Hers – Gorge Metro Park

There were so many good things about this past Sunday, and the hike Casey and I took was just was the cherry on top. Actually, I take that back. The milkshakes we got after the hike were the cherries on top…but more about that later.

We headed about 40 miles south to the Akron area for this week’s hike. Earlier in the week Casey had sent me a link about some of the best hiking spots near Cleveland, and Gorge Metro Park was on the list. Since we had both never been before we decided to check it out, and I’m so glad we did. I read on the site that the Gorge Trail was one of the most scenic, but also the most difficult being classified as “Primitive” and earning a “Class D status.” (Neither of us knew what Class D meant…but more on that in a minute as well.)

After checking the trail map when we got to the park, we found the Gorge Trail and headed off. Unfortunately, so did most of the other people that were there. The trail was crowded and we got stuck behind a group smoking (One of my absolute pet peeves – I go into nature for fresh air not secondhand smoke. Also, this Earth is not your freaking ashtray. Pick up your damn cigarette butts up. OK, rant over.) and talking about one of their friends – a heroin addict who’s been on methadone for two years with only one slip up, but now she’s on a pretty good track and forming a relationship with her kids. Luckily, I found an opening on the trail and picked up the pace to quickly leave that group in the dust. After a couple comments about the conversation we had overheard, Casey and I were able to regain some focus on the nature around us.

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As we started up an incline, we really began to lose the crowds. We came to a crossroads where one direction was deemed “easy” and the other was deemed “hard.” Naturally, we chose the hard way (is there really any other way?!). Immediately we began to climb in elevation – over rocks and through rock tunnels – until we reached the top of the gorge. We saw what looked like a path down to the river below and started down it. Loose gravel and soil gave way under my feet. I found a slight overlook and stopped for a moment. I told Casey that I really didn’t think it was a trail, but rather just a run off and asked if he wanted to continue. He said he definitely thought we could make it. I took a deep breath and kept going, knowing that after that point there was no turning back. (I think this is probably both of our biggest strength and weakness. We’re both stubborn to the point of possible foolishness.) One of my biggest fears is falling, and I was envisioning myself tumbling down the cliff face we were attempting to scale down. But I didn’t want Casey to see that fear, so I tried my hardest to just get down all by myself. There was one moment that I knew I needed to take his hand, and I’m grateful he was there to help me, but at the same time, I wish I could’ve just done it completely by myself. (See? I told you. Stupid stubborn.)

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When we finally made it down, we darted toward the rushing river – excited that we had finally made it to solid ground. Only then did we look back. My jaw dropped at the sight of the cliff we had somehow just scrambled down. It was so steep, and it was definitely not a path that we took. As we walked along the river, we came up with what Class D could possibly mean. D for “Difficult.” D for “Da fuck you thinking?!” D for “Don’t fall.” (In case you want to know the REAL definition: The Class D designation is for primitive hiking trails with steep, narrow and irregular routes and rocks and roots.)

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We continued on an easy path (anything after that would be considered easy) along the river until we finally came to the major draw of the park – a pretty decent sized waterfall. Casey and I parked it on a rock to watch the falls for a few minutes before making our way back to the car (and back to the crowds). As we were heading out, he asked if I wanted to get a milkshake. We had earned it, and it was definitely the cherry on top of a fun, difficult, scary, rewarding and totally-worth-it hike.

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His – West Creek Reservation

20170402_160614.jpgWe were back at it again for hike number fourteen of the year. The weather was pristine, the people were out in droves, and they ALL brought their dogs. I’m a huge animal lover; dogs will always have a soft spot in my heart. When I see them, I often tell Tara about how I want to kidnap them and give them a better home. We have a cat, Zooey, who is an only child, so I can’t act on my inhibitions. However, it will never stop me from dreaming of pooch-napping every single one of them… well except small dogs, because those aren’t really dogs.

Tara deserves a lot of credit for her patience with me this week. I was like a squirrel that drank four Redbulls and followed it up with a couple of pots of coffee. Everything caught my eye. Tara’s brakes and maneuverability were put to the test. I really just couldn’t help myself. We usually go a bit earlier, which means lunch is afterwards. I had a full belly and a racing mind. I was overly fascinated and incredibly terrified by my first ever up close look at a couple of cell phone towers. For those who don’t know, the His portion of the blog is deathly afraid of heights. So, looking straight up at something like this causes sweaty palms and raised blood pressure.

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For those who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a country bumpkin in some respects. I don’t wander about in the midst of the city. Towers are just fixtures amongst a city skyline. Other than the towers there were a couple of things I noticed on this hike. One, Western Reserve Creek is not a bad spot. You think a park jammed in between Parma and Independence would lack the charm and outdoorsy rural feel most are looking for when hiking. You’d be wrong about judging this book by its cover. We’ve had our share of urban adventures (please refer to Garfield Heights and Big Creek blogs). This one was surprisingly pleasant.

 

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There were quite a few people out that I wouldn’t expect – (yes, Pokémon Go players are back) but once we made it past the paved portion of trails it was peaceful and serene. It was muddy trails and dense forest. You can tell the trees are on the brink of exploding back to life. The chirping of birds, crickets, and croaking of frogs tell you that spring is in the air. @HisandHerHiking (shameless plug – follow us on Instagram and Facebook) is ready for all the green to come back after 6 months of gray.

The other observation from this week is you need several copies of Rosetta Stone to keep up with all the different dialects. If you want to properly eaves drop and people watch you HAVE to be multi-lingual in this reservation. It always amazes me that even when in the middle of the rust belt you will hear a variety of heavy accents and foreign conversations. All in all, the warm weather brought a longing to go deeper into the woods, escape the wailing sirens and bustling roads, pitch a tent and escape it all. Those days aren’t all that far away. Until then, poor Tara will have to deal with squirrels and their caffeine habits.

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His – Penitentiary Glen – Kirtland, OH

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There’s something magical about getting outside and exploring new surrounding areas. I heard a statistic on the radio today: 70% of Americans visit less than ten states in their lifetime. How sad is that? Ever since starting this blog and our quest of fifty-two hikes in fifty-two weeks I’ve been consumed with exploring. It’s easily the highlight of my week, and this week was no exception. Tara had sent me a list on Friday and told me to pick a landing spot (www.naturalohioadventures.com). I scrolled through and found myself in Lake County – an area we already visited last year, but a new reservation to the both of us: Penitentiary Glen.

Overall, this weekend was great. We had such pristine weather for Northeast Ohio – mid sixties with plenty of sunshine. It was also Tara’s birthday!!! (Happy Birthday babe!)  The night before our hike we had a going away party for one of my best friends who is deploying overseas for his first tour of duty as an officer in the United States Army; Bill – thank you for your service and sacrifice.

This could easily be one of my favorite hikes ever. I will admit – I was in a terrible mood going into it. I play rec league basketball every Sunday morning. We were promptly blown out by almost forty points. The other team dropped over one hundred on us. Simply put, I was embarrassed. I was so embarrassed that I just grabbed my belongings and left without saying a word after the game. Yes, I know, its rec league basketball, but the frustrations of only winning one game over the past four months has me thirsting for a win. Sunday, down our best player, felt like we took a huge step back.

Anyway, when I got back to the apartment, hiking was the last thing on my mind. I had half a mind to crack open a beer and park it on the couch all day. Tara and I don’t do well with a day of idleness so we cooked breakfast and got ready to go. We drove the forty minutes to the park and picked the longest trail available – Rabbit Run Loop. This trail sounds innocent, but if you choose this one, be prepared for some serious hiking.

Rabbit Run will at first lull you to sleep. An easy crushed gravel path, relatively flat terrain, and the humming of a nearby road make it seem less than spectacular. I remember opening my big mouth and complaining about the description of – “Length: 2.63 miles / Difficulty: Hard / Trail Description: Best and longest trail in the park. Loop trail that parallels the southern rim of the gorge and descends into it at the trail’s easternmost point.” Tara forewarned me that I’d regret it. I ended up eating crow, and boy did it taste good.

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The description nailed it! It dove deep into the woods. The crushed gravel turned into mud, leaves, and a variety of exciting terrain. We crossed over, under, and across downed trees. We tested our footing and balance in the middle of a stream on some moss covered rocks, and we scaled up the side of a mud filled 100+ foot ascent. The best part about it: all I could hear was nature. Tara and I celebrated the whole way through the trail.

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We’ve recently been messing around with the Boomerang app on Instagram and laughed at some of the crazy videos we created. (Don’t forget to follow us for unseen footage and pictures: @HisAndHerHiking.) We talked and bull shitted our way through the trail and ended up in the Nature Center where we discovered a few woodland creatures on display. As we climbed in the car, we BARELY beat a mid-afternoon downpour and spent the rest of the day on the couch resting and watching basketball.

I did lose the #HisAndHer6packChallenge … those pesky Tarheels won one of the best basketball games I’ve seen in quite a while. This would be a weekend for the scrapbook – if I made such a thing. I encourage all of you to get out and explore. Don’t be a part of the 70% who doesn’t explore the beauty of this country; it’s only a small car ride away.

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Hers – Penitentiary Glen Reservation, Kirtland OH

Did you ever not want to do something but then forced yourself to do it and it turned out to be a ton of fun? That pretty much sums up my hike on Sunday.

I was feeling a little under the weather in the morning (cough hungover cough) from celebrating my birthday a bit too much. I just turned 31. That’s 10 years older than 21, which means I’m 10 years removed from being able to party like I was 21. I’m not good at math, but I quickly learned that lesson over the weekend.

Anyways, Casey and I both rallied Sunday afternoon to get our butts in gear and out to Kirtland, Ohio. We’ve hiked around this area before, and I’m a kind of in love with it. (So in love that I may or may not be house searching on Zillow.) As we left the city limits behind, I began to feel better and better.

When we pulled into the main entrance, I was impressed to find a pretty large nature center, small amphitheater, farm, gardens and paved trails. There were quite a few cars in the parking lot and plenty of families with kids running around, so I was slightly concerned that it’d be a bit too loud for my headache. Luckily Casey and I chose the Rabbit Run Trail, a 2.6-mile difficult loop that apparently most families don’t attempt. We quickly found ourselves alone in the middle of the woods. (Get your mind outta the gutter, this isn’t that kind of blog!)

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The trail started off very easy, as a crushed gravel path that led into the trees. And then it quickly turned into a dirt trail covered with leaves. And then it quickly turned into crossing fallen logs. Mind you my legs were still slightly shaky and my balance certainly wasn’t on point, so I was a little concerned I wasn’t going to be able to handle this kind of trail in my “condition.” But it’s amazing what some fresh air can do for a person. (A new hangover cure? Drink a bottle of Gatorade, take two aspirin and get your butt outside.)

All of a sudden Casey and I were crossing over downed trees, rock hopping across a steam and climbing up a pretty intense, muddy hill. It was awesome!

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I had also recently downloaded the boomerang app, and we had a blast recording funny videos along the way. (Shameless self promotion time! Follow @hisandherhiking on Instagram!) But the best part? The confetti. I’m a firm believer in buying yourself a birthday present, so I thought there was no better way to celebrate the big 3-1 than to purchase a glitter/confetti popper. (Ok, I also got myself a pair of socks and a bottle of bourbon.) I was saving it for just the right moment, and what better moment for confetti than in the middle of the woods?! Guys … I’ve come to the conclusion that the key to solving all of life’s problems is to shower yourself in confetti once a month. Done. Problems solved. Try it and thank me later.

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I honestly can’t tell you how much fun I had on this hike. I feel like Casey and I needed that. We needed to get back to being our silly selves and just not giving a damn out in nature. Fresh air and a long walk really are good for the soul.

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Hers – Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation

After being out of town last weekend and dealing with getting back to reality this week, we decided to stick fairly close to home and celebrate Cleveland this weekend. We headed to the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation, which is part of the Cleveland Metro Parks system and the start of the Towpath Trail that stretches nearly 100 miles connecting Cleveland to Akron.

It seems only fitting that our very Cleveland hike would feature temps in the 20s, a bit of snow on the ground and some biting wind. We layered up, headed out and started off at the trail head off of Harvard Avenue. It’s a multi-use, two lane paved path that’s very clearly marked along the way. The start of the trail is surrounded by quite a few factories and old industry, but we knew we weren’t going to be immersed in nature on this hike. (I made sure to temper Casey’s expectations so there’d be less disappointment this time!)

The trail is really representative of the city. I like to call it “steelyard chic.” To me, there’s beauty in the rusting railroad tracks and brick smokestacks, and that’s exactly what this trail followed along –  industry on one side, the canal and trees on the other.

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For being centrally located, the trail was surprisingly quiet. We saw a few other joggers, but mostly had the place to ourselves. There was a slight hum of the factories, but mostly just the sounds of birds and geese overhead.

Placed along the path are remnants of the industry that used to make its home along the canal. We saw an old railroad car, different wheels and large fixtures that the Cleveland Metro Parks has done an excellent job of turning into educational art along the way.

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I was feeling a bit under the weather (I swear it happens every time I return from vacation…like the coming back to a snow storm after being on a beach isn’t hard enough, my body also decides that it’s time for a sinus infection), so we decided to walk two miles down and back. The first mile down seemed to blow past, but the second mile was dragging a little bit. I pointed out a train trestle bridge in the distance and told Casey that I’d like to turn around once we got there. It just so happened to be our two-mile mark anyways.

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When we turned around, however, we were immediately hit by a bitter wind. I had just warmed up as we were walking into the sun, but the walk back would be into the wind. I was beginning to feel worse and dreading the walk back a bit. But then Casey and I got to talking about our past relationships and future together and all of a sudden we were back at the car. It’s like our surroundings and time kind of disappeared, and it was just the two of us lost in conversation. I didn’t actually mind the cold one bit.

We fittingly ended celebration of Cleveland walk with a trip to the West Side Market. It’s just a few miles from the trailhead, so if you’re out that way, I highly recommend making a stop and stocking up on amazing local food. It’s a Cleveland staple, so we naturally stocked up on bacon, Irish pasties and plenty of pierogis.

 

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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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.