First Trail of 2016
With the February weather opening a nice window of sunny Spring-like weather over the weekend I took my wife and daughter on a long hike into the Hoosier National Forest along Lake Monroe. This was a particularly special event for me. All my life I’ve typically gone into the woods alone. Due to my wife’s past fitness level, she had never been able to go with me this far down a trail. This year was different because several months ago my wife started a fitness/weight loss program and stuck with it. The result? I was getting to share my hiking and nature experiences and knowledge with her. For the first time in our relationship, we were going on a day long hike.
Besides completing the trip, we had three goals. I wanted to have more than just a small hike. I wanted an afternoon and into the evening kind of day on the trail. It had been since December that I had gotten into the woods and I wanted a full day to reset my nature batteries! The first goal was to stop at mid-point, have lunch and just settle down for a bit to enjoy the energy. Since we were in a National forest we were going for a quick fire, some high quality hot-dogs and s’mores. A classic choice for sure.
The second was to try out our hammocks. My wife had purchased an ENO Singlenest for me as a Christmas gift two years ago. Though comfortable, it was not well suited for my height. At Valentine’s Day, she surprised me with a Doublenest hammock and then gleefully claimed the Singlenest as her own. For this trip I’d be showing her how to set the Singlenest up with the straps and she would get her first chance to try it out. I would try out my Doublenest and maybe catch a nap!
Finally, several Bald Eagles had been seen in the area we would be in and so our third and final goal was to hopefully see one of those majestic birds once we got to the lake’s edge. Not much else we could do there except put ourselves in the right spot and keep our fingers crossed.
At the trailhead parking, the lot was crowded with cars and hikers. My spirits sank a little when I realized how crowded it might be. As we got organized a large flock of sandhill cranes flew over and their distinctive call cheered me. I love hearing them.
The weather was perfect with just enough touch of chill to keep you comfortable as we climbed up and down ridgelines. With no leaves or undergrowth, the woods were wide open and offered wonderful, sweeping views of the forest. Along the way, I gathered some tinder for the fire in the form of old, dried leaves still on their branches as well as numerous dried grasses I found along the trail. We saw numerous hikers near the trail head. However, as we went further in and then purposefully took the longer, deeper trail, we were left with just ourselves, the trees and the breeze.
Wildlife viewing was scarce but given the season and all the human traffic at the trailhead it was expected. A single woodpecker darted here or there. A pair of gulls flew out over the lake.
Lunch was delicious. How can you go wrong with hot dogs around a small campfire? We rested, tried out hammocks, etc. My daughter, exploring the area asked me what these weird, round brown balls were that she was finding. Happily, I told her they were oak galls and they could be used for making ink. She agreed to pile up all she found and I was surprised at how many she collected. (I’ll cover the making of oak gall ink in a later post.)
After lunch, though, as we lazed around trying out hammocks and enjoying the view we were treated to a fly over of an immature bald eagle. At first, we thought it was a turkey vulture but the eagle, possibly curious by our presence, gave us a direct fly over and I was able to get a solid ID. Pure magic.
What else can I say except that everything went perfectly? The only downside was that as the only person with a functioning backpack I had nominated myself for the status of pack mule. This just helped to underscore the idea we needed to get my wife a trail pack sooner than later! However, the 6.5 mile trip was wonderful and exhausting. A good first trail to test our stamina and to whet our appetites for more adventures to follow.
We stayed a little long at our lunchtime respite and so had to hurry a bit much on the trail out. Regardless, we came to the end of the trail at the tail end of daylight. While we had parked in a completely full parking lot, we returned to an empty lot with only our car left waiting for us.
Tired, a bit dehydrated and with muscle aches, we crawled into the car and headed home.