You may not believe this, but I'm posting this from inside my tent in a backcountry campsite in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I'll explain my technology set-up later (and I'll also explain why I'm not really even attempting to "unplug" from society during this trip), but, for now, I wanted to share some thoughts and some sights from my first solo day on the road.
I left Baltimore at 9:30 a.m. That was 3.5 hours after I'd planned to leave. I got back later than expected last night from upstate New York. Obviously resting and recovering from Twisted Branch was important. So I slept in and left late.
That ended up being fine, because the day couldn't have been more perfect. I made good progress in my Prius, and arrived in Cuyahoga Valley National Park at around 4 p.m. The first thing I did was stop by the visitor center. Naturally, the Ranger was incredibly friendly, and gave me several trail suggestions. I told her I'd just run a 100-kilometer trail race, and that I wanted to do some easy recovery hiking. She immediately suggested that I watch the sunset at the Ledges Outlook. I also asked her if I should visit Brandywine Falls. She said "yes, definitely! But just so you know, you're going up and down a big hill to get there..."
I decided to set up camp before setting out onto the trails. Tonight, after all, is the first night in my entire life that I've camped alone. The last thing that I wanted was to have to set up in the dark. So I hustled over to the Stanford House campsite, where I'd booked a spot. By 5 p.m., I'd set up my tent, and brought all the gear I needed to cook dinner.
WIth the knowledge that I had shelter for the day, I proceeded 1.7 miles down the Stanford Trail. The trail was peaceful, and, given that I had absolutely no plans to run today, I lingered and took photos. Also, despite the Ranger's warning, the "hill" that I had to climb was a joke--I climbed probably 100 of those on Saturday! Still, going downhill stressed the quads. I'm glad I opted not to run today (I plan to take tomorrow off from running too).
Eventually, I made it to the Brandywine Falls. It was certainly fun to see, but I can't say it took my breath away. I decided to see if I could come away with a couple good photos. I wanted to capture the blur of the falling water, and I also wanted to test out my travel tripod. The results are below.
Seeing that it was already 6:15, and that the Ranger told me I should be on the Ledges Overlook by 7:30, I speedwalked back to the parking lot. I stopped to take a close-up of a flower along the way.
I made it over to the Ledges Overlook by 7:00. The sun had not yet set. But people were already gathered, including some canine friends as well.
I didn't want to miss the sunset, but I also didn't want to miss seeing the rock cliffs that make the Ledges Trail one of the must-dos of this park. So I descended briefly to see what i could find.
Time passed too quickly, and I realized the forest was already getting dark! I scampered back up the trail to get back to the Overlook. And there was the sun, setting the evening sky on fire with an orange glow. I watched in awe as it continued to set. Realizing how quickly it was disappearing into the horizon, I decided I'd try to capture it on camera. Its color had turned red by this point, but was just as incredible to see. Here's my best photo.
By this point, I was surrounded by people. There were couples, families, solo hikers, runners--all manner of people. All were here to witness something worth witnessing--a spectacular setting sun.
It was now approaching 8:30. I returned to my campsite and realized it was pitch black. After a failed attempt to start my Whisperlite camping stove, I finally succeeded in getting that burning blue flame going.
I cooked a quick pot of mac and cheese, opened a can of tuna, and rounded out my meal with some grape tomatoes I'd had in my fridge when I left Baltimore this morning. It was a surprisingly healthy meal. I'm well on my way to recovery from the 100K.
Tomorrow, I head to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before spending the night in Chicago (one of six urban friend-stops I'll be making this trip). I'm hoping I wake up naturally, but I've set my alarm for 6 a.m. just in case. I have no time to waste!