Poking Around at Pokagon State Park

Ah, Indiana in the winter…always a pleasure.  Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting my family around the holidays, but the weather, not in the slightest.  I hail from southern Indiana, where winter is more survived than enjoyed.  I did not grow up skiing the slopes or even sledding a whole lot.  I do remember being cold as heck huddled up to the barrel stove (built by Dad) in the cabin (also built by Dad).  I also remember slipping and sliding, in my shiny dress shoes, as I negotiated an ice laden porch in terror and my Dad lighting fires under my Mom’s car to warm it up enough to start so she could get to work.

And then there was Sara W.’s mom, who slipped on the ice and broke her hip.  She couldn’t walk for a really long time…and as I remember, the Methodist church built that ramp out back so she could be wheeled in for the service.

I want a more positive view of winter.  I really do!  I want to learn to love it, because I only have a maximum of 50 of them left in my lifetime.  😀  Therefore, I planned my visit to Hoosierland this year with a specific purpose: Do something that equates to winter fun.

Enter Pokagon State Park.  There is a toboggan ride!  It showed up on my Facebook feed since I follow Indiana State Parks…and it kept showing up…and I kept thinking about it.  I posted it to my son’s page, “Hey! Doesn’t this look super fun?!”…as insurance, I posted it to his girlfriend’s page too, “OMG, doesn’t this look like a blast?  Let’s all go on Christmas Eve!”  To which she responded that yes, it would be fun, but Logan (my son) would probably not ride.  Sounded like a challenge to me…

I made reservations for December 23 at the historic Potawatomi Inn at Pokagon State Park and literally prayed that 1) there would be snow on the ground but 2) there would not be a blizzard to keep us from going.

An old postcard of the Potawatomi Inn

With my niece in tow, we headed out to Terre Haute to pick up my son on the 23rd.  Two hours and a coffee shop stop later, we had him in the car.  Turn around, get on I-70 headed back east across the state to Indy, then north on I – 69 to the park.  No snow, but I drove north in a cold, dark, yucky rain for 3 hours before reaching our exit north of Angola.  But Hurray!! Food was still being served, there was SNOW on the ground, and sun was in the forecast for Christmas Eve!

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Nothing like a hot buffet with really good food!

 

Getting up early we headed down to the buffet and gorged ourselves, then headed to the Toboggan Ride!  The line wasn’t long, but we had to wait for the park staff to finish their inspection of the ice.  It was very cold, but sunny.  I looked at the slide with nervous anticipation – it was steep!  I would have fun, I would not freak out, I love winter, I love winter…

We got the toboggan.  Jesus Christ, this thing is heavy.  Well, this is why we have children, yes?  We managed to get it up the stairs to the beginning of the ride…and to contort ourselves into the requested riding position.  Niece in the front, son in the back, me in the middle, legs intertwined like we were playing some sort of weird twister..Here. We. Go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was scary BUT a ton of fun! We got up to 38 miles per hour before shooting out the end onto the snow covered lawn of the inn.  The line was pretty long after our first ride, so we opted to turn in the toboggan and take a hike instead.

Midwesterners seem to be incredibly pragmatic in naming their trails…we took Trail #3 as it went to one of the few spots with a descriptive name “Hell’s Point”.  The trail was short (2.2 miles) but had nice variety to it as it traversed marshes and woodlands.  Hell’s Point wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped, but it didn’t matter.  I was spending time with my son and niece, in the snow, in the cold, and I was loving it!

Of course, coming down from Hell’s Point on the stairs, all I thought about was Sara W.’s mom and breaking my hip…Hike On!

 

First Solo Backpack – Adventure Hiking Trial, oops, I mean Trail!

The Adventure Hiking Trail provided me with some unique challenges during my first solo backpack this weekend.  I couldn’t anticipate all of what was in front of me, but I did research the trail as extensively as possible.  It is a 22 mile loop around O’Bannon Woods State Park.  A big shout to Ron White of the Ohio Valley Backpackers for the heads up on the trail head parking, recommendations for water caches, and some other general stuff!  The Hoosier Hiker Council website was a great resource as well with links to a few good maps of the trail.

I had never hiked a trail where I had to cache water and was a little nervous that my cache would disappear before I got to it!  Didn’t happen, my water was waiting for me!

This trail is in southern Indiana, which has a Karst topography.  This topography includes highly soluble rocks such as limestone.  There are many underground drainage opportunities, in addition to caves and sinkholes (of which I saw several).  The water just doesn’t hang around on top, so all the creek beds are dry.  Oh you might find a small pool here and there, but not nearly enough to keep one hydrated.  Thus the water cache.

Friday night I checked into the Forest Office, then stashed water at two trail crossings, the crossing on Cold Friday Road and the one on Old Forest Road.  Driving down Cold Friday Road was an adventure unto itself! Gravel, rutted in spots, and with one place where the road fords the creek (must happen only in a big storm because it was just a low bridge when I went over).  As I placed my gallon of water, with my name and date of pickup labeled clearly, a rumble of thunder sent a chill up my spine.  Okay, good enough, behind a tree…now for cache number two!  Old Forest Road was a regular paved road. What a relief!  I pulled off the road, thunder and clouds rolling, threw my gallon up in the woods and ran for it!  I swear, I love and I hate thunderstorms and it all depends on where I am when they hit.

Anyway, water cached successfully so I headed back to Corydon, Indiana where I had a room at the historic Kintner House Inn.  No hiker trash hotel for me!  The woman who owns place is super accommodating and I recommend it to anyone coming to this part of the country.

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The Joe Zimmerman Room at the Kintner House Inn.

They made me a special early breakfast so I could get to the trail early.  It was a decent day for the middle of summer, mid-80s, low humidity, and no storms!  My car parked at the 462/Old Forest Road lot (space for maybe 3 creatively parked vehicles), I did a last minute check of gear, then headed in a counter-clockwise (west) direction headed for the Ohio River Shelter.

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Test #1: Do you like spiders?  Or rather do you like spider webs…in your face, in your hair, draping from your nose and your cheeks to your ears and your chin to your chest?  I looked like a freaking drum major marching down the trail raising first one hiking pole and then the other in  quick succession in order to catch as many of the webs as possible before they hit my face once again.  Every once in a while, I’d get lulled in a false sense of security, then WHOP, right in the face, spider on my eyeglasses, ugh.  After about the billionth spider web, I gave up.  I just started to plow right through them, with my lips tightly pressed together.  NOTE TO SELF: Buy a hat with a brim and put mosquito netting over it.

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My hiking poles were used as weapons of mass destruction. Sorry to the Spider Subdivision.

Test #2: Do you like wet feet?  My feet were wet from dew in about 30 minutes of starting my hike and they didn’t dry out all day.

Test #3 Do you like to bushwhack?  Because if you don’t, then stay off the trails in southern Indiana in the summer.  All those winter pictures of the Adventure Trail that I found online…yeah, totally get it now.  In general, I backpack at an average pace of 2 mph.  It took me 5 hours to go 5.5 miles!!! Holy moly! When I reached the Iron Bridge, I sat down to have lunch just shaking my head.  Was the rest of the trail going to be like this?  Bushwhacking takes a lot out of you!  On the positive side, the trail is extremely well marked!  After I would fight through another bunch of overgrown grasses, briars, and young tulip poplars I was immediately rewarded with a trail marking.  The emotional gratification of that trail marking cannot be overstated here!

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A lesser bushwhack that greeted me just after starting the trail.

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A more substantial bushwhack…do you see a trail…THAT’S BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE (or so you think)!  This was on day 2 between Homestead and Indian Creek Shelters.

The trail improved after the Iron Bridge, so I was able to make faster forward progress, which put my head back in the right place.  I followed a nice wide fire road from the Iron Bridge up to the Horseman’s campground.  This was a planned water stop for me.  While at the campground, I also took the opportunity to wash the spider webs out of my bandannas and clean my glasses which had so many webs crisscrossing them it was hard to see! Felt like a new woman!

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The rest of the trail to the Ohio River Shelter was lovely.  Well marked, well maintained. I reached my destination at 3:30pm.  Shortly, afterwards, two guys came in from the other direction and we had a fun conversation about what we each had experienced thus far.  They were out for a long day hike.  In fact, I had just passed their water cache, which they had put in a tote bag, and chained to a tree…omg!  I told them, “I was wondering about that bag and thought, wow, there must be something pretty special in that bag.  I might have just found a use for my pocket knife…”  They were good guys!  Terrible, I can’t remember their names now…I’ll just call them the Evansville crew.

The Evansville crew gave me some good info on the trail ahead.  There is more bushwhacking and the last two miles (their first two miles) was like my first 5.5.  They also said, “There will be a place where you literally can’t see which way to go.  Go straight ahead. It won’t look like it, but go straight ahead” I gave them my map and they pointed approximately where they thought that place was located. God, I felt like I was in Hunger Games.

The Ohio River Shelter is a popular spot.  I was visited by a bunch of trail riders, a fellow backpacker from Indianapolis who I continued to leapfrog with all weekend, and a nice family who were taking their kids on their first campout.  I tented, Adorable Family got the shelter, and I was totally okay with that!  The shelters along the Adventure Trail are nice, but too closed in for my liking.  They seem dark and dank.  I preferred my tent.

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Please don’t let that horse poo by my tent!!!

It was a beautiful first night out, with a bright moon shining down on me.

The next morning I was up and on the trail before anyone in the Adorable Family was stirring.  It was going to be very hot today and I was hoping I could finish hiking at about 2 pm.  First stop was Cold Friday Road to get my first water cache.  Yay! There it was, waiting for me!  I filled up my 3-liter bladder and 1.5 liter bottle, then drank what was left.

While I was there, my Indianapolis buddy came by.  This is when I found out he had not cached water.  He had a filter and thought he would be able to get water on the trail….oh, buddy.  He started up the next hill and I followed after smashing the now empty gallon jug and attaching to my pack.  I caught up with him again, sitting on a slab of limestone in the middle of an almost dry creek.  He had found a small pool at which to filter water.  Thank goodness!  I continued on up to the Homestead Shelter for a lunch break.

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Homestead Shelter, great tent sites here! Also, a little history behind this site…original chimney!

Indianapolis buddy passed me while I was munching away.  However, it wasn’t long before I caught up to him again.  Honestly, I was kinda worried about him.  He definitely was not drinking enough water, but I didn’t have any extra to offer him, but would have given him some if he had asked.  The bushwhacking had come back full force today and it was freaking hot, like 95 degrees.

We hiked together then until we reached the Indian Creek Shelter, my stopping point.  I know my limits…and heat is one of them.  The bushwhacking was a trial for me and for Indianapolis buddy.

Ohhh…I forgot Test #4!

Test #4 Do you like climbing over blowdowns?  If so, then you would love this trail!  I lost count at 50.

It was nice to have to someone to share the bushwhacking and blow down hopping experiences with, for sure.  I mean, here I am, in the middle of bushes that are taller than me, and I have to decide what to do when I don’t immediately see a blaze.  It’s unnerving.  I had to backtrack at one point to regroup and think it through.  God, and it was so hot! I was so glad to stop hiking that day! Poor Indianapolis had to hike out…5 miles and less than a liter of water.

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Very little tent area at Indian Creek Shelter, but I managed!

I took a look inside the shelter, immediately saw spiders.  I sat down at the picnic table, immediately had a teeny little tick crawling up my leg.  What is this place?????!!!!!  Ummm…I think I’ll tent again.  When I rolled up my tent the next morning, ants everywhere…I knocked off as many as I could…the rest have met with an unfortunate demise within the folds of Big Agnus.

Officially ready to end my first solo backpack, I headed down the trail immediately meeting my first blow down of the day.  Despite the blow downs, this section from Indian Creek Shelter to Old Forest Road is definitely the prettiest section I hiked.

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Gorgeous morning view!

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Last Bushwhack!

There was more bushwhacking, and it took a while to get to the road, but it wasn’t as bad as day 1 or 2.  I had my last water cache at the road.  However, when I exited the woods the weather had taken a turn.  Thunderstorm was on the way!  The wind picked up and I left my cache and took off down the road to my car (1.5 miles away).  Walking as fast as I could, I watched the clouds blacken and start swirling around.  Thunderstorms in Indiana, oh god, yeah, great, a fitting end.

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Angry clouds!!!

Test #5 Do you like hiking in Thunderstorms?  Me either.  After I passed a field of cows, I started looking for houses.  The sky was seriously black now and really scary.  I pulled in to a house and knocked on the door.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to Carol K. for going out of her way and giving me a ride back to my car.  Whew! That was a close one!

This trail tested me and I rose to the occasion, but I am paying an itchy price.  Chiggers, poison ivy, ticks…and despite my using copious amounts of bug spray, my waistline is covered with red welts where I plucked off one little bugger (could have been a tick, could have been a chigger).

So while I dab on another layer of Calamine and pop another Benadryl…Hike On!

 

Holiday in Hoosierland

Hoosierland is always a fun time visiting with family!  This year, amid the craziness of Christmas preparations I was able to take a hike the Milwaukee Rail Trail with my son, Logan, who is finishing his senior year at Indiana State, and my niece, Isa, who is dreaming about life after grad school.

Headed east to Bedford!

Headed east to Bedford!

I was staying at the Sheriff’s House B&B owned by none other than host extraordinaire, Rowena Cross-Najafi, my sister! If you are interested in checking out the rail trail or hiking in the Hoosier National Forest, then this is a perfect spot to go glamping! I stayed in the “World Traveler Room” this time, but the “Princess Room” is just as fun…and no one should be staying at a chain hotel when this costs $75 a night with an awesome home cooked breakfast in a beautiful setting. Who knows…she might even give you a ride to the trail. 🙂

Sheriff's House B&B...my sister will treat you well!

Sheriff’s House B&B…my sister will treat you well!

After Rowena dropped us at the Coxton Road trail head, we walked east on the Milwaukee Trail along the White River.  It was full and flowing fast from recent storms. Storms that produced a few tornadoes. In December. While we were out on the road. Yep. Thought I was gonna die.  HOOSIERLAND!  But the storms had moved south taking the drama with them into Mississippi and Alabama.  This day, Christmas Eve, was absolutely gorgeous.

Logan and I on the trail!

Logan and I on the trail!

The White? River

The White? River

The Milwaukee Rail Trail will eventually extend further west, but for today we were happy to stroll a relaxing five miles back to town along the river and through some pretty interesting geological formations.  Isa is a geology major and was happy to give us the geological tour through centuries of limestone.  Very cool stuff!

Isa and Logan and LIMESTONE!

Isa and Logan and LIMESTONE!

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It was a beautiful walk.  We stumbled upon an abandoned river cabin and poked around a little before continuing our way east.  We all wondered about the family who came to hang out at the river.  What a nice life!

There wasn’t much left…a torn lawn chair complete with discarded old beer can, a dilapidated swing set frame, and a house that was partially collapsing…but it sparked the imagination none the less.  I probably could have sat there for hours just writing in a journal…and it would have all been depressing (because abandoned houses just bring out the sad in me).  So I am glad I wasn’t by myself, because this was a day to rejoice!

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Wilson Park Trail

We exited the trail at Wilson Park and walked through Bedford on our way back to the Sheriff’s B&B.  Thankful to have such a wonderful Christmas Eve! Hike on!