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June 6, 2012

Hoosier daddy longlegs

Friends, are you frazzled? Has city life got you constantly asking Siri to measure your blood pressure? Perhaps you need to hug a tree. There’s nothing like a rendezvous with nature to help you reconnect with what’s important in life and make your toolwad boss seem like less of a douche.

One great feature of living in a small city is how easy it is to get out of town. It’s all but impossible to escape the concrete canyons of Chicago or San Francisco for a quick walk in the woods, but a lot of gorgeous natural landscapes are within an easy drive of Louisville, perfect for a healing day trip.

Like many people on the Unsunny Side of Louisville, I tend to lean first toward exploring Kentucky getaways that offer hiking, biking and easy access to colorful hillbillies who know useful words like “tump” and “chawklit.” Beautiful landscapes, including Red River Gorge, Mammoth Cave, Bernheim Forest and several spots on the Ohio River are perfect for day tripping.

But my wife and I have become fond of the tremendous natural beauty of Southern Indiana, particularly the parks adjacent to Interstate-64. That stretch of highway west of Louisville is especially welcoming for day trips because it seems less wrecky-killy than I-65 and I-71, both of which are busier because they have cities along them that people actually want to visit. I-64 West also goes through the Hoosier National Forest, which Amphetamines Weekly perpetually ranks as one of the top 10 most beautiful public lands on which to cook meth.

Some great parks along I-64 with hiking, fishing and, in some cases, educational programs, include O’Bannon Woods, Tipsaw Lake, Two Lakes Loop, Ferdinand State Forest and Lincoln City. O’Bannon Woods features a great Ohio River hiking trail and a pioneer homestead with a working haypress. At Lincoln City you can walk in the footsteps of young Abe Lincoln in the spot where he reportedly honed his vampire-hunting skills. Both include outstanding educational exhibits as well as spectacular natural beauty. All have great hiking trails through beautiful forests, where it’s easy to contemplate Emerson or Thoreau or President Lincoln himself, who said, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

So here’s my recommendation for an excellent one-day itinerary: Call in sick to work, pack up a festive picnic lunch, and invite someone you’d like to kiss in the woods and/or elsewhere. Load up your bikes or your kayaks or your fishing gear or your hiking boots or your dog-eared copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and drive to Lake Celina.

Part of the Hoosier National Forest’s Two Lakes Loop Recreation Area, Lake Celina is about an hour west of Louisville, just 3 miles off I-64 on Indiana Highway 37. Altogether, the recreation area offers 16 miles of hiking/biking trails and thousands upon thousands of trees suitable for hugging, plus some shagbark hickories.

Start with the 1-mile Rickenbaugh Interpretive Trail, which begins at the 1874 sandstone block-house and post office, once the homestead of an enterprising family of Belgian immigrants who harvested oak-tree bark to operate a tannery on what is now Lake Celina. The trail is marked with interesting tidbits of bygone bumfuckery and festive photos of Rickenbaughs tanning the local hides and refusing to smile for the camera. Wrap up your tannin tour by paying your respects to the actual Rickenbaughs, who now reside, presumably still unsmiling, underground in the cemetery uphill from the house.

Next, spread your blanket and enjoy a festive picnic on the bank of Lake Celina. Sneak in kisses as appropriate. With your tummy full, pick up the trail and hike or bike your arses off — you’ll want to be hungry for dinner. Stop occasionally to hug some trees.

Once you’re properly exhausted and nature-buzzed, set a course for the festive Rocky Point Waterfront Grille in Cannelton, Ind., about 25 miles south. Sit on the deck and enjoy a beer or three overlooking the Ohio River and its sunburned river rats. For supper, order the catfish fiddlers, a salty, cornmeal-fried delicacy the exact likes of which I haven’t found in Louisville but are common in Southern Indiana and Western Kentucky. As the sun sinks in the sky, make your way a few miles west to the Eagle’s Bluff Overlook Park, where you’ll get an eagle’s eye view of the Cannelton Locks and maybe make friends with a passing heron or a daddy longlegs.

Repeat as necessary.