To Stretch the Legs

Five men hike through

back woods of

Morgan Monroe State Forest

in the winter warmth 

of late December.

 

Men connected through

education and current

teachers on separate paths,

 

Men, agreeably disappointed

in the red color

of their political state,

discussing solutions

to outcomes

for bad mistakes,

Men well versed in 

experiences brought upon

by their own commitments

and stuborness; 

causing each to have an

adventure worth weight 

in conversations.

 

A young man

emerging into adulthood

having over come

two forms of paralysis

in his short life:

first figurative

then literal.

 

A teacher on hiatus

whose Catholic faith

asked him to contemplate

the seminary

on a farm in Patagonia

when an ayahuascan infused ceremony 

placed him on a different path.

 

A bartender who taught

in Vietnam, 

and navigated the

North American river ways

from Broad Ripple, Indianapolis

to Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

 

A carpenter connected

by the warm waters of the Mississippi,

the frozen trails of Appalachia,

and the foreign tongues of South America.

 

And an avid outdoorsman,

whose stories of accomplishments

wrapped up in satirical antidotes

allow little desire

for touch screens

and synthetic entertainment.

 

The sun has fallen.

The hike is over.

 

And the fire illuminates

faces backed by

leafless trees

and the beautiful black

of a dark starry night.

Tree Climbing: Take 1

Reasoning Behind the Climb    

    As an overly proud resident of the midwest, and more specifically growing up in Indiana, I hated listening to people complain about how there was “nothing to do here.”  But to be completely honest, my argument for defence had always been a little weak.  Of course, I would make the obvious claim that the average Hoosier’s jump shot is far superior to that of any other average citizen.  And if anyone else in the country knew what Euchre was, then Mid-Westerners would dominate.  Unfortunately, however, when we are being compared to Rock Climbing, Surfing, Skiing, and other various extreme sports that require Mountains or Oceans as playing fields, sometimes basketball and card games are just not that interesting.

    It wasn’t until a late night conversation in college with a group of friends who were sitting in a circle and passing around an idea while listening to “Godspeed You Black Emperor” when we came up with this theory: We should start climbing trees.  And like, Indiana could be known for how good the tree climbing is here, man.  The following Sunday, a few of us woke up bright and early (11:30am) and took to the trees near White River.  Now, at the time, if it were not for my lack in climbing experience accompanied by my crippling fear of heights, I truly believe the sport would have flourished.

    Fast forward five years later. Now, with some climbing experience under my harness and some properly expensive equipment, we have decided to take to the trees once more.

The Gear

Gear I Wish I Had

  • Helmet
  • Rope Protectors
  • Cambium

Location-Broad Ripple Park 

    Broad Ripple Park is a beautiful place to be in the Indiana Spring.  With fields big enough for flag football, shade cool enough to cover continuous drum circles, and trees numerous enough to climb in solitude, it was the perfect place to host our first outing of Tree Climbing.

First Climb

    The first climb was a success in that no one was killed.  I think we need to work a little on setting protection.  It is a definite adjustment from setting routes on rock.  But like anything, it will take practice and research.  We did learn that Tree Climbing requires pants.  We came away with a few scratches here and there, but nothing that couldn’t be prevented from a layer of Levis.  

Great Sources

    After digging around on the internet, I have realized that we were way out of our league when it came to climbing trees.  There have been many tree climbing organizations throughout the web who have been providing information, training, and forums for many years.  And despite our naive attempt to start a new movement, we now realize that we can help contribute to an already existing one.  If you are an experienced tree climber, please feel free to comment and provide us with feedback, suggestions, and other resources.  And if you are an adventurer who is looking for a new hobby, then check out these links below.  They have really helped open my mind to a growing subculture that can flourish in the Mid-West.

http://treeclimbing.com/index.php/climbing/rules

http://www.climbingarborist.com/

Swiss Valley: Cheap Drinks and Good Practice

    The Interstate 80 Indiana Toll Road runs along the Michigan state line and is usually used for commuters making the big bucks in Chicago while living an economical lifestyle outside of the city.  For us, however, we were travelling the cracked pavement and hitting the toll booths for a Saturday of cheap slopes, cheap drinks, and good vibes at Swiss Valley Ski & Snowboarding Area in Jones, Michigan.

    If you are going to Swiss Valley for the pristine slopes and long runs, then you might be sorely disappointed; however, if you are searching for place to learn to ski or improve on your already existing skills in preparation for the next big trip out west, then this is the place for you.  Swiss Valley offers a few quality runs that are simple enough for a beginner to overcome their fear of flying out of control and smashing into a tree, yet difficult enough to hone in on a certain set of skills for intermediate skiers/snowboarder.

    There are two different terrain parks.  One is made up of mid sized jumps and difficult rails designed to help young snowboarders fantasize about being in the X-Games.  The other park is a little smaller with simpler rails that gives washed up has-beens, like myself, the thrill of what we once were.  As the sun was setting on our final runs in the mild park, we started to notice an increasing population of pint sized boarders in white tank-top jerseys with numbers on their backs.  Not only were these kids half my age, but they were twice as good.  Not wanting to be bested by the toddlers, I stepped out of my bindings and took out the Nikon to shoot the Saturday Night Winter Jam beneath the lights.(http://skiswissvalley.com/events/winter-jam/)

    After shooting the Winter Jam for an hour or so, the cold got the best of us, so we retired to the bar/lodge for some relaxation.  In the bar we were accompanied by live music and a room full patrons who had made their runs for the day.  The place was packed with liveliness and conversations over pitchers of Bud Light.  The bar connects to the stunning Swiss Valley lodge with big windows that overlook the terrain parks beneath the lights.  But the coziness of the beautifully structured lodge with a gigantic wood burning fireplace at its center made it hard to for the cold winter’s night to pull our attention away from the warmth of the dancing flames.

 

Mega Caverns of Louisville, KY

     If you are driving South on I-65, it seems as if every other billboard sign is advertising this “underground zip line” with a cartoon character holding on to handlebars and flying through caves.  My first thought goes instantly to the South Park episode where the boys were almost bored to death on a zip line course.  My second thought is caves sound pretty cool.  Well, after crossing state lines too many times, those repeated billboard signs finally sold me on an experience.  For Valentine’s Day, DiscoverTheMidwest went to Louisville to see what the Mega Cavern had to offer.

    When I Googled “underground zip lining,” the first site to pop up was www.louisvillemegacavern.com. After perusing through the website, I found that zip-lining was not the only underground adventure that Mega Caverns had to offer.  The sight also opened my eyes to the Mega Quest (underground ropes challenge course), Mega Tram (underground tram tour adventure-no walking required), and the recently opened Mega Underground Bike Park, (this is nothing short of every style of riders’ fantasy located 100 feet below the earth’s surface).  Though the Bike Park looked most intriguing, I reminded myself that it was Valentine’s Day, and my bikes would have to wait for another weekend to open up.  

    One feature that is not yet posted on their website is the 10% discount if you purchase a combo package.  By combo package, they mean you purchase two or more adventurous experiences at once.  I figured since we were driving more than 2 hours away, we might has well make a day out of it and go for the combo package.  So I called up a sales representative and he set us up.  I suggest calling the representatives as opposed to making a reservation online.  That way you can ensure that you are getting the 10% break.  Our total cost for two people to take part in the Mega Quest and Mega Zip was $225.14.  I know the price is steep, even with the 10% discount, but when you are checking something off your bucket list, you might as well drop the coin.

_DSC1591.JPG

    We had no trouble finding the place at all.  Just follow the countless billboards on the highway and they will keep appearing until you are pretty much in the parking lot.  Despite its location being surrounded by industrial buildings, The Mega Caverns’ entrance winds all the way behind these buildings and sinks down into the parking lot that is enclosed by 100 foot limestone walls.  One can only hope that the owners of Mega Caverns will eventually capitalize on their location and set up some climbing routes for us Midwestern climbers.  Time will tell.

The Mega Quest Course

    After getting all checked in, we threw some of our layers in a locker and got geared up.  The staff was very nice and informative when teaching us how to use the locking mechanisms.  Once we passed inspection, they cut us loose and the ropes challenge course was free range.  It was nice being able to complete different parts of the course at our own pace.  We were able to make the course as difficult or as easy as we wanted to.  There were a few staff members walking around to provide anyone in need of assistance, but for the most part, you are pretty much on your own.  I liked that.

The Mega Zips Course

    Zip Lining was a whole different experience compared to the Mega Quest Course.  While preparing to zip line, the staff gears you up and prepares you for how the zip lining “tour” will go.  Because it is a tour, each zip lining group is assigned two staff members to zip you through the cave to ensure your safety and provide you with some interesting facts about Mega Caverns.  Our two guides, Quinten and Emily, were awesome.  They definitely made our experience more interesting, funny, and exciting.

Take Aways: 

  • There is no music.

    • Maybe it has something to do with the acoustics of the caves, but there is no music playing anywhere in Mega Caverns.  This makes it slightly awkward when the only thing you here on the Mega Quest course is a 13 year old girl shouting, “Amy!” over and over.

  • Dress in layers.

    • The cave keeps a consistent temperature between 50 and 60 degrees.  But the you do get some cold breezes on the Zip Line in the winter.

  • Keep the picture key chain for multiple excursions.

    • When you check in, they give you a bar code key chain that keeps a digital photo log of your experience.

    • When doing more than one course, we recommend using the same bar code key chain for both adventures.  This will save you some money if you end up wanting to buy some pictures.

  • Not a great location for personal pictures

    • Although Mega Caverns has no problem with you bringing your own personal camera, the lighting is so bad that it is hard to get a good shot.  In our opinion, the photos are not worth the stress of possibly breaking your camera.

  • Come with friends or family.    

    • Both experiences would have been a lot of fun if we had a big group of friends.

    • It is definitely a worth wild place for kids.    

  • Do more than one excursion and leave some space between them.

    • Leave an hour or so between different courses so you can get something to eat.  There are snacks in the lobby, but nothing really hardy.