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April on the Sheltowee Trace was, in a word, cushy. It actually wasn’t even backpacking. What it was involved a combination of great views, easy walking, plenty of food and high end camping.
The Friday night camping location was Sheltowee Trace Outfitters (STO). There were several options including a tent camping area, a bunkhouse or even a cabin. Restrooms with showers were available to all. I took advantage of the drive up camping area to use my truck camper and had the stove and refrigerator at my disposal.
As per usual on Friday night, STA Director Steve Barbour went over the stretch of trail we were to walk that weekend. He put a lot of detail into one section where a hiker had gotten lost the year before and roundly cussed Steve out for it. He stated that he bought the hiker an ice cream and all was well. I asked if I cussed him out, would he buy me an ice cream? I didn’t receive a solid answer. He also mentioned that spring turkey hunting season was open and we should make some noise. Several of us began gobbling at that point, but it didn’t appear to be the noise he was looking for. After some time at the community bonfire, I got a great night’s sleep and was eager to roll at 6:30 the next morning. We moved vehicles to the weekend’s endpoint, then rode the STO bus back to where we had left off the month before.
Since we had the option to return to STO on Saturday night, many of the group, myself included, hiked with only a daypack. In fact, it turned out that it wasn’t even necessary to carry lunch along.
The day began with a mile road walk, then a mile on a gravel road down to the bank of the Cumberland River. It wasn’t a quiet start though. There was a guy that was filming parts of the hike and he was using a drone to get some aerial shots of us starting out. After a few minutes, I was hoping a turkey hunter might silence the loud mosquito like noise.
Walking along the river was relatively easy and the river was scenic. However, there were a few spots where, during high water, the river covered the trail. In these spots we walked through an incredible amounts of trash, most of it plastic bottles of one type or another. The thoughtless garbage really ruined what otherwise was a beautiful stretch of river.
I walked the stretch with Nickie, who had hiked the entire trail in 2015. She liked this section so much that she came back to hike it again. After five miles or so along the river, it was getting close to lunch time. It was also where we walked through Cumberland Falls State Park and by the namesake falls. The falls, known as the Niagara of the South, was just spectacular. At the same spot was a snack bar where I caught up to a few hikers that had been ahead of me. Chris was there, eating a cheeseburger. When I looked at it, he mentioned that he was no longer a vegetarian. In fact, he said that he had forgotten how good meat tasted and was sorry he hadn’t fallen off the veggie wagon sooner.
After a snack bar lunch for myself, I traded out the insoles in my shoes in a never ending quest to find a comfortable shoe to hike in. From there the trail continues downstream along the Cumberland for the rest of the day. Much of the trail is reasonably flat, but it is etched into the steep valley wall at times. In fact, it was washed out at one point and a detour up and back down the valley wall was necessary.
A short side trip, Dog Slaughter Falls was a pretty, though poorly named, drop on a creek of the same name. It was near there that I passed a couple members of the group. Cousins from near Lexington, one could have had the trail name of Tex. He had some serious chafing issues and walked like he had just climbed off a horse. It looked to be a painful, slow go for him.
About eight miles downstream was Bark Camp, where some of the hikers were spending the night. Those of us heading back to STO met Steve there around 4 PM. A hike past a beautiful cascade and up the hill got us to Steve’s van and a fifteen minute ride back to camp.
Time to cook dinner? No way. Several of us including Nickie, Mike and Tex, were shuttled to the Cumberland Falls Lodge Dinner Buffet. For $14.95 I polished off three plates of food and a couple more plates of dessert. It was one of my few hiking days where I ran a calorie surplus.
Once back at STO, there was time to sit around the fire for a bit while the pile of food I ate settled a little. At one point, Mike, who I’d hiked with at times, called me an evil genius. He was recalling back in February at the end of the Saturday hike. He was worn out, sitting on the ground looking at his five-pound drop that was carried by Steve for the hikers that month. His drop was a sweatshirt he didn’t need. That was when I strolled by drinking my ice cold, sudsy five-pound drop. I didn’t share back then, but since I was camping with a refrigerator at STO, I did share that evening.
Sunday morning we were dropped back where we left off the night before. After a couple more miles along the Cumberland River, we turned upstream on the Laurel River. Lunch was going to be pizza at the Holly Bay Marina on Laurel River Lake. Unfortunately, once we reached the Laurel River Dam, the Drone Guy let us know the marina was not yet serving food. So, no pizza.
The trail hugged the circuitous shoreline of the lake, but it was easy walking and the lake was extremely scenic. Walking with Chris, Tex and his cousin, we debated whether to take the side trip to the marina. No pizza, but there should be candy bars and pop. By the time we got to the cutoff trail to the marina, there was about five miles left in the day. I decided that trail mix would carry me that far and pushed on straight. Once past the marina, a 2nd cutoff trail met up. Up that trail came Nickie and the Tennessee boys I’ve hiked with in the past. Despite being “closed,” the marina was serving pizza. Son of a bitch! Rather than go backwards though, I pushed on.
After winding past a campground and a few more miles of lakeshore, one final climb put us up on Rt 192 and our vehicles. Steve was waiting to greet us as we finished another weekend at about 2 PM. Less than 200 miles to go.