Monday, November 5, 2012

Night Hiking on Halloween

All Hallows Eve... what to do? what to do? Take a hike! That's what! It was about 7:00 PM, nothin to do, didn't get my weekend hike in because of errands, and getting everything at home ready for winter to set in, you know the gist... Hoses to be brought in, outdoor spigots to be wrapped and insulated, garden to be plucked clean and tilled a bit, all THAT fun stuff.

Anyway, Indiana Dunes State Park beckoned to us, there was a huge moon out and the nights haven't become unbearably cold yet. Off we went, grabbed the usuals, water, snacks, cell phone and the new external battery packs I bought from, which I mentioned in the Gadgets Post.
When we arrived, I immediately tortured Rella by putting a costume on her, One picture and it was time for a wardrobe change - Doggy Sweater and Doggy Hiking Pack.
 We set off into the woods, the moon lighting our way (along with a small flashlight). I was a beautiful night, owls hooting, breeze slightly blowing through the trees, it was all very peaceful and quite serene.
We walked for several miles on trail 10 which is a fairly level and easy loop trail. It takes us past huge prairies and even has a few lookout stands, they're about 10 - 15 feet tall. Each stand has a placard of the area you are seeing, listing species of animals you might see running across the fields or rummaging through the woods. I was not thrilled when I saw Coyote on that list... let's just say I was quite paranoid the rest of the night.

As we walked through a particular stand of trees, the wind was blowing  just hard enough to cause several trees to emit a very eerie creaking sound... cue increased heart rate. Rella didn't seem to mind the noise nor did she seem very nervous about it, still I quickened our pace... I do not believe in ghosts or goblins however, that didn't help me out one iota of a bit. In moments of panic my first line of defense is comedy... cue up "Blair Witch Project" spoof.

 Of course right after THAT nugget of entertainment was over, mother nature decided to have a bit of fun too and sent an ambassador of the woods careening through the woods at breakneck speeds, making noise equivocal to anything you'd expect in a Hollywood horror movie. I froze and immediately my imagination got the better of me and my rampant thoughts(Obvious Swearing Omitted) included but are not limited to: "Ho-ly ___ Coyote! Coyotes comin' to eat me!", "No, It's a bear... It's a FRICKIN' BEAR comin' to eat me!", "Wait... are there mountain lions in this area!?", "Are you supposed to run or stay your ground? Running sounds good! (takes a step) No! don't! I think that they chase you because you're showing fear. I don't know!! (looks at dog) Why's she so calm!?" The noises drew nearer and I was ready to kiss my ___ goodbye. Just then a Ginormous DEER came running out of the woods crossing over the trail almost directly in front of me. Stopped... looked (I swear it was laughing) and ran off. I gotta admit, I Eventually had a good laugh after.

I love The Dunes, I seriously do. If you're in the Northwest Indiana area, I highly recommend experiencing The Dunes! Here's a link to my Yelp! Review, if you're so inclined to read it.

Happy Hiking!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A word about Sandy

With Hurricane Sandy in full swing, damage reports coming in from all over the coastal areas and news about how many peoples lives are affected, I would like to remind everyone on the east coast to be safe and cautious.

Many east coast residents are braving the weather to post pictures and videos of the devastation Sandy has left in its wake. They are all great shots but, please remember that your health & safety is a lot more valuable than a few pictures.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Gadgets and a Map from

So I was thinking, if I'm gonna be hitting up Shenandoah National Park... I better buy some stuff to get ready. I plan on doing the 101 miles of Appalachian Trail that runs through it, that's about 10 days... knowing me it'll be more like 12.

Some quick thoughts - I'm going there to get away from the cities and cars and general city/suburb stuff. But, I still want to be somewhat connected if need be. Seems like the internet and Social Media is an unavoidable part of our lives. So, in light of that knowledge I've bought myself some stuff to tide me over on my LG Spectrum and my ASUS Transformer Prime tablet. I'm bringing both because well... I'm an idiot. 

We all know that these new Smart Phones suck battery juice faster than the old 440 6 packs from the muscle car era. I know I can't go a day without charging mine if I use it throughout the day. Since I love taking pictures with my smartphone and posting to Facebook I'll definitely be using it plenty on the trail.

About 2 or 3 weeks ago I started looking for a way to get power for my devices. I originally was shopping for solar chargers, bought on Samsonite solar window charger with the thought that I would strap it to my pack and have my phone charging as I was walking. Let me skim right over that piece of garbage... worst thing I ever bought. I tried it out over a weekend by using it exactly as it was intended, by putting it in my window and letting it charge my phone. Long story short, it didn't work at all. The phone didn't even show that it was getting ANY power. I returned it and got a quick refund.

Anker Astro and Astro2 battery packs.
Eventually I just decided to go with external battery packs.There are several different manufacturers offering external batteries, all claiming their product is the best with not much to back up those claims.  I trust amazon reviews, especially the "Amazon Confirmed Purchase" reviews, so when I came across Anker Batteries and saw the praises, it piqued my interest.

I ordered both the Astro(5600 mAh) and Astro 2(8400 mAh) batteries. There was a sale promotion going on so I got both for about $70 instead of $80 +.

Added to that order was a  Trails Illustrated map to Shenandoah National Park by National Geographic. Because when GPS fails or 4G coverage is non existent, I want to be able to know roughly where I am. I already have a compass and know how to properly use it too.

Once I saw that brown box I couldn't wait to dig into it. I checked out the map first because, I was eager to see what I'm getting myself in to.

The map was very detailed, it listed the waterfall areas, height of the waterfalls, the mile marker and  hiking distance from Skyline Drive. A brief look to the legend,  a scan of the southern end of the map and I found what I was looking for - The A.T. I marveled at its winding path through the park and also notice that it was never more than a couple miles from Skyline Drive. Kind of a bummer but, it also makes me feel a little bit more at ease to know if anything ever did happen all I'd have to do is walk a short distance and civilization would be near by.

I then went on to tear into the battery packs. Both were very light which was a big plus considering every oz. is going to count after a few days of hiking.

This particular model (Astro2) comes with a padded pouch(not a cheap looking/feeling one either) and usb adapters. I had it for about a week and pretty much used this exclusively (I only used the phones wall charger a few times) to charge my phone, before writing this review so I think I can give the honest experience and facts.

Here's the good stuff-

1) Easy
- Has a "Power In" and 2 "Power Out", ONE multifunction button, A LED flashlight and led power indicators.
Power input is Micro USB
Power out is Standard USB(use provided adapters)
The LED flashlight is fairly bright, good for lighting immediate area 2-3 ft. in front of you but, not much further.
Led's indicate charge.
2) Durable - It fell out while hiking and tumbled 20 or so feet down a hill then hit a rock. Nothing wrong except a few scratches.
3) Stylish - C'mon it's black and silver... what's not stylish 'bout that?

Here's the not so good stuff-

1) The power indicators only show battery capacity when it's not charging a phone/device. While charging, only the first light blinks :(
2) It does not charge my ASUS Transformer Prime tablet :( the tablet came with a USB charger which can plug into either the wall(with adapter of course) or a computer to charge, transfer data or do both at the same time. So why it won't accept a charge from the Astro2 ? I don't know...
3) The USB adapters provided by Anker were not very durable... the micro USB adapter(from both Items I bought) was very fidgety and if I so much as moved the connection it would stop charging :( I have the USB - Micro USB cord that came with the phone so, no big deal but, it'd still have been nice if their cord worked.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with this item. It charges my phone, is pretty darn durable, and holds a pretty decent amount of charges, I think I used it 4 times to charge my phone from 15% to 100% power before I needed to recharge the Battery Pack itself.

I'm glad I bought these Gadgets, they've both worked pretty well since I've had them and, the map is something I look at almost everyday.

Here are some Links:
Anker Astro
Anker Astro 2
Trails Illustrated map

Happy Hiking!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Indiana Dunes - Trail #8

Welcome to Jurassic... um, I mean Indiana Dunes State Park.

Welcome to Jurassic... um, I mean Indiana Dunes State Park.

Hiking is so much funnier with family...

It all started pretty typically, me saying I'd be there at 11am., showing up at 11:15. Forcibly waking my cousin Elana and dragging her outta bed, plans were made, I didn't just show up and sentence her to a day of hiking for no reason LoL. After all that fun I began packing up the dog treats, water, some snacks for us - you know the drill. After the dogs get loaded up and we head out a request for some fast food is made 'n we hit up Mickey Dee's on the way. The Dunes aren't very far from us, maybe 30 or 45 minutes with decent traffic flowing.

On our way into the park.

We eat most of our daily recommended caloric intake on the 30 something minute drive there. Talked about the trails we may be using today and how often we've all hiked, and which trails we'd like to do in the future. I talked about my desire to hike the 105 mile long Shenandoah Valley, 101 miles of of which are part of the Appalachian Trail, my cousin Lorraine told me is scheduled to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January. FYI Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet tall 
As we arrive at The Dunes we're greeted by an abundance of colors as we drive through the access roads to the parking for trails 7 thru 10. It seems as if we are at that PERFECT time of year when the chances of seeing every color in existence in one hiking trip is very high.
We parked and started getting ready to head out onto the trail. I put the pack on Rella and connected her and Matzah's collars with one of those double dog walking things from PetSmart. My cousins  got their sweaters on as I got my camelbak on and double checked that we had snacks, ID's water etc. After we double checked everything, we're ready to hit it.

You can see Lake Michigan in the background.

I decided on Trail 8 for no particular reason other than the fact that I haven't gone on it yet. It started with a few steep inclines, some of which felt like walking up a wall. The dogs had NO problem getting up, must be nice having 4 legs, the rest of us two legged folk were having a helluva time. The first peak was "Mount" Jackson, and it was probably the tougher of the climbs. For every three steps forward we'd slide at least one step back - damn sand... that's all I gotta say. Eventually we did make it, and I gotta say the view from the top was well worth the effort. Looking to the North we could see Lake Michigan, to the South was the rest of the park with its trees and prairies going on for miles.

176 feet up on "Mount" Jackson looking South

Rest over with, we kept on moving along the trail. "Well it can't get much higher than this, it's probably all downhill from here" boy was I mistaken... We walked down a nice gentle slope, looking at the changing colors of the trees, snapping pictures of everything. And just  when we thought it was all good and that it'll be easy going Mount Holden (The second tallest sand dune in the State) beckoned us... rising up past some trees and brush. A hem, "Bartender, can we get another round of Deep Breaths, Sighs and Groans please?" Up we went...
Once we reached the 184 foot peak we were beat, we sat and watched the waves of Lake Michigan crashing on the beach below. Somehow the dogs were still rearing to go, I don't know how... perhaps it's because dogs have a vast and untapped energy reserve big enough to rival the nearby Nuclear Power Plant. At this point, I do not, neither did my other two legged companions. After our brief rest we decided to go down to the beach, It seemed close enough... of course, I was mistaken.

As we begin walking (Sliding) down  the dune ONE of us - not saying who... decides to blow chunks all over the sand. It made quite the nice little river of spew... There IS  a video though and it is hilarious! mid stream LoL! After this mornings chewed up McDonald's was left on the dune we did make it to the beach.

Looking West we see Chicago in the distance, it seemed so small.
Hard to imagine that just about 100 years ago you wouldn't have seen anything but water

We walked the beach for a while, talking and just relaxing and taking it all in as the dogs were playing in the waves. After a stroll down the beach we did end up going back, obligations called all of us. Back up Mt. Holden, down, then back up Mt. Jackson and finally back down the trail to the car. Off came the shoes, out came a pound of sand, and back home we went. I hope we can all get together again soon, aside from the puke it was a great day. Hell I think that made our day!

 Links to my reviews of this trail:
All Trails

Feel free to leave your comments or suggestions below and, don't forget to share.

Friday, October 5, 2012

You know what? I think I'm gonna start Hiking

Swallow Cliff Woods - Palos Hills, IL

Trail Tails begin...

     I've always liked the outdoors... magazines with pictures of the woods and wildlife, movies with scenic vistas, rolling hills and valleys, snowy peaks and fertile forests, it all piqued my interests. I subscribed to National Geographic, watched Discovery and History Channel. I thoroughly enjoyed nature while being separated from it. I figured "Hell, why do I need to go see whatever Forest, or some name Mountain? They show the good stuff on TV". 
     Then one day I came across A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. It's such an amazing book I read it twice!  He writes about the trails history as well as his personal journey on the trail. It was an easy read, very funny at times too. Seriously check it out, his (overweight)friend "Katz" is hilarious! The back and forth banter between them... I smile just thinking about it. But anyway, this isn't a book blog... OK maybe a little who knows? It's the first post.

A picture of my Rottweiler Jesse
     So where was I? Oh... In July I adopted a puppy from my local ASPCA, 2 years prior my Rottweiler Jesse died. I couldn't even think about another dog for a long time. She was an awesome dog, lean, powerful, playful, kind and protective. Unfortunately she was VERY skittish when it came to fireworks, July 4th 2007 she got away from me and was lost for 2 days before I got a call from the local police giving me the bad news. She was supposed to be my hiking partner. We were set to go, had plans to hit up the small trails locally and then eventually make our way to the mother of all trails; The Appalachian Trail. Not a Thru-Hike but, Section Hiking it season by season. It was going to be an adventure for the both of us. Clear our thoughts, do some soul searching and really get to know what we really wanted out of life. When I say "We" I mean "I" because as we all know, Dogs thoughts are ALWAYS clear, their souls are PURE, and all they REALLY want out of life is a loving home and LOTS of TREATS!  Two years... two years go by, I still miss her.

     Eventually though, I wanted another dog. When I put Jesse into the incinerator for cremation I made an unbreakable promise; I would never forget her and that I would rescue a dog(from a shelter) in her memory and give it the best life I could. Cheesy I know but hell, I loved her and I don't care if people think it's ridiculous, it's MY blog, I do what I want :) So two Years later, I adopt this tiny thing from the local ASPCA shelter, she and her family were found on the side of the road by 80/94 and Calumet Avenue. It's a DAMN busy area. She's a Mastiff mix, not sure with what though. She was about 9 weeks old when I got her, shy, nervous etc. She quickly came out of her shell though, a couple of weeks of socializing her and she can't get enough of people and the attention they give her. After she was about 3 months old I took her on our first trail. The Swallow Cliff Woods in Palos Hills, IL. It wasn't anything spectacular but, my god did it feel nice to be away from the hustle and bustle. After that first hike I was Hooked! So was  she! We did about 5 miles that day, taking main trails ,exploring side trails and getting lost in the woods.
Trail Blazing Pup

That look...

The next post will be all about that trip, here are some teaser pictures though. I hope this first blog wasn't too terrible for you. Please leave you comments and suggestions if you have any. But, be civil, I have it set so anyone can post comments and I don't have to "approve them" don't make me have to do that please.