Sheltowee Trace – August

To get to the start of this hike, click here.

Rather than another extremely early alarm on Saturday morning, I drove down to the area on Friday Night. Our camp spot was just outside of Red River Gorge at the John Swift Campground. The location was in a valley by the Red River, but mosquitoes were pleasantly absent. After a quiet night, we left our vehicles near the entrance of the campground and took the provided shuttle back to where we had ended the long road walk in July.

I’d like to say the road walks were over and we were back in the woods. I’d like to say it, but I can’t. The day started on the road and stayed on the road. For good measure, the trail/road climbs one of the biggest hills on the entire route. One saving grace was that it was mostly cloudy so there wasn’t too much melting in the sun. After about four and a half miles, there was a 2nd saving grace, the Conveniently Country Market, where cold pop, candy bars and the “best bologna sandwich” on the Sheltowee Trace awaited.

Sufficiently refueled, it was back to the asphalt for another five miles. I walked the stretch with Marty, a retired railroad worker. We also had the company of Siri, who Marty had set to alert him every half mile. She also announced our overall minutes per mile pace and the last half mile speed. With her bitching at us, we kept up a pretty good pace, 18 minutes per mile or less.

After so much asphalt, turning onto gravel Virginia Ridge Road seemed like wilderness. Certainly animals abounded.a-cow a-horse a-sheep

They were cows, horses and goats, but animals none the less. After a few miles of gravel, there was finally a stretch of trail. The rain began just as we reached it. As warm as it was, it felt pretty good and no raingear was required; until it started pouring. By the time we reached the crossing at Sinking Creek, my feet were soaked, so I just waded across in my hiking shoes. Thankfully, even wet, I had no blister issues.

All too soon it was back to asphalt and gravel roads. The final eight miles of the day remained on road and included possibly the longest, steep hill of the entire trail. The rain had stopped by then and in the heat and sun I was dry in no time, even my socks.

After a bit over 20 miles total, we reached our planned camping spot in a patch of woods. There was plenty of spots for several tents and hammocks. In addition, Steve had dropped off a couple coolers with ice cold pop and beer. What a great place to stop! There were even a few cans of Strohs buried in the cooler. I hadn’t seen that old favorite this century.

Despite it being the perfect spot to stop, the Tennessee Hikers, a group of six, were pressing on. They just had small daypacks with them and were staying at the Natural Bridge State Park Lodge, four miles further down the trail. The lodge also offered an all you can eat buffet.

About Dinner time, it began to rain again. As much as I enjoy huddling in my tent eating freeze-dried Chinese food, several of us took Steve up on his offer for a ride down to the buffet and back. As I emptied several plates, the rain just poured down outside. Not to insult Mountain House Dinners, but the buffet was a great choice.

The rain eased up after dinner, but didn’t quit completely. A few folks sat together under a tarp, but I just called it an early night and headed for the tent. A couple storms rolled through during the overnight, but my tent and I stayed mainly dry.

There was still a bit of rain falling when I got up in the morning, but I was able to pack up fairly quickly. As much as I enjoy standing in the rain eating oatmeal, then maybe heading into the woods with some soggy toilet paper; the Lodge’s breakfast buffet was calling. I was on my way as soon as it was light enough to hike without a headlamp. Time for an early forced march.

The rain scaled back to some fog and low clouds as I made good time along the trail (no road!). Within a couple miles the trail enters Natural Bridge State Park and the scenery was quiet and pretty in the misty morning. Notes about the trail indicated that there were at least two trails that dropped to the Lodge. I passed the first in order to cross the park’s namesake bridge. Always impressive, the rock bridge was especially so with wisps of clouds all around. Not seeing the 2nd trail down, I turned back for the short walk to the trail I knew that led to breakfast.

Enjoying the view from Natural Bridge

Enjoying the view from Natural Bridge

I was just back to the intersection when I met Marty heading the other way. I explained I was heading down for breakfast, but the Natural Bridge was just a little way further. He replied he’d seen it on his honeymoon and didn’t need to see it again. Apparently a 40 year old memory was good enough and he joined me on the steep trail down to the lodge. (I’m no purist, but if you care, the trail we were following was the official Sheltowee Trace in that area.)

Amazing what those new freeze-dried meals look like

Amazing what those new freeze-dried meals look like

Once at the Lodge, we had breakfast with the Tennessee Hikers. They were planning on relaxing a bit more and getting a late checkout before heading out with their tiny daypacks. (I believe one of them was a My Little Pony brand.) I did ask if they were going to tell their friends that they’d been “backpacking.” They assured me they’d be talking about hiking and the trail. Perhaps some misdirection, but no outright lies.

After breakfast, Marty and I (and Siri) headed back onto the trail. We were soon out of the park, but still in scenic Daniel Boone National Forest and heading into Red River Gorge. The trail was steep at times, but well maintained over the next several miles with some nice vistas. A few times we had to cross Chimney Top Creek. At this point I just waded across, but Marty was on a mission to keep his feet dry whether that meant rock hopping or tight roping on some questionable downed trees.IMG_4804

Keeping those feet dry

Keeping those feet dry

Regardless, he was successful. By early afternoon we made it to the Red River, across an impressive suspension bridge and done for the weekend. Another 32 miles down and maybe 75 to go.

Sheltowee Trace – July

To start from the beginning, click here.

As with each month, I needed to decide whether to drive to the trail on Friday and camp, or head down early Saturday morning. When I filled out the registration form, I stated I’d be there on Friday night. However, since the Saturday morning shuttle didn’t begin until 8 am, I’d be able to get up at a semi-reasonable hour and just drive down on Saturday morning. On Friday afternoon, I emailed Steve of my change of plan so he wouldn’t be looking for me on Friday night. His response was that the shuttle time had been moved up to 6 am. Crap.

Kentucky River by the shuttle point

Kentucky River by the shuttle point

And so, my alarm went off at 3 am on Saturday and my 3:20 departure got me to the shuttle location at the town of Heidelberg promptly at 6. The bus ride back to our starting point was interesting. It was also the first time I’ve ever felt the need to use a bus’s seatbelts.

After a short road walk, we began along a relatively level trail that was also used by dirt bikes and ATVs. What this meant was there were occasional mud wallows to work around, but nothing too difficult. The scenery was a nice, younger forest; nothing too dramatic. Occasional stretches were on gravel road, but mostly the morning was spent on single track trail.

Another wallow to dodge

Another wallow to dodge

The day was hot and we were going to be spending the night at a dry camp so by early afternoon I was looking for a good spot to load up on water. Several folks stopped at a likely looking creek, but Mike and I were holding out for something better, and hopefully closer to camp. We found it at Resurgence cave, were a good sized stream poured clear and cold right from the hole in the earth. I set my filter to “bat guano” and loaded up.

Resurgence Cave

Resurgence Cave

Taking a break by the cave

Taking a break by the cave

We were making good time on the 17 miles planned for the day and the next day’s hike was only 12 miles and on road. As we talked of the possibility of knocking the whole hike out in one day, the heat and miles began to take their toll. Once we closed in on the evening’s camp spot, all talk of pushing on was forgotten. The camp area was reached about 4 pm and a cold pop from Steve was a great addition to my freeze dried dinner.

I was unable to find a spot to pitch my tent that was flat enough for my liking, but between the day’s miles and contents of a flask, I was still able to sleep well. One of these days I will need to try a hammock though.

Gravel road, soon to be asphalt road

Gravel road, soon to be asphalt road

I got rolling by 7 on Sunday morning. The first 5 miles alternated between road and trail, then a creek walk back onto road for the rest of the day. The final 7 miles were on gravel and asphalt. I’d like to say it was interesting, but it was not. I actually listened to music while I walked to help pass the time. Out in the sun, “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders seemed to fit. As it got hotter the timing seemed right for Brother Drege to sing “Too Old to Die Young.”

On the bright side, the miles did go by fast and it was still before noon when I spotted a bright blue bridge over the Kentucky River and got to my truck.

The finish!

The finish!

We were down close to mile 108, but the next stretch promised the longest road walk yet before the scenery of Red River Gorge.

 

Sheltowee Trace – June

a-signLooking for the start of the hike? Click here.a-road-walkJune’s hike began at the Wildcat Mountain Battlefield. The trail followed a road through an area of old trailers; the surface varying between asphalt, gravel and broken rock. The road walk continued for the first hour or so before starting into some very pretty woods on an actual hiking trail. After several small creek crossings we climbed by some cliffs up to a flatter, enjoyable walk through pines. All too soon, we hit Rt 490.a-halfway On the plus side, we had reached the actual halfway point on the entire Sheltowee Trace Trail. Less exciting, it was also the start of a 5 mile walk on asphalt. By then I had caught up to Kevin and Blake and hiked with them in the strong sun. By afternoon, we were walking on Forest Service trail with lots of mud wallows caused by significant ATV use. We encountered about a dozen of the machines through the afternoon. The day continued to be sunny and in the 80s. At the first major creek crossing, I switched to sandals. Later, I just started walking through, getting my shoes soaked, but the cool water felt good.

A cooling creek crossing

A cooling creek crossing

Staying with Kevin and Blake worked well as there was a couple confusing intersections where we could split up and check for blazes. There were no significant issues though and we stayed on the correct route. Just a bit before 5 PM we finished the 21 mile day at a very nice area right along Raccoon Creek. Steve Barbour (Sheltowee Trace Director) was there with some ice cold pop. Root beer never tasted so good. The creek was also an inviting place to wash off and cool down. It was turning into an enjoyable evening.

Relaxing along Raccoon Creek

Relaxing along Raccoon Creek

While we had dinner, Kevin mentioned that he pulled four ticks off himself that day. He’d also attracted a few the previous month. Treating my clothes with Permethrin seems to have been a good idea. I hadn’t found a single tick on me yet.

Mike walked in with Duane about 7 pm. They had gone the wrong way a couple times, walking some extra miles.

Other than an occasional ATV rumbling by and some nearby snoring, it was a quiet night and I slept later than normal. With only 12 miles to go there was no big rush and I started after most of the group; a bit after seven. The day’s hike continued on gravel road for two miles with a significant steep climb at the end of it. Once the trail veered off, it was also an ATV trail. Conditions were not exactly pristine with mud wallows on a regular basis. a-wallowA significant stretch was also in sight of a gravel road.  It was getting tempting to do more road walking, though I would be getting enough of that. Quite often there were additional trails that had been created by others dodging the wallows. In several spots, the Forest Service had been working to harden the trail, though there was still quite a bit to do.

The trail after being hardened

The trail after being hardened

Eventually I climbed out of a creek valley to an intersection with multiple gravel roads. Mike, Duane, Kevin and Blake were having a conference to determine the correct route, but none were confident. I pointed out on the map where I believed we were while Blake called Steve for directions. My assessment was confirmed and we all started down the gravel road towards Rt 421. Regardless, I decided to find some waypoints on the Interweb and download them to my phone or GPS. By noon, we had made the road, had lunch in the last bit of shade and started the short road walk to June’s final destination. 137 miles to go.

Once I got back home, I checked the local paper. There was a big article concerning how often people from Cincinnati were getting hurt or killed by falling of cliffs in Red River Gorge. We’ll be hiking through there in August. It should be interesting.

Looking for July?