His – Huffman Park – Medina, OH

20170218_121130Sometimes in life you just have to wing it. The best laid plans can change in an instant. As our friends and family already know –  I’m the more spontaneous and rambunctious person in our relationship. Tara is the planned and composed one. We often combine our skills to balance each other. When a well crafted plan goes awry, such as this hike, we put those skills to the test.

 

We ventured down to Huffman Park in Medina, a map dot that was right along the way to Tara’s parents house, which was the ultimate destination for the day. I didn’t know what to expect on this hike at all. As much as I’ve been to Medina, (I even lived there for a year) I’ve never been to this particular park. We showed up and the parking lot was almost empty. With the temperature gauge reading over 60 degrees (how lucky have we been this winter in Northeast Ohio?!) I was surprised that the park wasn’t jam packed. With no trail map or sense of where to go we picked the “River trail.” The river trail was about 200 yards of down and back… not sure why there was a grand sign marking this puny pathway.  

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Now Tara had done her research online, and wanted to do the “Huffman trail” – a very manageable 1.4 mile loop, just enough to get the blood flowing but not be a sweaty, muddy mess when we arrived at her parents house that afternoon. Well… it turns out we didn’t choose the right trail and ended up on a very unexpected journey, tromping our way through what seemed to be every square foot of this park. We had accidentally slipped onto the number three mountain bike course in all of Ohio. (https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/692456) According to the website, the two trails total about 8.8 miles. We never left Huffman Park, but to give you a sense of what we took on, check out the northern half of this trail:

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We were constantly challenged with dips, twists, and turns, slowly weaving us back and forth through what seemed like an endless forest. As soon as we thought we were coming to the end of the trail, we’d dive deeper and deeper into the woods. There wasn’t 100 yards straightened pathway on this whole trail. Let me tell you, it was FUN. The mountain bike trail supplied wooden structures out of nowhere. There were ramps, and berms, jumps, and narrow wooden walkways. The inner five year old in me screamed with joy as I played on every last one of them. I even played an old school game of “avoid the lava” – which in this case was the mud the consistency of cake batter. I jumped from embankment to embankment to avoid the “lava”, Tara laughing at me the whole way.

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At one point in the walk our conversation turned dark. We questioned if we somehow had entered into a purgatory of sorts. Tara, knowing my constant hunger while hiking, packed spicy jalapeno cheese and crackers as a reward for completing the hike. We jokingly quipped that it was like Ground Hog day with Bill Murray and we’d never reach our cheese. We were doomed to walk for the rest of eternity through an endless forest, all on the quest for cheese and crackers. It had probably been over an hour since we saw any form of life on this trail. Just as my own worry kicked in, we saw two bikers on the trail. I was relieved to see that there was a potential end in sight.

 

Side note: If you have an option in life, choose to be a hiker not a biker in this world my friends. Bikers are dicks. They don’t say hi, they don’t smile, and they certainly treat you like a second class citizen when it comes to priority on the trail. I’d be lying if my overactive imagination didn’t play out a scene or two where I kicked their bike and watched them flounder in the mud (something like the consistency pictured below.) Hikers almost always exchange pleasantries. Be a hiker NOT a biker.

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As the disgruntled and unfriendly bikers passed, our attention was drawn to the flashing white tail deer that scampered through the woods. I love wildlife. It’s my favorite part of hiking. To see other species thriving in the environment around us is very refreshing. I knew it was another sign that we had to be close to the end. We passed a couple of hikers, VERY friendly might I add, and finally found our way out of the woods. I found us a couple of sticks to scrape the mud off of our shoes. We changed and finally got to enjoy the reward for the unexpected journey we embarked on – cheese, crackers, and country music.

 

As simple as the day was, it ranks up there on one of my favorite moments in our relationship. It was just VERY… us. I think it was very representative of our relationship as a whole. We almost always have a plan, we add in some randomness and spontaneity, we mix it all up and end up on an adventure, together.

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His – Brandywine Falls – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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It may have been Super Bowl Sunday, but it didn’t stop our weekly adventure. This week we ventured down into one of the largest parks in our region, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. According to their website (https://www.nps.gov/cuva/learn/historyculture/index.htm) the park has been occupied by humans for over 12,000 years, has more than 125 miles of hiking trails and is comprised of 32,950 acres. We took on about 4 of those miles yesterday.

 
We made the short trip over to Brandywine Falls, near the ski resort, and I couldn’t have been happier. There was an awesome waterfall, half frozen, half flowing, cutting through a deep ravine. We were lead closer to the falls by an iced over boardwalk that made you question your footing with every step. Some of the viewing areas were closed due to the frigid weather we had last week, but there were still a number of ways to get close enough to observe the mighty Cuyahoga river churning through the wilderness.

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After we watched the waterfall for a bit, we wandered our way over to the Stanford trail. Just before westarted our journey we passed a small farm. Tara grabbed me up like we were about to be attacked by a grizzly bear. It turns out that it was a beast of a different kind… it was an overweight pigmy goat. I coaxed it over so we could snap a few photos and Tara could fulfill her love of goats. The goat, which I believe she named Henry, quickly figured out we didn’t have food for him and we parted ways.

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We then started our descent down the Stanford Trail. There weren’t a lot of people out on this particular trail. Tara and I quickly came into realization as to why. Ice, roots, rocks, mud, and snow plagued every step. It seemed like the trail dove straight down into the valley and then straight back up.

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We were challenged with a down and back, there was no loop to follow. I felt a bit under-dressed at points, as the sunshine kept disappearing behind clouds. I was very thankful for the expedient pace we had going for the day.

 

Tara and I talked about upcoming events, mostly about the half marathon we’re running at the end of May. I’m not much of a distance runner. I told her, admittedly, I am a bit of a head case when it comes to running long distances. We’ve both put together a training regimen, and I’m only a few weeks removed from starting. The thing that always makes me feel good about our relationship together is her unwavering faith in my capabilities. She does a great job of reassuring me when I have self-doubt. That being said, she also pretty much told me to suck it up as I was gasping for air on our way back up the
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We were able to find some stopping points along the way to admire the various bodies of water. I, of course, had to test the overall strength of the patches of ice. One of these days, I will fall in, Tara will laugh, and I’ll inevitably lose a toe or two to frostbite and hypothermia.

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We trudged our way through muck the consistency of cake batter and made our way back to the car. Other than the muck, the hike was excellent. This section reminded me a lot of my favorite MetroPark – Brecksville Reservation. This trail had challenging terrain, great views, and plenty of playful banter between Tara and I. I really can’t ask for much more.

Hers – Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Another weekend, another waterfall! We decided to head to Brandywine Falls for yesterday’s hike. It’s near a ski resort and part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Part of the National Park Service, CVNP is the only national park in Ohio. It essentially stretches from Cleveland to Akron covering nearly 33,000 acres.

Casey and I have explored much of the southern part of the park last summer. Brandywine Falls sits at the northern edge of the park, so I was excited to explore a new area with him. When we got out of the car, Casey seemed a little confused that Brandywine Falls actually meant there was a waterfall. I wasn’t quite sure what else he was expecting, but I assured him there was indeed a massive waterfall.

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We walked along an ice-covered boardwalk down to a viewing area. A lower viewing deck was closed due to the weather, but we still got a really good look. We made our way back to the main parking area, checked out a trail map and decided to head out on the Stanford Trail – a 1.7-mile trail that leads to the Towpath. (For those of you not from Northeast Ohio, the towpath is a multi-use trail that runs for 85 miles along the Ohio Erie Canal.)

Within a few yards of starting on the trail, we encountered the highlight of the entire hike. I mean, sure the waterfall was beautiful and nature is great, but does any of that compare to a pudgy pygmy goat?! Of course not.

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Henry (I have no idea if that’s his name, but it felt right) was enjoying a little snack in his pen at the Brandywine Falls Inn, and it was love at first sight. Casey was able to coax him over, and I got in a quick pet before he realized we didn’t have any food and walked away. But I wasn’t mad. He was the greatest little goat you ever did see, and I was a happy camper.

I should’ve known my euphoria wouldn’t last. The trail took us into some dense woods and down into a valley. The sun disappeared and my ankles became unpleasantly cold (short yoga pants mixed with ankle socks was not a good decision on my part). And then came the mud. At first it was fun to muck through it. Then it became a bit of a chore to try to walk around it. And finally it became a total pain in the ass. It stuck to the bottom of my shoes causing me to lose any bit of traction. Mind you, this was while we were climbing back up the valley and then back down and up again (as we turned around on the trail to head back the way we came). This was not a flat trail in which I wouldn’t have minded a little mud. This was a pretty hilly course, and I could use any traction and lack of exertion I could get.

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So, I did what I typically do when I get frustrated. I sped up. I booked it up the last hill and got to the top with my hamstrings on fire, my lungs burning and Casey panting along beside me. I was rewarded with a concrete trail and snow that let me (kind of) wipe off my shoes. It was a reminder that this is about the time when the things that I used to find endearing about winter start to become a nuisance. February may the the shortest month for most, but for those of us in the Midwest, it’s the longest. Snowfall that once seemed peaceful and quiet is now an unwelcome disruption. Hibernation that once came from shorter days is now adding up to extra pounds. And hiking in the cold that once seemed feasible now seems more like a chore.

But then I try to remember that spring will be here soon, and these hikes give me a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to explore new areas and see all kinds of things…like goats.

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His – Lanterman’s Mill – 01/28/2017

What a day! Winter decided to show up again and attacked us in waves yesterday. Even though the day was a bit brisk at 30 degrees, we decided to take our show on the road and headed an hour east to Youngstown. We visited Lanterman’s Mill, located at 1001 Canfield Road, Youngstown, OH 44511.  It’s always difficult for me to be in that section of Ohio. It brings out that particular brand of football fans that I’ve come to despise… Ohio born Pittsburgh fans. As we travelled the roads it became more and more prevalent. You would see houses with flags, cars with stickers, and people adorning that gaudy logo. I swallowed my pride and carried on so we could share our hiking experiences with Tara’s brother Todd and his girlfriend Stacy.20170129_141552.jpg

We drove to their house, jumped in their vehicle, and were off to the park. I was a bit worn out and frustrated after a blowout loss in my basketball league, so hitting the trail was a great way to ease my mind. I will tell you, hands down; this is one of the best parks in Ohio I’ve been to yet. We walked two or three stretches of trails that winded amongst gorges and a river. We gazed upon waterfalls of different shapes and sizes. There were sheer rock walls, thoroughly carved with initials and names, and we found the same markings on a few trees.  I even poked my head in a cave or two. I of course had imaginative stories of homeless people making their dwellings in this pocket of nature. We were constantly challenged by the ever changing terrain; there was seldom a flat section to be found on either the East Gorge or West Gorge Trail.

My ankles have been a bit tender from rolling them in my basketball league. As we walked, what was our greatest aid for footing on the muddy trail also became combative to me – a very entangled and exposed root system in the forest. It definitely slowed Tara and my usual pace. You had to be sure of where you were placing your next step. Even though I tweaked my ankle a couple dozen times on the walk, it was worth it.

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We walked for at least a couple of hours, covering around 4 or 4.5 miles. There were a few others out there, including a chocolate colored dog, which didn’t appear to have an owner. I instantly tried to adopt him, even though he was a hundred feet above us on a different trail. I coaxed him partially down the hill only to have my adoption attempts foiled when his owner started yelling for him.

One thing that’s becoming a growing trend for our hikes is my hunger. Todd, Tara’s brother, had promised pizza at the end of our expedition.  About halfway through the idea of consuming that pizza consumed my thoughts. Luckily, Tara and I had planned ahead and packed some snacks. The only thing missing on our walk was more wildlife.  It was good to have some additional company on this hike. Todd and Stacy filled silences with laughter and observations. It’s always good to see them. As we made our way back to the car, we were pleasantly surprised by the sight of my chocolate colored dog friend. He greeted us with big tail wags and a few sniffs. His owner was still lagging behind the energetic pup.

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After our journey ended, I was rewarded with a Greek style pizza from the Sunrise Inn. We destroyed some appetizers because the pizza takes around a half hour to make, but the deep dish was well worth all the traveling. On the way home we found pocket after pocket of snow, but made it back in reasonable timing. It was a long day and a fun day. I can’t wait to check the park out in the summer time!

Overall ratings for Lanterman’s Mill: 4 out of 5 – Gorgeous views, challenging terrain, and great company. One of my favorite hikes to date. If you have an opportunity to visit this park, GO!

Accessibility: 2 out of 5 – This was a haul from Cleveland. We spent around an hour and a half in the car, but worth every minute.

Terrain: 4.5 out of 5 – Twists, turns, roots, rocks, elevation changes, and a mix of mud! Really fun!

Cleanliness: 4 out of 5 – Clean water and clean trails.

Trail designation: 3.5 out of 5 – Not a ton of signage but the trails were blazed well enough that you know where you were going.

Bathroom availability: 0 out of 5 – Todd will attest – they are closed for the winter!

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