By: Michael Waterford
ASC Roadkill Adventure Scientist
Early last year a friend of mine pointed out that despite exploring some of the most remote corners of the map, I had never explored southern Indiana. I realized he was absolutely right and decided last December to “through-hike” my home state while helping local land trusts and collecting data for the ASC Roadkill project.
My first adventure began after graduating from Purdue University in 2009. I landed a job in the Bavarian Alps of Southern Germany and spent the next thirteen months working and travelling in Europe and Asia. I fell in love with stepping out of my comfort zone and started climbing, rafting, backpacking and mountaineering as often as I could.
This experience abroad ignited in me a passion for exploration and a desire to make my expeditions about more than just achieving personal goals. I traversed Mongolia in 2011 and paddled the length of the Mississippi River in 2013 to raise money for various organizations, before putting together The Mountain Folk: a team of adventurers with a similar drive to give back to the places they love.
Hiking across Indiana, I hoped to shed some light on the impact humans have on wildlife while celebrating Indiana’s public lands and the organizations who manage them. I decided I’d trek across the state west-to-east, to document roadkill observations for ASC and to raise funds and awareness for various Indiana land trusts. As soon as I stepped across the line from Illinois I was surprised by my findings. It was December and the first roadkill I stumbled upon was a 3 foot-long black rat snake. Things only got more interesting from there. I found numerous owls, hawks, mice, rabbit, deer, fox, opossum, raccoon, and varying waterfowl. I was astounded by both the diversity of species in a state that most consider a place to fly-over and the sheer amount of roadkill I came across.
All in all, it took me 17 days to cover the 200 miles between borders. I planned my route to pass through as many land preserves as possible and ended up seeing over 20 different properties preserved by 6 different organizations. This route offered me the best camping in the state. My first night in Greene-Sullivan State Forest I camped on the edge of the woods in the corner of a field. It rained the entire night, but being December 2nd, the water froze and covered everything in a thin layer of ice. Opening my tent in the morning I was greeted by a blue and purple sunrise looming above a layer of steam on the frozen field. It was staggeringly pretty. That day I hiked 23 miles and logged more animals than any other day during the trek.
It wasn't always easy finding a place to camp, though. Sometimes I had to ask local landowners to camp on their property where development has left no more forested land. Often people were nice, and I'd even say I made friends with them. A few even ended up donating to my fundraising efforts, but as one might expect, a few others didn’t appreciate my presence.
One particular day I was walking near a famous Indiana landmark we just call the "trestle,” a red and rusted iron train trestle that expands over a large ravine. It's a beautiful spot where, in the summertime, the fireflies light up the valley and the screeches and croaks of cicadas and bullfrogs supersede any attempt to speak at a normal volume. I had only reached the trestle when the Sheriff pulled up behind me. Another night, two Police Officers paid a visit to my campsite to inform me that they had received multiple reports of a “strange hippie-type “camping in people’s yards.
To put it plainly, the people of southern Indiana don't get many long distance hikers much less any hikers pulling a two-wheeled aluminum contraption filled with bags and bottles. To be fair, I’m sure I looked slightly out of the ordinary. I should explain that I pulled the hand-built cart, similar to the sled a polar explorer would use, to train for another expedition. In January, I attempted the first ever solo and unsupported crossing of the Great Basin Desert but unfortunately had to abort due to injury. Sideways glances aside, the cart turned out to be a great way to carry all of my gear.
I gained a new appreciation for Indiana on this hike and to tell the truth, it was one of the more enjoyable adventures I've been on. Seeing the land I call home, meeting its people, and giving back to a place I love was truly rewarding but most of all, the trek made me realize that adventure really is waiting just outside your back door.
Read the Landmark Notes blog: