Therapeutic hiking through the Pioneer Mothers and Mahler woods

While I should have known better, suffice it say I wasn't 100 percent confident that Saturday's Hoosier Chaper Sierra Club hike I led through the Orange County woods was going to be the extraordinary experience it turned out to be. Not many folks had signed on for the latest Hoosier National Awareness hike. Some canceled. Others got misdirected or caught in I-69 construction / IU graduation traffic. Until Friday evening, weather forecasts ranged from 20-100 percent rain.

No details, but coming off one of my roughest weeks in decades, I knew that hiking through the old-growth Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest and hanging with my friends Andy Mahler and Linda Lee at their Lazy Black Bear homestead was the therapy I needed. But when I walked into the Lost River Market & Deli in downtown Paoli and saw Bill Hayden, who I've known for the same 30 years as Andy and Linda and haven't seen since he move to Clarksville several years ago, I knew I'd started rebounding.

I can't say the outing was the best Sierra Club hike or Natural Bloomington Ecotour yet. That would be like ranking my children. And I have, if you'll recall, led through the Southern Indiana wilds a busload of visually impaired guests, busloads of active adults (f.k.a. seniors), carloads of Chinese students, the Hoosier Supervisor, even a pair of grandparents and visiting granddaughters, etc. But it's up there, for sure. For damn sure.

When we met at the Pioneer Mothers Trailhead, the group numbered 10, with two more waylaid by the traffic and arriving late. All but three were new to the Club's Hoosier National Awareness hikes (our third). We walked and talked our way in and out on the one-mile trail through the oldest trees in the state. Some don't branch out until they're 60 feet above the ground. No tree in this 88-acre stand has been harvested since Indiana became a state in 1816.

Then we headed a couple miles south and west for a break at the Lazy Black Bear, where Andy and Linda live on a couple hundred acres-plus of woods surrounded by the Hoosier's Young's Creek area.

While I promoted the outing as a hike along a portion of the 12-mile Young's Creek Trail, I'd say in two hours we spent a couple hundred feet on the trail itself. Rather, Andy led us on a bushwhacking adventure through the deep, deciduous woods that featured limestone karst, historic landmarks (literally Jeffersonian in nature), a sandstone cave, a rare remnant American chestnut (dead), and an extremely rare, five acres of woods that has no owner. Seriously, no one owns it.

Make no mistake. Saturday was therapeutic. Now I'm ready for summer.

And as for the weather -- sun all day, low 80s, no humidity, cooling breeze.

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