In a single day, I managed to experience more comfort, fear, thrill, and awe than I have within any given week of Dudetrek, perhaps since I began.
Hurricane Sandy began wreaking havoc on the East Coast sometime on the 29th of October, showing her full force throughout the night and into the 30th. I could hardly believe the stories I heard, and the pictures I saw. I was just in Ocean City, Maryland for “Senior Week“- where Maryland high school Seniors take over the entire city in massive numbers to party nonstop for an entire week at the beach. Now, some of the same places I had just visited were under a few feet of water, and slowly being dragged into the Atlantic. Even more recently than that, Dudetrek began at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware. They too, we’re being hammered (not quite like Senior Week) with crazy floods and inevitable property damage. The worst was near NYC, where millions lost power and Obama declared both New York and Massachusetts to be in a state of emergency.
The day I speak of was yesterday, Tuesday, October 30th and it snowed almost all day in the part of Ohio I happened to be passing through. Not even close to the worst part of the storm, but certainly unexpected weather as far as late October goes. In a weird way, I was excited to hike through the snow. It’d my first taste of what winter will feel like on foot, and it gave me a perfect opportunity to test out my new waterproof, thermal pants. After an equally unexpected, yet amazingly comfortable night at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, I was feeling up for the challenge. First came Cedar Falls.
Lol. They should call it Jonah Falls instead. Believe it or not, there’s more!
Quite a close call, huh? Well it scared the crap out of me, so I made sure to be extra cautious from then on out.
It’s a strange feeling to break-in a clean sheet of snow with some fresh footprints, but I did just that almost all day. I arrived at the Ash Cave Firetower eventually, and still had enough guts to climb to the top.
I had a perfect signal from that height, so I made sure to call my mom. I figured I would fill her in on my previous night, tell her of my near-death experience, and ask how she’s doing. She had just left to go to Las Vegas the day before, and it turns out she was one of the very last flights to leave the airport before they shut everything down for the storm. It was a relief knowing that she was headed for better weather. Not too long after, I made it to Ash Cave.
I stood there for a little while, soaking it all in. Essentially right around the corner from Ash Cave, I saw a sign for a restaurant with a Thanksgiving buffet. While the holiday is another month away, the thought of it sure made me hungry. I climbed a steep hill to get to the Grouse Nest restaurant at Hocking Hills Resort, and it is closed. Bummer. However, when I stop for a few minutes in the main office to rest my feet, I meet Randy, the owner, and priest at the resort’s chapel. He is über chill, and my quick stop soon leads to tea and chili, while talking about life. I also meet Cassie and Andy, who join in on our little break and add to the general conversation. Randy says he couldn’t be happier doing what he’s doing, and i can’t blame him- he’s in a good place surrounded by good people and good food. Andy shows me how to play ‘Stuff That Works’ by Guy Clark, and Cassie wishes me luck before I get back to the trail.
The snow soon turns to rain, and I pick up the pace to stay warm and find a place for the night before dark. I go off a tip from Randy, and stay at the abandoned Macedonia church. The night is cold, but snuggled up in my -20 degree sleeping bag after a day like this, I sleep like a baby.
So I haven’t posted anything since Halloween, and I’m going to make a couple posts to cover the shear insanity that has been November.
When passing through Tar Hollow State Forest, the day after my last post, I decided to change up my route a bit. My original plan had me going South through many state parks and state forests in Southwestern Ohio. With winter swiftly approaching, and the sun setting earlier and earlier, I noticed that my daily mileage had been (and still is) slowly decreasing. I simply can’t walk as far as I could when Dudetrek first began. While this forces me to find creative ways to occupy my non-hiking time, it now takes me longer to get from town to town. This means less access to important resources like food, water, cell service, etc. Up to this point, I had been following nearly every turn of the American Discovery Trail, seeing some of the same sights I’ve heard and read about from former hikers. With a couple hundred miles under my belt, it was time for a bold change.
View Ohio in a larger map
I decided to hike into Chillicothe, where the giant mall on the North side of town provided every resource I could possibly need, and the historic B&O railroad bed would take me straight to Cincinnati. I called the local police station while entering town, and they recommended i sleep in their lobby. Initially, I felt fortunate to have shelter from the rain and the cold; my gratitude would soon become frustration. After I gave a homeless dude a cheeseburger, he decided that he would spend the night in the police station with me. I soon found out that the police station lobby was a common sleeping spot for the local homeless people. I set up on a bench, and 2 other dudes preferred to sleep on the floor. At 4 in the morning the cleaning lady came out to vacuum, pushing the noisy machine inches from our heads to clean as much carpet as possible without actually touching us. The other homeless dudes paid no attention to it, but i couldn’t possibly sleep through this. I was tired and pissed, and started my day at 4:30am. I walked until 6:00pm, when I arrived at the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park and boiled water for my dinner. Before I could even take my first bite, a park ranger showed up and wrote me a warning for “camping illegally” and “being in the park after dark”. At 6pm, the sun had just set, and I was just sitting under a pavilion trying to eat dinner- no tent, no tarp, just my mess kit. It was a terrible way to end a long day. The park ranger recommended that I walk across the street and camp along the bike trail, which is also illegal, but not under his jurisdiction. I had no other option. I was even beginning to catch a cold, so I was nearly passing out from exhaustion. I spent the next 3 days sleeping along the railroad tracks, waking up every 2 hours when a train screamed by. To be frank, it was a really shitty week. However, on November 10th, I entered Pleasant Plains, Ohio, and things completely turned around.
Pleasant Plains has a population of roughly 160 people, and is what most people would call a small town. I stopped at the local market/deli/carryout to get some soup and a bag of BBQ corn chips, and the chick at the counter asked me about my backpack. After learning about my travels, she insisted that i go down the street and talk to Cody at the local cafe. “He’s a traveler too, and they’re into all that 70′s stuff over there. They have hippie buses.” This seemed like exactly what I needed, and I could probably use a coffee too. I walk between the 2 Volkswagen Microbuses that sit out front, and enter the old school building-now coffee shop/restaurant/music venue. I immediately begin conversation with Eric Nassau, a traveling musician that performed here last night. As i drink my coffee, I talk with Eric and his girlfriend Courtney about being open-minded, embracing the good and bad of being on the road, and the bluegrass band that is performing tonight. We even play each other a few songs. Eric gives me a crocheted mushroom/lighter holder as he leaves, and I decide that I will stay to see the bluegrass band (called Lawson Reunion). Hopefully it will pick me up from this gloomy mood I’ve been in. As I wait for the Lawson Reunion to arrive, I talk to John, the owner of the cafe, and a few locals who ask about my guitar. The word is that people travel from all around to experience the fun that goes on here. Before I know it, the traditional family bluegrass band arrives and begins to set up. Below are some videos I took of them. They could seriously shred! It was awesome.
That night, I slept at John’s, where I met his wife Vicky, and chilled with his buddy Ben and Cody the traveler. It was a great change of pace. The next morning, the restaurant was very busy for breakfast, and I helped with dishes to earn some food of my own. Boy did they feed me well! As i finished my 2nd plate, the weekly Sunday open jam session began. The session host played a short set of his own to kick things off, and it was evident that he had a lot of experience. Over the next 2-3 hours, there were about 10 people jamming at any given moment, playing any songs they knew the words to. The session host seemed to know them all, and the upright bass player could follow anything even if he had never played it before. I wish I could have stayed forever, but San Fransisco is calling me. As i left, the entire cafe wished me luck, and even hooked me up with a little cash for the next couple days.
I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to have met so many kind and friendly people in one unexpected event of epicness. If you are ever remotely near Pleasant Plains, I highly recommend stopping at the Plain folk Cafe. It was a real highlight of my adventure so far.
It took me about 40 days, but I finally made it through Ohio! I am constantly astounded by what each day brings, and Ohio brought me a lot of firsts. I got my first American Discovery Trail T-shirt, experienced my first below-freezing day on the trail, got my first food sponsors, cleaned/fixed my guitar for the first time, weighed my full pack for the first time since i left (55 pounds?!), saw my first snow on the trail, saw my first tree fall (it made a sound, probably because I was there), made my first reroute from my original plan, drank my first whole pot of coffee (yuck!), got my first ticket for “illegally camping”, filled my first journal, tried fruitcake for the first time, saw my first band on the road, cleaned dishes to earn my meal for the first time, smoked a hookah for the first time, played chess with a fellow traveler for the first time, rode my first greyhound bus, talked to fellow American Discovery Trail hikers for the first time (on their last day of hiking!), saw my first movie in theaters while on the road (SKYFALL!), and visited my family in Chicago for the first time since i left to celebrate Thanksgiving. Before I set forth on my journey, I toyed around with idea of creating a list of goals to complete while on Dudetrek. Looking at this list, it almost seems unnecessary. I am experiencing many things I otherwise never would have experienced had it not been for being in the right place at the right time. I think I’ll save the goals for my New Year’s resolutions.
With my reroute, I am no longer certain on exactly how many miles I’ve walked so far. However, I know that sometime within the past week i passed the 1,000 mile mark. That number seems unreal to me. When Vanessa Carlton sings that she’d walk that far just to see someone, she makes it seem so impossible. She was clearly just making a point- I can’t imagine her strapping a backpack on her back or going a week without a shower. If she were to do so, however, she might realize how much fun it actually is. While there would definitely be painful moments, she would quickly find out that the journey is more important than the destination. This is what I’ve found at least.
Thanks to Monique from Belpre for reminding me to endure no matter what; to Pete Shew from Shew’s Orchard for the apples and the inspiration; to Tim from Belpre for opening my eyes to a lot; to Randall, Bambi, and the Fairview Holiness Church in Glouster for opening their doors and keeping me in their prayers; to the greatest Nana in the whole world for making memories I’ll always cherish; to Dave from Columbus for keeping it real; to John from the Guitar House Workshop in Columbus for jamming and fixing/cleaning my guitar; to Misty, Wesley, and everyone at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls for totally saving me from being out during Frankenstorm; to Andy, Randy, Cassie, and Keith from Hocking Hills Resort for taking the time to chill out with me when i really needed to; to Granny’s Pizza and Restaurant in Londonderry for making a good week a great week; to Sarah in Chillicothe for extending a helping hand just because; to the 1st Baptist Church in Greenfield for having the most ingenious emergency shelter ever; to Stephanie’s in New Vienna for staying open a little later; to Norma from Blanchester for being enthusiastically kind and having a big heart; to John, Vicky, Ben, Cody, Eric, Courtney, the Lawson Family, Marsha, and EVERYONE at the Plain Folk Cafe in Pleasant Plains for quite possibly the best night and morning I’ve had so far; to Andrew and Scott at the Loveland Running Spot for revamping my excitement for the West coast; to my new best friends Holly and Brenda at the Branch Hill Coffee Company for helping me warm up on a dreary day; to Chill Bill and his bros from Xavier University for changing hookah Thursday to hookah Monday and being on TV with me; to Trent with the crusty Carhartt for stumbling upon me in the middle of the city and for the friendly games of chess; to Con Mon and my newfound friends at Dayton University for the chill chillin and the jammy jammin; to Chanelle, Taylor, and Bizzy for being so down to earth and for your hospitality; and to Ben and Brittany for showing me an awesome night on the town and bringing me to my first Catholic mass in years the next morning (and for the Goetta!).
Now that I’ve hit the plains, it should be smooth sailing for a while!