My #OptOutside excursion was a hit this year. Salamonie State Forest in northeast Indiana is one of three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir projects completed in the 1960s to reduce flooding on the Wabash River. Dams were placed on the Roush, Salamonie, and Mississinewa Rivers. The area surrounding Salamonie Reservoir is a testament to the area’s glaciated history, where creeks tributary to the Salamonie River cut steep draws into the hillsides, sending water sluicing over exposed limestone waterfalls up and down the river valley.
My hike consisted of a series of poorly marked loops along horse trails and fire roads, but I hiked the forest extensively as a Scout in my teens. It had been thirty-five years since I’d hiked it with any granularity, and it felt like coming home. What makes the hiking easy even without navigational aid, is that you’ll run into one of two features to put you back on course, either the sheer 80-degree grade down to the Salamonie River to your north, and the county roads to your south, one of which is the main state forest road.
The sky was nearly cloudless and the temperature reached the upper 40s, which is perfect for going out in a t-shirt and merino sweater. I munched on Cracker Jack when I got hungry and drank just under half a gallon of water. Gaia GPS says that I hiked 8.4 miles, and that seems accurate. I carried a full pack as I usually do to keep my training realistic, with a total weight just over 20 pounds. My biggest problem was the muddy areas where hooves have decimated the trail. Being compliant with Leave No Trace philosophy did in my Under Armor trail runners, which were on their deathbed to begin with, but they went out in style; if you believe mud is stylish.
My biggest thrill was the amount and diversity of the wildlife I encountered. Top of the list was the many white-tailed deer. I also ran into a couple of ladies on horseback who were out enjoying the weather. Other than the muddy low areas on the horse trails, the path was in good condition. Hiking through the open grassy area south of the main forest road near the entrance brought back memories of hiking with old friends as a Scout. Over the years I had forgotten which state park or forest the area belonged to, but being out in it again purchased instant recall.
I realize that REI’s #OptOutside is a marketing gimmick, but it is a damn good one. That they shutter their stores on Black Friday and encourage their employees to spend the day in nature aligns well with my worldview. I am always more than happy to oblige, and if you scroll through their hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see a couple of pictures from my hike (also available here).