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May was a big month on Sheltowee Trace as the hike would be crossing I-75, a somewhat unofficial halfway point. Possibly the reason it is unofficial is because it’s not halfway; not even that close. Oh well.
Because the weekend’s hike would be ending near I-75, it would be one of my shorter drives from Cincinnati. Between the relatively short drive and the fact that the Friday night “camp spot” was on the floor of the Sheltowee Trace Visitor Center, I opted to drive down on Saturday morning. That wasn’t too bad of an option as I left the house at 5 am to arrive at the shuttle location right at 7:30. Mike, who also lives near Cincy, drove down on the rainy Friday evening and took 4 ½ hours to cover the same distance.
After a shuttle of an hour or so, we started hiking directly north from the Rt 192 trailhead, where we had stopped in April. It had rained hard the day before, but Steve assured us that any creek could be “rock hopped” while keeping our feet dry. One thing was for sure, the rain helped fill the numerous waterfalls we passed that morning. Pounder Cascades was running strong and the 40 foot Vanhook Falls was especially impressive.
Where the rain didn’t help was the trail itself. Rock hopping the creeks was quite the challenge in a few spots and, in spots, the trail reminded me of some of the slop I battled while hiking the Long Trail in Vermont. While the ground wasn’t the famous boot-sucking Vermud, there were spots where fish could feel right at home on the path. Thankfully the day was warm with occasional sun, so wet feet weren’t too much of a bother.
The afternoon was spent alternating between trail walking and stretches on old Forest Service Roads, though in either instance, the hiking was relatively easy. The original plan was to cover 18 miles and camp near Hawk Creek. However, with the rain, that area was going to be pretty wet. Steve recommended we stop for the night after just 14 miles at the Pine Creek Church/Cemetery. Steve promised a picnic shelter we could camp under, but no water. As I hate carrying the weight of water more than necessary, several of us stopped to filter water at the last obvious small creek, about a half mile before where I hoped the church would be. Three liters added about six pounds to my pack, so I was glad to see that my map reading had been correct.
Besides the shelter, there was more positive reinforcement to following Steve’s recommendation. He had pizza! It was only 5 PM, but after several slices camping by the tombstones started looking like a good idea. In addition, the sky began to darken, indicating storms yet that evening. Several folks, including Mike and a few others, moved on, but I decided to stay put.
A few folks set up on tables or on the gravel under the shelter, but I found a nice flat spot for the tent. And no, I did not take advantage of soft ground above any grave. After an enjoyable evening of good conversation and emptying a flask, I slept well through the soft overnight rain.
Things were clearing off by morning. It was easy to keep everything, other than the tent, dry by packing up under the shelter. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal I was walking by 6:30 or so. I took about ½ hour to get to Pine Creek and another instance of, “Rock hop my ass.” Once again, carrying sandals came in handy.
The rest of the morning involved some smaller waterfalls, walking along cliffs and more creek crossings, but with bridges. Generally, there were no major elevation changes and the hiking was easy. By late morning (maybe 7 miles into the day) the stretch of trail was obviously being used by ATVs and there were obvious attempts to discourage that use through tree and ditch barricades and even more.
Eventually, the trail dumped onto a gravel road that wound its way towards I-75. At one intersection with another gravel road, Mike came walking up, declaring no blazes that way. He was having a long morning, having walked about two extra miles off the route.
Just before we got to the interstate, the 49er Diner Truck Stop was on the right. We pulled in and nearly every hiker that had been ahead of me was there enjoying lunch. Tex, who had been limping due to chafing last month, was limping even worse, but it didn’t affect his appetite. He limped away from the counter with three large cheeseburgers. Mike had camped with him the night before and had seen him put away serious food then too. Apparently after eating nearly an entire pizza back at Pine Creek Church, they had gone a couple more miles where Tex’s dinner consisted of three freeze dried dinners, an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and half of Mike’s dessert.
After just one sandwich, a pop and some ice cream for me, I started on the road walk home stretch for the weekend.
I crossed I-75 on Rt 909, followed Rt 25 south for less than a mile, then turned onto Hazel Patch Rd. It wasn’t long before I was hiking on the Old Wilderness Road. Commissioned in 1795 as an improvement to nearby (Daniel) Boone’s Trace, much of the route I walked remained in gravel.
After passing some farmland, the Old Wilderness Road began a steep climb towards the Camp Wildcat Battlefield. In October of 1861, the Confederates attacked the Union position at the top of the hill. After over 50 of his men were killed or wounded, Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer broke off the attack. He declared the area was “a natural fortification, almost inaccessible.”
It was indeed quite a climb. It was easy to see how cannon and rifle fire aimed down from the top would have been overwhelming. Luckily for me, the only thing waiting at the top was my truck. Another month complete, 150 miles down, 169 to go.
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