Stay Safe Out There – Help is Available!

Hi Everyone, I hope you’re all taking precautionary measures & staying safe. It’s going to be a rough couple of weeks but I’m positive we can overcome this and become stronger as a nation.

If you’re a small business owner or an employee of one impacted by the Pandemic I urge you to look into programs being put together by your local and regional Chambers of Commerce (even if you’re not a member). They can help you in these trying times by connecting you to resources providing assistance.

The Government is, at this time, close to approving a HUGE financial assistance program aimed at those that need it the most. It’s been a struggle to get it passed because of infighting and partisan politics. When passed the influx of cash into the economy will hopefully provide relief, however brief, and start the process of healing and recovery.

As of midnight tonight Indiana will be on a lockdown, similar to a lot of other states in the nation. I hope this helps combat the spread of Covid-19. I’m also very glad it’s a “hunker down” request so we still have the ability to go to work (for those who have essential jobs) and get groceries, etc. Everyone seems pretty calm right now, as opposed to 2 weeks ago, so I think this is a good sign.

We’ll see how things turn out in a day or two. I certainly don’t think we’ll be back to work as a Nation by Easter but if we are I’m not go to complain!

Vegas Vacation 2019

Thursday – This year I decided to take a little winter break trip with my 16 year old son. Las Vegas was going to be a new experience for both of us and I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’d been told several times it’s OK to take kids there. I used Costco Travel to purchase a package that included Airfare, 2-Room Suite and Full Sized Car. It was pretty reasonable given the trip was during the holidays. I’m sure we could have spent less if we went a different time.

We arrived at the Indy airport about 2 hours before the flight and had to park in the garage due to Fast Park and the long term lot being totally full. That was $100 I was not planning on spending…

We ended up flying through security and sat around for an hour and 50 minutes. Go figure… TSA staff said we missed the early morning rush. Given it was “the busiest travel day” of the year I expected some long lines. I think the most I’ve ever waited in the Indy TSA line is 15 minutes.

United’s puddle jumper to O’Hare decided it didn’t want to fly causing us to not only get to O’Hare late but also miss our connecting flight. They had to re-book us on an American flight & it included a 4-hour layover in Chicago. At this point we were hoping our bags made it to Vegas. 

The flight to Vegas on AA was uneventful but as expected our bags didn’t make it. The United app said they were on an earlier flight. When I talked to AA they said the bags were still in Chicago and would be on a flight that got in at 1:30am. 

Exhausted after 12 hours of miscues we filled out the necessary paperwork, picked up our rental car, and headed to the Venetian hotel for the night, hoping our bags would be at the hotel in the morning. 

Friday – Still on Indiana time I woke up quite early and checked the United app, sure enough the bag status had changed to say they had, in fact, been on the 1:30am flight. A call to United pointed the finger at AA and the call to AA baggage claim went unanswered.

Since we had a full schedule for the days I decided to head back to the airport (10 minutes away) and directly to the United baggage claim. You know what? Our bags were sitting in the lobby with no indication that they needed to be sent to the hotel. I was happy to take possession and wasn’t even asked for any kind of ID or luggage tag check, scary right?

With our missing luggage in hand we freshened up and made a beeline to the Hoover Dam with the anticipation that the earlier we got there the better. We were right, as we were able to get tickets for the first tour and watch the masses pour in as we were finishing the tour.

Unfortunately the recent rains had flooded part of the tour so we were unable to go into the dam, but the remaining tour, including the power plant, was very well done and fascinating! I highly recommend this tour but make sure you get there early.

Since we were so close you Arizona we dipped into the state to pickup a Geocache and claim a log in a new state. It was on an abandoned bridge along the highway so it was a quick stop.

Boulder City was next on the itinerary for sone lunch and further itinerary planning. Boulder City Brewing Company hit the spot and we were back on the road headed southwest to check out the Seven Magic Mountains along I-15. 

Seven Magic Mountains can bee seen from I-15 but you need to exit several miles before the art display or you’ll need to backtrack a dozen miles or so. It’s an interesting display of painted rocks and it’s quite the tourist destination. I was amazed by the number of people vitiating on a Friday afternoon.

We completed our Friday drive with a stop at Del Taco to see how it stacked up to Taco Bell. In one word… BETTER. It was super clean inside and the food was nice and hot. The key difference between Del Taco and Taco Bell is the freshly grated cheese and the sauces. We were both glad we stopped and really wished we had one of these in Indy!

The rest of the day consisted of us wandering around the Venetian hotel and trying not to get lost. It’s amazing how many high end stores and restaurants they had under one roof. We found a new British Pub and closed the evening out with some proper grub and a pint of Guinness for me.

Saturday – Sleep came a lot easier than the night before now that we’d secured our luggage and walked more in one day than in recent months. The filling pub food didn’t hurt either. We awoke with the sun and finalized our plan to head out into the desert and explore some of the less famous landmarks in the area.

If you can, it’s a good idea to get away from the Strip to eat. We found a neat little place called Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast. It’s a small, family run, breakfast/lunch spot with Lulu herself taking care of customers personally. Our breakfast sandwiches and chorizo veggie hash filled our bellies before our journey into the desert to check out some of the lesser known landmarks.

We headed Northwest out of the city and really enjoyed the scenery. The roads were in great shape and traffic was pretty light. We drove for about an hour before stopping at a rest area to stretch our legs. From there we headed South for 2 hours. Along the way we found a few places to stop and take pictures.

Unfortunately one of the stops was not planned and included a roadside discussion with the California Highway Patrol. As soon as I saw him approaching us northbound a quick glance of my speedometer told me it was probably going to end up with a traffic stop. It’s VERY easy to speed in the desert, especially in a rental car that you’re not familiar with. If I would have had my Valentine 1 Radar Detector I might have had enough notice to check my speed. In the end it was a pleasant discussion with the Trooper Friendly and a ticket for a lot less over the limit than what he clocked me at.

We proceeded south to the town of Baker to check out a few places. Alien Jerky was a HUGE tourist draw. It’s a pretty cool looking building and very easy to spot with the Alien light poles. The other landmark was the World’s Largest Thermometer that stands 134-feet and commemorates the record 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) recorded in nearby Death Valley on July 10, 1913.

Looping back to Las Vegas on I-15 was pretty uneventful until we went through Mountain Pass. There was a nice covering of snow and cars pulled over along the side of the road for miles. They weren’t stopped because of the road conditions they were stopped because people wanted to PLAY in the snow along the highway! It was a weird sight and one of the stranger things we saw on the trip.

I hear that no trip to Vegas is complete until you visit In-N-Out Burger. We had some time before the car was due back and were both getting a little hungry. As my Son’s suggestion we ordered a pair of Animal Style Doubles and Animal Style fries. It was a solid meal. The Animal Sauce differentiated it from Steak and Shake or Smash Burger. I’d eat here any time.

Sunday – Today was the day we decided to be tourists. We slept in a little and hit the Grand Lux for breakfast. This is by far the most reasonably priced restaurant in the complex. I’ve eaten at the one on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. They offered a $30 breakfast buffet that looked very good but we knew we would be walking a lot today so we both decided against a huge breakfast.

Up to this point I hadn’t even put a penny in a slot machine and I was starting to get the itch. My son wanted to watch some sports in the hotel room so I had an hour or two to explore on my own. I visited the casino desk and got my loyalty card with some free credits on it and hit the slots.

WOW you can blow though some cash pretty quick on the slots. Once I got about $30 down I gave that up and switched to Roulette and Blackjack. At least with these games you can slow down your losses. I went up and down $100 in each direction and ended my adventure with a loss. It was a lot of fun but I think I prefer the newly legal sports betting back in Indy that I can do from the comfort of my couch.

We ventured out of the Venetian complex on foot and walked the strip a bit. It wasn’t very busy in the morning so we enjoyed that. You can tell the city has spent a lot of money on security. There are 4-foot bollards along both sides of the street for it’s entirety as well as several elevated pedestrian bridges to get people across the street safely. Cameras are everywhere and the police presence is noticeable. It feels like a pretty safe place to be overall.

Caesars Palace and the Bellagio are filled with more high end shops and restaurants. In fact, all of the hotels we walked through pretty much looked the same. We made a big loop and walked for a few hours before returning to our room to watch some football.

Dinner was back at the Grand Lux where we enjoyed a really nice pasta dish and some mini beef wellingtons. We also picked up a cookie and croissant at the Bouchon Bakery for breakfast. By this point we were worn out and called it a night. We had a 6:50am flight on Monday and we were both ready to relax.

Monday – 4am came really early but we were both ready when our 5am Uber showed up. It’s such a short trip to the Airport I didn’t worry too much about time. Well, that was a mistake. TSA at the Vegas airport was packed and they were searching everyone and pulling every 3rd or 4th bag off the conveyor for further inspection. People were stressing out about making their flights as it was taking 60+ minutes to get through the queue.

We made it on our flight and after we pushed back the pilot came on the overhead and said we had a warning light and had to go back to the gate. That took about 30-minutes to figure out and then we had to get more fuel. We ended up leaving an hour later than scheduled and had less than an hour to change planes in Chicago.

Other than the lady next to me elbowing my ribs evey time she moved it was an uneventful flight. With the tailwind it was shorter flying back then when we went out.

Once in Chicago we had to basically go from one end of the airport to the other. Our flight was scheduled to leave on time but after we boarded we were informed that we had to get a de-icing and it would be another hour before we could take off. It ended up taking 90-minutes from push back before we went wheels up. So basically every leg of this trip had some kind of problem or delay. Now I remember why I like to drive everywhere!

Back in Indy and our bags actually made it, even though the United app said one was still in Chicago. It was good to get home and we talked about our trip all the was home from the airport. My son wan’t to go back when he turns 21. I think we can make that happen!

So the take away from this trip is this. United Airlines had a LOT of issues, Vegas is HUGE and can be VERY EXPENSIVE if you’re not careful. The Hoover Dam is amazing as is Del Taco and In-N-Out Burger. Get a car and get out of town but watch your speed. If you’re going to gamble be prepared to lose. Enjoy the people watching, you won’t be disappointed.

We’re already talking about or next trip and trying to figure out where to go… Thanks for reading!

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.