Hiking with Shawn
Camp Ondessonk staff recently sat down with Shawn Gossman the creator of Hiking with Shawn- a media and entertainment company focusing on providing digital content focusing on the Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois State Parks.
How did you become interested in hiking?
I love telling this story! In 2012, I reached a point in my life where I was dissatisfied with the way I was living. I drank a lot of alcohol. I smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. I did no type of exercise. I was single and alone. I was very depressed. And I felt very insignificant. I got tired of it, started working out in a gym, and hated it. I just knew it was exercise. So, as I started slipping back into my old ways, someone suggested I try out cycling.
I did just that and fell in love with it. I was big back then; over 300-pounds and cycling for a year dropped 80 of those-300 pounds. But I overdid cycling and started burning out. I desperately needed a balance mechanism in my newfound, healthy lifestyle. While riding Tunnel Hill State Trail, the place that got me into cycling in the first place, I saw a sign for Heron Pond. So, I rode to it, hiked it, and guess what? I fell in love with hiking as I did with cycling. I balance the two out, and now I’m all in.
How did you come up with the concept of Hiking with Shawn?
When I started hiking, I bought a nice DSLR camera and started taking photos of my hikes. I’d upload them to my personal Facebook profile, and my friends and family loved them. I kept getting suggestions to make videos. They’d say get on YouTube; we’d love to see videos of the waterfalls you see. So, I bought a GoPro with many mounts and started making videos. It was just for close friends and family, and I didn’t expect it to do anything.
Then I got the first email that changed it all. The sender explained that she grew up playing in the forest I was filming. She said that age and disability have kept her from those areas for decades and that those memories were lost. She then shared that my videos flooded her memories of her youth, and she wanted me to know how much my videos meant to her. That changed the direction of Hiking with Shawn, which made me focus more on a business concept even though I knew most of what I would offer would always be free. But I’m an MBA graduate, and I know that if you treat something like a business, it will have a bigger chance of succeeding.
To continue with the first question and this question: Hiking and Hiking with Shawn saved my life. I eat, drink, and live healthy. I met the girl of my dreams when I wasn’t even looking. I live with her now, and I adore her and everything about her. I cannot tell you the last time I was depressed, stressed sure but depressed, no clue. I considered myself a nobody before all this, now I get recognized by followers while grocery shopping! And now I get a chance to help people make better choices, help Southern Illinois and the Mom-and-Pop businesses that make this region so awesome, and I get an opportunity to help protect nature, and that means a lot to me.
What do you like most about Winter Hiking?
First off, I adore summer hiking more than any other hiking season. I love wearing shorts. I love cycling when it is warm. I also really like seeing snakes! But I don’t like biting insects, and let me tell you something; they LOVE me. So, when winter rolls around, one of the most significant benefits is that most of the Shawn biters are gone!!
Aside from that, the leaves are off the trees, the undergrowth is down, and you can see everything. We love to hike the base of bluffs or, as I call them, BLUFFAGE, and see all the cool things you can find such as natural shelters, natural windows, and arches, waterfalls, banding, rock formations, and even carving and maybe even petroglyphs that no one has found yet.
However, when it comes to extreme cold after a wet season, one thing always comes to mind… Frozen Waterfall Chasing and the Shawnee have some of the Midwest’s best-frozen waterfalls!
Where are some of your favorite spots to hike at Ondessonk during the winter?
Ondessonk is such a gem of a place. It is like stepping into a different world. There is so much to see and hike. Of course, Cedar Falls ranks up there as one of the best things to see. Cedar Falls is the tallest free-standing waterfall in Southern Illinois. Burden Falls is the tallest if you stretch out all the levels, but Cedar Falls is something to be proud of. And if you plan your adventure right, you can start at Ondessonk, go to Cedar Falls, and then cross over into the Shawnee, making your way to the Pakentuck road area where you’ll see even more impressive waterfalls.
But another fun spot is Hogg’s Bluff. Hogg’s Bluff may be technically Shawnee, but Ondessonk owns the old railbed to get to it, making it the easiest way. Hogg’s Bluff is a mysterious place with mysterious legends, including Native American inhabitance. I would love to see Ondessonk turn that old railbed into a rail trail!
But I also want to note a favorite place that Michelle (my girlfriend) and I love going to after a good rain is the Camp spillway and the unit of Chabanel with the waterfall in front of the walkway. Those two areas are so awesome that they make us wish those were our homes, and that was our property. Ondessonk truly has some of the best gems that Southern Illinois has to offer, and it is a true blessing that the Camp provides access to the public.
What’s next for the Hiking with Shawn online community?
Hiking with Shawn turned five years old in December of 2021. It has become more than what I ever expected it to become. I won’t be stopping there. I have three big ideas I want to work on this year and moving forward. Podcasting… Hiking with Shawn Tours… and Local Community Support… Let me dig into each one briefly!
I plan to start a few 30-minute monthly podcast shows to talk about all things Shawnee and Southern Illinois outdoor recreation. I’m going to feature guests for various outdoor activities and share insight and knowledge. I will also have a show where I discuss local communities and the local businesses that make the Shawnee so unique and cool and have them as guests as well. I also plan to make it easy for local folks to get in on my podcasting network – more on that later!
Hiking with Shawn Tours has pretty much officially launched. It is where you can purchase guided hikes, guided bike rides, or itinerary planning services from Hiking with Shawn. The Forest Service approved my guided hiking service permit, and I am insured to do it. The problem is that I really like to give stuff away for free, so I must try to balance out making sales and providing free community hikes, which I plan only to accept donations for local food banks around the Shawnee. Why not use Hiking with Shawn for good, especially when it’s local?
And with “local,” I have been adjusting the mission and pillared goals of Hiking with Shawn to focus more on local communities and the businesses and organizations within them. Hiking with Shawn is a promoter of local tourism, but while promoting people to hike, bike, ride horses, and all that fun stuff, it is essential to promote that local bakery in Metropolis or that BBQ stand in Ozark. Or that cabin rental service in Karbers Ridge or that General Store by the Sasquatch. The local farms, alpaca ranches, diners, souvenir shops, non-chain gas stations – all these places make visiting the Shawnee and Southern Illinois unique and something to remember it by, and I want to promote that.
To learn more about Hiking with Shawn: