Thursday, June 30, 2011

Be Who You Aren't

I rose early to beat the impending heat and put Governor Bebb in the rear view, waltzing back into the farmland of Western Ohio. I zeroed in on Oxford as my destination - the ADT turn-by-turn had me about nineteen miles away from downtown. I fiddled with the route a bit, as I am known to do, in order to shave a mile or two from the total.
I was surprised to learn just now that I actually cut six miles off and I only went thirteen miles today. I guess that's how I got here so fast. Perhaps I should have realized my error earlier, but go ahead and spend eight hours in the sun and see how fast your neurons fire.
Obviously my brain was a little fried and in need of rest, so I took it at the Holiday Inn in Oxford. I don't have much to relate to you as a result, except a couple of facts about Miami, University, located here in Oxford. First off, the school/town appears to making an attempt to be confused with another university, either one athletically superior, as in the Miami Hurricanes of Florida, or academically superior, as in the Oxford University. I suggested once that South Carolina try something similar.
Their sports recruiting over the years certainly has to have positively effected the student bodies overall mental acuity. Learning to spell Roethlisberger or Szczerbiak can't help but make you a little smarter.

13 miles/873 total miles

Shake Your Moneymaker

I got a late start on the trail this morning, with the long car ride back to Harrison delaying my first steps. Dawn got me fueled up with breakfast before the drive and lunch afterward. We said our goodbyes and I began my long northerly march.
Today's journey took me into old Shaker territory. The Shakers were a commune of celibate Christians who built nineteen villages scattered about the United States between 1787 and 1827. White Water, through which I passed, is the best preserved in Ohio, sporting twenty two intact buildings.
Officially called the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, thankfully someone came up with a shorter name. The group was more commonly referred to as the Shakers because of their proclivity to gyrate during church services. For many years the Shakers were very successful communal farmers and manufacturers of homemade wares. By the end of the Civil War, however, their population had aged and dwindled. I've found that such down-sizing is pretty common amongst communities that don't have any sex. I'll have to do some more research to learn more about this startling correlation.
Despite the late start I ate up some impressive mileage, finishing at the Governor Bebb Preserve after chewing up and spitting out sixteen of the buggers for a total of 860. The preserve served as my home for the evening and also furnished a chance to see my first live raccoons (one pictured in the tree above). A six pack of the furry thieves scuttled across my path just before I arrived in the camping area.
Over sixty days in I'm glad to report that the trek has not grown stale. I still see new and amazing things on a daily basis. I guess I'll just have to do a few more miles tomorrow.

Westward No

June 28: Before leaving North Bend this morning I paid another visit to William Henry Harrison's tomb to learn more about America's fastest dying president. Harrison bit the big one after only one month in office, contracting pneumonia during a lengthy and rambling inauguration speech given in the rain. Only the constitutionally challenged one, Alexander "I'm in Charge" Haig, can claim a shorter reign.
Since he didn't have enough time in office to actually accomplish anything, Harrison's main contribution to the presidency comes from his campaign. The battle of 1840 between he and Martin Van Buren is considered the first modern presidential race.
Harrison's handlers defined him as a hard-drinking frontiersman who resided in a rustic log cabin. E.C. Booz, from whom the word booze is derived, distilled a special brand of whiskey, Log Cabin, just for the campaign. In actuality, the candidate rarely drank and lived in a mansion. Much like the "man of the people" millionaires involved in politics today I daresay.
Once I shook my torpor I made quick time to Elizabethtown. Here the America Discovery Trail splits into north and south sections, beginning a period of frustration for me. Instead of stabbing westward, I will be spending the next few days going north, with the Indiana border taunting me just miles to the east the whole way.
I finished just a small portion of that section today, for early in the afternoon I had an appointment with Dawn, a friend of my mother's whose husband is an officer currently serving in Iraq. She picked me up promptly and took me back to her home in Indianapolis.
On the way we swung by the picturesque little town of Oldenburg. Oldenburg was originally settled almost exclusively by German immigrants and evidence of those roots are omnipresent there. Most noticeably, all the street signs are in both German and English. The main feature of the town is a huge Franciscan nunnery, one of the largest in the nation. "Sister Act III" would have been filmed there, but thanks to the prayerful intercession of the Oldenburg nuns that crisis was averted and no such film was produced.
After a quick trip to see Dawn's daughter Sarah's mad riding skills and a swing by their house to alleviate my stench somewhat, we headed into Indy. The famous racetrack was our first destination and I posed in front of the Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame, wondering what it was like for Mario and Luigi Andretti to kiss the bricks and drink a pasteurized dairy product.
Dawn took me next to the center of downtown, whose growth has exploded in recent years. I saw Lucas Oil Stadium (host of the 2012 Super Bowl), Conseco Fieldhouse, NCAA headquarters, and the Indiana State Museum.
Most appropriately, we visited the Medal of Honor Recipients Memorial, which sits astride a lovely canal across from the NCAA offices. Every individual who has earned the medal is listed here and you can learn the story of each soldier's heroism on a computer kiosk located at the site.
For dinner we continued the German tradition in Indiana by dropping in at Rathskeller, a biergarten of the highest order, at least to my uninitiated American eyes.
Rathskeller provided us with terrific beer, incredible food, and a great name for my next heavy metal band. I imbibed an Arrogant Bastard Ale and dined on a wurst platter and chicken cordon blue fingers. The spicy mustard served with the sausages shot through my nostrils like dragon's flame - not at all an unpleasant sensation. Overall the meal hit the bull's eye and, along with Dawn's enthusiastic and affable company, put a fine exclamation point on my day in Indianapolis.

9 miles/844 miles total

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Went Back to Ohio....

June 27: I abandoned my quarters early in the morning and headed up a hill to Devou Park. Once atop the crest I was treated to the Kentuckians' view of Cincinnati and the Ohio River. Helpful signs have pointed out to me that the river is in reality now a series of lakes whose level is regulated by locks and dams.
I was trapped in Devou longer than expected by a sudden downpour, forcing me under cover at the museum there. Thirty minutes later the rain let up and I was able to escape the park's clutches. I then said this to Devou.
The rest of my short jaunt into Kentucky took place on River Road, which passed by the tiny communities of Ludlow and Bromley on the way to the Anderson Ferry. In Bromley I picked up a friend, a small dog who asserted herself into my vast retinue of two (including her). I called her "Spazz the Mutt" in honor of the creature's tendency to run amok in a somewhat suicidal manner. This behavior did slow down traffic a bit, which certainly worked to my benefit.
Spazz stayed at my side for the four miles to the landing and much to my surprise hopped on board to ride the fairy, um ferry, with me. I was struck by the realization that I may very well be stuck with a companion.
Back in Ohio, I strolled into a convenient store in the vicinity of the dock. Therein I found someone who promised to keep the dog until he could find his owners. I would love to have a buddy like Spazz, but keeping a pet when I can barely feed myself would be irresponsible. On second thought, I think I'll do it. Well, maybe not yet.
Shockingly, Spazz would not sit still for a photo

The afternoon was a major grind, heading west on Hillside Drive for a mundane six miles. I passed Sayler's Park, Addyston, and finally ended up in North Bend. Exhausted and over-heated I stopped to rest and reassess at William Henry Harrison's tomb around six o' clock.
My options were to head six plus miles further to a campsite outside of Elizabethtown or to take my chances sleeping at the monument site where I currently sat. I let a coin choose and it came up stay, so I remained for another thirty minutes until I grew restless and flipped again. This turn of chance suggested leaving so I packed up and was about to go when a woman arrived at the tomb.
Beverly was her name and after a quick conversation she decided I wasn't a psychopath and offered up the yard behind her church just a couple of blocks away for my use. Timing truly is everything.

15 miles/835 total miles

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nattily Clad

June 26: Rain continued to fall as I closed up shop at Tom and Jan's. They shuttled me back to Dilly Deli, where I resumed my travels. I headed through Hyde Park and East Walnut Hills, two upscale sections of the Natty. I stopped only for a quick lunch at the over-priced Cock and Bull pub.
The highlights of Cincinnati were Eden Park and Sawyer's Point, which both boasted stellar vistas of the Ohio River. Eden Park would have been my thousandth mile if I had adhered strictly to an American Discovery Trail regimen, but my adjustments meant I was only at eight hundred and eighteen. I think we saved some time there dontcha think?

Sawyer's Point features statues of Cincinnatus, the Roman hero after which the city is named, and also a flying pig, which commemorates the proud pork processing past of Cincy. I sprayed myself with my bacon-scented deodorant in memory.
After passing the Great American Ballpark I turned left at the football stadium where the Bungles have played something resembling the sport for many years. The river impeded my progress here, but some helpful young man by the name of John Roebling had supplied the solution - a suspension bridge. Roebling is better known for constructing the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps you've heard of it. The project from Cincinnati to Covington was built earlier and was the longest suspension bridge in the world when completed in 1866.
I headed into Covington and met up with my Aunt Gail and Uncle Tom for dinner. They drove up from Danville, Kentucky to meet me. Gail bought a wonderful meal for us at La Rosa's pizza and we caught up, not having seen each other in the two years since Gail's daughter Jen's wedding.
 I'm staying tonight at the absurdly expensive Radisson, with a plan to escape the Cincinnati area ASAP. I had anticipated very little from the Natty, but I was quite impressed with the city. Alas, the place does not meet my meager budgetary requirements so I must move back into the country. This city living just ain't for me.

12 miles/820 total miles

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Natty Light

June 25: I'm closing in on the city of Cincinnati right now and if I haven't mentioned this before, a really long time has passed since I have seen anything much more than a village. I'm suffering a bit from culture shock as a result. Usually I have only one or two restaurants to choose from - having forty choices is pretty much blowing my mind. I also don't have to stop at every single one if I am to have a chance at hot food for the day. Therefore, I walked right past all the breakfast possibilities in Batavia and was on my way out of town when a trail angel appeared before me.
Jamie was her name and she operates the Riverside Coffee Mill, which lay a block off of my route. She offered me some free waffles and tried to help me with my search for a cheaper lodging option in Mariemont, the day's destination. Her suggestion was that I try Dilly Deli, a restaurant hangout where I might run into a number of camper friendly hippie types. Although her stereotype of their customer base ended up being dead wrong, her recommendation ended up fitting the bill. Why? You'll have to stay tuned until the end of the episode. Now some commercials...
Thanks for staying with us through another ten minutes of cavemen selling life insurance humor, I'm sure that bit hasn't grown at all stale. My wanderings have brought me back onto the Buckeye and ADT trail, so I can give a couple pieces of advice to those of you who may be so foolish as to follow in my footsteps.
1) Ross Road is not really a road if you are coming from the east, but rather a mostly clear grass path that occasionally boasts a slice of old tarmac. Compared to most off-road parts of the Buckeye Trail, however, this trail/street rates an A+.
2) Round Bottom Road should be avoided if another way exists. There is no shoulder and I did not feel very safe walking here. I passed about ten thousand bicycles, though, so I may be alone in that assessment.
Since I am not writing this piece from beyond the grave, you can rest assured I did indeed survive these trials and arrive in the town of Milford. I was starved and stopped at the first place I found, MJs. This decision turned out to partially be a mistake as the food was terrifically over-priced and the portions skimpy. I do admit that the bison burger (more like a slider) I had was absolutely mouth-watering, the curry mustard a revelation, and the chocolate cake to die for, but I am still hungry.
The afternoon was consumed hiking the Little Miami Scenic Trail to Mariemont. I was amazed to see so many other folks walking and biking after having seen about two people exercising for the last month. The trail is not exceptionally scenic despite the name, but it was a great way to avoid the busy roads of outer Cincinnati. Plans are underway to expand the path all the way downtown in coming years.
I arrived in Mariemont about four and ran into a man named Dan who offered me the shade of his porch and some road money while telling me a little bit about the town. Mariemont was once a village where everyone knew all the other inhabitants, but Cincinnati has slowly encroached and engulfed the place, changing the makeup of Mariemont into the prototypical bedroom community.
After an hour of chit-chat I headed over to the center of Mariemont, where the Dilly Deli is located. I didn't find any hippies there, but I did find a battalion of friendly fellows. No sooner had I sat at my table than I was doing a press conference about the walk and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Fortunately, my media relations skills have improved since I gave that "Diddly Poo" rant when I was coaching the New Orleans Saints. I gave out several cards and had numerous promises of future donations. One young couple was nice enough to cover my meal. The waiter, Harold, was extremely helpful and affable. Through his hard work I was introduced to Tom and Jan, who offered to let me camp in their back yard for the evening.
Tom possesses one of the premier collections of fire marks in the United States. Fire marks are plaques insurance companies placed on homes or businesses that had coverage with them. The early ones were made out of wood and the later ones composed of various metals. Some date back as far as the 1750s, when Philadlephia native Ben Franklin is said to have founded the first fire insurance company in the colonies.
There were no worries of fire this night. A steady rain fell soon after I tucked myself in to sleep. After eighteen miles the odometer reads 810.

Making John Gotti Blush

June 24: Occasionally when I walk into a place with my massive sack of doom the reaction is sort of like one of those Westerns where all the eyes of those inside are drawn to the entering protagonist.
Such was the case when I opened the door to the Mount Orab library this morning. Like lightning, I was immediately immersed in several conversations at once. The dialogue that lasted the longest was conducted with a middle aged woman named Velvet, who has a son in the military and was interested in my saga. She is attempting to form a non-profit organization which would allow people with huge amounts of frequent flier miles to donate them to members of the armed forces so they are able to visit their families more often.
I also learned during our talk that Steve Newman, the first man credited with using just his two feet to get around the entire world, is from nearby Bethel, Ohio and his epic jaunt originated there. I think that Ohio is the most gigantic place in the world right now - I dare not contemplate Russia and all the other land masses he traversed. Just wondering, do you think he walked on water between continents or did he swim?
Once I quit blabbing and hit the road most of my day was spent on the Tri City Parkway. This particular set of three includes Mount Orab, Williamsburg, and Batavia.
My most exciting moment on an otherwise drab stroll was listening to a woman in a passing car who must have been suffering from Tourette's spout a long list of obscenities at me that would have made John Gotti blush. Maybe she thought my appearance was her cue to begin auditioning for a mafia flick.
On another topic, as I approach my most populated area for the last say, six hundred miles, I observed some things I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. For example, the ice cream vans here play either "Turkey in the Straw" or "The Entertainer," but do not play David Lee Roth's "I'm Your Ice Cream Man."
I also managed to notice the largest house I have seen on the trip thus far, Daydream Manor just outside of Williamsburg. I just barely saw it though, since it was only to my right for about a mile. The million acre property was breathtakingly ostentatious. I was thrilled to see that the absurdly wealthy can still find it in their hearts to build such obscene monuments while the majority suffers from the latest economic downturn. I later learned that the grounds are occupied by one single elderly resident. Bravo!
Slowed by a laundry stop in Williamsburg, I was only able to reach the eastern edge of Batavia, where I found a hotel and broke for the evening. Twelve more miles have me at 792 thus far.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gutting It Out

June 23: Today was a huge struggle for Ken. He awoke in the middle of the night terribly nauseous and was able to obtain very little rest. A virus contracted in Afghanistan is causing him a lot of trouble and the antibiotics the doctors prescribed have exacerbated the stomach problems brought on by the microbe. Water was hard for him to keep down and food nearly impossible.
Nevertheless, being a Special Forces officer, Ken refused to quit and we actually advanced farther than the previous day, going twenty miles from Russellville to Mt. Orab. I couldn't help but be impressed with his toughness in overcoming what was a transparently difficult ordeal. Nothing new for Major Dwyer I guess, but I wish God would give him a break. I'm starting to think Job got off easy.
Ken's father met us at the extremely cheap Green Crest Hotel at six. They left together and headed to Columbus where Ken's pop will be getting remarried this weekend. I am alone once again.

Miles today: 20/ Total miles: 780

A Visit From Kunta Kinte

June 22: Colin, Amy, and Duffy departed this morning, but the hole in my heart left by their loss was filled by the arrival of a celebrity guest, my great friend, Major Ken Dwyer. He and his totally hot wife Jennie were buddies of mine during the matriculation process I occasionally participated in at Furman University.
Ken is also the reason I am hiking for the Wounded Warrior Project. His valiant struggle to overcome the loss of his left arm inspires me every day I walk.
We talked for the entirety of the journey from Seaman to Russellville. We spoke of old times and caught up on new developments while Ken interspersed the dialogue with wiener-related humor. Even heroes can act like they are thirteen years old once in a while.

Seventeen miles later we arrived in Russellville and found a tavern where we could obtain some grub and information on possible places to camp. Crystal, the bartender, cook, and waitress provided both, making us some delicious bacon cheeseburgers and offering up her backyard.
Crystal's yard was a perfect fit, just across the street, nicely secluded, and recently mowed. We settled down for the night, blabbing until we fell asleep. This week has been very special for me. I've come a long way, but I wouldn't have made it a mile without the help of my friends and family.

17 miles/760 total miles

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Coming to Seaman

June 21: I took my entourage back on the trail again early this morning. We left our Chillicothe home of four days just after seven and made the drive west to Serpent Mound, which I had reached Friday afternoon before my hiking schedule got all mixed up and nearly impossible to follow. The doughnut hole has been filled now and everything should be back to normal or as close as I can manage to that state.
We spent a few minutes at Serpent Mound checking out the impressively large snake the Native Americans here had erected. The structure here is dated to the early second millennium, centuries later than the Hopewell site we saw yesterday. Since the summer solstice is today many hippies were gathered about preparing to dance around the field naked. As sexy as seventy year old hippies are, we thought it might be a good idea to be on our way.
The Buckeye Trail and ADT head southeast for the next sixty miles so I will be following the Alastair McCandless trail for a couple of days. I'm pretty big on heeding Horace Greeley's advice on heading west, especially since rumor has it the Pacific Ocean is actually in that direction.
The trip covered fifteen miles and was pretty uneventful. CAD took turns driving and walking, while I led the way from about one hundred yards behind mom. She'll probably be about two hundred years old before I can outpace her.
We survived the ninety degree heat and arrived in Seaman, which is only forty miles east of Beaver, around four o' clock. Downtown I learned a little bit about the history of Seaman. Will Roger is from here. No, not the famous one, but rather a "famous" African-American balloonist from the late nineteenth century. Mainly because he was the only one I surmise. Later I immersed myself in the Seaman pool at the Comfort Inn.
As I floated in Seaman, I pondered the departure of CAD in the morning. I will miss their presence greatly, being alone with so much distance still to travel is very daunting at times. Having them here made me feel like I was at home and the daunting nature of my task faded away.

Don't shed too many tears for me yet, however, the news is not all bad. I have been hearing rumors that there may be a mystery guest joining me soon. Stay tuned....
15 miles/743 total miles

Monday, June 20, 2011

Near Life Experience

I know the blog is much more interesting when I do something really stupid and almost die, but since my family was in town we decided to take one more day off the road and visit Portsmouth with MC Snyder.
Mike had an appointment for the early morning first, so CAD and I hopped over to the Hopewell Mounds, an impressive series of Native American burial chambers built during the time of the Roman empire. The hills were molded into elliptical and conical shapes. The cremated bodies inside were kept separately so archaeologists were able to tell how many possible zombies each held.
Tired of learning about Indians our ancestors didn't even kill, we met up with MC Snyder and headed an hour south to Portsmouth, which sat patiently at the intersection of the Scioto and Ohio rivers waiting for our arrival. The town was once a hive of activity, with factories making shoe, steel, brick, and other manufactured goods. Now most of those industries have left and the buildings lie dormant, hulking loops in the Rust Belt manufacturing little except for soul-crushing depression.
Portsmouth was lucky enough at least to lose their professional football team, the Portsmouth Spartans, who took off in 1934 to become the Detroit Lions. I wouldn't wish that embarrassment of a franchise on my worst enemy's community.
The main draw in modern Portsmouth is the murals. A huge flood wall has protected citizens there from the Ohio's occasional swelling for many years, but the plain chunk of masonry did little for the town aesthetically. Having seen murals in other Ohio towns, some of the locals thought jazzing up the flood wall's surface a bit might be beneficial.
Mike, Connie, and some ass hole in front of one of the Portsmouth murals. 

Designed by artist Robert Dafford and painted by a number of gifted artists, the paintings tell the history of Portsmouth's ups and downs while highlighting some of their famous residents, such as Branch Rickey and Roy Rogers. The work was begun in 1993 and the project is ongoing, with new pieces being added and others repaired.
Afterward MC Snyder invited us back to their crib in Richmond Dale for some rhubarb pie and lemon cake. We stayed and chatted for a bit, but eventually the time to leave came and I finally had to say goodbye to my adopted family of three days. I hope they don't suffer too badly from empty nest syndrome. I think Mom and Dad had a party to celebrate after I went off to college so I figure the scars will heal given enough time.

0 miles/728 total miles

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I'm Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today

I hadn't taken a zero day in over a week so instead of returning to Serpent Mound I decided that CAD would really enjoy the Hocking Hills. We took a lovely scenic ride through Kinnikinnick (the Stoner Indian word for marijuana), Adelphi, and Laurelville, arriving at our destination less than an hour later.
We visited all the high points, including Ash Cave and Cedar Falls, which I had seen last Monday. Old Man's Cave, Rock House, Conkle's Hollow, and the Cantwell Cliffs were all viewed by our discerning eyes.
Old Man's Cave seemed to be the group favorite. The place is named after Old Man Rowe, a former "Scooby Doo" villain who lived there with his hound dogs during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A narrow gorge runs through the area, forming a variety of fantastic rock formations over the course of several hundred yards. The sandstone there provides for the unique geology, since the substance has a tendency to be porous in the middle and hard on the top and bottoms, leaving arches and overhangs galore after erosion.

Mom enjoyed House Rock, also known as Rock House. Colin suggested she should try some premium brands of crack before settling.
Duffy's least favorite part of Hocking Hills were the state park's restroom facilities. She spoke of them as "extermination chambers" and made some loud moaning noises when her situation drove her into their realm.
On the way home we stopped at TJ Maxx where mom kindly purchased some nylon underwear, which I will be trying out over the next several days. Connie says I am the only hiker ever to wear cotton boxers. I do so like being unusual even if it may cause me discomfort so cotton may be a hard habit for me to break.
I did several miles of walking on my "day off," but we won't count these on the trip odometer since they didn't propel me westward. I would complain, but I'd prefer to let you hear Dante's whine instead, he does it so well.

0 miles/728 total miles

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back to the Alma

I guess I just couldn't get enough of the low hourly rates at the Sundown, so I returned this morning to Alma with CAD and Mike to the spot I had left blank Thursday. If you have forgotten where we are in our story, I skipped ahead to the Nipgen to Sinking Springs stage of the Tour de Ohio in order to leave what should theoretically be an easy stretch for CAD to mow down.
Mike dropped us off and we headed along the edge of a few properties before plunging into the woods for two miles. One of the land owners had enclosed the trees with the blazes inside his fence, so we followed on a parallel path along the corresponding tree line. Once the barb wire terminated we were able to more firmly adhere to the trail.
The walk here was bliss compared to some of the earlier trips into the Amazon I have made on the Buckeye Trail. Colin and I made friends with five or six ticks along the way, but otherwise the way was not fraught with the dangers I have encountered when I foolishly counted on the blue blazes to guide me safely on previous excursions into the forests of Ohio.

Once we hit Prussia Road, just north of Pee Pee, Ohio, we left the wilderness and the skies opened up, administering to the group a preparedness test. Mom and Duffy scored a big fat F when they revealed that they had brought ponchos up to Ohio, but left them in the hotel room.
We did learn a bit of history even in the absence of much human civilization, running into the old Eden Baptist Church, where the congregation had helped runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad: discuss.
Speaking of the Civil War, I have not yet moved far west enough to avoid further stories of that bygone family squabble. Mike told us on the ride back of Chillicothe being threatened by Morgan's Raiders, a feared group of rebel cavalrymen. They responded by burning down their bridge. The river, being less than a foot deep was quite fordable, but fortunately for the poor morons the town was saved when the Raiders ran out of granola and had to go back home so their granny could bake more.
CAD was a bit wiped out after our thirteen miles were through, so we had a big meal and headed back to the hotel. I'm going to grow quite spoiled after a week with a bed and now a few days with a pool. I'll probably wander around the next campsite trying to find the jacuzzi and sauna.

13 miles/728 total miles

The Folks Cometh

I slept until the late hour of 7:30 A.M. and awoke ready for an easy waltz up to Serpent Mound. MC took me on the long drive out to Sinking Springs. I have moved well beyond Richmond Dale and they are incredibly generous to still be dropping me off at this point.
I only scheduled eight miles because I wanted to end at Serpent Mound, so that my brother, mom, and her best friend Duffy could start out with me from there after we fill in the Alma to Nipgen donut hole I left for Saturday.
Three hours was all I needed to eat up that bit of real estate and I arrived ahead of our rendezvous time. Entering the grounds I was passed by couple in a carriage, bringing my Amish count up to nine thus far. Despite being slower than the finest machinery the 19th century had to offer, I did finish with the minutes to spare necessary for me to eat my lunch under the picnic shelter at the Serpent Mound park. Located just overhead was a swallow's nest replete with a full compliment of squeaking chicks.
I got an idea of the small park's layout, although I did not view any of the mounds yet. I'm guessing there is a chance they are shaped like a snake, but I will have to get back to you on that.
On the way back MC showed me the mineral museum nearby, where Tom Johnson has amassed one of the largest private collections of trilobites in the United States. These extinct animals make up a hefty percentage of all fossils found up until one two hundred and fifty million years ago, when they were destroyed in the Clone Wars I believe.
We made the long drive back and awaited the arrival of CAD, as we will now speak of Colin, Amy, and Duffy collectively. CAD showed up in Chillicothe around six after spending some time inadvertently exploring the back roads of southern Ohio. Good prep for our future hikes I should say. MC Snyder took me down to the hotel and we all went over to the Rooster next door for dinner. The Snyders have made many excellent suggestions for us so that CAD can enjoy their visit here and so I can get off my feet a little for a couple of days. Tired from driving we called it a night around nine thirty. Tomorrow I will introduce CAD to the joys of frolicking in the midst of nowhereville Ohio.

8 miles/715 total miles

Friday, June 17, 2011

Skip to Nip

June 16: Today I jumped ahead to a more westerly section in order to give my family a walk less polluted with eighteen wheelers to traverse when they arrive Friday. Therefore Mike dropped me off at Nipgen, about thirteen miles past Alma in trail terms, and I commenced the day's journey.
The first half of the trek was spent going around Pike State Park. In the back country there I had a couple of scary dog encounters. First I met a pack of six canines of varying sizes wandering on the road outside of what I assumed was their owner's property. They were very aggressive towards me, but I was able to back them off by pretending I wasn't afraid of them.
Later I turned to my right to see a massive German Shepherd headed towards me at full speed, yelping, snarling, and drooling all the way. Time stood still as he continued on a path straight toward me, closing the hundred yards between us in no time. Again I was able to stand up big and tall and yelled in my most intimidating voice, "No!" He too quit his approach and stayed away from me. I am growing more confident in my ability to deal with these situations. Regardless, less fortunate hikers and mailmen will tell you it only takes one crazy dog to make for a very, very bad day.
The second half of the day was spent eating up highway between Latham and Sinking Springs. I was a little lethargic for that stretch after having been forced to devour an ice cream sandwich, my fatal weakness. I did eventually waddle into S.S. land around 4:30 and called it a day. Slack-packing (= awesome) enabled me to chew up a great deal of miles, twenty one in fact. I am now over 700 miles (707).
Mike picked me up and we hurried back to Chillicothe, where the local semi pro baseball team was playing that evening. They got their brains beat in, but we enjoyed some free chicken and hamburgers as well as dollar beers. Rain had threatened in the form of ugly black clouds earlier, but we were lucky enough to get the rainbow without the waterworks.
We left after the fifth inning with things looking bleak for the hometown Paints and headed to Cross Keys Tavern. A Dixieland jazz band has played there for over thirty years with an evolving cast of members. They thrilled the crowd with tunes like "Mac the Knife" and "It's a Wonderful World." The delicious Kentucky Bourbon Ale they had on tap seemed to improve my ears' impression of the sounds as well. They closed with the "Mickey Mouse Club Theme" at ten thirty and we called it a night. Or so they tell me.

22 miles/707 total miles

Chewbacca's Grundle

June 14: Inhabitants of the lower peninsula of Michigan describe the shape of that part of the state as a mitten. Ohio, as their long-time rival, should also be described in a similar fashion in order to simplify the geographical explanation process. To me Ohio looks like the part of the human body between the pelvis and the upper thighs. Therefore, I have just reached Ohio's gooch.
In an effort to escape this no man's land I headed out from MC's house after a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and fruit salad prepared by Connie. Most of the day was spent traversing Scioto (Cy-oh-toe) Trail State Forest. I stayed on the lightly traveled state highway through the park. Heading through the wilderness on mostly unused roads like these still gives you the opportunity to see flora and fauna, plus you can make quick progress without having to slash through heavy brush using your legs as a dull thresher.
The miles went by rapidly since I am slack-packing or not carrying much of anything in regular human speak. I even jogged a little in the early going, glad as I was to be free of my heavy burden. The end of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech echoed in my head. In honor of the temporary end of my heavy pack slavery, the song of the day is "I'm Free" by the Who.
I arrived at my end destination just south of Alma in only five hours, easily knocking out fourteen miles. Google was unsure of Alma's existence, but trust me the town is there. The main landmarks are the Marathon station, the eight room hotel called the Sundown (referred to as the Rundown by this reviewer), and the porn shop where you purchase the videos to watch during your rent by the hour session at the Sundown.
My day's journey concluded, Connie came by and picked me up and returned me to their home in Richmond Dale. We had a hearty supper of steak, potatoes, salad, and vegetables. Mike and I then watched "Raging Bull" which we both pronounced profoundly boring and anticlimactic. Please explain to me why this film is considered a classic.
Thanks to raging bore I fell right to sleep. I'll keep moving into the left butt cheek on my hikes in the coming days, but I will return to the grundle at night. After the uncertainty of not knowing where I would stay on so many days out I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

14 miles/685 total miles

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Happy Feet

I got up early and evacuated my bivouac at Lebanon Coummity (sic) Church, not willing to wait around and see if anyone was upset with my presence there. The ADT goes into Tar Hollow Forest next. I chose to skip the thrills of thorns and brambles, moving instead on state highways. Call me a coward only after reading the following two bits of evidence - let us refer to them as Exhibit A and Exhibit B.
Exhibit A, one of the way points for the trail here lists these directions: Trail leaves Musgrave Rd. and turns left onto the more westerly of the two driveways. In 1000 feet leave driveway and continue south across lawn toward an electric utility pole. Just past utility pole, ford intermittent stream and continue south on mowed path. Trail soon fords a second intermittent stream and immediately turns northwest. For almost a mile the trail will be on old forest road that is intersected by other similar traces. Trail reaches a low ridge and turns sharply south. In 1100 feet at a "crossroads" turn northwest and ascend. In 1200 feet pass old log ridge you can see the pedestrian culvert that passes under highway. Descend to culvert and pass under US 35. Turn south on grassy bench and in 360 feet turn back toward corner of highway fence (no bench)....
This nonsense continues on for another eight lines of print, but I shan't bore you, I think you get the drift.
Exhibit B, a trail journal entry from Andy Niekamp. The most recent person to finish the Buckeye Trail, he completed the over one thousand mile circumnavigation of Ohio on June 14: "The weeds were high, the footpath was faint, blazes were few and limbs covered the trail. Someone had selectively logged a few trees and left the tops to cover the trail. Plus there was an assortment of fallen trees covering the trail.
I wandered off the trail and got lost several times. I had to backtrack. The trail would make tricky turns off the established footpath. The turns would be covered in weeds and I would miss them. Many blazes were faded or obscure. Navigating the fallen trees was hard and dangerous.
My spirit finally broke. Hiking the trail in this condition was too tough on me. I realized that I wasn't hiking the trail. I was fighting the trail instead. I came to the Buckeye Trail to hike it not fight it. The trail had been in bad condition for the last week.
I sat down on a high knoll and got out my smartphone. In frustration I wrote an email to the Buckeye Trail Association executive director, board president, state trail coordinator and a few trustees. I explained how poorly maintained the trail was and pleaded action. They need to know how bad the trail had gotten. I am just one of a series of hikers who hike on the Buckeye Trail in southern Ohio and encounter these conditions. Some hikers quit in frustration and never come back.
I resumed hiking and things got worse. I missed a turn and ended up at an Amish Farm. I could tell it was an Amish Farm because it had the biggest clothes line full of clothes I had ever seen. An Amish lady was outside holding a baby. I asked for directions. She told me to backtrack which I did. I found the turn I missed. I had seen it before and figured it was not the correct turn.
I came to a spot where the blue blazes went in two directions. A faded sign by a logging company said the trail was rerouted in this area. I chose the wrong set of blazes and got lost. I backtracked and followed the second set. The trail disappeared into the woods. Whomever blazed this route spaced out the blazes too far. I got lost a few more times. To me this part of the trail looked abandoned.
I finally got to a road. I was whipped physically and mentally. It took almost four hours to go three miles. I was so disappointed.
I decided to walk to Fort Hill on roads instead of taking trails. There was no way I was going back into the woods on this section. The route by road was slightly longer than by trail but it was easier. My head was spinning from what I had just come through.
I got to Fort Hill and took a break under the picnic shelter. It was shaded, cool and breezy there. It felt good to take a break from the 90 temperatures. After the break I decided to hike a few more miles. But after going about a quarter of a mile and feeling the heat and I humidity I decided to turn back to the picnic shelter and camp there. I set up my tent under the picnic shelter. There was a stream nearby for water, restrooms, picnic tables and trash cans. Nobody bothered me there.
I felt sadness for the Buckeye Trail, the Buckeye Trail Association and Buckeye Trail hikers. Nobody wins when the trail is like this. There has got to be a solution for this."

So I road-walked to Richmond Dale, 12 miles or so from my starting point and had a very nice, uneventful day up to that point. I spent some time at the store and then the library, where I learned that a couple of trail angels, Connie and Mike, lived next door. I went over to say hello, but they were not home. There was nothing to do but get back on the trail and head to Scioto Trail State Park, about eight miles away, where there was a place to camp.
I had traveled a mere two blocks before a small car stopped and the man inside started asking me hiking questions. I knew almost immediately that I was speaking to Mike. Connie was returning from the store (I would have run into her five minutes later if I had missed Mike) and took me back to their house for a shower and a drink. My left foot was starting to bother me so I was more than happy to call it quits for the day.
Once we arrived at their house, the two of them kept coming and going in an almost comedic fashion, so that we were having alternating conversations and my tired brain could barely process what I had said to whom. Eventually I realized they had invited me to stay in their home and slackpack for the next couple of days until Mom and Colin arrive.
Later on in the evening MC, as I will now refer to the duo, took me out to nearby Chillicothe for a nice meal and then showed me a bit of the city where I will be staying with my family. One particular space on the north side of Chillicothe has been used for an amazing variety of purposes over the centuries. You can stand on burial mounds used by a group of Native Americans known by anthropologists as the Hopewell Indians and admire the two state penitentiaries on either side. The old Erie canal also ran right through here during the 19th century and World War I saw a huge training facility called Camp Sherman hastily built right atop the burial mounds.
I'm really enjoying my time with Mike and Connie, their hospitality is out of this world and their knowledge of hiking dos and don'ts will no doubt be of great service to me as I move down the road. Most of all, holy cow am I excited about slack-packing - after forty days the burden of the massive pack will be lifted from my shoulders for a short while. I imagine I will burst out of bed and get a running start in the morning.

12 miles/671 miles

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spell Chek and Other Stories

June 13: Today started spectacularly, with visits to Cedar Falls and then Ash Cave. I unknowingly had gone around Old Man's Cave yesterday when yet another untended Buckeye Trail caused me to change my route, but perhaps we can go back when my brother and mother visit this weekend.
Cedar Falls is a "small" cataract, but a visually impressive one. The falls are named after the nearby cedars, which are actually hemlocks, by someone who probably shouldn't be allowed to get to name stuff. His son Pizza Jesus Santa is said to agree with the previous statement.
The water from the falls runs over the cliff's edge in one stream until reaching a nose-like protuberance which rises up snobbishly to split the flow in twain. Just before crashing into the pool below, the water reunites and it feels so good, Reunite and its understood.
The site of Ash Cave also possesses a waterfall, although this one is a study in the beauty of minimalism. Falling in barely more than a trickle, the water is dwarfed by the magnificent geology surrounding it. Cliffs ninety feet high and one hundred and seventy feet around make a semi-circle that contain the waterfall, whose volume fails to even fill the reservoir beneath. Ash Cave was named thus because of the piles of ashes left by centuries of bonfires lit there by the local Native Americans and not after the protagonist in the "Evil Dead" series.
I left Ash Cave and Hocking Hills to find the usual back roads awaiting me. Less mundane were some of the photo ops I was presented with over the next few hours. Since I still have no functioning camera (one more week without) the written word will have to suffice.
1. A yard whose trees were decorated with empty Pabst cans. Who can blame this guy for wanting to be festive year round.
2. A sign reading "Priate Keep Out." I wonder what the fellow has against poor Priate.
3. The gravestone of a man nicknamed "Boob." Theories as to the origin of the name:
A) He was a big fan of the female form.
B) He wasn't very smart.
C) His death was related to a combination of a and b.
The humor drained out of the hike at my next trail, which evolved from a well-cared for entrance into a jungle of vines and thick undergrowth. Thorns pricked at my legs incessantly, I feel like I have been worked over by a cheese grater.
Eventually I escaped the "Little Shop of Horrors" scenario and got back on the country roads. At seven I arrived at the Lebanon Church and called it quits. The comic spirit kept right on giving until the end.
4. The sign in front of the church read Lebanon Coummity Church. The n's in Lebanon were backwards of course.
Eighteen meandering miles seem to have gotten me nowhere geographically. Regardless, I stand at 659 for the moment.

Festivus For the Rest of Us

June 12: I had promised Michael and Sabina not to go until after breakfast, so my departure was delayed by their binging of the night before. By the standards of my friends I had taken it easy, just a few beers and in bed before midnight. Others may view my behavior as rampant alcoholism. All value judgments are relative I suppose.
At the crack of eleven Michael rose and cooked a tasty breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and Bangladeshi tea. We said our goodbyes, but my woman's intuition tells me we will meet again sometime in the future.
I moved on as I always must and joined country roads for the majority of the early afternoon. I saw little traffic and met only one human, Gwen, who gave me water and told me of her husband's recent battle with liver and hip ailments. May you have many more happy years together Gwen!
I also learned important news from Gwen. My terrible timing had caused me to miss Logan's washboard music festival, the only one of its kind in the United States - and no doubt for good reason. I'm on a bad streak, missing the Nelsonville Music Festival, held very far from the landfill I pray, and the New Straitsville Moonshine Festival (a highlight from 1978's event is pictured above).
By quarter til four the Buckeye Trail entered Hocking Hills State Forest and I disappeared into the brush. The setting was the same as yesterday, but writ large: ancient forest and hills with formations of sandstone rising above in their rocky glory. I had hoped to see Old Man's Cave today, but I made slow progress and when I reached the Hocking Camping Area around 7 I decided to call it a night.
Ten miles = 641 for the trip.

Serendipity in Them There Hills

June 11: The time has come to put on my big boy pants and hit the wilderness. I had taken a scare at Burr Oak and left the not exactly well-tended Buckeye Trail for a few days. Alas, walking on highways is just a slow motion version of driving them. Sure you make some miles, but what do you actually see? For days I had heard from Ohioans that Hocking Hills was a special place not to be missed.
My first glimpses of the park's periphery are making me a believer. There is a primeval feel about the place. A variety of evergreens grow high and thick in the dark forest like that tall, mysterious, and handsome man you've always wanted to meet. The real draw, however, are the rock outcrops and overhangs that dot the park. There are caves here said to have been inhabited many thousands of years BDC (before Dick Clark), adding to the aura of a land that like Mr. Clark has seen many ages come and go while remaining unperturbed.
I managed to meet a group of people as engaging as the scenery. Traipsing thru Wildcat Hollow in the early afternoon I ran into a spot of ground dotted with tents and caravans. There were no obvious signs indicating a campsite so I tentatively wandered in to investigate.
I was greeted by Michael and Sabina Koehler, who quickly made me feel welcome, filling my water and explaining that this was a private site their friends and family (of which they have many) had rented for the weekend. We chatted awhile and they invited me to stay the night. I'm trying to slow down so I don't overshoot a rendezvous with my family and they mentioned something about beer, so I was glad to accept.
We spent the afternoon in the solitude of the cave at the back of the grounds, getting to know one another as a small waterfall dripped playfully over the rocks behind us. Occasional sips of Red Stripe and Great Lakes Lager, my first Ohio brew, added a buzz to the proceedings. Great Lakes Burning River IPA, which celebrates one of the great moments in Cleveland's history, is a must try for the future. Michael and Sabina's terrier Griffin provided entertainment, brutally attacking dogs twice his size and paying the price on every occasion.
In the evening we sat around the fire and told traveling tales. I heard the story of a cross country bus ride full of thieves, prostitutes, and lunatics that made the dangers of my trek pale in comparison. Making matters worse, their journey ended in Detroit. Talk about going from the frying pan...
For dinner Michael's brother John grilled some mouth-watering barbecue chicken. As the guest of honor I got the second best piece.
I could write much more about Koehler and friends but I shan't bore you with details. Just know that I met a battalion of intelligent, giving people with interesting personalities who possess tremendous group chemistry. I reckon I'm pretty glad I decided to head for them there hills.

11 miles/631 total miles

Friday, June 10, 2011

Logan's Done

June 10: I spent today resting in Logan, Ohio and I really learned a lot about the city. It turns out Chief Logan, a local Native American leader was the inspiration for the name, not the movie "Logan's Run" as I had first supposed. The Caucasian settlers in the region decided to also honor the Chief by promising to treat his descendants like humans a hundred years or so later.
Okay, I admit I didn't glean too much about Logan, which prides itself as "the Gateway to Ohio's wonders," but I did learn that Kentucky Fried Chicken has a sandwich that replaces the traditional bread part of the concoction with two boneless fried chicken breasts.
Perhaps, constant reader, you are already aware of this innovation so forgive me for being a bit out of touch with the latest cultural fads. The meat bomb includes bacon and shoots spirals of juice with every bite, so I highly recommend you try one if you can spend the next ten hours exercising and thus avoid the impending collapse of your heart under the weight of all that wonderful, but deadly grease. Oh, the sandwich is known as the double down, to indicate the fact that you are gambling with your short and long term health with every bite of artery-clogging goodness you consume.
That's all from ground zero in Logan, where we are stuck at 620. I plan to move back into the wilderness tomorrow morning.

Thanks to recent donors and sponsors:
Dave and Betty Jarvis
Debora Jones
Colin McCandless
Nicole Overholt
Corey Smith
Michelle of Murray City
Liberty United Church of the Brethren

0 miles/1476 Anlixian parsecs total

Throwing Crapper

June 9: The owner of Happy Hills, Daren, drove me back to 33 in the morning where I resumed my trek. Almost immediately I started examining the bottom of my shoes and checking to see if I had lost control of my bowels. I was clean, but the air was not. The stench continued for two miles until I reached and moved upwind of the local landfill. In honor of Nelsonville's assault on my olfactory sense, here is the band Live with your song of the day.
I didn't have much higher expectations of the next town I would pass, Haydensville. I stopped at Dee's Diner to find a listless crew stuffing their gobs with chow. While I was eating my own grub some more interesting customers arrived. Wood carver and local historian Bennie and his wife Luticia. They had lived in the area for decades and recited a bevy of information about the region. Bennie also offered me a walking stick, which he had on sale in the diner. I picked one out and dubbed it "Snarling Dog Smacker."
Now equipped with my my little friend for canines to say hello to, I entered Haydensville and added some details to what Bennie had told me. Haydenville is in Hocking County, which comes from the Delaware Indian word for river, hock-hocking. Those with a sinus infection will have no trouble pronouncing this word.
Haydenville is blessed to be surrounded by terrain with a variety of raw materials. Clay, iron, coal, and sandstone are all abundant, making the place a natural center for both brick and tile production. The town flourished in the late 19th century thanks to a national trend towards fire-proofing buildings that made demand for brick shoot sky high. A floating brick designed to reduce the weight of a battleship's boiler room was also manufactured there.
For much of the 20th century Haydenville was a company town, owned by Natco, a fire-proofing business. Natco finally relinquished control in 1964, making Haydenville the last company town in Ohio. Nowadays all the town has left is a palette manufacturing facility, which I passed shortly after exciting my pallet at Dee's Diner.
The rest of the afternoon was spent hopping amongst the few shady spots between Haydenville and Logan. Trying to stay cool was a challenge in the ninety degree heat and I guzzled water like an elephant that had just consumed a plate of habanero chiles. Mercifully, I reached Logan after the one thousandth person asked me "if it was hot walking like that" and received the grand prize, a whack over the head with my new cane. Sure put me in a better mood.
Fourteen more miles puts us at 620 for the trip.

The Easy Bake Eternal Oven

Tom cooked us a delicious breakfast and drove me back to the Glouster library late in the morning. My footsteps took me out of town on Highway 78 and I soon learned that just because I had passed over the coal barge did not mean I was done with the world of coal mining.
Buchtel, which I visited in the late afternoon, was the location of the Millfield Mine #6 disaster of 1930. The shaft's collapse caused the death of 82 workers, the greatest tragedy in Ohio mining history.
Another town I just missed to the south, New Straitsville, has a more unusual tale. An impasse over wages between workers and the New Straitsville mining company led to a long strike. With ownership refusing to give into their demands, a minority of the strikers decided to throw the baby out with the bath water. Late one night they pushed burning coal cars down into the mine, causing a tremendously powerful fire that led to its permanent closure.
One hundred and twenty five years later that conflagration is still lit. A massive United States government attempt in 1939 organized by the Works Progress Administration was unable to contain the blaze (the smoky image above dates from 1961). The seam the angry workers had inflamed turned out to stretch for an incredible fourteen miles. Well water came out of the ground already boiling for many years later, a boon for lovers of Earl Grey in a hurry. In certain parts of Wayne National Forest smoke can be seen rising from the ground, evidence the "Devil's Oven," as a recent documentary named the blaze, still burns furiously underground.
My day was pretty routine up until the end. Fourteen miles from Glouster brought me to Nelsonville. In between I visited Murray City, where I met Michelle, who plied me with ice cream and watermelon, some road money, and a lot of motherly love. I promise to be safe Michelle!
A good day quickly unwound in Nelsonville. Google had placed my campsite of the night, Happy Hills, about a mile north of Highway 33 on 278. When nothing immediately materialized I asked someone about the place, only to discover it was two to three miles south on 278.
Once I got going in the right direction I called Happy Hills to let them know what happened. They assured me I would be there in five to ten minutes. Thirty minutes later I was not there and the sun was a bare sliver above the surrounding hills. No one answered my frantic calls to the campground.
Soon thereafter I ran into a man named Ralph who said I still had another six plus miles to go! The woman I had spoken to must not have understood that I did not have a car! There was no way I could make it. I convinced Ralph to drive me up there, which he kindly did. I have trusted Google Maps' location of things too many times - I can't afford to be burnt again by their eternal fire of errors.

16 miles/606 total miles

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin

June 7: I left Burr Lodge with the idea of getting to Murray City and perhaps beyond. After the near disaster of the day before I abandoned the Buckeye Trail and followed the state highway, keeping me closer to civilization and water sources. This part of Ohio is lightly populated and the traffic pretty minimal so I feel relatively safe road-walking here.
Four miles into the day I neared Glouster with a dark cloud forming above my head. I'm not trying to make some sort of metaphor for my psychological state, but rather the barometric pressure was falling and a thunderstorm was imminent.
Just before the waterworks began I ducked into Little Italy restaurant and escaped the sky's impending fury.
After eating a delicious sub I waited a short while until the rain let up and zipped across town to the library. Inside I met one of the most fascinating characters I have yet come into contact on my journey, Tom. Looking a bit like Dr. Emmitt Brown in "Back to the Future" with the excitable mannerisms to match, Tom has also done some serious hiking, traveling across Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the Himalayas in Nepal during the early 1970s.
We bonded very quickly and he invited me to stay with him for the evening. I was too intrigued by the few stories he had already told me to turn him down. We left the library together, picking up some Miller High Life (I finally got my champagne!) and tortillas on the way to his home. We drank the beers, ate, and talked for almost seven hours. Tom regaled me with tales of his adventures in El Salvador, Mexico, Nepal, Afghanistan, and various other lands. He had been a jack-of-all-trades, working for the Peace Corps, teaching English a great deal of the time, but also doing a variety of other tasks to make a living.
I'm learning on this trip that sometimes you need to slow down and smell the roses. There are a lot of things to see in our vast and varied land, but the people are also worth stopping for too. I'm certainly glad I took the opportunity to get to know Tom better.

4 miles/590 total miles

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lost and Found

June 6: Another difficult day started innocently enough. I strapped on Dave's apparatus and left the Brethren church, my home for the last two evenings. I made my long-awaited entrance into Chesterhill four miles later and hit Ernie's for the cheapest breakfast I have found yet. Three dollars for biscuits and gravy, plus two pancakes on the side. I couldn't even finish, quite a rarity for this calorie-devouring hiker.
I went across the street and said goodbye to Betty at the bank where she works. I don't know where I would be without the help of her of Dave.
My intended destination was just north of Burr Lake. The ADT manual claims a campsite is located there. The walk was easy at first, heading on a lightly traveled highway, passing by farms of all shapes and sizes. I spotted my first horse and buggy sign, alerting me that I was in the land of the Amish.
Before long I saw them in the flesh, a family of six tending the crops with their pimped out buggy standing idly by, waiting to be called upon. I waved, but they did not seem to notice my presence. Later on, a young Amish man passed me, his long black bird looking as if it were taped onto his face. He waved to me and gave a big smile - I don't think he had ever experienced the thrill of passing someone on the highway before.
Shortly thereafter I met Debora who filled my water and talked with me about the project. She drove up behind me later on her ATV and gave me a donation and the most delicious apple I have ever eaten.
The route grew more challenging as I neared the park on back roads. I missed a turn, but the Google maps I had printed were a life-saver, allowing me to re-route and return to the trail.
As you have probably already guessed, the area north of Burr did not possess the promised camping area. I saw on my map of Burr Oak Lake there was definitely a site at Boat Dock #3, three more miles ahead on the Burr Loop Trail.
I was tired after nearly twenty miles, but with water supplies low I felt I had to press onward. One mile into the loop I ran into a road. I followed the blazes to see where the trail re-started, but I could not find the re-entry point where the blazes petered out.
I walked down the road only to find a dead end half a mile away. The houses were all empty, weekend getaways with their owners absent for another few days, this being Monday. I briefly considered back-tracking to get help, but I had seen no one for the last two hours of walking. I was in a state of panic, with little water and little idea what to do. Then, as I paced back and forth I noticed something I had missed. Several feet behind some mail boxes was the trail - I had just assumed they were in front of a private property and had not examined the area thoroughly enough. There were no blazes on the mail boxes - you had to be directly in front of them to see those in the woods behind.
I plunged back into Burr Loop, racing against the fading sun. The two miles seemed to take hours, the brush closed around me, not allowing a glimpse of where I was on the lake. I slipped once and fell, moved on, but had to backtrack when I noticed a water bottle missing. Adrenaline pumping, I gained a level of energy I shouldn't have had given my fatigue.
I pushed forward, praying for the opening that would indicate the dock. Then, suddenly, there it was. I was near tears to see the water fountain and gorged myself on its contents. When a young lady and her grandmother pulled up moments later, I told them my story and they offered to take me to the lodge. Having slept in the open for a week, I gave into the temptation and acquiesced.
Twenty two miles later I find myself in a warm bed with 586 clicks under my belt, shaken but not yet beaten.

22 miles/586 total miles

Bleak? Not in This House!

June 5th looked to continue the miseries of the 4th - a tumultuous thunderstorm kept me from rest for a second consecutive night. I was unsure of what to do with the backpack, which couldn't last much longer. With no cel reception or internet I couldn't contact Mom to let her know to send the new one she has bought me for my upcoming birthday. I'd originally thought the old sack could make it two more weeks until she visits with my brother and her friend Duffy.
I stayed awhile at the church caught up in indecision and waiting for my damp sleeping bag to dry in the sun. Right as I was ready to leave, the pastor, a man named Charlie, arrived. He invited me in so I could get water and use the bathroom. He and his assistant asked me to stay for service. I didn't have any church clothes, but they said that was irrelevant.
The service was different from the more formal liturgy I have experienced growing up as a Lutheran. I found the casual atmosphere appealing and the way the group interacted impressed me. The congregation was very open about the various problems in their lives and there was a palpable sense of community in the room. Their emotion was contagious and I started to tear up a little when they asked me to speak about Ken and the Wounded Warrior Project.
At the conclusion of services I met Dave and Betty Jarvis. Dave had experienced a long sleepless night as I had and almost skipped church that morning. Everyone was glad he came - Charlie had to leave to take care of his ailing wife and Dave was called on to give the sermon at the last moment, a task he performed like a seasoned pro.
No one was happier to meet Dave than I - when he heard about my pack he immediately thought of a great temporary fix, lashing it to an old frame he had lying around his house. He and Betty took me to lunch in Stockport and on a tour of the old mill there, which is now a Bed and Breakfast that seamlessly integrates the mill's dormant machinery as decor. The dam that powered the factory still rages with fast-moving water just outside and one of the only hand-operated locks in existence allows any boat traffic to pass safely by the obstruction.
Stockport was also an important hub on the underground railroad. A local man named Rial Cheadle was the main organizer. He fooled the slave catchers by pretending to have been hit on the head one too many times. The bounty hunters, thinking him a moron, never suspected he was masterminding the escape operations.
At this point I decided to take my first zero day since Parsons and give my feet a much-needed break. Dave and Betty let me do laundry and shower at their farm and I felt like a new man.
I also got to meet their animal menagerie, which included twelve alpacas looking like shaved poodles with over-sized heads following a recent shearing. An all-white peacock was the star of the show, something I had never seen before. With their help I also figured out that the long-necked bird I had seen moving rapidly thru the long grass yesterday was most likely an emu - one of the neighbors raises them on his farm.
I spent a second night under the stars behind the Brethren Church, calmed and comforted by the good people here.

0 miles/564 total miles

These Are Dark Days Indeed

June 4: This was one of the toughest days I have had yet. The pack is coming apart faster than I thought. The weather was warm and clear and there were very few spots to rest. The roads are hilly, rocky, and dusty. I need some Pledge to clean my hiking boots.
The one highlight of the trek was the Shinn covered bridge. Normally I would have spent some time examining the exterior of such a structure, but tired and over-heated I viewed it as a great shady spot and rested for awhile within safe from the sun.
I had hoped to reach Chesterhill, but that proved a bridge too far and I settled in behind the Liberty United Church of Brethren to camp for the night. I learned later that Orville and Wilbur Wright's father Milton used to preach here on occasion as he traveled from pulpit to pulpit in Ohio.
Eighteen miles of dirt leave me on the 564 mark.

Getting the Best of the West

June 3: I was rearing like a colt in heat to get started this morning. The finish line of West Virginia was clearly in sight. I dashed off and quickly reached the end of the NBRT. On the way into Parkersburg a woman stopped on the highway and gave me a Gatorade. I'm going to really miss this state.
Parkersburg may be a very nice city and if so the ADT does it an injustice. I traveled by the strip club and bail bondsman district and was not impressed. The only perk was a laundromat, which I took advantage of - guess the locals need to clean up after the strip clubs.
Crossing the bridge over the Ohio River I experienced a great moment in symbolism. Passing directly under me as I went was a coal barge full of anthracite, a perfect representative of the state I was leaving.
Great moments in irony 3: I was not actually in Ohio until I reached the end of the bridge - West Virginia owns the Ohio River up until the bank on the other side.
I landed upon that bank in Belpre, Ohio, formerly known as Belle Prairie before locals got tired of saying so many syllables. They kept trying to call me Al as well.
The ADT was much kinder to Belpre, passing along the river along Civitan Park and the Stone Fort, a property dating back to the French and Indian War. Blennerhassett Island sat in the center of the river.
The early history of Belpre is action-packed, sort of like a Michael Bay film, but with less explosions and better dialogue. Lewis and Clark passed in 1803 on the way to their famous expedition. One of the first floating mills was built there by Captain Johnathan Devol in 1791, using the power of the mighty Ohio to move the wheels.
The most intriguing episode from Belpre's past relates to the aforementioned Blennerhassett Island. Wealthy landowner William Blennerhassett allegedly plotted a new nation in the west there. The plot was headed by former Vice President Aaron Burr, who was charged with treason when his plans were uncovered. Burr is still the only man to be tried for violating the constitutional statute on treason. He was found innocent - whether he was guilty or not is still debated by historians, some of whom feel Thomas Jefferson framed his political rival.
I wanted to stay in town to see Blennerhassett Island and solve the mystery for myself, but the Budget Lodge where I had planned to stay was out of business. I was forced to push own towards Veto Lake.
The steep hills out of Belpre quickly reminded me of how easy I had it on the rail grade of the NBRT. Seven hard miles later, I found the lake, set up the tent amidst a goose turd minefield laid by our Canadian friends, and ensconced my frame in a sleeping bag cocoon. Sixteen more miles had evaporated under my feet, 546 for the trip.
Sleep did not come easily, however, as my roommate, the loudest frog in the world, was not himself ready for bed. The "dog who barks at everything" living across the street did not help matters.
Just as I began to drift off a car pulled up ten feet from my tent. Four people got out and started to look for a place to fish. They noticed my presence and kindly darted off to find a new spot, leaving me to slumber.
A couple of hours later a truck stopped in the same spot. Apparently I was wearing a "please disturb" sign. This time it was a young couple. Realizing I still had one Crystal Lake water bottle I thought about Jason Voorhees' predilection for terminating lovers' trysts. I worried I might become collateral damage as he wielded his murderous machete on the two. Fifteen minutes of trite conversation drove this bored eavesdropper to tears and soothed my mind that nothing carnal was in the offing. Less than an hour later they left and I was mercifully allowed to rest.

16 miles/546 total miles
Thanks to my new friends in West Virginia:
Daniel and Maria Walls
The staff at the Medallion
Sharon and Paul Weekley
Ellen Weekley
Tim and Fritz in Hepzibah
Lee Martin
Judy Glover
Sheriff John in Philippi
Bill in Kanawha
Dave in Walker
Gatorade lady
Pop Tart lady
"Beware the bears" guy
Harry in Cairo
Sandy in Philippi
Melvin, Renee, and Seth Howdershelt (sp?)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why Do Hawaiians Love Spam?

June 2: My last full day in West Virginia was a bit of a grind. The I-pod is malfunctioning and I'm almost done with my book, so entertainment options were limited. I sung the theme to "Gilligan's Island" with my echo as a backup singer while passing under Eaton Tunnel, but that was a one-off thing.
Finding water was the biggest challenge of the day. I expected to refill early in the morning at Petroleum, but the campsite had none and the microscopic town was deserted. This half of the North Bend Rail Trail is sparsely populated, so my next chance didn't come until Walker eight miles away. By then my bottles were almost depleted and I went into the Post Office hoping to meet a kind soul.
I was in luck. Inside I met Dave, who gladly filled me up and started a conversation. We chatted for over an hour about life philosophy and baseball. He had played high school ball with former Cub Steve Swisher and his son had started along side Steve's boy Nick, who is now with the New York Yankees.
I left Dave around one and dined on some hiker haute cuisine: Slim Jims, M&Ms, and raisins. I cleaned my face with a moist towelette and tipped the valet, then proceeded west.
Around mile six the Kanawaha River appeared on my left. The region where West Virginia now lies has gone under some other aliases throughout history. A border dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia almost ended with the creation of a 14th colony: Westsylvania. Had Westsylvania come into being "Blacula 2" would have been a much more believable movie.
Eighty years later the mountaineers were up in arms about their state's (Virginia) secession from the Union. They broke away and rejoined the Union. There was one question: what to call themselves. Kanawha was strongly considered. The origin of the word is up for debate - most think "white stone," although in the Catawba language it means "big brother." A small minority believe "spam is composed of what now exactly?" to be the correct answer.
As we know, Kanawha lost the Homecoming King crown of history and the state became known as West Virginia, the last to join the United States east of the Mississippi River.
I settled down for the evening next to the Kanawha at a private campground thanks to Bill, who let me stay on his property there. Bill also let me use his shower, so I am dolled up and ready to insert myself back into urban life tomorrow.
With eighteen miles down the drain I reached 530 in total. There are only three miles left on the NBRT and an equal distance in and around Parkersburg between me and Ohio.

18 miles/530 total miles

I Know I'm Not Exactly Danica Patrick...

Still tired from the heat of the day before, I got a late start, not departing Pennsboro til nine. At the old Pennsboro depot I learned the railroad had run here from 1881 to 1983. The P and H, where I had eaten the night before stood for Pennsboro and Harrisville, the local line. The rails were gone from this part of West Virginia, but not forgotten. The diner I visited later in Cairo was dominated by pictures of trains - their railroad roots went back all the way to 1856, when the area was still part of Virginia.
The train may no longer be running, but at least the trail in this section had not been abandoned. The Ritchie County portion of the NBRT is much better manicured. The grass is well-shaven, rather than the scraggly beard growing on parts of the eastern end. Picnic benches stand in the shade every couple of miles, providing ample opportunity to rest.
Four tunnels on the day helped to keep me cool. Dick Bias was my favorite of the four for obvious reasons, but Silver Run has the most interesting story. The tunnel is supposed to be haunted by a woman who was struck by the train there while on the way to her betrothal. She is said by those who have seen her to still be wearing her wedding dress. I was glad not to run into her - you know how women get about weddings - she's probably still in a bad mood.
The North Fork of the Hughes River was also a feature of my day. I crossed the body of water several times as it plotted an ess-shaped course thru the hills. I seem to write about tunnels and water a lot lately. If I can squeeze in obelisks somewhere we will have ourselves a Henry James novel.
I stopped for the day just short of Petroleum, past the 21 mile marker. I have now achieved 512 total miles. When I met the Appalachian Trail hikers back at Harper's Ferry they asked me if I had a trail name. I said I don't and I wouldn't take one until I had done five hundred miles and proved myself to be serious.
That benchmark has been surpassed so I now dub myself "Mac Truck." I'm slow, I carry a heavy load, but I always get to my destination. Also, being of Scottish descent I am already a Mac. In addition, my uncle and cousin were long distance truck drivers.
Thanks to those of you who have helped me get there with your recent sponsorships and donations:

Paul and Sharon Weekley
Daniel and Maria Walls
Robert Smith
the Staff at the Medallion, especially Maria
Tim and Fritz
Lee Martin
Judy Glover