Day 4: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH / by Wookie Kim

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. 

 My campsite.

My campsite.

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). 

 Experimenting with depth of field. 

Experimenting with depth of field. 

 Shot from ground level. 

Shot from ground level. 

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.

 Brandywine Falls--kind of blurry, right? I tried. 

Brandywine Falls--kind of blurry, right? I tried. 

 Testing out my Joby GorillaPod. It worked. 

Testing out my Joby GorillaPod. It worked. 

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.

 Having taken the REI one-day outdoor photography class, I now love manipulating depth of field. 

Having taken the REI one-day outdoor photography class, I now love manipulating depth of field. 

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.

 On the Ledges Overlook. 

On the Ledges Overlook. 

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.

 Moss-covered rocks. 

Moss-covered rocks. 

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. 

 The setting sun at Ledges Overlook. 

The setting sun at Ledges Overlook. 

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.

 Watching the sunset. 

Watching the sunset. 

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.

 A flame in the dark--success!

A flame in the dark--success!

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!