Hers – Columbia Reservation

 

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Another week, another cold hike. That’s what it was feeling like last Sunday when I woke up. I know, I know. I’ve been complaining about the weather a lot. But it’s nearly the end of March, and I’m completely desperate for spring. It doesn’t even have to be warm, I’ll just take a glimpse of sunshine at this point. We had a pretty big snow storm earlier this past week, and it seems like every day since has been gray and gloomy and cold. Sunday was no exception.

My energy level was way down, and as soon as we got into the car to head out to the park, I couldn’t wait to get back home in sweats to just lay on the couch. We drove 25 minutes west to Columbia Station, Ohio. The drive out helped lift my mood a little as we got out of the city and into some more rural surroundings.

Once we got to the reservation and out of the car, I realized I didn’t dress nearly warm enough. Definitely should’ve doubled up on the pants and socks. It was going to be a chillier walk than I anticipated, and I let Casey know that it was probably going to be a fairly quick one.

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We set off on a paved path and into the soggy gray mist. Columbia Reservation is a wetland reservation, so the path weaves around several ponds and marshes and into dense woods. It was a gray, misty morning complete with fog that hung low. A co-worker of mine calls it “history weather.” It’s the kind of weather you imagine during Civil War battles early in the morning.

But as we kept walking, the “history weather” turned straight up creepy. There wasn’t a soul in sight. The fog made it difficult to see through the trees and the ponds were completely still. The trees themselves were barren and blackened with boney, crooked branches. The only sound was that of crows cawing overhead. It was eerie. This was Edgar Allen Poe weather!

Casey and I both commented on the creepiness of it all. We were walking hand in hand when he abruptly stopped and stared at the ground. He went to reach for his phone when I finally saw what he was staring at. A dead mouse. Smack dab in the middle of the trail. It didn’t look like anything had gotten to it. It was just straight up frozen. I took off in a hurry, while Casey was still trying to dig out his phone. I knew he was going to take a picture, and I literally scolded him to do nothing of the sort. I told him that’s where I draw the line with this blog. (You’re welcome.)

We kept walking, and our imaginations started to run wild. Casey went down the route of vagabonds and sasquatches. I went straight to ax murderers that dump dead bodies in the pond. We made a few jokes about it, but I think it creeped us both out a little bit so we picked up the pace (I was also REALLY cold).

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It was an easy trail loop around the main pond and back to the car (thanks to Casey’s keen sense of direction or else I would’ve been going in circles through the forest). While I’m glad we got out for this hike, I have to say my favorite part was driving out to a new area and seeing a new town, not so much the park itself. I’m really hoping this was our final sendoff to the winter season. I promise guys, once it starts getting sunny and warmer you won’t have to read about me complaining about the weather…until it gets too hot. Kidding! 😀

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His – North Chagrin Reservation – Squire’s Castle

20170312_103008Frigid, blustery and gray – this week’s hike was very symbolic of my emotions this time of year. I don’t bring this up to a lot of people, but I feel like this is a very appropriate forum to pull the curtain back and give some depth and meaning of my love for the outdoors.  A little over two years ago, on March 7th 2015, I sat in a hospital waiting room and was told that my mom, who was fifty years old, had stage four cancer. Eight days later, on March 15th 2015, she was gone.

Life can never prepare you for those words. To lose a parent at any age is rough. To lose a parent at fifty years old, in what is considered to be the “golden years”, is devastating. Two years later, I still struggle to process what happened. Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows how optimistic I am. This week I’ve been down in the dumps on and off. I think about my mom passing away every day. It’s mentally crippling. For anyone who says it gets easier with time is full of shit. Life continues on, but it never gets easier.

Hiking to me has been an outlet. I didn’t know it until I met Tara, but the outdoors and stomping around in nature really do help ease the soul. I’ve never been a spiritual person. Hiking has given me a sense of reprieve. I walked around angry for almost a year and a half. I didn’t have a proper outlet to clear my head. If anything, hiking, and then this blog, have given me a space to creatively clear the inner workings of my brain. I’m fortunate to have a way to express myself. I’m grateful everyday that I found Tara and we’ve started this journey together.

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Speaking of starting, Tara and I started our hike this week by climbing into Squire’s castle.  It’s essentially a stone shell. It’s a drafty stone structure that has no doors or windows, just frames where they should be. We checked it out quickly and felt a little intrusive as there was some sort of photo shoot taking place inside. (We never did figure out exactly who was being photographed, no one was dressed for the occasion.)

We struck out on the trail. Tara had promised me a relatively easy hike and enticed me with food afterwards… guys I think she’s on to how to motivate me. We went up, and up, and up, and up, oh and then we went up. We were hundreds of feet above the castle at this point and the trail we originally sought to be on wasn’t in sight. It didn’t matter though. One, I pride myself on somewhat of an eidetic memory. Two, I was okay with being away from it all for a while. We wove our way back and forth, deeper and deeper into the forest. The windstorm we had last week toppled so many trees.

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It’s really breathtaking to see the power of nature. What can be the most rewarding thing can also be one of the most frightening. To see these mammoth trees toppled amongst each other while others stood tall was mesmerizing. It left me deep in thought.

I would encourage anyone who is having a tough time to take a few minutes to walk through the wilderness. We all need serenity and time to gather ourselves. Avid hikers can attest, no matter how much company you have, you can always be alone outdoors. The simple task of putting one foot in front of the other and being in the moment allows you to go to another place in your mind. I’m always thankful for Tara being by my side on the trail. However, in between our usual laughter and banter, I was deep in reflective thoughts and memories.

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In our walk, I came to this conclusion; like the toppled trees sometimes you get knocked over. There’s nothing you can do about it. All you can do sometimes is grin and bear it. Sometimes you have to embrace the frigid, blustery and gray weather. Just make sure that you keep working towards the warmth that you know will eventually come.

Hers – Squire’s Castle, North Chagrin Reservation

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I’m a planner. I have to-do lists for everything. There’s a printed monthly calendar hanging on our fridge, and I often text Casey a schedule for our weekends.

The plan for Sunday was to hit up Columbia Reservation about 25 minutes west of us. After a late evening, the “Spring forward” time change, and Casey’s 6:15 alarm going off for his basketball league, those plans quickly went out the window. I was moving slow and just felt drained. It was honestly one of the most difficult days to get motivated for a hike. I could blame the time change, but it probably had more to do with the beers I’d had the evening before.

The temperature had also dropped again – hovering right around 25 degrees. I tried to summon some kind of motivation. I found it in the form of Pho for lunch after our hike. I wanted nothing more than a hot bowl of goodness. Naturally, I completely rearranged our plans to center around food. I suggested that we head to Squire’s Castle on the east side of Cleveland and then stop for Pho on our way back. Casey, who puts up with my neurotic ways and is able to go with the flow, was completely fine with this.

In another act of defiance of my usual ways, I also suggested stopping for McDonald’s breakfast before our hike. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had fast food in the past year, but there was just no other way to satisfy my craving for a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. (There is no more telling sign of a hangover than craving McDonald’s so there, I admit it. I was hungover.) I’m not proud of it, but it was damn good. Luckily we were about to hike some of those calories off.

We drove out to Squire’s Castle, which is part of the North Chagrin Reservation in the town of Gates Mills. The castle was built in 1890 as a gatekeeper’s home for an oil tycoon’s country estate that never came to fruition. The castle is now just an empty shell…but a really pretty empty shell!

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We walked around the inside for a bit talking about living in our own castle. Then we decided to hit the trails. And this is where my planning really goes out the window. Perhaps it’s not the best idea, but I tend to leave directions and trails up to Casey. I literally see a trail and start walking with no sense of where I’m going or how far I’m going. Sometimes I’ll check a trail map and make a suggestion, but I don’t really study it to figure out how to get to the certain places I’d like to go. I start walking and hope for the best. Thankfully, the boy’s got a great sense of direction.

The trail was a rugged dirt path that led straight up a hill for what seemed like eternity.

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But when we finally made it to the top, we had climbed up with the tree tops overlooking the reservation below. It had lightly started to snow, and it looked like a scene from a movie. It was gorgeous.

We kept walking and picked up a few different trails. I think we ended up on three different ones and upon the fourth, we decided it’d be best to just turn around and retrace our steps instead of continuing further. But I really didn’t care about the direction. I was finally feeling back to normal. I suppose that’s the power of fresh, frigid air.

On our way back, we got to make our way DOWN the hill (A rare luxury in hiking. Why are there so many up hills but never any down?!). The snow started to pick up and my pinky fingers were pretty frozen. It was perfect timing to get in the car and get Pho. Except that stupid McDonald’s breakfast meant that I wasn’t hungry at all. So instead, we just went home. So much for all those plans I make.

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His – Erie & Canal Reservation

It was the best of times… it was the worst of t… wait, wrong story. Saturday morning got off to a much different start than last week. Last week we were lathering on sunscreen. We were poolside in our shades and bathing suits. This week we got the full Ohio experience… pouring rain, white out snow, blustery howling winds, sporadic peeks of sun. Temperatures jumping from the sixties to the twenties and everywhere in between. March in Ohio is like playing a game of winter roulette. You spin the dial and hope for the best. However, you have to realize the odds are ALWAYS stacked against you this time of year.

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So there we were, March 4th 2017… Tara and I having a weekend of “nothing to do.” Our weekends where we claim we have nothing to do usually end up jam packed with action and events. Tara was feeling a bit under the weather and I NEVER beat her out of bed, so I tried to exploit the situation. It was 07:00AM and I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. I snuck out of our bedroom and tried to surprise her with breakfast in bed. As quiet as I tried to be, I got about 5 minutes in and my plot was foiled. Tara caught me red handed cracking eggs and making toast. Defeated in my attempt, I made her sit on the couch while I prepared the rest of the meal.

 

My first try at making over easy eggs quickly turned into “fried eggs for Casey” The second batch was a success. We scarfed it down and bundled up to face the frigid day. Outside looked very inviting. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun shining a little too bright if there is such a thing. Snow still sprawled across the ground, it reflected every ray cast upon it. We drove the twenty-something minutes down a familiar route to a reservation I’ve never been to before on the outskirts of Tremont.

 

Tara had already warned me, showing me physical evidence that this would be a very urban hike and the greenery would be at a premium. If I had learned anything about urban hiking is that if it goes poorly enough… I’ll end up drinking pints at a bar. When we turned into the parking lot, I feared the worst. Factories all around us and the parking lot was only a dozen spots or so. We were already there, so we went for it. To my surprise, this wasn’t all that bad.

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They had some art along the way. They had a very pristine and glimmering river that also paralleled with the Erie canal. (I am still searching for the answer as to why the canal was dug separately when they could have utilized the mighty Cuyahoga.) The asphalt path was clear and other than industrial noises from time to time, the path was teeming with song birds of all kinds. Now I have to admit, love is a funny thing. You get to a point where you are just brutally honest with each other. This week’s form of honesty came across as “Babe, you have a boog hanging out.” She’s always honest with me…that’s how I know this relationship is going places. Sometimes you just have to cut through the shit and tell it like it is.

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Other than being brutally honest, one of the things I admire the most about Tara is her stubbornness. Now most people wouldn’t find it to be a redeeming quality. However, I’ve seen this woman put her mind to something and she will keep attacking it until the task is complete. She kept telling me she “was fine” however the sniffles and coughing and sneezing told me otherwise. It would have been easy for her to say that she didn’t feel well and we could hike another day, but she didn’t. She made a promise to me that we’d hike 52 times this year. Just like always, she pushed through it – sickness and all.

 

We walked in total about four miles through the bitter biting wind and cold. All the layers we had on were no match for the stinging daggers thrust toward us in the form of Ohio winter winds. It didn’t matter though. We carried on as if we were back on the beaches of Miami, hand in hand – talking and laughing right through the end of our journey.

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Hers – Virginia Key Beach Park

This weekend’s hike was a bit different than our usual. We traded our hiking shoes for sneakers, our hats and gloves for tank tops, our muddy trails for sandy shores, and our gray skies for hot sunshine. Yep…we were in MIAMI.

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I have a wonderful friend that did me the solid of planning her wedding in Miami for the end of February. Just when I needed some time away from Ohio the most. (I do love Ohio, but I’d be lying if I said the wintery gray skies didn’t weigh on me after awhile. And hello? Who wouldn’t want to celebrate in Miami?!)

Casey and I planned out the weekend around wedding festivities and found that we had a decent amount of time on Friday before the rehearsal dinner. We drove over the causeway to Virginia Key Beach Park. I wasn’t really sure what to expect other than I knew it’d be surrounded by water. We started walking along a sandy trail that led through dense palms and lush plants. And then another trail branched off to our left and we saw this:

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I know, right?! I love mountain views as much as the next person, but any mountain lover can still appreciate a beachfront. Of course, we headed down to the beach and enjoyed the view a little bit closer. This is where we also saw a beautiful woman sunbathing and her boyfriend working out on the rocks. We walked a little further and saw a small photo shoot with a bikini model. I started to feel really out place. One of my favorite things about walking and hiking is that I don’t have to try to look a certain way. I can throw on some clothes, put my hair in a pony tail and walk out the door to enjoy nature in its plain beauty and my plain face.

Luckily I had Casey walking alongside me who was quick to make jokes about both of those scenes. He also started talking about encountering an alligator, making me laugh and feel at ease with myself again. He was on pretty high alert throughout the hike, jumping at any ruffle of leaves while I laughed at him (like any supportive significant other would do). It was interesting to me that while he’s usually the laid back one, it seems our personalities get a little reversed when traveling outside our comfort zones.

We walked around the park for probably about two miles when the sun started really beating down. We’re both still pasty from the winter and not used to warm sunshine lately, so we decided it was time for lunch. For once, I was probably just as excited for this as Casey. We went to Puerto Sagua in South Beach and stuffed our face with potato balls and Cuban sandwiches. (I might be able to look like the bikini model if it wasn’t for potato balls, but I’m completely ok with that. Life isn’t worth living without carbs.) Since we were so stuffed, we decided to take another walk along the beach, hand in hand with our toes in the water. The weather was gorgeous, the water was turquoise, and the company was good. There were people from all walks of life with all types of bodies rocking all kinds of swimwear (or lack thereof). And you know what? More power to every single one of those people. It was another reminder that nature doesn’t give a damn what you look like.

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His – Virginia Key Beach Park – 02/24/2017

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Sometimes you get unique opportunities in life and you can’t let them pass by. When Tara asked me to go with her to a wedding in Miami, Florida, in February, I jumped at the chance. I’m a thirty-year-old man and have never vacationed in Florida. For reasons unbeknownst to me, my family never went to Florida when I was growing up. As I have progressed through adulthood, I’ve never really had the opportunity to go either. The overall experience was surreal and almost felt like stepping into another country.

 

On one of our few free days we struck out to a nearby park called Virginia Key Beach. For obvious reasons, our outfits were completely different than any other hike this year. With temperatures in the high seventies or low eighties, I applied my SPF 60. (Yes, I’m whiter than any friendly ghost you may come across.) I threw on some shorts, a T-shirt, sunglasses, rocked those sweet blue Salomon’s too.

 

For those of you not familiar, Virginia Key is an 863-acre barrier island in Miami. We covered about 2 to 3 miles of trail that combed a dense tropical forest and beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. There weren’t too many hikers out, but a strong population of bikers that quickly pedaled along the roadsides. The trail was mostly comprised of a combination of dirt and white sand. As we walked down to the trail, I quickly realized I was out of my element. The plants were very unfamiliar. The trees and shrubbery were dense and seemed to be ancient. There were sounds and signs of wildlife at every turn.

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The thing that pops out to you the most about Miami is the overabundance of good looking people. It seems like it’s a requirement of every resident to be tan with six pack abs and flawless looks. When we dumped onto the first beach, we saw a couple on one of the break walls. The girl sunning herself, the guy putting himself through a rigorous abdominal workout. We continued on the path and saw a ton of bags piled onto a picnic table. I assumed a homeless person setup camp there… I was wrong. We quickly heard two guys speaking Spanish and coaching a young lady as their cameras clicked and flashed. We stumbled on a photoshoot with a bikini clad woman in a shaded grove.

 

We turned around and had decided that we needed to get deeper into nature. Model shoots and ab workouts aren’t my ideal subjects while hiking. I did learn that a new environment puts me on high alert. I quickly remembered that we were in Florida and alligators are a thing. There was a very strong population of small lizards on the island as well. They sounded thunderous as they crashed through the leaves and vegetation. And finally we stumbled on this sign:

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Are you kidding me?! Killer raccoons?! I was ALREADY trying to save Tara from any movement in the forest. Whether it was moving leaves, a weird breeze, or a lizard… in my mind, they were all thirteen foot alligators looking for lunch. Now I’m looking around for rabid raccoons? The weather was sweltering at this point. We continued down the trail until we dumped into a public beach where they were shooting a TV commercial.  Tara wouldn’t let me be a part of the commercial, so we turned around.

 

We did address a VERY important aspect of our hiking… LUNCH! We drove to South Beach to eat at Puerto Sagua, a small mom and pop diner that was packed.  We had the most delicious potato balls with hot sauce and hot homemade Cuban sandwiches. Let me tell you, the Cubans know how to cook. SOOOO good! After we filled our bellies, we ventured out to the ocean. We kicked off our shoes and walked hand in hand in the Atlantic Ocean. I will admit, I’ve never seen so many butt cheeks in my life… guys and girls all trying to minimize their respective tan lines. The ocean was crystal clear with vibrant shades of green and light blue. It was a perfect way to cap off our hike.

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Overall, Miami exceeded my expectations. It was great to get out of my comfort zone, out of our state, and enjoy a new terrain in a new state. I look forward to more out of state and hopefully out of country adventures with Tara, tanned butt cheeks, thunderous mini lizards, and alligators be damned!

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Hers – Huffman Park

Casey and I were really looking forward to this weekend, as was the rest of Northeast Ohio. All anyone had been talking about all week – after we dealt with an early week snow storm and biting cold temperatures – was the weather forecast for the weekend. It was going to be in the 60s and sunny. I couldn’t wait. As I mentioned in an earlier post, February is the shortest month of the year, but for those of us in the Midwest and Northeast, it feels like the longest. The lack of Vitamin D really starts to wear on your emotions and mental state.

On Saturday we were planning to visit my parents in Wayne County, about an hour south of Cleveland. It’s home to the largest Amish population in the state of Ohio, if that gives you any indication about where I grew up. While I’m not sure if I could ever live there again, it’s incredibly refreshing to get back for a visit in the middle of nowhere.

Since we planned to head down that way, I mentioned to Casey that we should choose a hiking spot along the way. I did some research about parks and trails near my parents and was a little surprised that there really isn’t that much. Once I started really thinking about it, though, it makes sense. People in rural America don’t need trails or designated parks – they have their backyard, which often spans acres of wide open spaces. Who needs a concrete trail, when you can walk through a field that belongs to you?

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Anyways, we did end up finding a park in Medina County (which is wedged between Cleveland and where my parents live). Huffman Park is home to quite a few soccer fields, some playgrounds, a dirt bike path and a 1.4 mile walking trail. Perfect. 1.4 miles would be just enough for us to enjoy the weather, while also keeping on our time commitments.

We decided to start on the river trail, which actually did run along a river…for about 500 feet before looping us back to where we started. That was a bust, and I was preparing a plan b for us when we found the Huffman Field Trail, which was the 1.4 mile trail we had read about.

As we walked along, we were super excited to see a woodpecker, the sunshine and not much mud. The trail took us back into the woods, over a few plank bridges and even deeper into the woods. Then we came across some mountain bike obstacles. I had read that Huffman Park had a really good mountain bike trail, and Casey decided to tackle the obstacles on foot…while I filmed.

We apparently then got onto the mountain bike trail and serpentine through the woods. And kept going…and going…and going. Ok, this was not the 1.4 mile trail that I was prepared for. I had packed a tasty snack of cheese and crackers for when we finished our hike and my thoughts kept going back to the cheese…sitting in the car that was getting warmer and warmer in the sun as we kept getting deeper and deeper into the woods.

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Oh, and I should probably also mention that this is about the time that the lack of mud I was so excited about earlier decide to turn up with a vengeance. My shoes were once again caked as I slide along the trail. I felt my patience wearing thin and my energy draining, which then makes me mad at myself for not enjoying being out in nature. My emotions are a vicious cycle.

I was just about to ask Casey if we could just turn around and go back the way we came, when we saw three massive white tail deer. And then we saw two bikers. The first sign of life in about an hour was a refreshing sight. We weren’t the only ones braving the muck and we had to be getting close to …something. That’s when Casey was able to spot the park shelter through the woods. I was so excited! I was getting closer to my cheese and crackers!

I picked up the pace and we kept walking … and walking …and walking. Ok, seriously…where the fuck was the parking lot and where did this trail end?! The mud on my shoes was weighing me down and the rising temperature was making me hot. (I know, I know. I just bitched about the frigid temperatures and now I’m complaining about it being too warm. I’m tough to please!)

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We kept onward and passed an older couple dressed in clean clothes and tennis shoes. I think Casey and I both knew this meant we were near the exit. And then we found the end of the trail! We both did an end zone dance to celebrate our victory as we raced through the parking lot to my car. I think Casey was excited to get the mud off his shoes. I was excited for cheese. And let me tell you guys, it was glorious. We sat on the trunk of my car playing some music from my phone, enjoying the sweet delight of crackers and cheese and the sun shone on our faces and lifted my spirits.

Not to say that I didn’t enjoy the hike on Saturday, but sometime the best thing about a hike is when it’s over. When you’re able to bask in your accomplishment. When you can sit with the person that walked alongside you and just enjoy the act of sitting. When you realize that the hike wasn’t that bad and you’re already looking forward to the next one.

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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Hers – Big Creek Reservation

Well, we knew not every hike would be a fantastic one, but I didn’t quite expect our walk on Saturday to be so … ugly.

We decided to check out Big Creek Reservation, which is only 15 minutes away. When Casey suggested it, I checked it out on Google Maps and saw that it ran through some parts of the burbs, but assumed it’d be set back in the woods. I was kind of right.

We started off at Lake Isaac so we could walk the Lake-to-Lake Trail 2.4 miles down to Lake Abram. I had read ahead of time that the trail was a multi-use, so I knew it’d be paved and a bit of an easier hike. What I didn’t know was that I’d be essentially walking on a sidewalk through people’s backyards. (I should’ve tallied up the lawn ornaments. Nothing screams suburbia quite like plastic deer.) We walked along the trail, through a tunnel and over a few boardwalks.

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Along the boardwalks, we got a little set back into a marshland before coming to…a main thoroughfare complete with a busy hospital, movie theater, tanning salon, Panera Bread and a bar. I made a mental note of the bar as we attempted to stay on the trail while navigating the concrete jungle. We navigated really wrong and ended up a half mile down the road next to a high school and fair grounds that was hosting a bead convention. (Guys, seriously. I can’t make this up.)

Once we corrected our mistake and found our way back on the trail, we were pretty disheartened. But nature always likes to keep you on your toes and that’s when we came across…a discarded pair of men’s boxer-briefs. And at that point the whole journey just became comical. (That’s also the point I made up our minds to hit the bar on the way back.) As we traveled along the trail, we discussed the possible scenarios in which one would dispose of ones delicates on the sidewalk. Bath salts seemed the most plausible.

Luckily at this point, the trail started to get us back into the woods and turned into another boardwalk. The walkway led over some dried up marshland, which is when I spotted the sign that read “This is Lake Abram.” Such a blatant sign is needed when there is no water in sight. Despite the lack of H2O, we realized that we had indeed come to the end of the Lake-to-Lake trail. We promptly turned around, laughing at the cruel irony.

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I suppose this is the point where I should say something like “I’m still grateful that even in the midst of a city, people are working to find green spaces” or “It’s encouraging to see these trails pop up in suburban areas to give everyone access to the outdoors.” Instead, I’ll just say what I was really thinking on our hike back – Thank goodness for beer.

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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
valley.

 

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.