Friday- 19.9 miles
Saturday- 15.4 miles
Sunday- 12.9 miles
Overall, this trip was the most physically demanding thing I've done. It was a lot of mileage over 3 days. The rain on Friday morning and Sunday morning was really discouraging. It takes a lot of mental patience to hike big mileage with wet shoes and socks. It gets a little easier every time, but this trip was not without tears and frustration.
I had been looking forward to this trip all week! 3 days backpacking in the Gorge! I prepared for this trip well and was ready to tackle this long distance endeavor with much confidence. I was also excited to try out my new tent- a NEMO Dagger2. I bolted out of work Thursday afternoon and made it down to a new campground called Lago Linda. I think most everyone else there were rock climbers. They had a huge field for cheap tent camping and also wooded sites with hookups. Best of all, they had a shower house. Early Friday morning, I walked back from a nice, clean shower and got to breaking down my new, spacious tent just in time for the rain. I drove only 20 minutes to Heidelberg park where I met my shuttle driver, Donna. It was raining steadily by the time we got to the trailhead. It was supposed to stop raining completely around 2pm, so that gave me hope. I thanked Donna and off I went down the familiar single-track trail that was once a logging road. The sounds were lovely. The raindrops fell softly and the pine trees glistened in the overcast light. The birds were abundant in this area and I enjoyed their songs and the splash of my feet hitting the mud puddles. The forest was green again- spring was here! Red bud and dogwood trees were dispersed throughout the budding forest. I made it down to Gladie Creek and got my feet wet at the crossings. I had given up on keeping my feet dry at that point. I was happy to be home in the Clifty Wilderness- well-kept trails with scenic views of the cliffs in the distance. About 4 miles in, I scrambled down to find a giant rock shelter with a deep-looking cave. This was the cave and rock shelter my dad told me about. He and my mom had camped under it over 30 years ago. While I do not condone camping in such an illegal place, I thought it was really cool to follow in their footsteps and find the timeless hidden treasures of the Gorge that they had worked so hard to find before. I took the Trace over to the Indian Staircase valley and climbed up up up to Indian Arch- a beautiful icon of the Gorge with an expansive overlook of Indian Staircase and the Gladie Creek valley. I decided to push the mileage today and take the 1-mile side-trip to Adena Arch, which also had a killer vista. I cruised through the next 5 miles on the Cloud Splitter roller coaster. This time of year was great because I could actually see the tops of the cliffs through the bare trees. I could see the towering Cloud Splitter Arch and bare sandstone face hundreds of feet above the trail. Glad I wasn't planning on climbing up there today. I finally saw 2 other people once I crossed the suspension bridge over the Red River. The trail followed the Red for a few muddy, flooded miles. It met up with Chimney Top Creek and I had to go through a creek crossing. Since my feet had dried out this morning, I was planning on crossing barefoot with dry-ish shoes and socks in my hands. Well I failed. I dropped one of the shoes in the water. So I just put it on and crossed with one shoe on and one held in my hand. I knew there were 4 more crossings within the next half mile, so I just kept walking on the flooded trail with one shoe on, and one barefoot. I kept going and got to the bottom of the last big climb. Up to the Pinch-em-Tight ridge. I had to put my waterlogged shoe back on at this point. I saw a lot of other backpackers once I reached the ridge-top. I cruised down the sandy trails and finally reached Tunnel Ridge Road. I was only 2 miles away from the campground. I trudged down the trail next to a trickling Whittleton Branch. I passed a few evening hikers and one of them had caught up to have a conversation with me. He was a climber from California who was interested in the Sheltowee Trace Trail. I finally got to the campground and said hi to Billy & Angie who had just gotten there with their camper, kayaks, and 5 dogs. You know they're going to have a great week! I finally reached site A-7 and was glad to see a familiar face. Frank had thrown down for the site too. We talked and set up our tents and tried to make a fire, but the wood was wet. Frank went to bed early and I walked over to sit at the roaring fire that Billy and Angie had. I also got some wonderful trail magic! I had been thinking about dinner the whole day (like I always do when backpacking) and had been wondering if Billy would have some hot dogs on the grill. Hot dogs just sounded so good after hiking 20 miles. Sure enough, Billy and Angie were making hot dogs for dinner when I walked over and they offered some to me! Thank you so much guys! Gotta love the tramily (Trail-family)! I went to sleep exhausted, listening to whippoorwills.
Saturday morning, I slept in and took a shower. I knew I didn't have to be on the trail early. The rest of the Hiker Challenge group would be dropped off at the Red River suspension bridge around 8am. Donna dropped off 6 hard boiled eggs to me for breakfast. More trail magic! I packed my pack, ate some eggs, and across the road I went into Natural Bridge State Park. This was probably my least favorite part of the trail. So many man-made stairs! (A fellow hiker actually counted the number of man-made stairs in the Natural Bridge State Park- 600-something!) I'd rather have 3 miles of switchbacks than to gain 600 feet of elevation in 1 mile. The view from the top is great, but certainly not worth the climb on an overcast day. I cruised through the Sand Gap trail and made it to the turn off for Twilight Arch and overlook. I felt good and like I had enough energy to bushwhack down the quarter-mile trail and take a few pictures. I hopped back on the Trace but only to take another side trail in a few minutes. I climbed down under the Trace to see White's Branch Arch. Its a very peaceful place and today it looked just the same. I hiked on to the Sandlot- where the Trace meets Big Bend Road. I sat down and leaned against a tree to have lunch. I had a tuna sandwich with hard boiled eggs. It was quite a filling combination. Two day-hikers parked and made friendly conversation with me. After hearing of my previous day's mileage, they offered me water bottles. Which was much appreciated because I was drinking water faster than I thought I would. Crazy amount of trail magic on this trip. Thank you gray Toyota Tacoma day hikers! I hiked down Big Bend Road and my feet were starting to hurt from the pounding of the pavement. One Challenge hiker eventually did catch up to me- Brad. He said he was going fast so he could train for the Rugged Red- a noble aspiration. The other 2 hikers who caught up to me were Nora and James- right from my neighborhood in Cincinnati. They passed me eventually and I was left by myself to walk past the dogs. I just walked by and didn't pay any attention to them. They barked loudly and came close to me, but no bites. I walked up to the field in White Hollow and felt relieved. Camp for the night. It was a really serene setting- woods, creek, lush fields, and twittering birds. I set up camp and then explored around. When the sky turned dark, the half moon cast a beautiful light on the dozens of headlamp-illuminated tents. We could see the stars for a little while, but as I walked back to my tent from the campfire, the wind picked up. A few hours later, the sky was dancing with lightning and thunder was shaking the ground.
I slept pretty heavily through all of this and woke up around 7:30am, rested. It was raining pretty steadily and I was so not ready to get out of bed. The wet tent was super discouraging. I packed it up and it weighed 10 times more than a dry tent. Thank goodness I could leave it for Steve to drive to the ending point. My pack for the last day probably weighed under 12 pounds. I'm not sure my body could have physically withstood another day with a 25 pound pack. I started up the trail with tears in my eyes. I think I was just emotional about having to cross more creeks and walk on more pavement with inevitably wet feet. Hours and hours and miles and miles before I'd be done. The Challenge was a challenge for sure. I knew I could do it, I just felt emotionally overwhelmed with having to withstand the strenuous hiking and sore muscles. I caught up with a few fellow Challenge hikers at the big creek crossing. We all looked at it drudgingly as the rain poured into the creek and on our heads. The first of us to cross was a guy who took off his shoes. It was up to his knees, but he did a pretty good job at not falling. I was super appreciative of Misty for letting me borrow her trekking pole. I feel like I would have been toast without it. The rest of us left our shoes on and just hoped they would semi-dry-out on the road walking later. Misty and I made conversation as we hiked up the super steep New Virginia Road. I struggled on this hill. I just didn't have the strength to power up this thing without stopping. Turning around, looking at my surroundings, I saw a green, wet forest. I could see the next ridges over and the fog in the valley between them. It was peaceful, but didn't really give me hope that I was going to start enjoying myself. At the top of the hill, the paved road went by an open-faced barn. It would have been a fantastic place to take shelter and to rest for a minute. I just didn't think it was worth trespassing for. On and on down the paved road I walked and walked. Finally the sun came out. I took off the rain poncho and the breeze felt pretty good. I put on my hat and welcomed the sun. I stopped at the Country Convenience Store and chatted with Steve while Rhonda made me a bologna sandwich. I tried to dry my shoes and socks in the sun while eating at the picnic table with other hikers. 5 more miles to go. It was fun seeing the other Challenge hikers drive past in their cars. They were done! I was almost last, I think there were 3 behind me. For some reason, the road miles kept getting easier and easier as the day went on. Finally, I saw that blue Heidelberg bridge over the Kentucky river as I rounded a corner. The last house I passed had a sleeping dog in the yard. To my surprise, I was able to keep quiet enough to not wake it up. I remember when that dog had barked at me last year. I walked through the Heidelberg Park parking lot and high-fived Misty and Brad. We made it! I picked up my 10-lb tent and my 5-lb drop, said farewell to Steve, and hopped in my car. My after-hike meal this time was at the awesome Rock House Cafe. I had a perfect hamburger and french fries. Alas, no alcohol sales on Sundays. Until next month...
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.