Mississinewa: Lost Sister & Blue Heron Trails with a little off trail meandering

I was born and raised in the Wabash / Peru, Indiana area so this reservoir was familiar to me going into the hikes. However, the last time my dad and I got out and hiked here was roughly 14 years ago when I was a child. So this held some special meaning to him and I.

We decided during the week that we would head up to my grandparents house Saturday night when I got off of work, sit around their fire pit and have a few beers before setting up camp for the night. I was pretty excited about this trip because I haven’t had the opportunity to get up north to see my grandparents since Christmas and I knew that I would be trialing my new Clark Hammock NX-270 to see if all the hype is true about this brand (it is and then some). So after running some errands in town we finally made it to our destination around 9:30 to a roaring fire and cold beer waiting around the fire pit. We had the chance to catch up and pass around a flash of Tennessee Fire for about an hour before we mutually decided to call it a night, camp was quickly set up by headlamp and we were dead to the world within an hour (pictures are from the next morning).

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The next morning we were up around 6:30 and ready to break down camp and get started. So after a hearty breakfast we cleaned up the camp area and headed off to the Lost Sister trail in the Frances Slocum SRA at Mississinewa.  This was listed as being 2.5 miles but when we came out our GPS units only showed it being a little over 1.5. While distance doesn’t matter a whole lot to us, we had still been expecting a little more. So after stopping for a hydration break and munching on some trail snacks we decided to load back into the truck and head over to the Miami SRA on the other side of the reservoir to see the Blue Heron trail. This went off without a hitch, but again, the trail was listed as being 2.5 miles and came up just short of 2 on our GPS. Of course, in our haste to get on this trail and because of the lack of signage, we took a game trail to find the trail instead of starting at the trail head on the opposite side of the picnic area that it starts at. I’m not sure if that equates to a mile or not, but we’ll figure it out next time.

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Since we’d finished the trails that we came to do and the day was still very early, warm and cloudless. We decided to head over to some of the horse trails in the rougher part of the SRA and try our luck out there. This turned out to be the most fun of the whole trip as we spend about 2 and a half hours winding through a myriad of different unmarked trails, followed a trail that ended up being under water, which led to us scaling a very steep hill about 200 feet and wandering through thickets, heavy wind and rocky ledges as we exercised our inner explorers. The off trail parts of our hikes always end up being the most fun. Even if we’re never more than a few miles from civilization in Indiana it always makes you feel a little more at one with nature. Which is after all, why we do this.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/lost-sister-trail  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/blue-heron-trail

Happy Trails!

GPX Maps and Pictures of these hikes are linked below.

This past weekend we took a trip up to north central Indiana to check out some of the trails at the Mississinewa…

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Monday, February 29, 2016

 

Dehydrating Healthy Trail Food

One of the big struggles that you face when you’re out on the trail is balancing nutrition with the amount of calories that you need being as active as you are when you’re hiking. A lot of people turn to instant meals that are loaded with preservatives, tuna packets, peanut butter, tortillas and such. One of the problems with doing this is that a lot of this stuff really isn’t the best for us and we miss out on nutrients that we shouldn’t be getting away from when we’re out on the trail for an extended period of time.

Having some deep discussions on this topic recently, my father and I have been batting around the idea of dehydrating out own food prior to taking off for Springer Mountain when we start the AT, stockpiling the food and having it mailed to certain locations every week or so, so that we can pick it up and resupply at our designated spots along the way.

So with this in mind I’ve been looking for some recipes and tips on how to dehydrate and store your own healthy food. Which ultimately led me to Chef Glenn, The Backpacking Chef and this gem of a website. So I thought I’d share the link.

http://www.backpackingchef.com/dehydrating-food.html

 

Closing out an Active Month

The Free Range Hikers have seen quite a few trails this month and a myriad of different weather conditions that coincide with your typical Midwest winter. We got out to see the natural cave formations on the Rock Shelter trail, muddy trails at Fort Harrison State Park, An awesome albeit unintended overnighter on the Three Lakes Trail followed by a 60 degree jaunt through the mud to some more epic views at Starved Rock in Oglesby, Illinois and an unexpected trail closure half way through the Mason Ridge Trail. Now we’re looking at a nice hike at Mississinewa up in north central Indiana for our last February 2016 hike that should put us around 40 trail miles for the month.

Since we’re looking at warmer temps in March and we’re finally starting to get ourselves accustomed to longer treks, we’ll likely be pulling more overnighters in the coming weeks. But we have more gear to test, more knowledge to pick up and more experiences to share along the way. Hopefully as the weather gets warmer and people start to come out of hibernation we’ll see some new faces in the Free Range Hiking community. After all, the goal of all of this is to get people to get out and enjoy the outdoors as much as we do.

The more people that learn to enjoy the journey and stop worrying so much about the destination, the happier we’ll all be.
Happy Trails!

Mason Ridge: Sun, Canines and closed trails.

We’ve been lucky enough to have great weather for the past 4 days. Even luckier for me because I have Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays off every week plus the vacation day I took on Saturday. So I got 4 days of sun and warm temperatures right before work starts again, the temps plummet and we’re talking about snow again.

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Because it was so nice out today, I decided it would be nice to take the dogs out and hike the Mason Ridge trail that I didn’t get to hike a few weeks ago when I was out of commission for a week with what the Dr. thought was meningitis (until the spinal tap came back negative to my relief). Anyway, today being the beautiful day that it was I packed up the truck and headed back out to Morgan Monroe to check this trail off my to-do list.

As it turns out, it’s a good thing that list is pretty long. After hiking into the trail about a mile and a half and crossing the road that marks the half way point I found myself faced with a notice explaining that the southern portion of the Mason Ridge trail and a large portion of the Tecumseh (40 mile) trail are closed until further notice. You see, they’re in the process of tearing out thousands of trees and destroying huge portions of the existing trails so that they can put in a paved bike trail. Something that those of us who regularly hike out here vehemently lament. After spouting a few curse words and laughing to myself when I found that someone who had come before me had torn one of the signs off the post it was attached to, shredded it and placed the pieces in a plastic bag containing another notice.

As I doubled back the way I came and watched the dogs sniffing and playing along the trail I reminded myself what hiking has shown me since I started getting back into it regularly. That is that life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Sometimes that journey is what you’re expecting it to be and sometimes it’s doubling back the way you came. But when all is said and done, it’s what you remember and cherish the most.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/mason-ridge-trail

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GPS route and pictures are linked below.

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https://www.facebook.com/freerangehiking/photos_stream?ref=page_internal

Starved Rock: Beer, Trails, Stairs and Friends

A little over a month ago my Army buddy Jarred hit me up on Facebook and told us we should come check out the Starved Rock trails about an hour away from where he lives in Illinois. I was going to make the trip regardless of what the trail was like because it’s not every day that you get to see one of your Army brothers once you stop wearing the uniform. But after a quick google search of Starved Rock and some dramatic waterfall pictures this quickly became one of my most anticipated hikes so far. So after taking a day off of work on Saturday, we loaded up the truck and were on the road by 8am. From my front door to his is about a 3 and a half hour drive. But going from central Indiana to Illinois you make up an hour, so we made it right before noon after awkwardly blowing through several toll areas because we’d forgotten to bring cash for the toll road (they just take your license plate # and you pay online).

After quickly introducing my father to Jarred and his (then) girlfriend Cassie, we loaded into the truck again and drove about another hour to Starved Rock. The parking lot was filled almost to capacity when we arrived, since it was 60 degrees in mid-late February and it had snowed heavily the prior week, everyone was taking advantage of the short respite from the winter weather.  So we all piled out of the truck, my father and I strapped our daypacks on and we took off for the trail.

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The first part of the trails here are all built up, wooden walkways, concrete paths. All lined with college kids taking selfies in “nature” and complaining about getting their shoes that are “meant for breathing” dirty in the mud. We admired the views that we could and quickly scrambled further into the trail. After a short walk with a good many stairs and a lot of tourists we came to our first set of incredible views overlooking the levee right off the state park. We played tourists here ourselves and took lots of pictures and heard the backstory of the Starved Rock before moving on to the next area. The whole Lovers Leap, Eagle Cliff and beehive overlook area was like a spider web of wooden paths sneaking through the trees and over the cliffs to pop out for scenic view after scenic view. It was quickly apparent why this state park was so popular.

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So after the overlooks, we moved on to the canyon areas. While we didn’t hit all of them while we were out we did hit most of the more popular views and got some amazing shots of Wildcat Canyon, Lonetree Canyon and Basswood Canyon. These were the homes to some of the most dramatic and awesome pictures and views that we saw through the entire trip and were definitely my favorite part of the hike. Even my protesting legs were okay with the 50 or so flights of steps that we’d gone up and down to see these views. Although at this point I was starting to question my decision to wear the daypack that’s still loaded down with everything I’d need to start hiking the AT today. But I remembered that sometime in the next 4-5 years I’ll be standing at AT approach trail in Georgia and likely wishing I’d hit hillier trails with that pack on BEFORE starting the thru hike.

Anyway, after the Canyons we started Cassie’s (Jarred’s Girlfriend) least favorite part of the trail. The roughly 2 mile portion of bog style mud from all the meltwater and foot traffic on the trail that day. While we covered our boots and shoes with mud we saw a few stray shoes stuck in the mud that reminded us why we tie double knots before we go into stuff like that. This whole portion of the trail took us about an hour each way, even though it was muddy and tedious it was mostly flat and there were no more hellish stairs to clamber up. We made our way to Own Canyon Overlook and LaSalle Canyon and explored off trail for a little while before deciding to turn back, as we noticed that we would soon be running short on daylight.

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After making our way back through the mud, up more sets of devilish stairs that made me appreciate switchbacks and making it back to the truck, we finished out the day having hiked 8.5 trail miles according to my Fitbit Surge with just over 70 flights of stairs. So after this momentous feat we decided to end the journey with beer and nachos at a Duffy’s (fluffy’s) Pub right down the road. So after dropping Jarred and Cassie back at their place and reacquiring the hour that we lost on the way to Illinois we made it back to our homes at 1am and 2am respectively. This made for an incredibly long but immensely satisfying trip, and definitely one that I won’t soon forget.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/illinois/starved-rock-and-sandstone-point-overlook-trail

 

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Our GPS trail and complete set of photos are linked below.

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Our late February hike at Starved Rock in Illinois.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Art of Winter Hiking

The winter months, after the holidays once the trees have come down the turkey has been consumed and the extended family has been tolerated to your near breaking point. It’s at this point that we find ourselves struggling to stay active or even motivated to go outside and do anything. Maybe it’s the shorter daylight hours, maybe it’s the cold, and maybe seeing family was so utterly exhausting that you need to go into a mini hibernation. Whatever the case is, it usually isn’t until late March or early April that we realize we’re a little heavier than we were before the snow started falling and maybe those stairs are getting us a little more winded than we’d like to admit.
This year we’ve found a way around all of this in the form of winter hiking. While most people might think this is crazy, as long as you’re dressed appropriately and have a little bit of technical knowledge there is really not much difference than any other time of the year. With the exception being that you now have the opportunity to see some truly breathtaking scenery and snap some cool (not cold) pictures. It all comes down to planning and gear. Dressing appropriately is 70% of the battle and probably closer to 90% when you factor in sweat management. But we’ll talk more about that a little later.
If you find yourself wanting to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but are put off by the colder temperatures. A short list of cold weather gear will give you all you need to be successfully active in the cold.

I recommend the following gear / clothing:

Balaclava
Lightweight thermal layer
Waffle (mid-weight) thermal layer
Water resistant jacket or coat
Trekking poles
Flashlight or headlamp
2 pairs of gloves
2 pairs of socks
Yak tracks or ice cleats
Waterproof hiking shoes / boots
Fire starters (lighter/matches + petroleum soaked cotton balls)
Sleeping bag rated to the coldest temp it will get
Single person tent or something improvise a shelter
And a folding or fixed blade knife

You can find a full list of recommended winter camping gear at http://www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2002/2002-winter-gear.cfm

If you have these things, water and food for the trip, you have everything you need to comfortably hike and even stay overnight in on the trail in cold weather. You’ll want to remember though, that you dehydrate quickly in the cold and that your body burns extra calories keeping itself warm. So it’s always a good idea to have a Lifestraw or water purification tablets and extra food for a cold weather hike.

Once you’ve accumulated or pulled out of storage everything from the list above and found a suitable daypack to stuff it all into, you’re ready to hit the trail. One of the most important things to remember during cold weather activity is sweat management. Especially when you’re hiking some distance on a trail. You usually dress to be warm when you’re not doing much outside. But when you’re on the trail that amount of insulation will probably get you sweating pretty quickly and that isn’t good in the cold. Remember that cold temps are uncomfortable and wet clothing is uncomfortable but cold temps and wet clothing is deadly. With that in mind you’ll probably quickly find that even in temps in the mid to low teens, all you really need when you’re moving will probably be the lightweight thermals. But keep the mid-weights close at hand for when you stop, as you will cool off very quickly. You’ll also want to bring an extra hat or remove the one you’re wearing if you find yourself sweating too much. Sweating through your hat will completely destroy its insulating power until it’s dried again.

A lot of trails will be slick and treacherous during the snowy months if you live in a place that gets a substantial amount of snowfall. In these cases pulling out the trekking poles, that I recommend year round, and the shoe spikes will give you that extra traction that you need to get through the more difficult portions of the hike, if you’re on a moderate or rugged trail.

Keeping these things in mind and packing appropriately for YOU will always be the key to a happy hike. But getting out there and actually doing it is half the battle and you’ll likely pick up this information and a lot more as you put foot to trail.

Happy hiking!

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Three Lakes Trail: An Epic Winter Adventure

When we decided to hike the Three Lakes Trail at the Morgan Monroe State Forest over Valentine’s Day weekend we knew that it was going to be a test of our hiking skill and fortitude thus far. This 10.5 mile trail is nearly as rugged as they come in some spots. But in the spirit of making bad decisions so that we have cool stories to talk about later over beer, we decided to tackle this behemoth of a trail (by our standards) during a snowstorm and with day temps dipping down to around 18 degrees. Our plan going in to this hike was to complete the entirety of the Three Lakes Trail, then hike a mile or so into the back country where camping is permitted, as it’s not allowed on the Three Lakes Trail, so that we could test out our winter camping gear.

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So we got underway at about 2:30 on Sunday (valentine’s day) and got our first taste of the trail while the snow fell pretty heavily. Now, when we went into this, we knew that the trail was supposed to be tough. Definitely a test of our fitness level thus far. In any case, carrying a 50lb pack full of everything you need to survive in a subfreezing environment for a day or two is a test of anyone’s fortitude. On this occasion we definitely didn’t take into account how much the snowfall was going to slow us down. Having to trudge through 2-3 inches of fresh snow and deal with slick ledges on narrow portions of the trail slowed us to nearly a crawl at some points.

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As it was we had seriously underestimated this trail. After making it about 5 miles in and with night quickly closing in on us, we made the decision that we would have to find a suitable place to wait out the night, test our gear and hike out safely in the daylight on Monday. We could have tried to make it out and not break the no camping rule. But portions of the trail that we’d already been on had become so slick that we didn’t want to chance one or both of us getting injured in the dark with temps in the high teens. So we hiked as far off trail as we could and found a nice camping spot.

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The night went by without a hitch, we got a nice fire going, heated up some food for dinner and warmed up before turning in. We listened to the haunting call of the local coyotes in the distance bouncing off the trees of the otherwise silent forest. Our 0 degree sleeping bags held up to their promise of keeping us warm and alive through the frigid night.

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The next morning we packed up and were back on the trail by 8:15. We rounded the second lake, snapped a few pictures of the scenery. Then both experiences our first winter hiking “oh shit” falls on the trail. Luckily no one was around to laugh at us except for a few hundred Cardinals and some rather unhappy squirrels. We had tackled the southern portion of the trail on day one, we hadn’t known at the time but most of the serious hills were now behind us as most of the northern portion of the trail is flat. This was a blessing for me especially, being over 300lbs with all my cold weather gear and my pack. My legs will be about the size of tree trunks before our next hike. But at this point they were screaming like kids in a toy store when mommy and daddy are on a budget.

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We kept a slow and steady pace for the remainder of the trail, stopped a few times to get water at some of the semi-frozen creeks and to try to talk the fatigue out of my very unhappy calves and quads. But we finished the trail after another 3 hours, we walked off the trail right around 11am on Monday. At this point we were greeted by one of the local DNR employees who told us he’d seen that my truck had been sitting overnight and was about to go check some of the shelter houses to make sure we weren’t stranded somewhere. We recounted the story of our miscalculation, lamented how tough the trail had truly been and got a bit of a scolding where we were told that under most circumstances there is a $200 fine for anyone caught camping on the Three Lakes Trail. But because of the situation he said he understood the necessity. We took the warning, dropped our packs at the truck and ended the first real epic adventure of the year for the Free Range Hikers.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/three-lakes-trail

 

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Complete photo gallery and the GPS map from this trek are linked below.

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Tents Vs. Hammocks: The Great Debate

One of the subjects you’ll hear debated the most between hikers and backpackers is the preference between tent camping and hammock camping. This is probably something that you don’t think about a whole lot until you do some research, talk to someone who enjoys hammock camping, or have enjoyed using a hammock while out in the wilderness before. On the surface this doesn’t seem like it would be something that would require a whole lot of thought either way. But the more you dig into it the more you see that there is a wealth of information for both sides and avid supporters of both.
One of our biggest concerns as hikers / backpackers is the weight of our packs. For this reason alone a hammock seems like the logical choice for overnighters in the back country. Without the added weight of tent poles you can easily save yourself precious pounds and make those steep uphill climbs and downhill treks a little less painful. As anyone can tell you that’s ever hiked any significant distance. A few pounds can mean the difference between feeling a little tired at the end of the day and feeling like your legs have been utterly destroyed.

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There are clear positives and negatives to each, for example in order to use a hammock you need to find a place with grown trees that are spaced in a way that allows you to hang the hammock. In the same regard you have to be in an area that has trees in the first place. A lot of people on the hammock side of the argument will pose the question “If there are no tree’s is that a place you really want to be camping anyway?” which is a point that I see eye to eye with, but doesn’t necessarily hold true in every situation. Something else to contend with is the fact that you’re suspended in the air all night. While this can do wonders for people with back problems, it does make it a little more challenging to stay warm on cooler nights, unless of course you invest in a pricey underquilt. There is also the issue of bugs and rain that you have contend with when using a standard camping hammock. There are however much more cutting edge hammocks that address these concerns and the problem of heat loss if you’re willing to pay for the technology. A great example of these cutting edge hammocks are available online at https://www.junglehammock.com/ by Clark Hammocks. These are really more of a hybrid between a tent and a hammock and some models can even be used as a tent if you’re in an area that doesn’t have trees.  Another added benefit to our more patriotic hikers is that Clark is an American company that uses American material to build its gear, they also stand behind everything they build 100%.

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On the other side of the argument are the tent campers. If you did any kind of outdoor activity as a family when you were growing up, you’re probably more than accustomed to tent camping. This is generally what we think of when the word camping comes to mind. However, for the hiker / backpacker there are some extra considerations to consider when you decide to drag the old tent along. Foremost among these concerns is the fact that you need to find a suitable place off trail to pitch the tent. This means doing your best to clear the ground of twigs, rocks and debris. Only to find out in most cases, in the middle of the night, that you missed one or two of them. At which point you spend the rest of the night with a rock or stick in your back. However, you do get the added protection of being enclosed in the tent, which conserves warmth and usually does a fantastic job of stopping the wind and rain if you’re stuck in bad weather. While single person tents tend to be lightweight and easy to assemble and disassemble, they can get a little pricy. In most cases you’re going to get what you pay for, unless you get lucky with an Amazon deal or find a gem somewhere in the discount section.

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At the end of the day (literally) it comes down to trying both and sticking with what you prefer. I recommend playing around with both tents and hammocks to find what fits your needs and your style the best. I know I intend to get plenty of campfire time with both this year. Hopefully you get the chance to get out and do the same.

Product reviews

It’s been a fun week for the Free Rangers, if you consider 104 fevers, spinal taps, and lopsided Super Bowl victory after-parties fun. I’ll let Aaron explain more (HIPAA violations anyone?) at his leisure, but…

I will say that the plan for this weekend, this Valentines Day weekend, involves sub-zero hiking, overnight camping, and product reviews.  And mea culpas to the women in our lives for rushing through the whole hearts and flowers scenario on Valentine’s Eve.

My reviews support my goal of paring down what I’ll need on the Appalachian Trail, and honing in on the most versatile and useful items to carry.  I should start with my pack, and the stuff protecting my feet.  I’ll give you the whole scoop in this weekend’s product review video, with maybe-just-maybe a bit of horseplay thrown in for good measure.

Stay tuned.