The Top Ten Hikes of the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail

Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail - USGS National Map

I went back to the Buckeye Trail yesterday, back near the place where I first discovered the beauty of this interconnected network of trails, bike paths, sidewalks, and roads. My 565.8-mile, 173-hour, year-long mission to complete the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail has been accomplished for just about a week. But I couldn’t stay away.

I just like being on the Buckeye Trail. It’s come to feel like Home to me.

For those who may be less familiar with the Buckeye Trail, I thought I would share a list of my Top Ten Hikes. This list offers a representative sampling of some of the best that the Buckeye Trail has to offer, ranked Letterman-style: from #10 to #1. Each listing includes a picture and a link to the trail maps.

#10 – South Chagrin Reservation

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on August 16, 2019. It features classic Ohio forests, hills, falling rivers, and some particularly pretty meadows. But the most unusual feature of this hike might be the strange river-side sculpture known as the Henry Church Rock.

#9 – Deer Lick Cave

I’ve hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on multiple occasions, but my most memorable experience on these trails might be from November 10, 2017. On that date, this cave became the site of one of the most profound personal encounters with God, as I feel He spoke to me during a season of darkness and depression. In addition to the sentimental reasons for appreciating this hike, however, it’s also a really interesting area to explore — with undulating hills and caves. One of my favorite sections of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and one of my favorite sections of the Buckeye Trail.

#8 – Downtown Akron

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on January 4, 2019. It’s unique because it’s so urban: mostly concrete… twenty-story buildings… steaming manhole covers and sewer grates… traffic… But this section of the Buckeye Trail is also significant because it connects to the Ohio & Erie Canal Trail system which runs all the way north to and through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and south to the Canton area.

#7 – Swartz-Griggy Country

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on March 15, 2019. I included the northern part of Stark County’s Quail Hollow Park along with several of the roads ambling through prototypical Ohio farmlands just north of Hartville (and they featured some great road names, too!).

#6 – Headwaters Park

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on December 6, 2019. This segment of trail is extra-special because it ended up being the capstone of the whole project to hike the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail. But it was a fitting “Finish Line,” with a broad, clear path through the woods, beautiful views of the lake and all the little tributaries that stream into the basin to form the headwaters of the Cuyahoga River.

#5 – Gorge Overlook to Bridal Veil Falls

I’ve hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail a few times, but I especially enjoyed a trip to this section of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Buckeye Trail with my kids on November 27, 2017. This area provides beautiful views across the Cuyahoga Valley (especially if viewed at sunset, as we did) and one of the prettiest waterfalls on the Buckeye Trail.

#4 – Chapin Forest + Penitentiary Glen

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on May 24, 2019. Two nature reservations connect, via the Buckeye Trail, and they’re both fantastic. I especially enjoyed the gigantic trees around Gildersleeve Mountain in Chapin Forest. It felt like a primeval forest. And an actual mountain. The names in this area were great, and the places they described were even greater.

#3 – Mogadore Reservoir

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on January 11, 2019. It features a beautiful, rugged, lakeside trail — which was especially gorgeous after a heavy snowfall. This also happens to be one of the sections of the Buckeye Trail that’s closest to Kent.

#2 – Camp Asbury to Hiram

I hiked this section of the Buckeye Trail on September 13, 2019. It’s one of my absolute favorites! It includes a beautiful bike path (built on top of a former railroad) tunneling through trees, a beautiful little waterfall, Aspen groves, and lovely rolling hills with farm fields.

#1 – Headlands / Lakeside Trails

I hiked these sections of the Buckeye Trail on October 10th and 11th, 2019. They were so beautiful I had to go back — two days in a row — even though it took longer than an hour to drive, each way! The Headlands section (the Eastern part of the lake-front trail) had the best forests and marshlands. The Lakeside section (the Western part of the lake-front trail) had better lake views. When I get the chance to do it again, I’ll park by the Mentor Harbor Marina and then hike all the way to Headlands Beach State Park and back.

Follow the Blue Blazes

So: let me know if you have any other experiences with the Buckeye Trail, from which I (or others) might be able to learn. I hope that my relationship with the Buckeye Trail will continue past 2019 — but in any event, I’m glad for the way it’s enriched my life this year.

Posted in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, God, Home, Kent, Nostalgia, Ohio, Recommendations, Recreation, Travel | Leave a comment

We Died Before We Came Here

I just finished reading Emily Foreman’s book, We Died Before We Came Here. It was recommended to me by some friends who are missionaries in North Africa. I’ve been making slow progress on the book for the last several months. At the end of November and beginning of December, though, I surged through the last third of the book.

The story is powerful. It’s about an American family who moves to North Africa. They’re motivated to share God’s love with the people of an unnamed country dealing with significant poverty, prison overpopulation, and cultural obstacles to the Gospel. They do the long, hard work of building relationships and meeting practical needs, and gaining the trust of political- and civic leaders. And then, just as their ministry was starting to flourish, tragedy strikes. The husband and father of the family, Stephen, is assassinated by al-Queda operatives in the country. His wife, Emily, and their children flee the country. But amazingly, the work of God in that part of the world continues.

Tertullian wrote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Nearly two-thousand years of Church history support this thesis. Still, new stories like the Foremans’ bring new appreciation for the way that physical death can lead to spiritual life.

The way that Emily Foreman writes their story is simple and straightforward. It’s not compelling on the literary level. At times, the book borders on hagiography, idealizing Stephen in a way that actually (unintentionally) casts doubt on the story’s credibility. But if I was in the author’s shoes — with young children who would one day rely on this account as a significant reference point for what happened to their father — I might do the same thing. I’m just saying I, personally, might have appreciated a more nuanced portrayal.

Through Gates of Splendor, by Elisabeth Elliot, is the gold standard for these sorts of missionary biographies. This book doesn’t supplant it. But I do appreciate the way that it makes similar issues contemporary.

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Mission(s) Accomplished

I value humility. So I generally try to stay away from pride (haughty chest-pounding). But I admit that I’m feeling a healthy element of pride (satisfaction with personal accomplishment) this week.

I’ve just managed to complete two significant, year-long quests.

Mission: The ASP

First, I finally finished my own personal translation of the New Testament Book of Philippians. I started it back in January, thinking that I might try to keep up with H2O Kent’s Spring Semester teaching series. It was a six-week series — but I think it would have been a challenge for me to complete my translation in six months! Twelve months has provided a more realistic time frame.

It’s been a beautifully-slow process, really causing me to soak in the Scripture and consider various shades of meaning for each word. Generally, I would take two to five verses at a time. I’d start by copying down the Greek text into my journal, leaving every other line blank. Next, I’d translate as much of the material as I could from memory — drawing blanks on the page where I drew blanks in my mind. And then, I’d use my study resources to go back, check my work, and fill in the blanks. This created a literal translation. Finally, I would create my own idiomatic translation (or paraphrase) of the text, often while referencing other translations. I leaned especially on the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New International Version.

I’m hoping to share more of this project I’m calling Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase — or, “The ASP” — in the days to come. But even if it’s not ready to share with the wider world just yet, I’m awfully proud that I finished the task before the end of 2019.

Mission: The BT

Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail 1

Then on a much wider scale, just this morning, I completed the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail! It’s involved 565.8 miles of hiking over a total of 173 hours. I broke it up into 85 different pieces and methodically made progress over the course of the whole year. And finally, today, I made that pivotal last step to complete the loop at the headwaters of the Cuyahoga River in Geauga County.

I love the way that this hiking project has drawn me closer to God, much like the translation project. I’ve done the majority of my miles on Friday mornings, when I set aside a segment of the day each week for extended time with God. I find that I most consistently, most meaningfully, and most profoundly encounter God in the wilderness. And while the Buckeye Trail isn’t all wilderness (the variety of landscapes is actually quite amazing), it’s provided a lot of time to walk and talk with God.

I’m hoping to share more of this project, as well, in the coming days. In particular, I want to re-live the memories and come up with my Top Ten hikes from the Northeast Ohio Loop of the Buckeye Trail.

I honestly don’t know how much these quests mean to others — but they mean a lot to me. And I’m really proud to have completed them this week.

Posted in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, God, Health, Introspection, Language, Ohio, Prayer, Recommendations, Recreation, The Bible, Travel | Leave a comment

The Insights Gleaned from Spotify Summaries

Spotify is sneaky-smart in the way it’s established itself. The product itself is grounded in slick engineering. But they’re also super-savvy with the way they handle the social media dynamics of their user interface. They’ve got sharp visuals to accompany their broad library of sounds.

I’m seriously impressed by the way they’ve planted themselves in popular culture. And on my Instagram Stories feed today.

A lot of the people I follow on Instagram have been posting summaries like the ones featured here. They’re colorful, quick little nuggets of data that feel surprisingly-insightful. Music touches on something deep within us. Consequently, personalities pop through these little infographics. I notice trends that highlight both differences and similarities between my friends. I smile to notice the things that listening patterns reveal about others — and about myself.

Of all the information contained in my “2019 Wrapped,” I felt most pleased with the one above, shared as though Spotify was talking directly to me with the text: “You were genre-fluid. You refused to let one sound define you.” They might say that to everyone, I suppose. But I still like the idea that I listen to different sorts of artists from different eras. It feels like the most insightful thing about me revealed by today’s summaries.

What do your Spotify summaries say about you? Why do you choose to share (or not share) those insights? I think these summaries could make for some interesting conversations over the coming days and weeks.

Posted in Culture, Music, Recommendations, Recommended Listening, Recreation, Sweden | Leave a comment

Frozen II

I took my kids to see Frozen II this afternoon. It wasn’t high on our “Must See” list, but the dreary gray day seemed ideally suited for the $5 ticket-plus-popcorn special at our local theater. I saw the first Frozen movie under similar circumstances, and I was pleasantly surprised by its concept and execution. So I hoped for a similar experience with this film.

I wasn’t disappointed by the movie. I’d even say it was a genuinely enjoyable cinematic experience. But personally, I don’t think it lived up to the first movie (as sequels rarely do).

My main complaint with the movie is its convoluted plot. Even as I try to think how to write things down, I get confused. Were Elsa and Anna trying to bring harmony to the four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water? Were they trying to find out what happened to their parents when they went missing at sea so many years previous? Were they trying to bring peace to factions that had been warring for decades? I never fully understood what their mission was, and I was even more confused by how they managed to complete their mission. I know that the love between the sisters was important, and it actually moved me to tears in a couple of scenes. Still, I didn’t really understand the story this movie was trying to tell.

Even so, there were definitely things to like about this movie. The animation was breath-taking (I especially admired the horse that represented the element of water). The landscapes of the movie reminded me of Iceland, the Scottish Highlands, and the high plains of Wyoming and Montana (some of my favorite places on earth). The 1984-style power ballad sung by Christoff was delightful, and all the music was great, really. I wasn’t bored at any moment throughout the film.

All that being said, I probably won’t take the time to see it again. My kids are already aged out of the target demographic, and we’re not a die-hard Disney family, anyway. Still, it was better than trying to get the kids to hike through the freezing mist on a Monday afternoon.

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Little Fires Everywhere

I just finished reading Celeste Ng’s book, Little Fires Everywhere. It was recommended to me by multiple sources. First (and most-directly), my friend Jason recommended it to me. Our mutual friend Stephanie was indirectly involved as the one who originally recommended the book to Jason. And the thing that finally pushed me over the edge is that my wife, Marci, coincidentally borrowed the book from the library. So: I started the book a couple of weeks ago, but then I zoomed through the last two-thirds of the book in a couple of days over the Thanksgiving break.

The most unique aspect of the book, in my opinion, was its setting: the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. Setting the story in Shaker Heights was significant because it was designed to be a model, Utopian community — one of the earliest progenitors of suburban society. But while everything looks pretty and put-together on the outside, the inner lives of the characters were in turmoil.

The action of the story centers around two families. One family is an affluent, established family who’s lived in Shaker Heights for generations. The other family is new to the community. They start their lives over every few months, carrying all their earthly possessions with them from place to place in a Volkswagen Rabbit. The two families become intertwined through friendship, romance, business, and secrets.

I appreciated the way that the book dealt with themes of power, immigration, grief, and the especially-complicated issues of abortion and adoption. Thought-provoking social commentary was written into almost every page, but it didn’t feel heavy-handed. It made me think.

I look forward to reading more of Ng’s books in the future.

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2009 >>> 2019

Our Family in 2019

As we come up on the end of a decade, it’s natural to look back and see how much has happened in the last ten years.

Asp Family - Portrait
Our Family in 2009

With this particular decade that’s drawing to a close, it’s become popular — especially on social media — to post a picture of oneself from 2009 and a picture of oneself from 2019.

Me in 2019

For me, though, it feels like there are so many “self”s from which to choose! And honestly, I feel like myself is the least interesting of them all.

Me in 2009

Marci hasn’t changed much, either.

Marci in 2019
Eric and Marci - All Eyes on Marci
Marci in 2009

Our children, however, demonstrate much more dramatic differences!

Elliot in 2019
Asp 255
Elliot in 2009
Olivia in 2019
Olivia's 5th Birthday - Birthday Throne
Olivia in 2009

Cor’s transformation over the last decade has been the greatest — from Age 2 to Age 12 — so it was the hardest to choose a comparison photo for him (so many cute options from which to choose).

Cor in 2019
Cor in 2009

In addition to the members of our nuclear family, it was fun to look back through old photos and see the differences in our church community from 2009 to the present.

Our Church Community (H2O Kent) in 2019
Our Church Community (Amsterdam50) in 2009
Our Church (H2O Kent) Staff Team in 2019
Last Staff Meeting with Todd - Group Portrait
Our Church (Amsterdam50) Staff Team in 2009
Our Small Group Community (H2O “Life Group”) in 2019
Home (Improvement) Group
Our Small Group Community (A50 “Home Group”) in 2009

I’m very thankful for both the past and the present that I get to observe this Thanksgiving.

Posted in Amsterdam, Amsterdam50, Children, Family, H2O Kent, Home, Kent, Nostalgia, Ohio, Photography, Small Groups, The Netherlands | Leave a comment

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Our family went to the movie theater this weekend to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers has become popular in the last couple of years. And at first, I didn’t get it. As a kid, anyway, his show always ranked pretty low on my list. It seemed slow and boring, at least in my conscious memory. And during my adolescent years, it seemed “Mister Rogers” was more lampooned than lauded. As I’ve looked at Fred Rogers through adult eyes, however, I’ve come to see him as a visionary and a genius. Others talk about his kindness to children and his forward-thinking approach to race relations on Mister Rogers Neighborhood. But what’s really struck me, as I’ve learned more about the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, is the fact that there was a genuine, behind-the-scenes embodiment of loving his “Neighbor” that set Mister Rogers apart. So I was excited to see what glimpses of neighborly goodness this film might provide.

And it was definitely a different perspective: much more singular and focused. The newly-released film is based on the true story of an article written for Esquire Magazine in 1998: Tom Junod’s “Can You Say… Hero?” It follows the investigative journalist’s approach to interviewing the creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The reporter is named “Lloyd” in the film version of the story, and he starts with suspicion and cynicism. His every interaction with Fred Rogers is gruff and guarded. Over time, however, Lloyd drops his guard and finds himself powerfully affected by the way Fred loves him. By the end of the film, Fred proves to be a neighbor to Lloyd at a very profound level. And it’s a very satisfying story arc.

It’s worth noting, however, that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a very different kind of movie. Its volume and cadence are perhaps most notable. The film is noticeably quiet. And slow. There’s a full minute of silence at one point. The film takes its lead from the real-life persona of Fred Rogers himself, and I like that. But it’s unique. Tom Hanks plays the lead role better than I expected. His acting just blends into the background, and he somehow becomes Fred Rogers. Everything about the movie casts Mister Rogers in a positive light. But I also really appreciated the moment when the reporter asked Joanne Rogers (Fred’s wife) what it was like to live with a saint. She responded with grace but correction, saying something to the effect of, “He’s not perfect. But he works really hard at it.”

This movie didn’t make me cry like the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (and honestly, if you’re only going to see one movie themed on Mister Rogers, I’d actually recommend the documentary over the feature film). But it did deepen my appreciation for Fred Rogers and make me wonder how I, too, can practice loving my neighbors like Mister Rogers did.

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H2O Kent Advent Devotional

Advent Cover 2019

We’re only a week away from the start of Advent!

As we’ve done in previous years, the Staff and members of H2O Kent (including yours truly) have worked together to write, design, and distribute a new series of reflections on the spiritual theme of Christ’s Advent (coming). It’s lovely to see the way that everything comes together with a collaboration like this!

If you’re looking for an Advent resource for this year, I’d encourage you to download the PDF and worship with us throughout this holiday season.

Posted in Church, God, H2O Kent, Ministry, Prayer, Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, The Bible, Traditions | Leave a comment

The Mailboxes of Northeast Ohio

There are cultural curiosities everywhere. If you’re looking for them.

Today on the Buckeye Trail, I noticed the mailboxes on Rapids Road, in the rural area of Geauga County. They’re all near the road, for easy delivery by U.S. Postal Service trucks driving between the houses separated by great distances. And in addition to mailboxes — I noticed mailbox shields erected “upstream” from traffic.

Why would a mailbox need a shield? I don’t exactly know — because, frankly, only about fifty to sixty percent of Rapids Road mailboxes had one. Marci thought that they might provide some protection against snow plows in the winter time. But growing up in a rural part of Ohio, myself, I also remember stories of high-schoolers driving around with baseball bats, or pumpkins, or BB guns, using roadside mailboxes for targets. So I’m pretty sure the mailbox shields are meant to serve as protection from bored teenagers.

And even though most of the unprotected mailboxes seemed to be doing all right, I did pass at least one example of what might happen if a Geauga County mailbox doesn’t have a shield — its dome bashed in, lashed to the post with a rubber bungee cord.

Not all the shields were purely utilitarian, though. Some of them expressed a creative expression of the household — like the one above, protected by old skis arranged in a stair-step pattern.

In addition to the mailbox shields of Geauga County, though, I’ve encountered a lot of other unusual mailboxes in Northeast Ohio, as I’ve been slowly completing my loop around the Northeast segment of the Buckeye Trail this year.

I’ve seen a Dog Mailbox just outside of a kennel.

I’ve seen a Fox Mailbox in an area called Hunting Valley — which also includes a lot of equestrian centers and grand Western Reserve estates suggesting a history of English-style fox hunting.

And throughout Northeast Ohio, there are a lot of tributes — including mailboxes — to the beloved Cleveland Browns football team.

Will tour buses ever start leading foreigners on a sightseeing tour of Northeast Ohio mailboxes? Probably not. But it’s still fun to notice these little glimpses of culture and creativity.

Posted in Culture, Ohio, Photography, Travel | Leave a comment