2010 in Review: 10 days in the Ohio outdoors

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I have nearly frozen.

A.W. Marion State Park, Circleville

Friday, Feb. 5

The main attraction at A.W. Marion is a small resort lake for weekend boaters, so the entire park is deserted during winter. Pop machines are turned off, and nearby snack shops are closed. Pretty much the only thing left is the five-mile Hargus Lake Trail, which circles the perimeter of the lake.

I put it off until winter, when most of Ohio's landlocked forests look the same. Luck did the rest. I drove down there to find the entire park draped with new snow - an icy paradise that resembled something out of a C.S. Lewis novel. After giving wide views of the lake, the trail crosses tiny, forgotten bridges and wanders into secret coves quiet and still in the cold.

I have traveled by balloon.

Unknown field, Logan

Friday, April 30

Winds are more docile in the morning, so most hot-air balloons take off before 6 a.m. I'm actually in this one. No joke. Two other reporters, a pilot and I took off from a bed-and-breakfast near Lake Logan, enjoyed 15 glorious minutes skyward, then landed in a gravel parking lot owned by a construction company.

We almost set down in the eastbound lanes of U.S. Rte. 33. That's the thing about hot-air balloons: You don't really steer them. Your pilot attempts to lower it in a relatively safe spot, then waits for a vehicle called a "chase van" to track him down, load things and return home.

It's nerve-wracking but worth it.

I have been completely alone.

Wildcat Hollow Backpacking Trail, Wayne National Forest

Saturday, May 1

Three days before I entered the woods for this backpacking trip, I told my ex-girlfriend I wanted to get back together and get engaged. She said no. Five friends were scheduled to join me, but they bailed because of a brutal forecast that called for thunderstorms, isolated tornadoes and high winds. I went anyway. I hesitated for a minute at the trailhead, then continued. It seemed important to finish something.

Within two hours of taking this shot, it started to rain. It rained harder than I'd ever seen. It rained in torrid sheets, an angry and constant downpour. Creeks began to overflow, and the tall ridge where I camped sounded like a train depot. The rain didn't stop for two days. It was the first night I'd ever spent in the woods by myself.

I have jumped in headfirst.

Kokosing River, Howard

Friday, June 18

Because my job involves things like hiking through the woods at noon on a Thursday, I travel by myself most of the time. However, this two-day trip on the Kokosing River came with a rare treat: My roommate Daniel came along and brought his family's canoe. It's a vintage aluminum Starcraft with original rivets, and it felt like a World War I gunship.

Because I have to fit in travel with other responsibilities, most of my trips involve a strict schedule. Not this one. We woke up late. We sat for hours around a campfire, smoking and drinking and eating hot dogs. On the water, we'd stop to watch scenery and drift downstream with our feet up.

We also kept jumping in the water. The Kokosing was calm that weekend, so clear that you could spot minnows swimming by in schools. For no reason, we'd just roll out of the boat and get soaked. He and I would flop around, submerge and come up in stitches. It wasn't even hot.

Sometimes I forget to do things that don't have a purpose.

I have taken risks.

Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, Rockbridge

Tuesday, June 29

Writing this column, I have jumped off cliffs, ridden ATVs, shot guns, snorkeled the Mesoamerican Reef, foraged for wild food, hunted snapping turtles and climbed giant trees with arborist rope. I've been leveled by Aussie rules football players. I have been clocked in the face by paintballs. I've nearly been caught in a tornado while canoeing.

Every year, I sign more than 20 liability waivers, a pretty good indication that I'm getting out there.

One of my favorite adventures is the zipline system at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. Earlier this year, the company upped the ante with the SuperZip, a quarter-mile cable that will send you up to 50 mph. I like that I get to be among the first people to hear about things like this.