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Day Trip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

When one thinks of Ohio, he normally doesn’t immediately think “national parks”. That is with good reason, because there are extremely few in the state. That’s why I was blown away when I visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park (or CVNP), near Cleveland.

This national park doesn’t have all the amazing hallmarks that you find in others, but stands strong on its own. With its signature Brandywine Falls, Brandywine Ski Resort, and other areas like the Ledges, this place is pretty cool.

Though we only got to spend about an hour here, we explored the Brandywine Falls area and it was beautiful. This is a powerful and dramatic waterfall that flows into a deep and scenic gorge. The gorge almost feels out of place for this area of Ohio. The water crashes down onto the car-sized rocks and generates huge whitewater, almost reminiscent of West Virginia or North Carolina. We had visited just after very heavy rains, so the water was really rushing.

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The sign at the base of the Brandywine Falls trailhead

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Brandywine Falls

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Brandywine Gorge, with the Inn at Brandywine in the top right

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The view into the gorge from the top of Brandywine Falls

There are some other amazing places within this park that I have read about, such as the Ledges. The Ledges are huge rock outcroppings accessible via nice hiking trails. There are many other waterfalls within the park as well.

I really wish we had at least an entire day to explore this park and do some actual hiking. But, now I have an excuse to come back. I would love to see it in the middle of summer with everything green and lush.

If you are ever in northeastern Ohio and get the chance, make a visit to CVNP. It’s an oasis of nature very near major metro areas. It’s worth making the stop to Brandywine Falls even if your time is limited.

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Backpacking Hanson’s Point – Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The Red River Gorge National Geological Area in Kentucky is by far one of my favorite places to hike and camp. At only 2 1/2 hours from my house in Ohio, It’s a quick and simple drive to some of the most dramatic scenery in the East. This area has been dubbed “Moab with trees” due to its numerous arches, bridges, and cliff faces. It is rugged and sometimes dangerous–making it even more alluring. It truly is one of the most wild and awesome places to get up close with nature. Unfortunately, the attractiveness of this place draws many people each year, and some are careless. There have been many wildfires started here due to people being careless with campfires. Just in the past few weeks many acres have been burned due to unattended fires and extremely dry conditions. I fear sometime in the very near future Hanson’s Point might be completely closed to outside traffic because of the carelessness of a few. In fact, there was just a forest fire there in the past few weeks due to careless campers not putting out a fire.

On a gorgeous weekend on September 10, 2016, my friend Robb and I decided to do an overnight backpacking trip up to a “secret” hidden spot known as Hanson’s Point. This location isn’t officially recognized by the Daniel Boone National Forest, but is on numerous maps and quite easy to find. I was first introduced to this location about five years ago when I did my first backpacking trip here with the Dayton Hikers Meetup Group. I had been here enough to know how to get to it.

The hike to the Point starts easily enough. We parked at the Gray’s Arch trail head, which is one of the most popular and frequently visited areas. From there, we took the road back a few hundred yards until we reached the Sheltowee Trace trail. This hike is fairly easy (for this region), and covers a ridge with gorgeous views and dramatic slopes on both sides. There are many campsites along the path, but resist the urge to camp at these and go for the big prize–the campsites at the top near Hanson’s Point.

Jeep Renegade with Gear

The new Jeep Renegade on its first road trip with gear!

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Gray’s Arch trail head sign

The hike along the Sheltowee ridge is fairly easy, with only a few minor ups and down and rocks to scramble. It could be muddy and difficult after heavy rain, but not dangerous. There are many vistas and views to the surrounding mountains from here.

Robb on the Ridge

Rob posing on cliff’s edge on the Sheltowee Trace trail

Once we made it to the connector for the Rough Trail, we veered left. After about a quarter mile and on the right we found the unofficial Hanson’s Point trail. This trail is fairly steep, but not hard. It’s more difficult because it’s not maintained, and the hardest aspect is the blow downs and overgrowth. It seems to be getting more difficult every time I visit–which, in all honesty, makes me enjoy it more. You really have to work to get the payoff here, like many places I have been out West.

Sheltowee Trace Trail

The Sheltowee Trace trail

We finally made it to the top, after scrambling through brush and over logs and under wasp’s nests. The large group camp at the top of the ridge was a sight for sore eyes. I wanted to press on to a campsite closer to Hanson’s Point, so we passed a few other backpackers and pressed on. Finally, we found the spot, dropped our gear and set up our hammocks, and then hiked over to the Point. We knew storms were on their way in, so we wanted to be sure to get out to the point and back before they slammed us.

Hennessy Hammock

The Point was just as beautiful as I remember. With sweeping views across the Gorge that are reminiscent of deeper wilderness. This place is wild and rugged, not for the faint of heart. There are plenty of things that can kill you here–bears, snakes, stinging things, and steep dropoffs, which are the biggest killer of all. Hanson’s Point is beautiful but dangerous. There are no handrails here, and nothing to protect you from falling several hundred feet to your death. If you come here, be smart, be safe. Don’t take risks, and don’t overestimate your abilities.

After our visit to the Point, we headed back to camp to chill out and enjoy the scenery. Our relaxation was short lived, however, after a cold front swept through and brought howling wind, rain, and lightning for the next few hours. We sheltered in place under our tarps and stayed perfectly warm and dry. The rain blew by and finally stopped after dark. We were even able to get a small fire going with some wood we had collected and kept dry under our tarps.

The next morning we were greeted by beautiful fog that blanketed the Gorge. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was able to capture some amazing shots with my phone.

Sunlight in the morning

We had breakfast and coffee and headed back down the mountain and back to the car. The hike was beautiful, and I never get tired of being in “the Red”. As a customary measure, I introduced Robb to Miguel’s famous pizza, which was absolutely fantastic after a weekend in the woods.

Miguel's famous pizza

Red River Gorge is wild, dangerous, and beautiful. It’s one of the only places within a two hour drive from my house where I feel I can experience “real” wilderness–like that of being in the Appalachians or out west. I never get tired of coming here, and love bringing new friends who have never experienced it before. This is my kind of place, and I plan on being back many more times in the near future.


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The Next OutLan Adventure Vehicle?

UPDATE: August 22, 2016 we took the plunge and made the purchase of our very own brand new Jeep Renegade Latitude. So far, we love this vehicle. More details to come soon and I’ll be putting a vid on the channel.

While on vacation last month (July) driving to Orlando, Florida, my wife and I began discussing the need for a new family vehicle. It’s time to trade in the 2008 Pontiac G6 sedan for a sport utility vehicle. Our twins are getting bigger and we need more space. The 2008 car I’ve been driving every day is literally falling apart. So, we started scouting the vehicles around us on I-75 South. That’s when I saw the Jeep Renegade and fell in love.

I love Jeeps. My buddy has a Wrangler he’s affectionately named “Ozzy” that I lust after. I have always wanted one of my own. When I graduated from high school, I was in love with a sky-blue Cherokee that I regrettably never got. Later in life, my tastes changed and I was more about speed than utility. In 2008–two months before finding out we were having twins–I bought a Pontiac G6 V6. I’ve been driving this car ever since. Still, that fire in me for a true adventure vehicle has been burning.

I have seen the Renegade around town but didn’t think too much of it. Then, the more I began to research it online (especially on YouTube), I’ve become obsessive over this thing. Built in Italy, the Renegade is based on the Fiat 500x chassis, so it has Euro styling and quality with the Jeep branding. It’s rugged but cool with the most modern conveniences. Luxury? No. But who cares? I want a vehicle I can shift into 4×4 mode and go off road. Or, something that can get me through the icy and snowy Ohio winters (this year should be a doozy). I want something I can throw the kids and all their stuff in and get to school. Or, to be able to throw my loaded backpacking gear in the back and head off to the trail after work. It’s practical and just makes sense.

I’m sure die-hard Jeep fans snub their nose at this compact “Jeep” that’s not made in the USA, but I could really care less. It wears the Jeep name proudly, and the reviews are way above average. There is, of course, the dedicated fanbase, and once you become a Jeep owner you’re a member of “the club”.

I just need to get my wife on board with a taking on a monthly car payment again–something we haven’t had in over two years. To me, it’s worth it. Time will tell…and hopefully that time will be soon.

Renegade

The 4×4 Renegade Latitude with the “Great Outdoors” package. Includes a roof basket, bike rack, and tow hitch. Sweet.

Renegade Dawn of Justice

The Renegade “Dawn of Justice” edition

Renegade Latitude

The Latitude in my price range

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Big Hollow North and South Loop – Mammoth Cave National Park

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Mammoth Cave National Park. We were there for 2 ½ days of car camping and day hiking. The campground is amazing, and the Park Service does an amazing job. On day two, we hiked the Big Hollow North and South Loops.

First off, I will start by saying this is not the most scenic or challenging trail in the world—especially by National Park standards—but it is still a nice hike, and if you’re quiet and look around, you just might see some very cool things.

The trail starts from the Maple Springs trail head on the western side of the park. To get to it, you will have to take Maple Springs Ranger Station Road from the east and cross the Green River Ferry. The ferry is free but SLOW, so allow for some time to get across. Once at the Maple Springs trail head, find where the connector trail starts and follow it for about a mile. There, it branches off to the North Loop. We decided to take the loop clockwise, so basically just stayed to the left the entire time.

The ferry across the Green River

The ferry across the Green River

The start of the loop

The start of the loop

The flat trail

The flat trail

this is not the most scenic or challenging trail in the world—especially by National Park standards—but it is still a nice hike, and if you’re quiet and look around, you just might see some very cool things.

This trail is a shared mountain bike trail. Unlike other trails in the park, it is not shared with horses, so mud and ruts are minimal, but so are changes in scenery. Elevation change is nominal as well, with only very minor ups and downs. The South Loop is more exciting than the North, since it gets fairly close to the bluffs of the river with a few glimpses of the hills across the gorge. Still, the trail never offers any true vistas, and doesn’t have much in the way of geologic features. There are no caves, sinks, waterfalls, or any such features expected in cave country or even Kentucky in general. In fact, this trail reminded me very much of trails back home in Ohio–only with the presence of Rattlesnakes and Copperheads.

Hiking with the guys

Hiking with the guys

The South Loop sign

The South Loop sign

The view across the river from atop the bluff

The view across the river from atop the bluff

There is a nice spot in the middle of the South Loop that is a bit rocky, and we stopped here for lunch and I hung my hammock on top of a small rock outcropping. This was the only real boulder field type feature I remember seeing on either loop.

Stopped for lunch

Stopped for lunch

Hammock hanging on top of a rock outcropping

Hammock hanging on top of a rock outcropping

Blue blazes along the trail

Blue blazes along the trail

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This area offers some very nice flora and fauna. We saw at least two snakes and lots of birds. We saw a Scarlet Tanager which is hard to describe it’s so beautiful. This bird is in the Cardinal family, and is a bright red with stark black wings. Unfortunately, none of us were able to get a good photograph of it. There’s a lot of other wildlife in the park which we witnessed at the campground, including deer, pheasant, and turkey, to name a few.

I had hoped to get to check out the Sal Hollow Loop while at Mammoth Cave, but it did not happen. Fortunately, we did get to do the heritage trail and Mammoth Dome Sink on the last day. These trails are stunning, with enormous trees, caves going straight down into the earth, bluffs along the river, and much more. I will do a separate trip report on those.


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How Do You Find Time to Go Backpacking? Part 3

This is part three of a three-part blog written by three backpackers (Dane, Rob, and Lance) all answering the same question: How Do You Find Time To Go Backpacking? 

Planning the Impromptu Hike, by Dane

daneWith all of our kids either in college or out on their own, one would think that my wife and I would have all the time in the world to do whatever we wanted.  The truth is, however, that we are busier than we’ve ever been.  In addition to both of us working full time jobs, we are active volunteers at our church and at the county jail. Almost every evening is taken up with some type of volunteer activity.

As with my many of my backpacking friends, my wife doesn’t join me in the woods.  This adds an additional challenge since it means that time on the trail is also time away from loved ones.  Adding family time back into the mix also has to be a focus.

For me, planning a backpacking trip centers around two unrelated elements, which result in two different kinds of trips.  These are impromptu trips and carefully planned trips.

Planned trips are generally longer for me (a week, or extended weekend), and are often farther away from home (like my upcoming trip to Colorado).  They are special events, and require a lot of detailed planning, like finding a shuttle to and from the trail, or a shower when done.  These trips are affected by the availability of friends, shuttles, vacation time, and, of course, money.  They don’t just happen.  We have to make them happen.  Most of us are familiar with these kinds of trips.

But there’s another kind of trip that I often find myself taking.  These are my impromptu overnight hikes.  They occur when I find an unplanned opening in my schedule.  They are almost always to an area that I can drive to in under an hour.  These hikes require flexibility, as well as having easy access to a trail or outback area.   I almost always do them alone.

Even though I call them “impromptu hikes,” they actually require a little advanced planning. By taking just a few, easy steps, you can be ready to hit the trail with very little notice.

Here are some simple steps to take in order to plan for an unplanned getaway:

  • Select a suitable location that can be accessed easily and quickly.  Consider prearranging with a private landowner as I did in this video.
  • Pack at least three meals and snacks in a separate storage bag.
  • Organize your gear in a way that allows you to locate and pack everything quickly.
  • Have a backpacking checklist ready to use. Click here for a sample.
  • Plan your itinerary and write it out before hand, making certain someone is left with a copy.
  • Wait for the right time, then go.

We all enjoy those big, planned adventures to new places.  However, for me, being flexible and deliberate enough to remain spontaneous has meant a few extra nights in the woods each year.

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us. Visit Dane’s blog at www.featheredprop.com.


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TVT Challenge 2.0

Here is the video for the TVT Challenge 2.0. This year, I did the hike solo and was pushing for the full 31 miles. I didn’t make it that far, unfortunately, but it was still an awesome June day out in the woods. This is a beautiful trail, and I highly recommend it.