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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I've Moved!

After a few years of nothing of substance on here, primarily due to the life changing event of Megan's passing, I've decided to take this to the next level.

I have started a new website..."Backcountry Mentor".  There, you can find the trail reports, tips, gear, and advice on getting yourself out into the backcountry.

My new site can be found at and my Facebook page is

I hope to have you visit and enjoy!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015


It's been a long time since my last post here, so I may as well come out and explain the reason behind the absence.

On November 19th, 2014, my wife, Megan, died from chronic organ transplant rejection at age 33.  I am not going into full details, as this is not the place for it.  If you wold like to know my outlook regarding it, please head over to my other blog at

The brief amount of writing I did last summer was done while she was in the hospital, ultimatley for a total of 6 straight months.  As things progressed, I got away from it.  It was simply the last thing on my mind at the time.

Now with the weather breaking, I have a renewed interest in writing about my travels (and the fact that I am actually traveling again helps).  It may be scattered and irregular, just as my life is, but my plan is to bring this blog back from internet oblivion, and use it as a place to describe happier things than what has happened.

There are already a few trips in the works in the very near future, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Better than Brandywine - Blue Hen and Buttermilk Falls

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, being located between Akron and Cleveland wouldn't on paper appear to be your average national park, like Yosemite or the Great Smokies. But for northeast Ohio, it's about as close as you can get. It doesn't have quite the scale of larger parks, but it has quite a bit of isolation if you know where to look. One of the most photographed and visited features of the park is Brandywine Falls.

It's such a popular attraction that there are boardwalks built all over the South side of the 100 foot deep gorge with various different interpretative signs and viewing areas.  While this makes for easy access to a beautiful waterfall, it also means that there are usually quite a few people milling around, and you always get the standard people wading around in the splash pool at the bottom of the falls.  It's not exactly my idea of a walk in the woods (It's about 50 feet from the parking area to the boardwalks).

With that said, Shelby and I woke up Saturday morning, harnessed up two of the dogs, and decided to go to Blue Hen falls and Buttermilk falls.  
Blue Hen Falls from the viewing bench. 

Blue Hen falls is also somewhat popular, but it is hidden in a deep ravine behind the Boston Mills Ski Resort and has a small, unimproved parking area.  The only development of the trail, which starts out as an old jeep road, is a bridge over the creek and one bench to view the falls from.  At the falls, about a quarter mile from the parking area and down the hill, the Buckeye Trail splits off with it's blue blazes to the North, where it follows the west valley rim for about 4 or 5 miles.  Just on the other side of the bench, there is a sign saying that the trail "ends" here.  If you only wanted to see a pretty waterfall with relatively minimal effort but still have some peace and quiet in the woods, these are the falls to go to in Cuyahoga Valley.

It was a beautiful morning, and we were feeling a little more adventurous, so we decided to walk right past the trail end sign onto the obvious trail that has been beaten down by who knows how many people.  What the "end" of the trail means is that the park service doesn't maintain the trail past this point.  It doesn't mean "off-limits" or "prohibited".  You will encounter some downed trees, slippery side slopes, and three or four creek crossings.  Granted, the creek is no more than 6 inches deep, but expect some wet feet unless you scout out a perfect rock hop.
One of the creek crossings.  It's not exactly the mighty Mississippi, but you can still get wet feet.
A little further down the trail, after climbing over a few more logs and a tricky side slope for a 7 year old, you come to a beautiful spot where there is apparently an old mill site.  The foundations of this structure, on both sides of the creek are obvious.  

There aren't any signposts describing what these old foundation walls once held up.  My bet is that it was a mill.
Because the creek is small, and Buttermilk Falls is a "bridal veil" style fall, they don't make a ton of noise.  When you're standing in the little glen at the mill site, there are tons of mossy drips coming out of the side of the hill, the creek is rippling over nearly flat sandstone, and the entire valley is studded with Hemlocks.  It's no wonder someone chose to build here.  You wouldn't know it right away, but you're only 50 feet from the falls.

Cross the creek, and continue about 15 feet.  You are now at the top of Buttermilk Falls.

The trail turns to the right and heads downstream.  Because the falls drop into a min gorge here, it is definitely not advisable to try to shortcut straight to the falls' base.  Follow the trail another tenth of a mile, downhill, and once down to the creek level, it's an easy streamside walk back to the base.
Follow the trail downstream a's much safer, and only takes an extra minute or so.

Buttermilk Falls
If it was a little warmer (it's been a cool summer in Ohio, and it was pretty early in the morning), the shoes would have come off and I would have been the "standard person wading around in the splash pool at the base of the falls"

Total distance to the base of Buttermilk Falls from the parking lot was .77 miles.  Because it's a non-maintained trail, and fairly isolated, it seems to be longer.  There isn't anything particularly strenuous about it, but it does take some careful route finding and foot placement.  The walk back upstream isn't steep, and Shelby did it with no complaining or running out of gas.  

I truly consider Buttermilk Falls to be nicer than Brandywine.  This isn't because they're bigger or prettier, but they are definitely quieter, less traveled, just as easily accessible (to get to the base at least), and one of the "secret" woods walks of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  If and when the park starts implementing the backcountry campsite portion of their trail management plan (in 3 - 4 years), this should be one of the sites in my opinion.  I would be there every chance I got, hanging in my hammock.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Behind Downtown Akron. A Walk from Lock 3 Park to Lock #1 site.

Under the State Street Bridge.
Downtown Akron, Ohio is small enough that you can usually find parking in the evenings or weekends, but large enough that you get a good selection of restaurants, attractions, and events.  On Thursday, the 17th, Shelby and I decided to head downtown.  Turns out there was a sold-out Rubber Ducks game (they are really packing the stands this year), something big going on at the Civic Theater, and a "Downtown at Dusk" event at the art museum.  For a Thursday night, downtown was packed elbow to elbow.

Lock 3 park didn't have anything going on, so we parked in the State Street garage that sits between the park and Canal Park.  We got there early enough to miss the baseball crowd flooding into the parking.  

Lock 3 was barren.  The stage sat empty, waiting for the Friday Night Rock the Lock concert.  We stepped onto the towpath, and headed south.
Lock 3 itself is directly behind the fence.
I mentioned before that Shelby is fascinated by canal locks.  Walking a few hundred feet south of the park, and under the State Street bridge takes you to Lock #2.  I think that this is Shelby's favorite thus far, because it still has "doors" on it.  They're not functional, and actually don't go the whole way to the bottom of the lock, but they give you a sense of what it would have looked like when it was full.
The downstream gate.  There is an artistic, life sized canal boat in the background with an interpretative sign.
  We traipsed around lock 2 for a bit, which is also directly behind Canal Park.  There were a few people already being seated, and the grounds crew was preparing the infield.  This might be a sneaky place to watch the game or even catch a home run without even needing to purchase a ticket.  I don't know if they clear the area during games or not.

On down past canal park, you come to the former site of Lock #1.  The canal disappears under exchange street here, and on the west bank, is the Richard Howe House.  This building was built in 1836 by Richard Howe, the resident engineer of the Ohio and Erie canal.  But it wasn't built here.  It was originally constructed further to the east on Exchange street.  It was neglected, but in 2008, the Canalway Coalition cut the whole thing in half, put it on flatbeds, restored it, and moved it to the present site.  You can tour it now (I haven't got the chance yet).  It's open Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM.
This is the view from the stairs heading across the canal to the Howe house, just below Exchange street.  From right to left: Howe House, Akron YMCA building, the canal, and Canal Park.
We continued down the towpath a bit past here, going under Exchange street in what is an old viaduct tunnel faced with sandstone.  A look at a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1886 shows that a creek used to run through here.
The intersection of Exchange and S. Main streets in Akron as it looked in 1886.

Other than some of the steam pipes from the Akron Steam plant, and a nice view of the former BF Goodrich stacks, there aren't many more "features" to the canal until you walk the whole way to Summit Lake, approximately 1 mile from Exchange street.  We decided to turn around at one of the former Goodrich office buildings and head back to Lock 3.

In essence, we we able to take a nice leisurely stroll, and see a lot of history, some nature (there are quite a few geese and mallards in the canal though here, and interesting plants growing on the banks) "behind" a busy downtown Akron.  If you would just like a 30 minute out-and-back, relaxing walk, you can't go wrong with this one.
Taken a few days prior to our walk, during the Italian American festival.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quotes of Hemingway Guide to Enjoying a Weekend in the Woods.

Warning, shameless Ernest Hemingway name dropping ahead...  
Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899.  Through his years, he was best known for his writing, but he was also a boxer, solider, U-boat hunter, war correspondent, deep sea fisherman, and a general adventurer.  He did all of this while having 4 different wives, 3 children, and 5 grandchildren that were born before his death in 1961.  Needless to say, he wasn't the most doting father and husband.  However, from a philosophical sense, his writings and quotes hold numerous meanings to me with regards to enjoying a calm, relaxing weekend in the woods.

I'm 33 years old, the father of a 7 year old, and married to a woman who received a double lung transplant a few years ago.  Unlike Hemingway, I tend to feel guilty about going away for a long weekend to someplace without cell phone service, leaving them to fend for themselves.  I'm sure that without me there, the dogs will run away, the house will burn down, and they'll both die of starvation by Saturday night because I wasn't there to order a pizza. 

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

This quote of Hemingway means so much in so many different ways.  The only way I can trust that the dogs won't run away, is to give them the chance to do so, and then see that they don't.  I have to put trust into my wife that she is a wonderful mother, and will make sure that they are fed, clean, and having fun while I'm gone.  She's never let me down.

When I get it in my head that I want to go to the woods, it starts with weeks or even months of planning, a month or so of buying "essential" gear like the special backpacking stove that I REALLY need because "Look! It can charge my cell phone!", followed by a few days of packing, unpacking, repacking, remembering that the sleeping quilts should be on the BOTTOM of your top loading pack, unpacking again, and finally repacking and throwing the pack in the damn car before you realize that you put your cell phone in the bottom of the pack, and you aren't leaving for 2 days.

But what really throws a wrench in the mix is the final 24 hours before I leave.  I tend to ask my wife 4,000 times if she's OK with me going, because I feel like she secretly doesn't mean it when she says "I'm fine with it, just go so I can have a weekend to myself with Shelby."

So, how do I finally get up, get out, and get going without just calling the whole thing off?

“The shortest answer is doing the thing.” 

Look at him.  Just enjoying being out, without a worry in the world.
So for all the planning, buying, packing, preparing, and asking "permission" to go away for a few days, I just have to go.  And you know what?  That always works out just fine.  The minute I hit the road, I feel better.  My mind clears, and I can already smell the pine trees, and hear the babbling of the stream I'm lying beside.   

What about that gear I just had to buy?  Well, I generally find that having that stove that charges my cell phone, is more trouble than it's worth when backpacking.  It's heavy, noisy, finicky, and I don't even have cell phone service.  Sure, it boils water faster than a regular wood stove, but then again, so does my canister stove.  I use the gear once, and then it sits in my basement, only used sparingly for a "change of pace".  

"The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without"

When you're in the backcountry, you have a lot of things with you.  The thing you have the most of is time, even though it can sometimes feel like you never have enough.  With this time, one tends to think.  I think about my family, I wonder what the species of trees are that my hammock is hung from, and, perhaps from my military background, I think about "debriefing", all the time.  It's only after the day's hike that I begin to tear down my packing list, and realize that half of the things I carried were never, and will never be needed in the woods.  Once I'm home, the gear gets stashed, almost never to be seen again.  Once I sit down and seriously think about what I'm doing and what I need, I begin to simplify my life.  The trick is doing this BEFORE I start packing.

"My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way." 

  No special notebook, no typewriter, just pen, paper, and time.
This is the most important "non-philosophical" quote of this whole post.  Keep a journal, or a "travelogue", of your trips.  It can be a stack of index cards, a small spiral notebook, or a nice rite-in-the-rain field journal.   Not only will it be nice in your golden years to read, reminisce, and perhaps even publish somewhere, but it can also be useful for the next trip you are planning for.  The point is to put pen to paper, and clear your mind of everything that's running through it.  Only when you're sure your thoughts, observations, and events are captured outside of your mind can you truly clear your mind and enjoy the weekend.  You can shrug off the problem of carrying that heavy stove 7 miles back to the car by ensuring that you'll just deal with it at home upon your return, and never carry it again.  

This post was never intended to be a technical "how-to" (although the title may be a little misleading).  It's more of a philosophical mind-hack.  But, if you want a quick checklist to summarize, here you go:

  1. Don't worry about what others will be doing.  Trust them completely and honestly, and enjoy your weekend.
  2. Plan your trip, smartly and simply, but don't obsess over things that really don't matter.  JUST GO, and enjoy your weekend.
  3. When you're finally out there, reflect on where you are, what you're doing, what you're carrying, and if you really need all of that gear to enjoy your weekend.
  4. When you feel like you've got it all figured out, write it down for future use, clear your mind, and just ENJOY THE WEEKEND.
  5. See the words in all caps?  There is your ultra simple, handy guide to "Just go, and enjoy the weekend".  You never know when you'll get another chance.  


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Exploring the Cascade Locks

On Sunday, Shelby and I decided to wake up a little early, and go for a walk.  I hopped on the Ohio and Erie Canalway website, and downloaded some "quests", which are kind of like Geocaching, but with more back story behind the clues.  You can pick up the pamphlets at different visitors centers in the area.

We decided to head to the Cascade Locks area, as it's one of Shelby's favorite spots.  She loves to explore the old canal locks, Cascade Mills, the Mustill Store, and the old railroad bridges.  There is a lot of history in a 1/4 mile section of the towpath.

So, we printed out our instructions, and hopped in the car.  Out of the three quests we had in that area, we decided to start with Questing the Cascade Locks.  This started us at the Mustill store parking lot, and the information Kiosk located at that point.

After having Shelby read the various rhyming clues, we learned that the spillway for lock 15, directly across from the store, runs right underneath the porch of the building.  It can still be seen as a small trench from the upstream end of the lock, down to the Little Cuyahoga river.

Now, this was beginning to be fun for me too.  What started as a simple excuse to get outside, and have Shelby learn some things, turned into an educational experience for me as well.  I had never really noticed the trench, and when we hit this point, it got me to look around and observe the layout of the area even more.  Even though inside the Mustill store there are plenty of historical exhibits and pictures, I like to simply daydream and imagine what the area looked like 150 years ago, when all of it was still a functioning canal.

Lock 15 is on the left.  You can see the remains of the spillway on the right side of the path, and the ramp to the Mustill Store's porch at bottom right.  

We found our way across North Street, over to lock 14.  Shelby is fascinated by canal locks.  She knows the simple stuff, like how old they are, that canal boats used them to make their way up or downhill, and that they used to be full of water, but, more surprisingly for a 7 year old, she understands exactly HOW they worked, and the actual process used to either lift or lower a boat.  I credit the exhibits in the store and various visitor centers with teaching her this.  Most of the time, she simply glances over the exhibits, and heads straight for where the stuffed animals are stored, but when it comes to the interactive lock exhibit, she can easily spend 15 minutes just playing with it, not realizing she's learning.

As we were going through the various clues, the sky started threatening.  Unfortunately, we were operating with paper, which doesn't do so well in the rain.  We stepped up our pace a little, and walked up to lock 12, which is nicely covered by a new foot bridge with a roof, since it passes directly under the high railroad bridge spanning the valley.  We spent 10 minutes or so looking at the various details of lock 12 and both the new an old piers for the current and former railroad bridges while we waited out the rain that finally began to fall.

Our last clue pointed us to the secret box, which contains a log book and a stamp.  As we were standing under the roof, we could see the box, about 30 feet away.  Not knowing how long the rain would last, I decided to just use the umbrella and head over to it.

Shelby deciphered the way to open the box, and we went ahead and signed the log book, and stamped her paper.  At this point, we were getting hungry, and the rain was still falling, so we headed back to the car, and determined that the best course of action would be to grab some breakfast and head home.

After a good meal at Akron Family Restaurant, (highly recommended for it's good food, service, and prices) we made our way home.  We still have two more quests to do in the Cascade locks area, and over 40 more scattered around the Canalway, which runs from Cleveland, through the Cuyahoga Valley, Akron, and on south to Canton and Massillon.

Finding the Nerve

So, I've finally decided that it was time to begin chronicling my life, the people that surround me, and especially the things I've done or plan to do.  Someday, this might be something that my daughter might read and reminisce.  That won't happen anytime soon, I believe, since my daughter is only 7.  Facebook doesn't cut it for me.  It's too "in the moment", and I find that I never have anything important to say at a given point in time.  I would rather sit and reflect on the important things, and put them all down at once, rather than 15 posts throughout a day with each little event being lost in the shuffle.  

To start out, I've always felt that I am fairly decent at expressing things in written words.  I guess that I suffer from something far more problematic than writer's block, and that would be from a lack of motivation in the first place.  I enjoy numerous different activities and hobbies, but I generally float from one subject to the next, obsessing over it for a week or two, learning all about it, and spending money on "gear" with nothing ever really "sticking".

The only thing that has remained constant throughout the years has been my love of the outdoors.  I've read "survival" type books since I was 6 or 7 years old, always fantasizing about disappearing into the wilderness, and living off of the land, ala Christopher McCandless (of Into the Wild notoriety).  

Had I not found my wife, Megan, I may very well be doing (or at least attempting to do) just that.  However, since I have a family to provide for and bills to pay, I'll settle for the occasional backpacking trip for a few days somewhere east of the Mississippi, or even a Saturday morning walk of 1/4 mile to an old mill site along the Ohio and Erie canal in Akron, OH. Then again, I may get it in my head that I want to work on the car, go have a beer, or write a blog.

Since it's the subject I feel the most experienced in, and also the one that I know will be a lifelong love of mine, I'll probably have a lot of backpacking, camping, hiking, and related things.  Sometimes I'll probably just ramble on about completely different subjects that I find interesting.  With enough effort, maybe I'll find that there are certain subjects that I write more about than others.

Since the spirit of this blog will be about "Finding the Nerve" to learn about and try new things while juggling a career in IT, a family, and my own personal life, expect a lot of randomness.

Now, I just have to "find the nerve" to write.