On the Buckeye Trail (again)

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S24O

An s24o is a sub 24-hour overnight backpacking trip. I have been doing s24o trips for decades, but never knew they needed a special name or, more surprisingly, that someone had already gone through the trouble of identifying and cataloging this kind of hike, developing a name, and even creating an acronym for said name.

But here it is. It exists and it is important, because I read it on the Internet. A while back I mentioned the s24o, but am too lazy to go back and check it. As far as the acronym, I like it, have consciously added it to my vocabulary, and will use it when deemed appropriate – assuming I remember it and do not misplace it in one of those little used crevices in my brain.

Some weeks I do two s24o’s. This past week was one of those weeks. I did one in southern Alabama, flew to Ohio and did another. I should explain that I am not flying all over the country to do short overnight hikes. I am traveling on business. With the long days of summer and fewer flight options available with all these airline mergers, I often have a lot of time on my hands waiting for the next plane. I could just stay in my hotel and watch TV or surf the Internet. I can’t go out drinking or chasing women because I am happily married. So I go backpacking.

TRIP REPORTS

Sometimes on this website (or is it a blog?) I write a report after a backpacking or camping trip. More often I don’t. I go hiking because that is what I do; it is what I enjoy. I do it for me. I post articles mostly for my kids and friends. If I wrote up every trip, backpacking and camping would not be fun, and this site would become a burden on my leisure time. In fact, sometimes I don’t even tell Joyce I am going on a s240 backpacking trip. Too much work and time to figure out an itinerary to send it to her. Besides, often even I don’t know where I’m going until I get there, and once there, if I am lucky, there is no cell phone coverage. The lack of cell phone coverage is an indicator of a remote and usually un-peopled area. However, it is darn hard to find that kind of area for a s24o. Multi-day trips are much better.

BUCKEYE TRAIL

I wrote about a section hike I did here a few months ago. It would have been nice to do that same section again, only do it going northbound, and do it in autumn when all the leaves have turned autumn colors. Unfortunately the leaves were just starting to turn in small, small numbers, plus I did not have enough time available to cover the same section.

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After conducting my workshop, I had 24 hours until I had to catch my plane home — enough time to spend 18 hours on the trail.

AUTUMN

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Autumn is a strange season. First, it is not well defined. When does it start? No one knows. Summer starts on the longest day of the year, usually June 21st for us northern hemisphere residents. There is no official end date to summer. Somehow summer just fades into autumn. People suddenly notice a briskness in the air and the leaves are no longer green. They have been replaced by reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and rust.

Where I live there is no autumn. It is either hot for 6 months or absolutely perfect the other 6 months. So before I left for Ohio, I knew that autumn happens most often in September, October, and November. And it didn’t matter when autumn would happen in Ohio, the timing of my visit was determined by the customer.

So off I went, knowing that autumn was probably not going to happen for another 4 weeks.

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Another autumn event occurred just before I left home for this trip. It appears I am in the autumn of my life. You realize this when you turn 60. At 60 you suddenly are cognizant that you have already lived the majority of your life. And sometime in this autumn of life, you recognize your memory is not as sharp as it once was.

All summer I have been backpacking with my summer kit. It is packed and ready to go. And this summer, two or three weeks a month I traveled on business and took my backpack with me. When I get to my destination I buy food, stove fuel, fill my water bottles and take off. I never change the contents of my pack. A couple weeks ago, after Labor Day, I made a mental note to add some warm insulation clothing to the pack and to replace my summer quilt with a warmer one. Unfortunately, just like with those yellow Post-it notes or the notes we scribble on scratch pieces of paper, my mental note got misplaced. I didn’t lose the note, because the night before the Buckeye Trail hike, I found the mental note and thought, “shit, better check the weather.”

Oops, lows in the 40’s (F). Days would be perfect in the high 60’s with little humidity. No rain forecasted. I would just have to deal with the lows being way beyond the rating of my quilt and not having any extra insulation. Worse case scenario would be to hike out in the middle of the night. I had my poncho, rain skirt, and a shelter. I could stay dry even if it rained.

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As I always do, I removed all my gear to check everything over. The right way to this is check your gear before you leave home. 

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Gear: Left to Right

  • (Top) McHale Bump backpack
  • (Middle) Thermarest Neo Air mattress, folded 1/8” foam pad under the rain skirt, poncho/groundsheet, Hexamid shelter, trail running shoes & socks, Caldera Cone cookset
  • (Bottom) On top of the cuben fiber food sack is a headlamp, compass, first aid kit & personal items, toilet paper & cat trowel, bandana. Pole for shelter, tent stakes, two 1-liter Playpus water sacks, nylyon hiking pants, T-shirt, shorts, and windshirt.

CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

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My client’s location and hotel were less than 30 minutes from this National Park. I had hiked through it 3 months earlier. This is not the kind of National Park we have out west. There are city, county, state, and private reserves within the Park’s area and the conglomeration is somewhat managed by the National Park a Service. For the most part, it is a giant urban park. There are some paved riding/hiking trails; the most prominent being the Ohio & Erie Canal path. For bike riders, it is a pretty cool path.

Along with the Buckeye Trail, there are many other hiking trails, so it is fairly easy to create a loop hike in many areas of the park. Being that summer was over and it was mid-week, I saw no one, except for a short section of the tow path between the trail head parking lot and a junction to the Buckeye Trail. Most of the area I hiked felt remote and wild, but at times I could hear auto traffic from roads when the trail approached asphalt.

Camping was, well shall we say, a cautious and clandestine event.

STEALTH CAMPING

In many of the places I do a s24o trip, it is difficult to figure out the rules. This is to be expected, as they are run by government agencies. The night before the hike, I went online to check for regulations on the National Park Service’s Cuyahoga National Park website. No information about camping. No prohibitions stated. So as Bill Clinton taught us, I take the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

With my small pack and light gear, I don’t look like a backpacker to most people. I look like I am out for a day hike, which is probably a good thing. If camping isn’t allowed, no one (i.e. Rangers) is going to think I will be spending the night and tell me I can’t. So as I usually do, even when camping is allowed, I find a spot away from trails and areas where others may stumble upon my site.

On this trip, in my isolated camp site, it had just turned dark as I laid out my gear. A slight chill was in the air as I boiled water for dinner. I wrapped my quilt around my shoulders and ate dinner. Then I just sat and watched. A short distance away, a fox passed by. Later, even further out, a coyote was quickly moving through the forest looking for its dinner. I probably sat there for an hour and a half, maybe two hours before I went to bed.

Right at 2am I woke up cold. Really cold. I wasn’t going to get much sleep in this temperature, and fires probably aren’t allowed. I didn’t want to cut the trip short and hike out back to my rental car. Then it hit me… I could wrap my poncho around me, and slide back under the quilt. Since the poncho is not breathable, it would work as a vapor barrier. A vapor barrier minimizes evaporative heat loss from our bodies, and in my case it was just enough to allow me go back to sleep and sleep comfortably through the rest of the night.

So the thing I was worried about, inadequate sleeping insulation became a non-problem.

A hot breakfast, a longer hike back to the car, and a drive to the airport. I landed in Palm Springs at 8pm. Another excellent adventure.

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