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For each monthly hike there is the option to walk on either the second or third weekend of the month. I had always taken the third weekend, but switched for November’s, and the final, hike on the Sheltowee Trace. While cold, the forecast for the weekend was dry and I figured that November could be much worse. Since the hikes were continually getting closer to Cincinnati, I was able to skip camping on Friday night again, while not needing to get up in the middle of the night.
I rolled into the parking lot at the northern terminus of the trail right on time, 8 am, and joined 15 or so other hikers in waiting for the shuttle. The brisk morning air was perfect for hiking, but not for standing around waiting for a shuttle. Despite being confirmed earlier in the week by Steve Barbour, STA Director, the shuttle didn’t appear to be showing up. By 8:30, Steve had waited long enough. Several folks banded together for the drive to our starting point in Morehead and I caught the last seat in Steve’s van for the ride. As long as I scratched his head, Steve’s Black Lab didn’t appear to care that his seat had been taken.
Everyone arrived at downtown Morehead by 9:30 to get our final pre-hike talk from Steve. The important points I got were to turn off Main Street at the Dairy Queen and be aware that the deer gun season was open. Luckily I hadn’t worn my antler hat, so I felt I should be good.
Most of the hikers were turning into the local coffee shop, but I was going to make tracks. I continued down Main until my turn at the DQ. Actually I turned into the DQ; couldn’t pass up the $3 breakfast. After hiking close to half a mile, I figured I could use some more calories too. Interesting thing was I ended up in line behind a few other hikers. Apparently everyone that skipped the coffee shop pulled in to the DQ.
Once my 2nd breakfast was out of the way, it was time to press on. While the day’s hike was only supposed to be 12 miles, the late start and the short amount of daylight meant there shouldn’t be too much extra time available to lollygag.
Heading away from Main Street, the trail started climbing through Morehead University, past scenic Eagle Lake, then got very steep up to a ridgeline outside of town. From there the trail was up and down, though mostly up; eventually joining a Forest Service Road. This is where you could really tell it was gun season. Several large camps were set up near the road and blaze orange was the fashion of choice. Through the next few miles the trail left and rejoined the FS road several times before staying with the road for five miles or so. I was walking with a group that included John, whom I’d walked with in October and Dave, another retired guy.
Since the road was fairly open, the sun began to warm me up and I stopped to unzip the legs of my convertible pants/shorts. Once I caught back up to the group Dave told me it looked like I was riding a chicken. Apparently, his idea of what legs should look like didn’t match mine. Dave was planning on hiking the Colorado Trail, which I had done, and we chatted about that as we walked. Despite his “chicken legs” insult, I provided him with truthful intel on the trail.
A quick jog onto pavement brought us over I-64 then back onto an old gravel road that paralleled the Interstate for close to a mile (farther than the map shows). From there, it was back onto trail for a steep drop into the Big Tom Brown Branch valley, out into a farm field and across the quite rickety suspension bridge to our camp for the night. It was about 3:30.
Just on the north side of Holly Fork Road there was plenty of flat area to spread out. Steve was parked there with plenty of water, pop and the promise of trail magic at 5:30. Since I hadn’t been dreaming about freeze-dried Chicken Teriyaki for dinner, I left the stove in the pack, set up my tent and waited for the magic. Since the mileage this month was relatively short, I was carrying my camp chair and the wait was relaxing and comfortable.
Soon, members of the Cave Run Chapter (including Elizabeth, who had shuttled me in October) arrived with pots of chili, corn bread and brownies. Gotta say, it beat the hell out of a bag of Chicken Teriyaki. On the down side, the recent drought resulted in a fire ban, so there was no campfire. Sitting around in the dark, drinking hot chocolate spiked with amaretto (or whatever you brought) is fine for a while, but the temperature was dropping fast. By 8 pm, everyone was heading for the warmth of sleeping bags.
A full moon keep the night relatively bright, but did nothing for the temperature. I slept with both my water filter and my contacts as neither does well when frozen. In my 23 degree limit bag, I stayed warm enough while wearing socks, long underwear, a fleece, gloves and a hat. It was however, a long night; literally. From the time I got in the tent it was 10 ½ hours before the sky lightened enough to get up and start breaking camp. The morning was cool, to say the least. The tent fly was crusted over with ice and even with thin gloves on the tent poles were too cold to handle without a couple breaks to warm my hands. In an effort to warm up, I skipped breakfast and started hiking. The steep valley walls blocked the morning sun, but I was slowly warming regardless. I passed Chris as he was stopped to stick some chemical hand warmers into his gloves: great idea.
After about a mile, the climb out of the valley and breaking out into the sun changed everything. All was right with the world again. I stopped to lose a layer and eat a snack in my newfound warmth. Both Dave and John caught up and we hiked on together through a stretch of private land. All that was asked was keeping the gates shut and the generous owners also allowed use of their water hydrant and picnic shelter.
From there it was back onto Forest Service Property and a steep 300+ foot climb. For the next 7 miles or so the trail bounced from ridgetop to ridgetop. Dave had to pull off to remove the chili from his system. As the trail double backed near his position, I thought I could hear some high pitched sounds in the distance as he used his still frozen baby wipes.
The leaves were pretty much all down and allowed for some great views. Everything is a tradeoff though as the leaves on the ground hid the trail’s tripping hazards, ankle twisters and occasionally the entire trail. Though it cost me my balance a couple times, I never did fall on the trail.
On much of this last stretch, the trail runs right on the Forest Service property line. The adjoining property owner posted the line with a multitude of signs, but it actually made the trail easy to follow for John and me, despite the leaf drop.
Just about lunchtime, the trail started its final drop, losing a quick 300 feet in altitude, and all too soon, the journey was done. Steve was there to congratulate us. In addition, Elizabeth and Lucy of the STA Cave Run Chapter were on hand with even more trail magic of drinks and snacks. Dave strolled in shortly thereafter. It was a great end to an impressive trail. Seeing the trail through all seasons was perfect way to experience the hike.