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

img_20170224_105133882

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.

 img_20170224_111003983

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:

 img_20170224_110829098_hdr

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.

 img_20170224_105039916

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!

img_20170223_132507702_hdr

Advertisements

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?

10577012_10101458908469054_5503241517337896809_n

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.

img_20170218_115521563

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!)

img_20170218_123421945

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.  

20170218_114108

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:

capture

 

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.

20170218_115645

 

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.

20170218_123415

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.

20170218_130632

His – Brandywine Falls – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

20170205_131348

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.

20170205_125559
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.

20170205_130318

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.

20170205_140532

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.

20170205_132511

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.

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.

20170129_144946

 

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.

20170129_142146

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!

20170129_155406