Road to the AT: The Beginning

As far back as I can remember one of the things my father has always said is that he wants to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in his lifetime. Most of the time when I was growing up this was a “someday” muse. Something he would say infrequently and I would say that I wanted to go with him, then conversation would change to something else. We always spent a lot of time outdoors when I was growing up, riding bikes, camping and exploring several acres of forest behind my grandparent’s house. The latter being a favorite past time of my siblings and I, every time there was a family get together or excuse to go to our grandparent’s, we were out in the woods. But sometime after graduating high school, while juggling a bills, work and responsibility I became a homebody. Even during my military service (aside from Afghanistan) when the day was over we were having get togethers at the house, watching movies or some other indoor activity. Even in Alaska, where there was so much to do in vast wilderness. I kick myself now for not hiking some of the awesome trails that I was within driving distance of for those years.

I didn’t really find my love for hiking until about a year ago. Just before the New Year, having struggled with increasing weight, alcoholism and marriage woes stemming from PTSD symptoms that I have been dealing with for years. Having been medicated by the VA to the point that I was numb to everything and basically going through my weekly routine like a zombie. I decided that 2016 would be a different year for me. I had gained so much weight that running was painfully hard on my knees and ankles, but walking was easy enough to manage. So after doing a few quick google searches about how to optimize calories burned while walking, I came across article after article about backpacking and hiking and just how many calories the sport burns.

Shortly after that I sent my father a cryptic “I think I’m going to start hiking this year so I can lose weight’ text. To which he replied that he would hike with me to help me lose weight and get healthy again. A few weeks later and after several hundreds of dollars’ worth of Amazon purchases to outfit myself, we picked a snowy Sunday the second week in January as our first hiking trip. We looked up local trails in the Morgan Monroe State Forest area, about a 40 minute drive from my house at the time. Once we decided to check out the “Low Gap Trail”, Dad drove up about an hour from where he lives and we set out in the fresh snow. After about an hour long 45mph drive on treacherous highways, and passing the trail twice (this picture is from a power line access ¾ of a mile down the road from the trailhead that we thought we were at) we set out.

I threw a 40 pound pack, laden down with an enormous amount of crap that I never could have used on a day hike under any circumstance, on top of my 290lb frame (at the time). Now, if you’ve never hiked on a trail in fresh snow. Imagine trying to walk uphill at a 15/25 degree incline in the finest powdery sand that you can imagine, with an extra 40 pounds on your back. Needless to say I was questioning my life choices after about the first quarter mile. We stopped at the top of the second “big” hill that we encountered and I vividly remember standing there, in the middle of nowhere with my Dad, catching my breath and watching the snow continue to fall. I remember how peaceful it was in that forest, away from the sounds of the city and people complaining about the snow and the cold and everything else that we can think of to complain about. The only sound I heard was the soft patter of snowflakes bouncing off my hat and the calamitous thumping of my heartbeat in my ears. We continued on past newly fallen trees, over a creek bed and down a ravine. About a mile and a half into the 10 mile trail when we came across a camp site completely buried in snow. So we decided to drop our packs and get a fire going to warm up. My Dad was an Eagle Scout growing up and spent most of his adult life in the Army, I spent 4 years in Alaska, soaking up extreme cold weather and deep wilderness survival skills from field problems and mandatory trainings that you get living in a place as frigid and deadly as interior Alaska. But none of that mattered to the fire pit that day. We dug the pit down to the ash base, carved the ice covered bark from the twigs we found for kindling (it had rained for days before it froze and snow came) and found some dry leaves on some standing deadwood nearby. But after 30 minutes of trying everything, including torching everything with a propane cook stove, we still had no fire.

At this point we decided that the best way to war up would be to hike back to the truck the way we came. As we were backtracking, following our footsteps from 30 minutes earlier that were already filling in with new snow, I started to realize what I’ve been missing. Sweaty and out of breath despite temps in the low teens, lamenting myself for getting so out of shape and letting something like PTSD change so much of me I started to feel like this was exactly where I was supposed to be. Out on some crazy winter adventure with my Dad, bragging about how outdoorsy we are but failing to start a fire when we really could have used it. My first of many hike therapy sessions took place on that 1.5 mile stretch of the Low Gap Trail in the fresh Indiana snow. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to fall in love with the outdoors again and it would change my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

2016 Hikes: My Favorite Pictures

We had a very active year in 2016, logging hikes in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee/North Carolina and Texas. We put hundreds of miles on our trail shoes and even more knowledge in our heads. These are just a few of my favorites from the hundreds of pictures that we took during all of our hikes.

Be sure to follow our social media links to see the rest.

Lytle’s Loop at Government Canyon

Back in October, before things started to get crazy at work. My wife and I found Government Canyon not far from where we live, just South of San Antonio.  There’s an entrance fee of $6 a person for the day, I don’t like it, but I pay so that I can get my fix. There are a handful off trails ranging in length between a few miles and 8-10. Both split between the front country and back country areas. We have to hike in the front country area on this day because we have our dogs with us and they are only allowed in this portion of the park.

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Up until this point the majority of my hikes have been in cold weather since renewing my love for the past time in January while still living in Indiana. Indiana hikes were through heavily wooded areas with running streams and small hills throughout. The few summer hikes I managed before leaving to Florida for work in June had been mild, with the exception of one 90 degree day. South Texas is altogether different than what I’m used to. The temperatures remain in the high 90’s to low 100’s most days but we get lucky today and the temp stays in the low 80s, the terrain in flat and rocky and the soil here is heavy with clay. I’ll find over the course of the next few months following this that the soil is the reason for the frequent flooding in San Antonio following just about any significant rainfall. There are very few hills in this particular area even though we’re in the “Texas hill country”. Most of the trail is flanked by wildflowers this time of the year and there are many cactuses lining the trail as well, which is new for me so I enjoy seeing them.

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I do have a heightened fear of rattlesnakes in this rocky terrain, not because I’m afraid of being bitten. Because I have my dogs with me and I know they will not know the danger and will try to investigate if we come across one. Today the trail was very lightly trafficked and we only come across a few other hikers on the 5 mile loop. We decided to choose a shorter trail because this is first hike that our dogs have come on and they are not ready for a longer trek. As it is we finish the 5 miles dragging the dogs behind us because they’re tired of walking across the rocks and are used to being idle in a small apartment every day, so they’re unprepared the sudden increase in physical exercise. They complete the trail and are happy to jump back into the air conditioned truck, once we get back home they move slowly and sleep often for the next couple of days. I’m not sure they appreciate the trail quite as much as Britni and I do.

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Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/texas/lytles-loop-trail

Happy Trails!

 

Hiking into the Future: What comes next.

I’ve been on hiatus from blog posts since a work promotion took me from Indiana to Texas to launch a new Amazon building. The move was expensive and taxing and work has been so hectic that I’ve only been able to day hike twice since relocating. But I hope to get out and start hiking more frequently again once things slow down after Christmas.

In the time since relocating I’ve struggled with my vision of Free Range Hiking and what I want to do moving forward. I initially started this about a year ago as a way to share some of the adventures that my father and I were going on during out weekend hikes. But along the way I started to see benefits to the weekend hikes that I didn’t anticipate when I started doing this.

I went from dealing with near crippling PTSD, heavily medicated by the VA to deal with my “issues” and having a severe drinking problem. In the last year I’ve managed to overcome my PTSD symptoms, no longer need to use any of the medications that I was on before and have developed a healthy respect for the bottle and what it can do if you let it take a hold of you.

For me, being out in nature is a form of healing. I feel “reset” after a day or two out in the woods. The peace and comradery that comes with hiking alone and in small groups outdoors, sharing knowledge and enjoying all of the simple things that the world has to offer is such a stark contrast to the concrete prisons that we have all become accustomed to living in that it feels almost alien at first. But after a while you start to understand that this isn’t just where you WANT to be, it’s where you NEED to be. There is something deep down within all of us that comes alive when we’re out in nature, something that dies a little bit the more we confine ourselves in our decorated dungeons that we call home, with fancy electronics and shiny cars that marry us to payments and mortgages that we resign ourselves to for our entire lives. Things and the pursuit of more things. Now when someone says something along the lines of “When it’s all over it won’t be the things that you had that you remember, it will be the experiences that you cherish” it’s almost like reading a hallmark card. The words are nice, we think about it for a moment before we go back to dreaming about that big house and fancy car that we want to get.

I don’t want to live by those rules anymore and I don’t want to chase the things that society says I need to be happy, because I don’t need them. I want to show other people that they don’t need them either. If hiking and enjoying the outdoors can help me overcome two crippling disorders without the use of medication, why not use it to help other people?

I ask myself this question almost daily now, I talk to family and friends, veteran buddies, colleagues and anyone that will listen. During these conversations I’ve found other people who have gone through the same things and found outdoor recreation to be as therapeutic as I have. So I keep asking myself, why not share this with more people? That question burns in my mind day in and day out. So I’ve finally come to the decision that I want to use the Free Range Hiking name as a platform to help other Veterans and sufferers of PTSD and other anxiety disorders. I want to use it as a way to help people who feel like the VA healthcare system or the traditional healthcare and mental health routes are not working or are not for them. During the next year I plan to establish a donation fund or possibly register FRH as a 403c Charitable organization with a mission to fund trips and outfit those in need of alternative or “hike therapy” to deal with PTSD, anxiety and depression. During this time I plan to work with members close to the organization to branch out and begin accepting applications across the country for event hosts and hike guides. Experienced, capable, qualified individuals that would be willing to donate time to help out people in their area that need these hike therapy trips. I expect the growth of FRH to be slow out of the gates and it will likely operate mainly out of Texas where I am currently located. But may also have a limited capacity in Indiana.

We will still be doing leisure hikes, posting pictures and sharing articles that we find helpful. Our ultimate goal is still to become Thru Hikers on the AT. But in the mean time we want to start helping people along the way and do our small part to make a positive impact in the world while bringing more people into the world of hiking as a way to heal from within.

Happy Trails Everyone,

Aaron

DePauw Nature Park

After last weekend on the AT in Tennessee, we had an easy Sunday hike planned out in advance  since we knew we would probably be a little sore and tired from the Smokys. DePauw is a nice set of loop trails right off a college campus about 45 minutes from us. The trails are paved with pea gravel and there are very few hills on the course.

12985389_260054681000043_7346857328926076736_nWhile vastly different from the landscape we were on a week before, there are still a lot of cool things to see at DePauw. Including the rock quarry, amphitheater and some of the buildings around the area.

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But when it comes down to it, it’s being out of the house and keeping your feet on the trail that really matters. Whether it be on a flat paved trail in Northern Indiana or scrambling over rocks in the mountains, being out of the house and away from the noise of the cities and the fast pace of modern life is what counts.

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

 

Pictures from our recent hike at Depauw Nature Park

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Appalachian Trail: A Brief Adventure in the Great Smokys

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The Appalachian Trail, a thru hike of the granddaddy trail has been something that my father and I have talked about doing since I was a kid. So when we started hiking seriously at the beginning of the year making a weekend trip to this hiker’s Mecca was at the top of our list. We finally got things planned out and days off that would accommodate our trip this past weekend. So we piled on the car on Saturday and made the 6 and a half hour drive from my home in Central Indiana to the Newfound Gap Trailhead in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee / North Carolina border.

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When we pulled into the parking lot after an hour of driving through the beautiful scenery of the National Park seeing the trail was like coming down the stairs to find presents under the tree as a kid on Christmas Day. Little did I know at the time that the next 24 hours would show me just how much I underestimated this fabled trail and overestimated where I need to be physically before I attempt a thru-hike. I’ll give a little bit of background for perspective before I go any further with the story of our weekend. When I started hiking at the beginning of the year I was coming off a very hard year, I’d had serious relationship problems that nearly led to a divorce. I was struggling with PTSD from my time in Afghanistan that was exacerbated by frequent 1st to 3rd shift changes at work and to top it all off, I’d gotten to the fattest I’ve ever been in my life at nearly 300 pounds. I’ve always been a big guy, I was in the 180-200 range when I wrestled in high school and even through Basic Training and AIT when I was in the best shape of my life I barely touched 175. But a combination of depression, sleep problems and bad eating habits had landed me at a new personal low (and high).

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When I found my love for hiking at the beginning of the year I saw it as my way to beat my personal demons and get myself back to where I should be physically. I knew it would be frustrating, that I would hurt, and that it was going to be a long arduous road. But like any hiker will tell you, the best way to conquer a mountain is one foot at a time. So with my dad and later my wife by my side I started hitting trails every weekend. Week after week I started feeling better (without prescription meds), losing pounds here and there, and getting myself back into shape, taking out 6-10 mile trails in a handful of hours each and every weekend. So after 4 months of this I felt like I was ready for a weekend of hiking on the trail that inspired me to start this journey.

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So we set off at around 4pm on Satuday, we started walking up the trail talking about how great it was to be out here doing this and how much fun we were going to have over the next few days. We were so happy that we made it half a mile into the trail before we realized that we were headed in the wrong direction. We had set a plan to head south, had reserved shelters and arranged pick up to the south… and we were heading north, oops. So we laughed it off and started back down the trail we had just come up, through the tourist crowded parking lot full of people that had just watched us walk up that same stretch of trail 10 minutes ago, then across the street to the hidden marker that let us know we were heading the right way this time.

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Once we got on the southbound portion of the trail we started rolling. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the first couple of miles were relatively flat. We had reservations at the Mt. Collins Shelter for that night, which meant that with our added mile, we’d be going right around 6 miles that day. Which was great until we went a little over 3 miles into the trail, met our first thru-hiker of the trail. A skinny redhead girl named “firecracker” who was slack packing to Newfound Gap. Then the trail started uphill, and kept going uphill, and uphill. This was also the first time I’d carried (in retrospect) a way too heavy pack over rock scrambles.

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After climbing steadily uphill for miles we came to a portion of the trail that dipped downhill before heading back up. My legs were exhausted at this point, my knee started getting this achy feeling on the downhill portions of the trail and I had that all too familiar “copper penny” taste in my mouth from sucking in more air on the uphill that a hoover vacuum at a hybrid pet / furniture store. We were heading down hill at a quick pace as the sun was getting low in the sky and we really wanted to make it to the shelter and secure out spots before sundown. It was when all this was happening and with the days finish line in sight that I took a wrong step, slipped my foot off a loose rock and turned my ankle. I cringed for a second when I felt it happen, it stung but was no where near the worst pain I’ve felt even from similar injuries. So we continued on at our steady pace for the last mile into the shelter just as the sun was setting behind the mountains. 12919614_10153973860690767_3590228466849547661_nWhen we got to the shelter it was pretty crowded. There were a handful of thru-hikers eating dinner, more that were already asleep and another handful of section hikers like ourselves that were getting ready to bed down for the night. So we hung our packs, changed out of our sweaty clothes, and warmed up a quick dinner before raising our food bags up the bear cables. We made smalltalk with a few of the hikers that were still awake, warmed up by the fire that was glowing in the fireplace inside the shelter. Then rolled out our sleeping bags and called it a night. (Picture is from the “top bunk” of the shelter as the fire was dying).

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The night went by quickly, I had underestimated how much colder it would be in the mountains and hadn’t brought quite enough warm weather gear. But my 0 degree sleeping bag kept me warm through the night and the tarp run across the front of the lean-to shelter kept the 40 mile an hour winds that we experienced that night at bay, apart from sounding like it was going to tear the roof off the shelter. Once we got up we had a quick bite to eat, packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the other hikers at the shelter. From here we started the 3 mile climb up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky’s and the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. It was during this (for me) grueling uphill climb that I really started to feel the effects of my misstep the previous day. The achy feeling in my knee and soreness in my ankle exacerbated by the extra weight that I was carrying. Both in my pack and on my still very far from average frame. It was disheartening, but even at the slow pace that we were going we still reached the summit well before noon. We paused at the tourist trap for a little while, admired the scenery, then started back on the trail toward the shelter we were supposed to stay at that night. Still well over 10 miles away.

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Now that we had made it to Clingmans Dome we got to enjoy 2 miles of gradual decline. Killer on the knees but a great break for your lungs, quads and hamstrings. Once we had gotten about a mile into the 2 miles of downhill, we were walking at a steady pace when we came across a very muddy portion of trail near a spring. As we were maneuvering around the deepest part of the mud my foot slipped and I jarred my leg hard enough to turn my slight aches and soreness into screaming protests up and down my entire left leg. From this point our progress was slowed to a crawl. We hadn’t been going much faster on the uphills, but it was definite downgrade in speed. We decided after this that we would very clearly not be making it to the shelter we had reserved for the night and given the circumstances and the fact that you cannot off trail camp outside of reserved shelter in the Smokys unless you are a thru hiker, so we made a plan to get to the next shelter and attempt to call the shuttle service to see if they could adjust the pickup. When we finally made it to the Twin Spring Gap Shelter, dropped our packs and refilled our water. The shuttle service let us know that they could adjust the pick up but the only place they could pick us up was 3.5 miles back up the trail to Clingmans Dome. So once we let them know the situation and that we would be moving rather slow, we started back up the mountain sore, tired and (for me) slightly disheartened.

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On the shuttle ride back to Newfound Gap, exhausted, in pain, and having gone just about 15 miles in all I came to the realization that I have a long way still to go before this dream to thru-hike the AT can become a reality. If just over 24 hours in this terrain could leave me feeling the way I was there was no way that I could survive 5-7 months of this day after day. But sometimes it takes an experience like this to show you how important something really is to you. Yes, this was a low point when I grossly underestimated the trail while at the same time overestimating my own ability. But it gives me a renewed sense of determination, the trail may have beaten me this time. But I’ll be back, skinnier, healthier, and with a vengeance.

If you’re interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail, more information is available in the link below.                                                                                      https://www.appalachiantrail.org/

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An AT adventure in the great Smoky Mountains. From Newfound Gap to Twin Springs Shelter.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Monday, April 4, 2016

Sycamore Loop Trail

This was the first hike of the year where things were really starting to green over and a lot of the plants and flowers in the woods were in bloom. I love winter hiking, but I’m really glad the cold weather is seeing its way out the door.

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I’m starting to find little things about each new trail that I hit week after week that I really enjoy. This week on Monday we took a trip to the Sycamore Loop Train in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness that’s located in the Hoosier National Forest. This is the first trail that I’ve been to in the HNF and it stuck out to me because of the designated camp spots marked throughout the trail. Most of which have been built up to the point that they rival most improved camp sites that you’d find right off the roadway in many places. The coolest that we saw was definitely the 4th or 5th one in, located about 5 miles into the trail. People have taken the time to assemble a limestone table and chairs. No doubt very hard and heavy work, but one of the coolest things I’ve seen.

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Sycamore Loop is a 7.7 mile trail and stays incredibly flat in the back country. The only real climbs on the trail are located on the fire access road leading back to the parking lot and those are small hills at that. Another cool part of this trail, and something I’ve seen at the last few trails in less spectacular fashion are the pine tree forests dispersed throughout the trail. Even in the spring there seems to be something magical about being surrounded by these needle clad green giants.

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I’m definitely starting to see a lot more people out and about on the trails. Boyscout troops are a staple during the weekend hikes and some even on the weekdays. There is also no shortage of fishermen out around the water. It’s good to see that people are getting over their cabin fever and getting back out into the world. The more you’re out in it, the more you realize that this is really where we’re meant to be.

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

Until next time,

Happy Trails.

We hiked the Sycamore Loop trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area at the Hoosier National Forest.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Westwood Park

The more often I get out and hike the more I really start to realize how much natural beauty is all around us, things that we take for granted in our day to day lives and just don’t see. Spending that quality time for a handful of hours every weekend taking in the sunlight and calm of the forest (and water) is enough to calm even the most frizzled nerves. This past weekend I had the privileged of hiking at Westwood Park in New Castle, IN. and from the moment you pull into the ample parking lot right off of the trail head, you can tell this is going to be a hike to remember.

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The trail itself meanders 10 miles in a loop around the lake and gives you the opportunity to snap some breathtaking pictures, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. But the mileage is really the only part of this trail that is challenging. There are very few significant elevation changes and those contain ample switchbacks that make them more than bearable for even the most unseasoned hikers.

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Probably the coolest thing about this trail are the number of bridges that it contains. They vary in size and location but are numbered and make for a neat experience as you count your way through the trail miles.

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But there is also great deal of changing scenery, from deep forest trail, to small wooded outcroppings, to grassy fields. As long as the sun is out and the weather is nice you are absolutely guaranteed to have a great trip to this park.

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When you combine that with the views of the water, you really can’t go wrong in New Castle.

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

Happy Trails!

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We had a great weekday hike at Westwood Park today.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Monday, March 21, 2016

Like what you see? Come with us next time! http://www.meetup.com/Free-Range-Hiking-Meetup/

Pate Hollow: In the Rain

Over the weekend we traveled to the Pate Hollow Trail in Bloomington and it turned into a great little hike. The weather was about as perfect as it could get for this time of year and since the trail lays across very clay-like soil it wasn’t muddy except in a few areas close to stream crossing even though it was raining steadily for most of the hike. This was also the first occasion that someone else has shown up for one of our scheduled hikes.

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Since we founded Free Range Hiking at the beginning of the year we’ve been doing our best to try and share our love of hiking and the outdoors with people in the areas that we hike by setting up a Meetup group and weekly events associated with the Free Range Hiking Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/freerangehiking/?ref=hl. So today Dave from our Meetup group and his Yellow Lab Corbin decided to show us how Hiking is supposed to be done. Corbin absolutely loves being on the trail and checking out anything that moves in the underbrush as they hike. Dave has been out to a lot of the places that we’ve hit in Morgan Monroe, he also suggested some other nearby trails that he hikes regularly. Dave has been actively hiking for a lot longer than we have and had no problem burning my legs out as he was leading the hike for the first half.

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The funny thing is that you don’t really take your speed into account when you’re hiking as a pair or on your own. But when you hike with someone new you start to think more about your speed versus their speed. If you’re a fast hiker, you probably don’t like to be slowed down and if you’re a slow hiker, trying to keep up can be a real challenge. On this occasion I stopped a few times to snap pictures only to turn around and see that they had left me in the dust. But it was a fun experience and definitely put into perspective where we actually need to be before we try to take on the Appalachian Trail. After starting at about 10:45 because a little delay in finding the actual trail head we made it through the 7.7 mile loop and back to the cars right around 1:30 making this the fastest hike that we’ve completed yet. I try not to think about time from start to finish so much while I’m out there, instead I like to enjoy the scenery and the serenity of the forest and take in the moment. But every once in a while it’s cool to see how quickly you can get through a rugged trail when you’re pushing yourself. I know there are a lot of people that could do those miles faster. But we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year and we’re only going to continue to get better.

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

Until next time,

Happy Trails!

Yesterday we took on the Pate Hollow trail in Bloomington.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Monday, March 14, 2016

The Low Gap Trail: Revisited in Full.

The Low Gap Trail. In association with Great American “GRAM” Trails. <Link to Video>

Yesterday turned out to be a beautiful, high 50 degrees, light breeze, sunny spring day. It was also the day that we has set aside to hike through the full ten and a half miles of the Low Gap Trail, which has quickly become out favorite trail out at Morgan Monroe State Forest.

Our Original intention was to hike out to a nice camping spot by head lamp on Saturday night so that we could get up at dawn and hit the trail. This would have given my father, Jim, a chance to try an overnight stint in his new DIY hammock (if you haven’t seen it yet here’s a link to the video, Do you wanna build a hammock ). However, as often is the case in life. Something else took precedence Saturday night and we resolved to get up the next morning and hit the trail by 8:30 instead of camping.

When we hit the trail head the next morning around 8:30 it was already busy, we encountered a local boy scout troop and a middle aged couple out to hike the trail. We made small talk with the couple for a few minutes as we all got ready and recounted some of the places we’d been hiking recently. The boy scouts were loud and rowdy, typical of a large group of boys that age. In fact, even when we could not see them on the trail that day we never lost track of where they were just based on noise production alone.

In the past few months we’ve hit several parts of the Low Gap Trail and I’ve been in to see the cave formations a few times. Because the large cave is a fantastic sight when it’s ice covered and still impressive otherwise. But today we intended to hike the trail in its entirety. So this marked the longest single day of hiking that we’ve done since we got back into hiking regularly as well as the most beautiful trail we’ve hit. While I’m sure the Three Lakes Trail (Three Lakes Trail: An Epic Winter Adventure) would give it a run for its money this time of year. It was entirely snow covered when we tackled it a handful of weeks ago and that took away from the views a bit.

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We ended up making better time than we’ve made in previous hikes, along the way realizing that the GPS unit I was using doesn’t register switchbacks or portions of the trail that double back on themselves and it had lost a mile during the morning. We ended up stopping twice, once in the morning to have a late morning snack and to check out the hammock on the trail after our first 2 miles and the second was our lunch break at 1 after we’d hiked 7 and a half miles. I had a chance to pull out the FireBox that I keep in my pack and boil some water to rehydrate some long grain rice and chicken broth. We ended up sitting by this log, swapping plans for the AT and eating jerky, fresh fruit, tortillas and seasoned tuna packets along with some odds and ends stuff that we had for the better part of an hour before packing up and hitting the trail again.

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By this time we’d already been passed by the rowdy boyscout troop, the couple we’d spoken to at the onset of the hike and about a dozen other day hikers that had decided to take advantage of the great weather. The last few miles of the trail were all paved except for the last mile or so that’s currently closed as they work to put in a paved bike trail. At this point in the trail we decided to off trail hike back to the truck, avoiding the construction areas but keeping the trail in view. Once all was said and done we got back to the extremely crowded parking area at right around 3:30. We threw our stuff in the back of the truck and headed back to base camp for a few IPA’s and to recount the story of our morning to anyone that would listen.

We’re one step closer to getting to where we want to be for our AT hike, picking up trail knowledge and putting in a lot of foot time. Now we’re on to the next mini adventure.

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

Happy Trails!

Pictures are linked below.

We hiked the Low Gap Trail in its entirety today. 10.5 miles down on a beautiful day. Great day, great hike.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Sunday, March 6, 2016