Trip Report – Hoosier National Forrest

I’ve been planning an overnight getaway to the Hoosier National Forrest (HNF) for a while now.  I prefer weeknight trips to avoid the rush of weekend warriors that fill the campsites throughout the US.  

It was funny (and totally coincidental) to see a writeup in the latest Indianapolis Monthly this month.  Even more so that they featured one of the areas I was going to visit.  Kind of made me feel better that I’d picked a good spot to visit!

I started southeast of Bloomington in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area.  Specifically at the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower.   This is one seriously tall tower! My plan was to make the trip to the top after some exploring.

After checking my map one more time I headed down the Out-and-Back Terrill Ridge Trail. I had been told from a co-worker that there were some good camping areas at the end of the trail as well as a pioneer cemetery.

As you van see it’s a pretty flat twin track trail that is used to access the cemetery. There was a sign indicating you could drive back there with permission. At the end I found the cemetery but there were N0 Camping signs everywhere so I continued to scout around.

About a 1/4 mile back there was a bend in the trail and I totally missed the sign that showed the spur trail that take you back to a Lilly pad covered pond and several disbursed sites.

Having marked a few GPS waypoints for future reference I headed back to the car. Unfortunately my IT Band started to act up half way back to climbing the tower was out of the question. I just wanted to get off my feet! It’s kind of funny an IT Guy ends up with IT Band issues…

I decided to head down to the Saddle Lake Recreation area and scope things out. They have 2 camping areas. One that’s primitive (North Face) and one that has electricity (South Slope). I decided to drive through the first one and see if there were any spots available. Sure enough the weekday excursion paid off. Plenty of sites! Since I didn’t have a reservation I stopped by the Camp Host site to see what I should do.

That’s where I met Wendy & Jerry. The had been hosting at the North Face campground since April and the had a pretty nice little setup going. This was Jerry’s first year as a host and he said he was really enjoying it. Wendy had been hosting for several years prior.

They bickered a little about which campsite to assign me, each thinking the one they had in mind was better than the other. In the end we ended up in North Face Site 18 in the and it could not have been more perfect. It was a big site with plenty of room for my 3-man tent. You could have setup a 10-man tent and still had room.

I purchased a couple of bundles of firewood and Jerry offered to bring them by once I got settled. He came by about 20-minutes later to deliver the firewood and see how I was getting along.

After a filling meal of Mountian House Chili Mac, a few IPA’s I brought back from San Antonio, and a nice campfire I retired for the night to rest up for Day-2. The tacos dipped into the 50’s and it was a very comfortable night.

As usual when camping nature is usually your best alarm clock. I was awakened by numerous song birds each singing their identifiable melody. The air was cool and, as usual, a little damp. The tree cover helped minimize the dew and kept things a lot drier than I was expecting.

I packed up camp and made sure the fire was completely out by stirring up the ashes with a stick and feeling for any warmth. We were all good!

I was heading back to Indy today but I wasn’t in any hurry. I remembered seeing an interesting rock slide the last time I was in the Marengo, Indiana area and decided to check it out before taking a tour of the Marengo Cave U.S. National Landmark.

The rock slide was right next to the road (Highway 64 near Milltown, IN) and it looked like a huge hole deep into the rock. There was a mining operation in the area as well so that might have caused the cave-in.

Marengo Cave is a nicely run operation. The whole property is clean and very well taken care of. They have camping sites available as well as places to hike and have a picnic. There are 2 tours available and you can buy a discounted package to tour both. Since I want to visit again I choose to take the shorter of the 2 tours that lasted about 40-minutes.

The Cave was discovered by 2 kids in the late 1800’s when the took a candle down into a sink hole and eventually found the first of dozens of rooms in the cave system. It’s an interesting story and the caves are worth a visit if you’re in the area.

I was passing through a little town when I saw the sign above. I had to turn around to come back and get this shot. I thought it was pretty funny.

So all in all I’ve only scratched the surface of the Hoosier National Forrest and I have several trips in the planning stages for next year (maybe one more this year if the weather cooperates). There are so many trails and places to camp it could take years to see them all. I feel fortunate we have such a well run National forrest in Indiana and I plan to visit again soon!

This trip came about from a casual conversation with a co-worker and the tips and suggestions he provided made this a very enjoyable few days! Do you have a favorite place in the HNF? I’d love to hear form you.


Trip Report – Red River Gorge (Part-1)

Trip Intro
This is going to be a multi-part post over the next few weeks. I took a ton of photos and want to share some of them here as well as detail the trip as best as I can. I hope you enjoy and I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

I decided to take advantage of the July 4th holiday being on a Wednesday this year and plan a Hiking/Camping/Fishing getaway. Initially I was looking at the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to do some camping and cycling. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do up there but then I stumbled upon a YouTube video that featured the Red River Gorge (RRG) in Kentucky. It looked to have a lot of the things I was looking for and was a lot closer to Indy than the U.P.

I watched several more videos and was convinced this is were I needed to go on this trip. I was a little concerned about the holiday crowds and found the camping situation a little confusing. I opted to rent an inexpensive cabin so I’d have a place to stay and explore the area. I really wanted to camp too so I booked one the last available spots at a Kentucky State Park called Big Bone Lick that’s on the way to RRG.

Packing & Prep
Since I was going to travel solo and base out of a cabin I pretty much packed everything I though I’d need from camping supplies, to fishing gear, as well as an assortment of food and entertainment options. Of course I packed entirely too much but I had the room and figured this would be a good test to see what I’d actually use vs what I think I needed.

I store the gear for each of my hobbies in large, stackable, plastic bins that are easy to just grab and go. I ended up with the following assortment (some bins had more than one category):

  • Food and Cooking (cook pot, stove, fuel, dehydrated food, snacks)
  • Sleep System (tent, footprint, hammock, tarp, sleeping bag)
  • Fishing Gear (waders, boots, tackle)
  • Hiking Gear (packs, boots, trekking poles, maps, compass)
  • Clothing (hiking, fishing, sleeping)
  • Misc (electronics, lights, batteries)
  • Cooler (food, drinks, snacks)
  • Water (7-gallon plastic Jerry can)

This gave me the option to go with the flow and hike a little, fish a little, and relax. I’ll admit this is a lot of gear to bring but like I said, this is a shakedown to see what I would really use.

Car Problems
I was about 500 miles away from scheduled maintenance on the car so I thought I might as well stop at the dealer and get it knocked out. Boy was that a mistake… Long story short, the oil filter (that sits on top of the engine in this car) didn’t get seated correctly and proceeded to leak oil all over the engine as I drove to work. By the time I got there the car was smoking like it was on fire. After a tow back to the dealer I got home with a freshly cleaned engine at 8pm. It was still smoking a little as what was left burned off. By the time I got to my first stop the next day all was well again.

Day 1 – Leaving Home
I got things organized starting a few days before departure and loaded it all up the morning of the trip. Since everything was already grouped and in a bin it was easy to just slide things in and hit the road.

I use a medium sized snowboard roof rack (I think it’s designed to old 2-3 boards) to transport the fishing poles. It’s a lot easier than trying to have them in the car and the racks lock so things stay pretty secure and out of the way. I can carry about 10 rods and reels with this setup but I usually only have 3-4 up there.

REI Cincinatti
My first stop of the day was REI in Cincinnati. I was hoping they would have some maps and info on RRG. I was able to find a book dedicated the the trail system in the area & it’s been a great purchase. I found some areas I didn’t know about and more detail on the areas I was focusing on this trip.

Findlay Market
If you haven’t been to Findlay Market you should stop and check it out next time you’re in the area. I usually go on the weekend and it’s a lot different during the week (not nearly as many vendors). The market has a lot of specialty vendors and you can find some great food and produce.

Newport on the Levee
I haven’t visited this place for a while and WOW, it’s changed a lot. I almost got lost because of all the new construction. I mainly just stopped buy to do a quick walk through and get some pictures of the Cincy skyline (annnddd I left my phone in the car, oops!).

USA Soccer & Thunder Storms
The day was ticking along and I was killing a little time before heading to the campground. I happened to find a Drakes sports bar in the city of Florence and it was just in time to watch the Team USA beat England in the Women’s World Cup. A pop up thunderstorm happened to hit while I was watching the game. It also blew through the campsite I was driving to too, so taking a break to watch the game turned out to be a good idea.

Big Bone Lick State Park
This park has a lot of fosses in the area because it had an abundance of salt licks in the prehistoric days that attracted animals to the site. Today they have a herd of buffalo roaming the grasslands.

I arrived at camp a little after the front office closed so I cruised back to the spot I had reserved. Interestingly the 3 spots next to me were marked off and not being used. The other side of me had an RV from New York and their porch was on the other side, so I had a pretty private site at the back of the camp with very little traffic.

The neighbors turned in about the time it got dark and I sat out under the stars and enjoyed some wine and cheese before climbing in the tent and listened to the crickets and frogs until I fell asleep.

Day 2 – Waking up to Nature
The birds in the trees had me awake at sunrise and the Daddy Long Legs spider that ran across my face was better than any alarm clock I’ve ever used. As I exited the tent I could not believe how many of these spiders were on my tent. Took a while to brush them all off and pack up the tent.

I’m not a big breakfast eater and since I had a lot of things to do that day I packed camp up and hit the road about 8am. About 9am I got a craving for a Sausage McMuffin and had to stop. I also wanted a sweet tea which, I think, gets better the further south you travel in the US.

Buffalo Trace Distillery
The first stop of the day was the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort Kentucky. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States. The tour was pretty basic compared to other producers like Woodford Reserve and Makers Mark but it was very interesting to learn more about the history of the facility.

After the tour and tasking (it was 11 am so not too early for a nip) the gift shop had a nice selection for purchase. Sadly there was no Blanton’s or Pappy Van Winkle for sale.

Lunch
I had a few ideas for places to eat lunch in the Frankfort area but one was closed and the other one looked a little sketchy. I fired up Yelp and found a place about 20-minutes away called The Stave.

The Stave is in the middle of nowhere and is inside an old farm house. Once I got cellular coverage again I realized I was just down the road from the Woodford Reserve Distillery. The lunch menu had a nice variety of dishes. I settled on the Pig & Pickles sandwich with fries (as well as another sweet tea). The sandwich was amazing, and the fries were double cooked and perfectly crunchy.

My server asked me if I was one of the “Lookie-loos” and I had to ask her for some clarification. Evidently there was a big warehouse fire at a Jack Daniels warehouse the night before and the place was crawling with Media and people trying to see the damage.

Up next, driving to Red River Gorge. Lots more to come over the next few weeks. I have some more gear reviews in the works as well. Stay Tuned!

Trip Report – Turkey Run State Park

I took an opportunity towards the end of May to take a day off work and go exploring at Turkey Run State Park. It had been years since I last visited and I really didn’t remember it very well.

The weather was just about perfect and I was surprised how close the park actually was to Indianapolis. When I arrived I was one of the only cars in the lot and the Nature Center was just opening. I settled on what’s called the “5-Mile Challenge” which in reality is 5.9 miles of combined trails around the park with photo ops along the way to complete the challenge (and get a sticker).

I was excited to try my new trail shoes and Merino Wool Socks that I reviewed in a previous post and set off towards the suspension bridge that takes you across Sugar Creek. There are a LOT of stairs at Turkey Run and you encounter them almost immediately when you leave the parking area.

As I started off on the first trail it was obvious that this was going to be a wet day. The trails were pretty sloppy but overall well groomed and marked. Some sections required some creative use of the trekking poles to navigate between trees and over rocks.

As I climbed in elevation the trail started to dry out and I was able to relax and enjoy the sounds of the woods. After 3 miles things started to get interesting when the trail descended into the various ravines and sandstone cliffs. At times the trail was part of the stream bed and it was nice to clean the shoes off in the cold water and have the socks instantly warm up my feet as the water worked its way out.

The final stretch of the loop was the most technical as well as the most beautiful. The sandstone walls towered above and the water continued to etch its way through the canyons towards Sugar Creek. It’s really hard to believe this park is only an hour outside Indianapolis. The crowds were starting to increase and I was starting to feel the effort to get up, down, in, and around the trail.

Overall I’d say Turkey Run is a great place for a day hike and has enough variety that it would take several trips to see it all. Camping is available and was completely sold out when I drove over to check out the sites.

I have some more gear to review in the upcoming months as well as a multi-day trip to the south that I’ll be blogging about soon! Thanks for reading and be sure to leave any comments or questions you might have.

Gear Review – Altra Lone Peak 4 Trail Runners

I’m back!  I kind of lost interest in the blog over the winter and made the (mistake?) of purchasing Red Dead Redemption 2.  That game is a HUGE time suck but amazing and I don’t regret it.

I also got hooked on some new YouTube channels* over the winter and it’s rekindled my desire to be outdoor more often.  I already enjoy cycling and kayaking but haven’t really been camping/backpacking/hiking since I was in Scouts.

After a long winter of watching these channels I could not help but be ready for better weather and a chance to get outside again.  Several of the YouTubers are through hikers and have either hiked the Appalachian trail or are in the process.  While I think that would be an amazing accomplishment It’s not something I see myself doing in the near future.  I’m just fine with shorter adventures.

A piece of gear that’s critical when hiking is footwear.  I’ve always worn traditional hiking boots.  They provide great ankle stability but they’re heavy and, if waterproof, make your feet hot and sweaty.  They also really suck if you happen to get water IN them.

A new category of footwear called the “Trail Runner” was introduced to me over the winter.  These are a hybrid between a boot and a running shoe.  The most popular appear to be from a company called Altra and the model mentioned more than anything else was the Lone Peak 4.

Altra Lone Peak 4

After a few hikes around Indy in my traditional hikers and a pair of low rise boots I realized my feet were going to be an issue.  I already have a pair of custom orthotics that I wear in some of my shoes but they’re not very comfortable to walk in for miles at a time.

A review in Outside Magazine help me decide to purchase these shoes and then it happened…  REI had one of their big sales & I was able to pick up a pair of Lone Peak 4’s for 30% off!  I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the sale.  REI was selling these things like deep fried Oreos at the State Fair.

In the store the Lone Peak’s felt a little weird at first because the front (toe box) of the shoe is very wide and they have what’s called a “Zero Drop” which puts your foot level with the ground vs raised in the back.  They also fit different and I ended up going 1.5 sizes larger than I typically wear.  I was a little concerned this was going to be an issue and worried about blisters which I got a lot in Scouts with traditional hiking boots.

Altra Lone Peak 4

Following the advice in the Outside review I ordered a couple of pairs of Merino Wool Socks for breathability and the ability to keep your feet warm and dry.  I’ll detail it more in an upcoming trip report but let’s just say the combo worked better than anything I have ever tried.

I decided to try the Altra’s out on a 6-mile rugged loop at Turkey Run State Park (I’m planning on a trip report soon).  As soon as I started walking I could feel an immediate difference.  The Merino Socks were a little slippery and the shoes were “Squishy” (technical term).  

After the 2nd mile on the trail I was a fan.  My feet felt amazing and the rock guard build into the sole kept the bottoms of my feet protected and comfortable.  I usually have issues with rocks (gravel especially) bothering the balls of my feet when trail walking.

Then came the ultimate test.  Time to get my feet wet as the trail went up, through, and along a stream (several in fact).  The Outdoor review was totally right.  As soon as you leave the water the shoes pump the water out and the wool socks help you feet dry out and stay warm.  I’ve NEVER had so much FUN getting my feet wet!  Normally this is something you want to avoid when hiking but I was stomping through the water like a little kid and enjoying every minute of it.  

Traction was excellent and after finishing the loop my only complaint was some knee pain which I later found was a result of descending the numerous hills, and something I can help with some more conditioning and maybe some better insoles.

I’m pretty much sold on the Trail Runner concept and I look forward to putting a few more miles on these shoes this weekend. If you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional hiking boots you should give these a try. They make different versions for different situations but I’ve found the Loan Peak 4’s to be a great all around shoe for my needs.

*The YouTube Channels that hooked me (in no particular order):
Outdoor Adventures
The Outdoor Gear Review
Dan Becker
Homemade Wanderlust
Darwin on the Trail

92 County Geocaching Adventure

Just got back from a 2-day adventure with my son in Southern Indiana collecting Geocaches in 2o new counties. The goal is to visit all 92 Indiana Counties and log a Geocache in each one. After this trip we only have 16 counties left to complete the challenge. We were hoping to complete the challenge this year but we’re not going to make it.

Only 16 more counties to go after this trip!

It took quite a lot of planning for this 2-day trip. With so much ground to cover we needed to be as efficient as we could be but still have some fun. After a lot of research I identified 20 Geocaches that had multiple “Favorite Points” as voted on by other Cachers. This usually means a Geocache is something special and not just a 35mm film container (or pill bottle) in a bush. I was hoping that by choosing favorited caches we would have more fun and my 15-year old son would stay interested in our goal.

The Plan…

Of course when the day came we had rainy (but WARM) weather. We ended up with Rain on day-1 and a cold front in the afternoon of day-2. Considering this was between Christmas and New Years I was really happy with the overall 50-degree conditions.

Below is a gallery of the photos taken during the trip. We had a great time and are already planning to get the remaining counties in the next few weeks (if the weather cooperates!).

Evansville Sunset
Fire Tower!
West Baden Christmas Tree