In pursuit of the patch

Last January and February, my brother Chad and I braved below-zero windchill factors and ignored energy-sapping illness to earn a piece of embroidered fabric that measures roughly three inches in diameter.

We refer to that period as "The Pursuit of the Patch," and we can’t wait to do it again.

The patch is the reward the Metro Parks system presents to individuals who complete at least seven of the 13 hikes in its Winter Hikes Series.

The free program is a great way to get exercise at a time of year when being a couch potato is oh-so enticing. It’s also an organized way to explore the system’s different parks.

Both are lovely reasons to participate, but they’re not why I signed up.

I wanted the patch.

That’s right. I am motivated by prizes… have been ever since I won my first ribbon in a track meet in eighth grade. The engraved medals, the trophies topped with pony-tailed girls…I loved them. My brothers had the same addiction for the awards that came with their athletic successes.

Some (i.e. our grandma) called them dust collectors. We (including our proud parents) called them hardware. Though soft, the Winter Hikes patch amounts to the same thing. It’s something that says, "Hey, look what I did!" This particular something represents seven weekends of adventure with one of my siblings.

The following are highlights from Kristy and Chad’s first annual "Pursuit of the Patch:"

• Hike 1-Sharon Woods (2 miles). Figured there’d be a couple dozen walkers. Showed up to find 1,600 other people had the same idea. Met up with my brother, sister-in-law and niece by using an improvised GPS device (a.k.a. my brother telling me by cell phone to keep the sun to my right and walk to the nearest shelter house). Loved the free spicy white bean soup and hot chocolate the volunteers ladled out at the end of the hike. Loved, loved, loved to find out free treats were part of all of the hikes. (Next to hardware, food runs a close second as a motivator.)

• Hike 2-Prairie Oaks (3 miles). Temperature in the single digits. Windchill below zero. Hiked anyway, confirming for our respective spouses that they they did indeed marry idiots. Far less company than at the first hike. Wore every piece of winter gear we owned. Lowered our scarves just long enough to gulp down scrumptious dumplings.

• Hike 3-Inniswood (2.5 miles). Crisp, bright day. Big turnout. First time for either of us at this park. Enjoyed the boardwalk and the choice of chilis at the end (sorry, Bambi, but we picked the venison option).

• Hike 4-Blendon Woods (2.5 miles). Couldn’t make the Metro Parks’ scheduled time window. Went later in the day and had the park to ourselves, though we missed chicken and biscuits. Tracked down a ranger to punch a fourth hole in our participation cards. Endured ridicule from our fair-weathered spouses who accompanied us for this hike. Explained that punching the cards ourselves at home just isn’t the same.

• Hike 5-High Banks (2.5 miles). Third hike for which my little niece joined us. After a few hills, wished I could be riding with her on Chad’s back. Ranger said 1,400 people hiked that day. Late again. Not sure what treats we missed.

• Hike 6-Glacier Ridge (2 miles). Windchill advisory. Chad and I among the hearty few (or the foolhardy) who turned out. Had to walk backwards to save faces from freezing in the wind. Vegetable beef soup.

• Hike 7-Slate Run Farm and Park (2.5 miles). Last hike in the series; last chance to earn the patch. Chad really sick, but had eyes on the prize. Tried sorghum syrup at the working farm. High-fived to our sweet success.

Who knows what challenges (and soups) the next Winter Hikes Series will bring? Doesn’t matter, as long as our 2009 patches are waiting for us at the end of the trail.

Kristy Zurbrick is editor of the Madison Messenger.

The coveted patch.

2009 Winter Hike Series

The 36th annual Metro Parks Winter Hikes Series starts on Jan. 3 and ends on Feb. 28. The hikes are guided or self-guided. Complete seven hikes for a decorative patch. Sign up for the free program at your first hike. For directions, park descriptions and more, call 614-891-0700 during business hours or go online to www.metroparks.net.

Blacklick Woods
6975 E. Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg
Jan. 3 at 10 a.m.
2 or 4 miles

Sharon Woods
6911 Cleveland Ave., Westerville
Jan. 10 at 10 a.m.
1.5 or 3.5 miles

Scioto Audubon
395 W. Whittier St., Columbus
Jan. 17 at 10 a.m.
2 miles

Prairie Oaks
3225 Plain City-Georgesville Road, West Jefferson
Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.
1, 3 or 5 miles

Clear Creek
185 Clear Creek Road, Rockbridge
Jan. 24 at 10 a.m.
1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 miles

Inniswood
940 S. Hempstead Road, Westerville
Jan. 25 at 2 p.m.
2 miles

Blendon Woods
4265 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Westerville
Jan. 31 at 10 a.m.
2, 4 or 6 miles

Chestnut Ridge
8445 Winchester Road N.W., Carroll
Feb. 1 at 10 a.m.
1.4 or 2 miles

Three Creeks
3860 Bixby Road, Groveport
Feb. 7 at 10 a.m.
1, 3 or 5.6 miles

Highbanks
9466 Columbus Pike (U.S. Rte. 23 N), Lewis Center
Feb. 14 at 10 a.m.
2.5 or 5 miles

Glacier Ridge
9801 Hyland Croy Road, Plain City
Feb. 15 at 2 p.m.
2 miles

Slate Run
1375 State Route 674 N., Canal Winchester
Feb. 21 at 10 a.m.
2 or 4.5 miles

Battelle Darby Creek
1775 Darby Creek Dr., Galloway
Feb. 28 at 10 a.m.
2, 4 or 6 miles

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