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!

 

Hiking in Winter by a Chunky Middle Aged Woman

First of all, let me say that I have not always been a fan of winter hiking.  In fact, up until a few years ago, as soon as that first cold wind blew, I went into hibernation mode, staying inside nurturing other hobbies like reading, sewing, drinking hot chocolate…embracing the chunky until Spring came around again.

I don’t know when it changed.  Trail Dames had something to do with it for sure.  I found out I could and would hike in winter IF I just signed up to attend a hike with Trail Dames.  Fast forward to NOW!  I love winter hiking.  The silence, the crunch of snow, the briskness of the air, NO BUGS, NO STICKY HOT HUMID AIR!!!

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Along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

And the views! I can see through the trees and see the distant mountains!

No "green tunnel" here!

No “green tunnel” here!

And anyone for waterfalls???

White Oak Canyon in SNP

White Oak Canyon in SNP

But to love it I had to figure out how to happy in the cold.  That was my challenge!

Layering:

Everyone tells you to layer in the Winter, but what does that mean?  Well, don’t buy any cotton layers, that is for sure.  No cotton tshirts, no cotton long underwear…Cotton gets wet with sweat, which will chill you beyond belief and possibly right into hypothermia!  No cotton!!!  Here is how I layer…

  • Start with a moisture wicking base layer on both top & bottom.  I have a lightweight base layer and a heavyweight base layer.  If the temps are 30 – 50 I use the lightweight, anything below 30 and I choose the heavyweight.  It is a matter of choice…and only experience will tell what is comfortable for you!
  • For my legs, after the base layer, I put on wind pants (like gym pants).  This is enough on bottom for 99% of my hikes here in the MidAtlantic.  For the other 1% (when it is God-awful skin lashing cold) I put fleece pants on after the base layer, then the wind pants.
  • For my core (top), I follow the base layer with a typical short sleeved hiking shirt.  Then a long sleeved hiking shirt with a hoodie, then a fleece jacket, and finally a wind breaker.  That wind breaker is a key piece of the layering for me.  Wind can flippen freeze me to death…Do not underestimate the power of wind chill.
  • Okay, now let’s talk about head wear, and yes, you better have a good hat.  Not some chintzy piece of crap made out of fibers that won’t keep you warm.  Try a good wool hat…know why? Because wool will insulate even if it gets wet!  Also, make sure that hat pulls down over your ears, or even better, invest in a balaclava because you are going to need something around your neck!
  • My hands are covered with glove liners as well as a heavy glove.
  • For my feet, I just use my usual wool hiking socks with silk liners and a waterproof hiking boot.  My feet generally stay plenty warm (sometimes they even get hot).

So you are all layered up nicely and ready for your first winter hike!  Where do you go? My advice, so you can try out your layers is to pick a route, either on a trail or in the neighborhood, that is around two miles.  In two miles, you will know whether your layers need adjusting.   You do NOT want to find out that you have inefficiently layered on a long hike!!  If you get too warm, that is fine…because you can shed a layer or two as you warm up.  But if you are too cold, then you need to start off with better layers…either heavier weight or more layers.

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD

View from Washington Monument, Boonesboro, MD

Water:

Okay, the layers are working, yay! What’s next?  Let’s talk about water and staying hydrated.  In the winter you may not feel as thirsty as you do on a hot summer day. You might need to force yourself to take a drink of water as you hike down the trail. Camelbak has a neat hydration calculator you can use to give you an idea of how much water you should be taking in as you are hiking.

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum's Rest along the AT in SNP

Sidekick Pauli and BoobOnARock at Possum’s Rest along the AT in SNP

Food:

Yes. Yes, take food.  Yummy stuff high in calories…you get to splurge here!  On a five mile hike I usually take a pb&j sandwich on multigrain bread, trail bar, m&m’s, and something salty, like pretzels.  Sometimes I carry a thermos with a hot beverage, which makes my break extra nice. If you hike with a canine companion, then bring snacks for him/her as well.  🙂

Not all winter hikes are snowy...30 degrees...Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Not all winter hikes are snowy…30 degrees…Sidekick Pauli takes a break in Gambrill SP!

Take Breaks:

Definitely!  I usually hike on the Appalachian Trail, so there are shelters where I can stop, get out of the wind and relax while eating my lunch.  Try to plan your hike so there is a good break place in the middle somewhere.  If it is super cold, an emergency blanket can keep you comfortable so you don’t have cut your break short.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA...Nice break spot.

Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on the AT in VA…Nice break spot.

In addition, take little breaks along the way.  You might want to take along a pad to sit on…otherwise you could find yourself sitting on an icy log or in the snow!!

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off...like my hat and gloves.

Sometimes I get so warm hiking some of the layers come off…like my hat and gloves.

That’s it!  Seems like a lot, but with each hike out the prep gets easier!  I usually keep many of these items handy, either in my pack or a designated drawer in my dresser so they are ready to go when I am.

Have fun, stay safe and Hike on!