Hiking the Knobstone: Day 2

Little did we know when we began planning this trip at the end of August, that Indiana would be hit with an unseasonably warm spell at the end of September. As it turns out, the weekend we decided to hit the trail. We spent our time on this iconic Indiana trail alone due to the high heat and humidity. Temps were in the 90s and humidity was nearly as high.


Even being a hammock camper where you’re usually afforded the luxury of a gentle breeze throughout the night. Our first and what would turn out to be our only night on the Knobstone Trail was devoid of any breeze, while the temps never dipped below 78 and the humidity made for a very sticky attempt at sleep.

When morning came we broke camp with first light, I know I slept about 2 hours in total because I absolutely could not stop sweating the entire night, and I had somehow become covered with black ants during the time I set up camp. I don’t think Dad slept much more than I did. After breaking down camp and eating a quick breakfast I downed close to a liter of water  because I could already feel the dehydration setting in.


Once we started out in the trail it was immediately evident that I had no idea what I was getting into when I stepped foot on this trail.  The Knobstone is a relentless rollercoaster of steep climbs and fast descents. During the first hour and a half on the trail we progressed about 2 miles and finished nearly all of the remaining water we had on us while having to constantly swat down large spiderwebs that were strewn across the path as it seemed that we had been the only hikers on this portion of the trail in a few days. Luckily, a local trail club had anticipated a few hapless adventures taking on the trail in the current conditions and had stashed a few gallons of water at nearly every road crossing we came upon. 

We gladly refilled our water every chance we got  and continued on at a breathtakingly slow pace (my pace), taking every opportunity we had to drink water and attempt to cool down. Eventually stopping at a creek that I promptly dove into after stripping down to compression shorts. The temps were already into the high 80s and the humidity was stifling by a quarter after 10 and after slowly making our way another 2 miles we came to a road crossing that was stocked with more water gifted by trail angels. It was at this point, with sweat soaked through all of my clothing and my pack, having downed nearly 2 gallons of water in 8 miles on the trail and still feeling the effects of severe dehydration. Sitting on a log on the side of the road with my dad, I decided to end my trip on the Knobstone. At least this time around.

After getting a ride from a local thru hiker and retiree, getting some food and more water in our bellies and catching up on sleep that I’d missed in the sweatiest night that I’ve ever hammocked through. I saw the full scale of what happens when you sweat through your bug spray in prime chigger weather in Indiana.


All in all my first experience on the Knobstone was nothing close to what I was expecting it to be. But I had a good time hiking with my father and made some more memories that we can add to our future campfire stories. The Knobstone beat me down this time and left me with the worst case of chiggers that I’ve ever seen. But I’m not deterred, next time we set out to tackle this trail I’ll be better prepared for the hills, hopefully it won’t be this hot, I’ll overapply my bug spray and we’ll complete the whole thing.

We did get some cool pictures while we were out that I’ll post below.

If you’re interested in hiking the Knobstone trail, further information is available below.  https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/4275.htm

Happy Trails!

Hiking the Knobstone: Day 1

Well, more like day 1/4. After a morning of prep (and work for my Dad) and an hour and a half drive from Peru, Indiana to Bloomington, Indiana to meet up with Dad before rushing another hour down to Corydon to cache water and start our hike. We FINALLY hit the trail at a little after 6pm. We managed to make it a little past the 5 mike mark after hiking by headlamp for the greater part of an hour.


The first 4 miles of the trail are gently rolling hills, not too much of a bother. But once you get past the 4 mike marker the trail starts going up, and doesn’t stop for what seems like an eternity to an out of shape hiker that’s gotten used to the flat trails in Texas. So we have 1 “hill” down and so much more to go. Elevation profile added for dramatic effect.


Looking at the 40+ miles to go, and knowing what lays in store definitely gives me one of those “what the hell did I get myself into” frames of mind. But I’m determined to finish this hike while I’m back. I don’t know the next time I’ll get to hike with my father, and I want this trip to go successfully in the record books. We just happened to pick the hottest, most humid weekend of the year to accomplish it. But I guess the unforeseen challenges are what make it that much more memorable.
Anyway, after managing to set our hammocks up  by headlamp (kudos to Atlas Straps and aluminum carabiners) and sitting around a small fire to dry off and get the bugs off of us. We’re both ready to snooze in our hammocks. I know tomorrow will be challenging, but I hope I have the fortitude to overcome.

If you’re interested in hiking the Knobstone trail, further information is available below.  https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/4275.htm

Happy Trails!

Back on the Low Gap: 2017 Edition

2017 has been full of excitement so far, but much of it has been away from hiking trails. I’ve found that South Texas gets pretty hot during the summer, and that heat isn’t great for hiking or backpacking like I’m used to. So most of this summer was dedicated to overtime at work and catching up on Game of Thrones so that I could be just as disappointed as everyone else that the last season won’t start for another 18 months. However, the end of August brought with it a month long trip back home to Indiana to visit family. Just after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in our area. Luckily where we live in New Braunfels, TX was relatively mild, getting much less rain than areas further east like Houston. We’re thankful that our area didn’t get hit worse and that we were still able to make the 18 hour road trip home without having to drive through much of the storm.

Once back in Indiana where the temperature is about 20 degrees cooler than back home in New Braunfels, I didn’t waste any time getting back on my favorite Indiana trail: the Low Gap. This particular trip was special because in addition to getting back on trail with my Dad (the other half of Free Range Hiking), I had the opportunity to take my Brother in Law on his first backpacking trip as well as introducing him to hammock camping. The Low Gap trail was a great starting point for him and a good reintroduction to less than flat trails for me. Texas has some great hiking, but most of the trails close to where I live are flat and rocky, a very stark contrast to central Indiana’s heavily wooded dirt paths.

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This hike was great, we got to Morgan Monroe State Forest at about 3, while it was still sunny and in the 70’s. It was forecasted to rain so we intended to make camp early, get a fire going and call it an early night. We managed to put in about 4 miles before the rain hit and the wind started to pick up. But we were still able to put up our hammocks and get the fire started with plenty of daylight left. So I introduced Jt, my Brother in Law, to JetBoil stoves and expensive Mountain House dinners. He wasn’t overly impressed with the food. But I think that had more to do with the fact that his clothes had gotten wet in the rain and less about the quality of the food. Regardless, he opted to forgo the mountain house meal and eat a quick, cold dinner while he got more acquainted with the fire.

 

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Before long we were all snug in our hammocks, lulling to sleep as we listened to the rain pattering on our rain fly’s. This was the 5th night I’ve spent in rainy/cold conditions in my Clark NX-270 hammock and each time I’ve slept more comfortably than I do in bed at my own home. I can’t speak highly enough of these hammocks and how they perform in all 4 seasons. Unfortunately, the Hennessey classic that JT was in didn’t stand up to the temps quite as well as my hammock and he spent most of his first night on the trail shivering from the cold. We’ve all been there, we know how much it sucks. I was hoping for a better experience from his first hammock camping experience, but we live and we learn. The next morning we were up with the sun, warming up around the fire, cooking and eating breakfast (MH Breakfast Skillets and instant coffee), showing Jt how to break down camp and readjust the straps on his pack before hitting the trail to knock out the remaining 6 miles.

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Overall this was a great first trip, the Low Gap was the first trail that I stepped foot on as an adult and it is the trail that made me fall in love with hiking/backpacking. On this trip it was a great reminder that even small hills suck when you’re fat and out of shape, and that being out in nature with great company is the best motivator to keep you coming back.

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

Happy Trails!

More pictures below.

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Clifty Falls

Back before the promotion and move to Texas we hit the creek bed trail at Clifty Falls in Indiana.

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This trail literally follows the creek bed from the terminus all the way to the waterfall.

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The waterfall is technically off limits because of the risk of falling debris from above. But we’re not the type of people that find a waterfall and don’t have a little fun.

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Aside from the AT, this was the coolest hike I went on in 2016 and I hope to make several more trips in the future.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/parks/us/indiana/clifty-falls-state-park?ar%5B%5D=10164113

Happy Trails,

 

 

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.

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

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