to place in the east, if not the entire country.  There is a greater concentration of them here than anywhere else I know about.

The biggest rock shelter in Ohio is Ash Cave, shown in the photo up top.  Stunningly it combines the best walk-behind waterfall of the many I've seen.  None other comes close.  Because of that combination of world-class rock shelter and exceptional waterfall, Ash Cave stands alone.  It is a natural wonder unlike any other, by my estimation.  It is hard to do justice to a place like this in a 2-D photograph, but the one above was my best attempt.

I've been to Mesa Verde in SW Colorado.  Ash Cave is every bit as cavernous as 'Cliff Palace' in terms of height and depth of the enclosure.  Obviously it lacks the dwellings, but in their place it has its own walk-in shower.  Live here and you don't need to haul water up from some distant stream.  And of course it has the lush, verdant, hardwood forest vegetation.

The 5.3 miles of Buckeye Trail through Hocking Hills was dedicated by and named for Emma Gatewood, a native to southeastern Ohio, famous for her 1955 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail wearing Keds and carrying her gear in a home-made denim sack slung over her shoulder.  Her namesake trail is extremely heavily used, in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the Buckeye Trail.  In the Old Man's Cave area creative trail building has perhaps reached its epitome.

I know of no other long-distance trail in the country that can boast a dedicated, foot-traffic-only man-made tunnel.

Besides rock shelters the Grandma Gatewood Trail features some fine waterfalls, best of which is Cedar Falls.

As far as walk-behind falls, the trail goes under this one, just a small stream but a very tall fall.

In the middle, the trail also comes up on a ridge and passes a fire tower, built in the 1930's, that you can climb.

The view is of nothing but flat-seeming forest--no mountain ranges, no lakes, no grand vista, nothing but trees.  So I haven't bothered to show it.  Instead I'll show a peculiar root-smothered boulder.

And of-course, one was rarely out of sight of the ubiquitous sandstone cliffs and buttresses.

Outside of Hocking Hills State Park proper, there are half a dozen more fine trail miles in Hocking State Forest.  Here I passed through a stately pine plantation.

I took a side trip to see a secret grotto with another lofty walk-behind fall, though it was just a splattering trickle on this day.

The semi-rare pink lady slippers were in bloom.  They're a wild orchid.

Weather was ideal for experiencing this natural beauty, and crowds were relatively modest in the busy area.  That means you could usually get shots without people in them if you wanted to, although the throngs were definitely there--witness the wider shot at Cedar Falls.

Anyhow, it was a day that is going to be hard to beat as I continue down the Buckeye Trail.  But maybe, just maybe, there are more surprises in store.

There were two days of hiking that got me to Hocking Hills including the Bill Miller Trail around Logan Lake.

On the evening of the first of those days, back in my motel at sunset, I was treated to a first-class rainbow.

Here are the GPS screen shots of the tracks for those two approach days and the day in Hocking Hills.  Also attached below is the interactive Wikiloc track for the Grandma Gatewood Trail section.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Boch Hollow Preserve - a Hiker's Nirvana

I was expecting today to be a tedious stretch of road walking.  I could not have been more misguided.  What actually unfolded beneath my feet was one of the nicest 4.2 miles of woods trail a hiker could hope to experience.

How could this happen?  Well, I was carrying the latest Buckeye Trail official map (dated August 2014).  But it was outdated, and the Trail web site said so.  The wonderful new bit of trail through Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve had opened on November 16th, 2016.

Yes, I had done my due diligence--on paper at least.  I had gone to the Buckeye Trail Association web site and printed the latest trail updates.  Problem:  they were sitting back in my motel room.  I hadn't looked at them, and I was only carrying the outdated map as I hiked.

Here's my proof, complete with the date stamp--the relevant bit of the page I printed back at home on March 30th and then stuffed among my trail papers and forgot to consult.

Buckeye Trail Association, you did your job.  Two overused old sayings apply:

"You can lead a horse ... a thick-headed old hiker ... to the current trail info, but you can't make him read it."

"You can't teach an old dog ... a thick-headed old hiker ... new tricks" (like consulting internet updates to paper maps.)

So today I was expecting to be spanning a gap between nice trail segments in Wayne National Forest and the Bill Miller Trail at Lake Logan State Park, and I expected to be bored.

Fortunately my August 2014 map did mention a parking place along Beach Camp Road--a trailhead into some local trails, it seemed--just a place to park my car.

When I got there I walked over to the kiosk just to read the information.  First I noted this cute moss-adorned nest with little chicklets and an unhatched egg perched under the protective kiosk roof and right beside an interpretive note about local bird life!

After marveling at and photographing the nest I wandered over to a nearby trail map.  Here I've suitably annotated it with my shocked reaction.

What a pleasant surprise.  I moved over to the west trailhead and marched into the woods.  It was fresh new trail, perfectly blazed and with maps identical to the one above at every trail junction.  At every point where maintenance cart paths or old roads crossed the trail there were clear markers saying 'Not a Trail'.  Even a thick-headed old half-blind hiker couldn't lose the trail here.

The trail passed through young succession areas--meadows beginning to grow over with new forest.  Here the Preserve maintainers keep the trail as closely mown as somebody's lawn.

Elsewhere the trail meanders through mature forest that hasn't been disturbed for decades.  It passes two serene little ponds.  This one was the best.

And it skirts what they call rock shelters (overhangs - see photo up top) and great sandstone rock walls, foreshadowing the upcoming Hocking Hills trails.

The rest of the day I was indeed on roads.  But the afterglow of Boch Hollow stuck with me, and I wasn't bored at all.  It was quiet country and choirs of May flowers in the grassy fields were singing.

It was a hot day--so hot that I found myself leaving clear evidence of my Personal Continuous Footpath.

My North Carolina connections must have been in play here.  I left today's hiking as a real "tar-heel".

The heat began to boil up into thunderstorms.

Fortunately, except for a brief cooling sprinkle, the storms held off until I was driving back to my motel.  But then it looked as if Judgement Day had arrived.  We were under a severe storm warning.

But I got safely to my room.  Here's the static map of the day's hiking and the Wikiloc interactive map.

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