13 map miles
13.12 recorded miles
Last night was terrifying! There were loud, high speed winds and I could hear trees and branches falling all around me. I didn’t know what else I could do besides stay put and take my chances. It didn’t look like any of the trees nearby were dead. I didn’t get good quality sleep but somehow got packed up in a light sleet and trudged on. Today was cold and miserable overall. My feet were wet and it was still fairly windy. My heavy pack was really discouraging me. It just felt like it was getting heavier and heavier. I had a stream crossing that I needed to either take my socks and shoes off altogether or put my frozen boots on. I ate lunch while contemplating what to do. Well putting those boots on was worse than I even expected. It was like wrapping ice around my feet! I hauled my pack over the crossing and my feet warmed up after a mile or two. They really warmed up on the climb up to the John Muir Overlook. The views were expansive. Definitely a highlight of the trip. I just wish I hadn’t been so grey. Thinking about the sub-30 degree temps forecasted, and listening to my aching back, I planned to get off the Sheltowee and take a short cut back to the trailhead where my car was. The shortcut was nice. This time, an actual easy shortcut. Flat trail and road and definitely easy to follow. I ended up back at the car and was excited to turn the heat on! This Sheltowee section kicked my ass for sure! I’ve got to get a lighter pack and train for bigger mileage days! The Hiker Challenge is going to be a challenge for sure!😓
11 map miles
13.11 recorded miles
Well today was interesting for sure. It felt like forever before I made it to Bandy Creek. I woke up too late so I made it there at lunch time. At least I got a sprite from the vending machine to go with my buffalo chicken sandwich. I got my permit and hiked back to the Trace. The next few miles were strenuous because of the mud due to horses. I even saw 2 horses go by and one was super skittish of me. I made it to the intersection of Laurel Branch Trail and decided to use Laurel Branch Trail as a short cut to my campsite back on the Sheltowee at Station Camp. Well this was the interesting part. The map said taking this trail would save 3 miles but what it didn’t say is how strenuous and overgrown it would be. There were major creek crossings. I crossed in my Gortex boots and my feet still got soaked and waterlogged. I lost the trail for about 20 minutes and the trail was rocky and ridden with downed trees. It was very hilly and I wish I had just taken the Sheltowee because it wasn’t worth saving 3 miles for. And actually, it ended up only saving 2 miles according to my gps tracker. The trail was pretty at some points, but it is still winter so the trees in this area were gray and barren. I filtered some water in the creek and made it to a nice campsite a few minutes later. I have 24 miles to go so I’m right at the halfway point. Let’s hope my boots dry some when it drops down to 34 degrees tonight! 😂
I’ve been trying to complete the whole trail this year, but I’ve lost some time and haven’t been able to do sections. I was eager to hike Big South Fork, so I planned a 4-day trip on the Trace down there. I’m playing a little leap frog, so the whole trail will not be done in order. For this section, I’ll be hiking northbound.
11.5 map miles
12.28 recorded miles
Today was gorgeous! I lucked out with the weather and didn’t even get sick on the 1.5 hour shuttle ride! Steve shuttled me from Peter’s Mountain trailhead to the Honey Creek Trailhead. I’ve got about 48 map miles planned for this 4-day getaway. Steve is such a nice guy and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time out of his day to do this long-distance shuttle. He gave me a thorough and complete rundown of the entire section. Like every water crossing and every trail crossing kind of thorough. I have been really excited for this trip because Big South Fork is super scenic and I have 4 days off!!
So Steve took my picture and off I went with the 25-30lb pack that was stuffed with cold gear and rain gear- a heavy combination. The trail wound through the bare trees and orange forest floor. I passed maybe the biggest rock shelter I’ve ever seen. It had a beautiful orange and red ceiling. There were quite some scrambles and one even required army style crawling! I forget my trekking poles and dearly missed them. I’m glad my boots are waterproof because I got them soaked with mud. My feet stayed perfectly dry. Another part of the trail just followed an old flat forest service road and that was a nice break from the rocky parts. I finally reached the Big South Fork River. It is such a pretty color and makes a nice rushing sound. I stopped for a while at a picnic table in the Leatherwood Ford area and ate lunch. Another 3 miles of hiking along the peaceful river led me to the climb to the top of the ridge. I passed by an expansive overlook called Falls Branch Overlook. The ridge top hiking was pretty nice. I crossed a creek and saw some dudes at a nice campsite. I came to another campsite and claimed it for myself. About 4 more miles to Bandy Creek where I get my permit and they have a gift shop. 🤟
Miles 97-108. 12.5 recorded miles. The “Heidelberg Death March”.
The rushing creek was a soothing sound that lulled me to sleep. Somehow my aching feet and back were healed by the restful sleep I got. I started hiking at 10am and had to cross the creek with my shoes off to get back to the trail. I started walking on a dirt road only to come to another creek crossing 30 minutes later. This beautiful part of the creek was lined with an overhanging rock shelter and some ruins of a suspension bridge. The sun reflected off the water and made some cool dancing patterns on the sandstone walls. I dried my feet and put my shoes back on and continued hiking uphil. The dirt road turned to a gravel Jeep road. At a quite inconvenient part of the uphill hike, I encountered about 20 Jeep off-roaders making their way into the valley. I stoped and let them pass and waved at them all. It looked like SO much fun. I would love to go off-roading sometime! There are SO many trails around Kentucky because of all the logging and oil wells. I kept hiking and finally came to the top of the ridge where I knew I wanted to stop and have lunch. I also knew that somewhere at this point there was supposed to be an arch called “Sheltowee Arch” right off the road. I looked for any sign of a trail that would go down to the arch but it was way too steep. Finding this arch would require some bushwhacking and I didn’t have the time or energy to spare on this trip. After lunch, I kept hiking and came to beginning of the the paved part of the road. I waved at the horses as I walked past and looked on my GPS to see that I had 10 miles to go today. 10 miles on paved roads with minimal shade and no clouds in the sky in 90 degree heat. Yikes! I can’t believe I’m insane enough to do this! Somehow it was easy to just put one foot in front of the other and my sun hat and sun glasses really made a difference. I found myself taking lots of pictures. These people’s backyards were gorgeous!! Views of the bluegrass mountains in the distance. Rolling hills with wildflowers and singing birds. The decaying barns and trucks made for interesting centerpieces to my pictures. I watched my GPS for mile marker 100 so I could take a selfie. I passed a few other packs of dogs, thankfully without incident, and finally saw a roaming little cat. I’ve been seeing all these dogs but never any outdoor cats until now. (I’m an animal person, but cats especially.) I walked on the hot sunny road all day and was getting pretty thirsty. I rounded the corner and came upon Conveniently Country, a small grocery store run by a nice lady named Rhonda who wants to open a hostel on her land for the Trace hikers. I told her it was a good idea and that businesses catering to tourists around the Red River Gorge and this area are booming. I got a grape soda and a vitamin water and sat outside in the shade with her dog. He was a really nice, lazy dog. The next five miles blew by as I passed more countryside houses and bluegrass landscapes. I just kept one foot in front of the other and before you knew it, I saw the railroad tracks and the blue bridge of Heidelberg- signaling I was almost to the car. I got to my car and put on my sandals and went to take pictures of the bridge and the Kentucky River. My feet and legs are so sore. Definitely the worst I’ve ever felt from hiking. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a better shoe than mine for walking dozens of miles on paved roads. Hoka One One. They look rediculous (There were no color choices. So naturally, women’s One One’s are bright purple and pink.) but are so cushiony and shock absorbent! I only had one small blister on my pinky toe and I’m so happy it’s not worse. People who hike this section: choose your footwear wisely! Tennis shoes are better than hiking boots for these road walks. This section was challenging mentally and physically and I feel pretty bad ass for doing it alone. Honestly I would do it again if the weather was perfect. 💙
Miles 84-97. 13.7 recorded miles.
Another “wow” day on the Sheltowee. Every section of this trail gives me something that makes all the hardship worth it.
I drove down from Cincinnati at about 630am (gross) and met my shuttle driver, Donna Lucy, at the Heidelberg Park where I will end this section tomorrow. Donna is a true blessing from heaven. I like how her car says “trail nanny”, but “trail ANGEL” is a more accurate description of her. She was basically the nicest person I’ve ever met. We talked the whole 1 hour car ride to Natural Bridge State Park and probably could have talked the whole day. She dropped me off at Hemlock Lodge and off I went up a steep climb to Natural Bridge. I was out of breath a few times from the elevation gain. I made the side trail to go stand on top of Natural Bridge and get a vista of the Red River Gorge. I met a nice backpacker named Andy who said he was making up his August section of the hiker challenge and he was going to meet up with the challenge group tomorrow and do the next section. Off I went on my favorite trail section in Kentucky: the Narrows. I hiked through the almost spider web-less forest and out to the Twilight Arch vista. I’ve never encountered another soul at this spectacular vista. It is on my top 3 favorite vistas for sure. I ate lunch and began to dread the heat as the temperature rose. I hiked back out to the Sheltowee and skipped going under to see the massive White’s Branch Arch. I needed to save some time and energy- plus, I’ll be there next month with my family. So begins the hardships of today. Road walking. Only the truly insane backpackers thru hike this trail with all these road walks. My feet are killing! I hiked out of the state park and out of the forest trail and hiked on a gravel road for about 2.5 miles. Some shade, but still uncomfortably hot. Then I came to a paved road with lots of residences... and loose dogs. 😖 I already have a fear of biting dogs to begin with. A few weeks ago, a lady backpacker and her dog got bit when she was hiking on this road by the loose dogs. I’ve been really nervous about this day for fear of being bit. I walked for a good few hours, baking in the sun, and could not stop thinking about cold Gatorade or soda. Plenty of water weighing down my pack, though. Better drink that... Only a few cars passed. One guy on his motorcycle stopped and talked to me. It was Mr. Gross. Steve had told me about him so it’s funny I actually ran into him while hiking. He’s nice enough. He warned me about his pack of dogs guarding his house, RV, and 700 acres of land. He told me all their names but I only remembered Pepper’s. He said just talk to the dogs and don’t go towards his house and that the dogs won’t hurt me. Well this didn’t make me feel a whole lot better because I knew for a fact one of those dogs was the one that bit Angie. I pass 2 houses with dogs that came out and hollered at me. The first time I froze and stopped for a few minutes to see if they would go away. I was so scared I really teared up. I wanted to keep going but was nervous about them charging at me if I started to move again. I really had no choice. So I started talking to them and walked slowly. They got close, but no bites. The second house, I thought I could be sneaky and walk quietly, but a tiny beagle saw me and the other dogs were alerted. These dogs were thankfully called back by the owner. I kept going, mace in hand, in the open position. I saw Mr. Gross’s RV and my stomach got butterflies. Like I expected, all 6 dogs came into the road barking up a storm. I just looked straight ahead, didn’t make eye contact, and walked slowly on. I think I saw them try to jump up to me so I tucked my arms up so they couldn’t bite my hand. I felt a cold, wet nose on the back of my leg... but that was it. Once I had walked about 50 yards away from his driveway, the dogs turned around. Wow. I was so relieved. I actually had a flood of emotions and starting crying and my breathing sped up. I couldn’t believe I made it through. I looked at my GPS and was even more relieved to see that I had 1 mile to camp. I had walked 8.75 miles on paved or gravel road and when I saw the Little Sinking Creek, I wanted to stick my feet in so badly. I followed the Trace back into the forest and came upon Little Sinking Cave. It was awesome. There’s a little natural bridge that goes over some water in the cave. That was a treat since now I can check it off my arches list. Next to it were 2 more cave rooms. One was dry and I went back a little bit with my headlamp. There were some cool stalagmites/tites (hanging from the ceiling) and a sinking hole that lead to the other cave room. There were also bats... as soon as I saw them I left. I felt bad I had disturbed them. The other cave room you had to crawl down into. I didn’t go down, but I could see and hear rushing water down there. It was a very cool place. After exploring, I kept hiking about 100 yards on trail and then saw a flat spot that I could set up my tent. I took it. It was a short distance to the creek so I was very excited to go for a cold swim. Rushing cold cave water was definitely a reward for all that hot road walking. I’m aching all over but I hope I can drink my water and make my pack lighter for more road walking. Hoping for cooler weather for the 10 miles tomorrow. Kentucky is a beautiful place and I wouldn’t want to road walk in any other state. 💙 Now time for Pad Thai...
Miles 37-47.5. 14.08 recorded miles.
Today was pretty hard. I almost cried. There were a few moments I really wanted to just fall over and be carried out of the forest. I slept great and once I made my coffee, I felt ready to go. The trail led to the lakeside. I could only see it through a few trees. It is really clear and blue. I really want to take my kayak down here. The trail wound in and out of the coves of the lake. I hiked through a pack of 5 dogs and somehow only came out with only slobber on my legs. After that, I saw no one the rest of the day. About 12 miles I was completely alone. A lot of people don’t like hiking alone. I looooove it. I don’t really notice that I’m alone or not with people. I guess I don’t feel alone because I know the trees are watching and the birds are singing their songs for me. The birds were plentiful . The spider webs were also plentiful. Very very plentiful. Honestly, the spider webs were the most difficult part of today. Not the 14.08 miles, not the mud puddles, not the crazy elevation changes, not the heat, but the spider webs in the middle of the trail. It was awful! I couldn’t hike! They are so hard to see and pull off of yourself. I had a spider stick, but it only really prevented me from getting webbed half of the time. I couldn’t just NOT try to get them off of me. I would say on average, I stopped every 3 minutes to get the webs off me and to make sure there wasn’t a spider attached to me. It was really discouraging to stand for a minute getting webs off you only to turn around and run right in to another one. The mud puddles were pretty often past the lakeside part of the trail. Only one foot got completely submerged in muck though. I stopped to eat lunch and seriously did not want to get back up again. I was almost halfway through. Once I did get up I actually began hiking at a faster pace, but the webs still slowed me down. I was counting on a creek to be running because I had visited it before when it was flowing back in March. Today it was bone dry so I had to ration my water for the last 4 miles. 7 liters of water for a 2-day, 2-night trip in the summer is definitely not enough, but I did make it back to the car without feeling dehydrated. I took the last sips from my water bladder just as my car came into sight. The last 0.25 mile was cruel. Ups and downs and I could see the road, I was almost there, but the trail kept going. Finally I reached the road crossing and literally drug my feet to the parking lot. I parked by a boat launch on Clear Creek Lake, so I was able to get in the water and wash the webs and ticks off before my 2-hour drive home. Overall, it was a very tough trail: 1,225 feet of elevation gain, trying to stay on your feet walking through mud puddles, and some overgrown brush in some parts. Even though I was on the verge of tears at some parts and ready to quit, I was still just happy to be there. So that section is down... 254 miles to go!
Miles 29.5 - 37. 9.2 recorded miles.
Boy am I glad I took my time with this section. I did 8.5 miles plus a side trail that was about 0.5. I woke up to the beautiful fog and noticed how unbelievably quiet it was. It was pretty cloudy, but at 2pm, the sun came out. I made coffee and it wasn’t even bad! I climbed down back to the Trace and started the spider web whacking immediately. The trail was very well maintained and blazed... by me! I walked by the blaze Mason and I put up back in January while we were volunteering with the Sheltowee Trace Association. The trail went from the woods onto a overgrown gravel road and I was greeted with beautiful wildflowers and butterflies! I took a side trail to Limestone Knob- the highest point in Rowan County. It was a straight up hill eroded trail but I saw this weird looking blue mushroom on my way up. I would think it is a rare mushroom because I haven’t seen any pictures of such a mushroom, especially in Kentucky. There was a very old geocache up there. It was placed there in 2007. There wasn’t anything interesting in there... Oddly enough, most of its contents were hygiene products. I brought a few mini index cards, so I got one out and wrote what had been on my mind this morning. “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.” I stuck it in with the log notebook and began the climb down to the Trace. I kept going on a hilly, ridge-top single track trail and met 4 mountain bikers at an intersection. Mountain biking looks so fun! I went down the Trace, Trail #100, and they soon passed me. I stopped for about an hour to eat lunch on the side of the trail. I wish I had kept going because there was a man-made bench just around the corner that would have made a great spot for lunch! I soon got to highway 801 and met some nice labradors who wanted my spider stick. I turned on the road and made my way across the Cave Run Lake Dam. Woooow! I stopped and took it all in. It was huge and the mountains in the background were gorgeous! Everyone had their boats and wave runners. How fun! I walked down to a rocky beach and sat in the water for a good long time. Then I dried out on the grassy knoll for a good long time. Then I sat down at the picnic table and snacked and watched the boats go in and out, also for a good long time. I walked up back into the trail and only had to walk 3 minutes until I found the campsite I planned on using. Well 3 minutes from the lake meant I could still here all the noise. Then 8 ATV riders were riding past my campsite for like an hour. It’s still a bit noisy now, at 9pm. I tried a new freeze dried meal that I put together myself. Freeze dried chicken, freeze dried green beans, instant mashed potatoes, and garlic salt. It wasn’t the best.... but it wasn’t bad! 13.3 miles to go tomorrow and then I have to drive 2.5 hours home. I hope I can get a early start!
Weather is so unbelievably frustrating. The forecast told stories of storms, hail, and gusty winds. Well the forecast changed drastically last minute! I had planned to start hiking in the morning on Friday. When I was all packed and ready to go, I checked the weather app again. It said high percent chance of storms with gusty winds and hail possible. As you can read below, I told myself I’d never go out in storms again! So I stayed and home and checked the forecast again about 4 hours later... it had improved to the point where I wish I had decided to go! It’s really disheartening to think about what I missed out on yesterday and today, but I’m glad my dad got the opportunity to come down with me. I made a new plan to hike a little with him and then he would shuttle me to the starting point. I met my dad and our dog, Charlotte, in Frenchburg this morning and we hiked to Devil’s Markethouse Arch. After our successful trip to the arch, we dropped my car off at the Clear Creek Trailhead (my ending point) and drove to Morehead.
With my 31.7 lb. pack, I put on my hiking shoes and said bye to dad. I hiked about 5.5 miles through the cute towns of Morehead and Clearfield and made it up to Amburgy Rocks. It was mostly sunny and I didn’t see a drop of rain until after I set up my tent, and that shower blew over fast. It was so cool to walk by the turtle blazes that I had painted myself a few weeks ago! Amburgy Rocks are some beautiful rocks! They are very similar to the sandstone Rocks in Red River Gorge. I love how you can see the tiny patterned holes and the underclings in the rocks. The wind has painted beautiful lines in this sandstone. There’s a nice campsite with a “winter” vista on top of Amburgy Rocks. I’m always a little scared when camping in new places.... I don’t know if there’s a greater chance for bears here than RRG... the town of Morehead is making a lot of highway noise so maybe that will ward them off. But close to town also means townies might come up here to party- or something like that. I don’t have a lot of miles to do tomorrow, so if I don’t fall asleep tonight, I can sleep tomorrow.
It started out a very sunny and happy morning. Birds were singing and the green forest was glistening. The spider webs were also glistening... every 15 feet in the middle of the trail... at least I could see them. I packed up my tent and off I went whacking the webs with my spider stick. The farmer's field was beautiful with the morning mist and mountains in the background. After hiking on a single track dirt trail for a few miles, the Trace turned onto a beautiful grassy forest service road. I hiked across interstate 64 and onto a gravel forest service road. I was honestly glad to see the gravel because I was tired of hiking in grass and getting my feet so wet. The wildflowers were abundant on this part of the trail. I loved seeing the swallow tail butterflies flutter from flower to flower. This part of the trail was my favorite over the two days I've spent on the Trace so far. I plodded along and stopped on the side of the road around 11am to let my shoes dry out a bit and I ate some lunch. I saw some more turtles on the gravel road. The trail continued to go through the forest and back on gravel road and back into the forest and back on the gravel road. I didn't like going back into the forest because of the spider webs. But I'm glad I did because I saw a timber rattlesnake. I almost stepped on it. It was halfway on the trail and I believe its tail was buried in the leaves. Its head was distinctly in the shape of an arrow, so I'm sure of its species. As I made my way to the ridge tops that overlook Morehead around 1pm, I finally got a good vista..... unfortunately I could see the dark storm clouds coming my way. The trail continued on a single track and had some cool rock features. I hiked past the Eagle Lake and started to feel a bit sick. I must not have had enough water. I stopped at the university and had a seat outside. The rain and thunder came on quite all of a sudden. With one mile to go on the road back to my car, I decided I had had enough. I called Paula, the trail angel shuttle driver, and asked her if she had time to come drive me back to my car. As soon as I texted her, she was on her way. 15 minutes later, I was back at my car in Morehead. I headed over to Arby's to get some nourishment and felt better fairly quickly.
Even though I skipped out on the last 1 mile, I still made a huge accomplishment. I am surprised I did not get discouraged or frustrated at all the thunderstorms. I really am hoping all my future sections will have better weather than this one!
Paula, a trail angel and volunteer of the Sheltowee Trace Association, drove me to the northern terminus of the 323-mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation trail today. I was really excited to be hiking south. Every step takes me further from Ohio and closer to Big South Fork, Tennessee. It started off raining.
I think my shoes were waterlogged within the first 15 minutes of the day. The trail was green and the green was wet. Some parts were puddle. Then it started to thunder a little. There was no more singing after that. It continued to rain and thunder every now and then all day as a made my way along the forest trail. I finally made it to Dry Fork Road, 10 miles in, and Clark's Park at 3pm. The sun had made an appearance and I took off my socks and shoes to dry. About 45 minutes later, I could see dark clouds rolling in and I packed up. I should have just went back and unpacked because Clark's Park would have been an optimal camping site for this evening. Right as I went through the red gate, winds picked up, the sky darkened and the clouds began to get noisy. (Why oh why didn't I go back) 2 miles to Holly Fork- that was my goal. I fast walked the 2 miles in loud thunder, close lightning, and seriously deep puddles on the trail. I made it to the campsite and managed to set up my tent in the rain. Everything was at least slightly damp. At the end of the day I was bone dry in my sleeping bag and slept through the night. I saw 4 turtles.
Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail
This trail is 333 miles long running from Morehead, KY to Oneida, TN. These blogs are about my experiences backpacking this trail. I've hiked every section at least once and was a class of 2019 Hiker Challenge participant.