His – Hinckley Reservation

noun

noun: slog; plural noun: slogs

  1. 1.

a spell of difficult, tiring work or traveling.

“it would be a hard slog back to the camp”

synonyms: hard worktoil, toiling, laboreffortexertiongrinddrudgery; More

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This is the word I will use to describe this week’s hike. There are other words that were used on the trail this week. Most of them would make your mother blush and probably would be followed up with washing your mouth out with soap. We knew going into our 52 hikes in 52 weeks challenge that they all wouldn’t be pleasant. Hiking is, literally and figuratively, filled with ups and downs. However, Tara and I made a promise to each other at the beginning of this year that we’d do this together and hold each other accountable.

The weather finally broke this weekend. Saturday was in the sixties and yesterday was in the seventies. It was a welcoming forecast considering we had a freak snow storm only day before. For those who have never been, Ohio can be a bit temperamental this time of year. I think a small contributor to why this hike was a slog this week was the amount of physical activity that I participated in this weekend. Saturday was a 5K at the Cleveland zoo (new PR of 25:39!!!), followed by walking around the zoo. I came home only to leave out again with Tara.

We went to a bunch of stores for a bunch of random items. The highlight of our purchases was patio furniture from Big Lots (I’m very pumped to get my money’s worth out of it this summer). Sunday I woke up early to go grab my golf clubs, followed by basketball, followed by golf, and then our hike. My muscles are were and still are on fire. I was worn out before the hike even started. Tara assured me we could go later in the week, but, I insisted on pressing on.  We made our way out to Hinckley Reservation in Hinckley, OH.

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We probably should have just turned around when we arrived. The rest of Northeast Ohio was at Hinckley Reservation yesterday with us. We’ve hiked it together before so we set down a familiar path around the lake. It turned out to be a poor choice. The path, which is mostly dirt and roots, was drowned by all the melting snow. (Remember the freak snow storm?) Every step was cold, wet, grueling mud. I don’t know if many people know this, but I consider myself an introvert. I need time to get away from people and recharge my batteries. That’s one of my favorite attributes of hiking – peace and quiet in the woods… far, far away from people.

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There would be none of that yesterday. No peace, no quiet, no alone time… People. Were. Everywhere. It just wasn’t my day. Not only were these people out, they were annoying and in the way. One woman in particular was with her daughter and an overweight beagle named Cooper. She had some peculiar habits… she’d speed walk ahead of the daughter and the plump Mr. Cooper and when she lost sight of them would come storming back and scold them for not keeping pace.  This would usually be comical for me, but with how muddy the trail was yesterday it limited your path for walking. The lady (and I use the term loosely) clearly had very little manners and repeatedly cut us off and splash mud on me in the process. I really just felt bad for my chubby friend Coops. He just wanted to be at home dipping into his endless supply of Milk-bones and Beggin’ Strips.

We finally outpaced most of the riff-raff on the trail and got to the asphalt multi-use path. At this point Tara and I agreed that the hike just felt like work this week. We compromised to go home, knock out our chores, cook dinner and drink a few adult beverages. That’s exactly what we did. On the drive home we did confide in each other that the walk was worthwhile, even though it didn’t go as planned. I think we both got what we needed out of the hike this week even if it was slogging through the crowded woods. And to wrap this up, just because I said I would, “Go fuck yourself San Diego.”

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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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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.