Section 10 left off at Charit Creek, but we were picking up at Leatherwood and skipping the 13-miles in between. I had led a beginner's backpacking trip on that section back in May and it was going to have to count for my Hiker Challenge miles because I didn't have time to do that section again this year. 15 miles until I was done! I was so excited! Couldn't believe I've walked over 400 miles this year. That might even be more miles than I've ever hiked previously.
While the sun was shining and the clouds were staying small, we couldn't believe how much it rained overnight. The river was raging and I thought for sure the trail would be flooded and impassible at some point. A mile in, we came to a part where it was indeed flooded. I pushed to turn around and come back another day because I had a feeling we would keep running into parts like this. My brother pushed me to do a little bushwhacking and climb across. I reluctantly gave in and we kept going. Seeing raging creeks and waterfalls all along our way. It was a really perfect day to hike this section- the water was flowing, but not on us. There were so many cool rock shelters and waterfalls on the trail- it is surely the most scenic part of the whole Sheltowee. Once we crossed the river at the O&W bridge, we had a massive uphill climb that was no problem for us seasoned hikers. Once at the top of the ridge, the rest of the hike was pretty easy besides the creek crossings. We weren't going to do this section after a heavy rain without getting our feet in the water. We crossed the creek at Boulder House Falls and were so glad there happened to be someone there to take our picture. We hopped in the water and posed together with the creek rushing at our ankles and the sun glimmering behind us through the "Boulder House". The trail got more scenic as we climbed to the very top of the ridge overlooking the river again. Downhill we went as the last two miles climbed down to the river and followed it to Burnt Mill Bridge. Michael had assured me that we didn't need to shuttle ourselves for this section because his local friend volunteered to pick us up. I believed him so hard, but he was playing a trick on me. Our dad drove down and made a surprise appearance! About 1 mile from the southern terminus, I turned a corner and there he was- just chillin' on a rock! He originally told me he really wanted to come down and shuttle us and hike with us a little, but he had to work. He and Michael conspired to surprise me and he switched shifts to be able to drive down to be there when I finished the trail. It meant a lot that he was there because he is my daddy and my love of hiking comes from him. We crossed the finish line, got pictures on the bridge, and drove up to the Honey Creek Overlook for sunset. It was the perfect end to a perfect day! I am so grateful for my supportive family and glad they are also very passionate about hiking. 333 miles on the Sheltowee this year! DONE!
Despite the utterly discouraging failure last weekend, I formulated a plan to get the rest of the miles done in 3 days. I was so grateful for my brother, Michael, who adventured down to Big South Fork with me driving a separate car. He was willing to shuttle ourselves to complete two disconnected sections of the Sheltowee Trace. We did a 1-night backpacking trip starting Friday morning from Yamacraw, where I left off last weekend, to Peter's Mountain. Then Saturday night, we got a room in the Big South Fork Trail Lodge and are planning on day-hiking tomorrow (Sunday) from Leatherwood Ford to the southern terminus at Burnt Mill Bridge. I know Michael loves hiking and backpacking, but he was an angel to drive all over Tennessee and Kentucky to help me complete the challenge.
We met at Peter's Mountain and took my car over to Yamacraw. It was cloudy, but dry. We had a good first mile and a half until we got to the infamous Rock Creek crossing. It is a very wide creek that can get up to your waist when the water is high enough. It was up to our knees when we crossed it. I gave Michael one of my trekking poles to help him cross the creek without falling over. It did not work. In fact, when he fell, the trekking pole slipped out of his hands and floated off down the stream. The rapid water carried it too far for me to try and go rescue it. Sorry to leave a trace, but I hope someone finds it and can use it. Good thing Michael's fall didn't result in injury, just damp pants and backpack. We sat on the banks and laughed it off as we put our dry shoes back on. Off to a good start, aren't we? Now I had three days to hike with only one pole, but could never be mad at him for losing it. I'm just glad no one was hurt and we could go on. We spent most of the day in the forest, had a short road walk and made it to the new reroute on the Kentucky trail. The trail went uphill to the Blue Heron bridge in the old abandoned mining town. It was the first time we had seen other people all day. We made it to the Catawba overlook around 4:30pm and realized we would have to hike some in the dark if we wanted to make it to the campsite at Ledbetter. We got our headlamps ready and continued on a ridge top. By the time it was completely dark, we walked through this patch of field that would have made a good campsite, but we had to keep going just a few more miles. It was so cool we heard an owl give a little who-who. Night hiking is a really fun thing especially when wildlife comes out. We finally made it to the forest road, greeted by a creepy cemetery. A few more feet and we came to the Ledbetter trailhead where there was a wide open space to camp. We set up and chowed down on like more than half of the food in our food bag. I tried a new Mountain House meal- chicken fajita bowl- so yummy!!! As we got in our sleeping bags for the night, rain started trickling down on our tent. Saturday's 12 miles were tough as the rain wouldn't let up at all and the temperatures were dropping. I was battling that hip pain again, but there weren't any options for bailing at this point. We were soaked to the bone and our rain jackets had been compromised. Even though I was limping half the time, I was still able to appreciate my magnificent surroundings. It was a humbling day. I don't know if I could have done that knowing I had to set up a tent again. Michael and I fast-walked down the forest road back to Peter's Mountain and were so looking forward to checking in at our motel room. Once we were back to our cars and driving back out to Yamacraw to get my car, I was violently shaking I was so cold. Michael's car heater wasn't enough even on full blast. I really didn't stop shaking until we checked into our room and I hopped in the hot shower... not saving any hot water for Michael... oops!
We watched the football games until dinner time and went into Whitley City to a local restaurant where they kill the cows out back. Murf's Bistro had the best hamburgers I've ever had! What an awesome way to end a crappy day. I'm looking forward to the good weather on our day hike tomorrow.
Even with all-day rains in the forecast, I somehow convinced my fiance, Mason, to come along with me on section 9. The plan was to take 3 days to complete all of section 9- Flat Rock to Peter's Mountain. Trail angel Susan Stretch shuttled us and by the time we got to Flat Rock, the rain was holding off for a while. Off we went into the wet woods with orange leaves glistening on the ground. A few miles in the rain picked up and really didn't let up until we reached camp. There were quite a few beautiful rock shelters that allowed us to take a break from the rain. 10 miles later we were soaked to the bone and my feet were wet. I was complaining in my head how much the rain sucked and how nice it would have been if it were dry. Mason was complaining out loud- at least he had new boots that were keeping his feet dry. We made it down to the river and were relieved we found a large campsite. We started to hang some clothes out to dry, but the sky soon started sprinkling on us. How frustrating. It was also frustrating we were tent-bound for the rest of the night, and it was only 6:30pm. The next morning was gorgeous! The sun was up and shining through the wet, sparkling pine trees. Glad we had a dry day ahead of us, we filtered water from the river, packed up camp, and hiked out.... taking a wrong turn at first.... we quickly backtracked and found the Sheltowee as it skirted the edge of the river. I was in good spirits for a mile or two... until I felt a sharp pain in my hip. I've had this pain before on a long hike, but it went away after a few miles. I was concerned, but expecting it to go away. Well, it didn't. After 5 miles, we reached Yamacraw and I threw the towel in. With tears coming down my face, frustrated with my failure, I texted our trail angel, Susan, and she came and picked us up within minutes. I'm so grateful to have people like her around the trail. I was also discouraged because it meant having to put in a great effort to complete the Hiker Challenge before The Gathering (Hiker Challenge award ceremony) in just 2 weeks. There was a good chance I'd have to make 2 more trips down to complete the last 50-ish miles. I had 4 days off work, including Thanksgiving Day to get the miles done. Not impossible, just a lot of shuttling. Stay tuned to find out...
Life's been busy! I skipped section 9 for now... click here to read about my epic adventure in California we took last month. For October's section, I jumped back on the band wagon and did 28 miles through the scenic Big South Fork National Recreation Area. There were about 5 of us that stayed together this section and camped in the wind and rain. It was fairly dry during the days, however. Steve dropped us off at Peter's Mountain and off we went through a section I had never hiked before. Saturday's section was fairly uneventful as Rock Creek was downhill on our right the whole time. The trail ran through the forest with some fall colors still on the leaves. It was a beautiful time to be there and was the only hike I did this year with color still on the trees, so I'm glad I went. Sunday we hiked on the ridge top to the John Muir overlook where we took a brunch break. The view was breathtaking and so peaceful as the sun hid behind the clouds creating a blue and orange watercolor-like sky. Down we climbed into the valley and made our way over to the Big South Fork River. A few more miles of challenging, rocky trail and we had made it to Charit Creek Lodge which was right on the trail. This place is really cool. I couldn't believe I could just walk up and buy a beer, sit in a rocking chair on their porch, and look out over their fields with fancy-looking gardens. I will definitely have to come back and stay in the lodge and enjoy one of their breakfasts or dinners. By this time of day, the sun was shining bright and I was lovin' it. It was pretty blissful walking the trail back up to the trailhead after 28 miles with a beer in my hand and the sun shining through the orange and yellow canopy. I hung out in the parking lot to soak up the sun, stretch, and re-hydrate. A bunch of us were from Cincinnati and we caravan'd out of the Big South Fork's confusing and remote forest roads. I drove home and looked forward to the 2 sections I had left to do in November.
I have been taking a break from writing this summer just because of lack of motivation, writer's block, or something like that. My summer adventures have been wonderful as I have continued my section hikes as a part of the Hiker Challenge. I also led a few backpacking trips on the Sheltowee. I last wrote about May's section ending in McKee, so for this entry, I'll summarize June through August's sections.
These sections were brand new to me and were certainly spectacular. It was a new kind of Kentucky forest. I've explored plenty around Red River Gorge and Big South Fork, but these parts had there own special charm. There was a lot more covered forest trails and not so much ridge-top views. A few times we had trail magic from other Hiker Challenge participants. They set up ice coolers with Gatorade and electrolyte popsicles. It really was quite magical.
From McKee, we hiked south along Rock Castle River which was a nice water source but had lots of crossings. In the summer heat, the cold water rushing in my trail runners was so relieving on my sore feet. Crossing over I-75 was cool and the trail south of it was prettier and more wild than I expected. From the 49er diner, which is a great resupply spot, the trail followed a ATV road over beautiful, red sandstone rock on a ridge-top. This part was over grown with some charming summer weeds. Queen Anne's Lace was prominent and glistened with early morning dew. The trail skirts Laurel Lake and as we hiked in the woods we saw many people enjoying their boats. This hike was particularly hot and taxing- I could not have done it without Tracy hiking with me. I usually didn't necessarily try to always hike with a buddy, but sometimes you really need it when the going gets tough. I was grateful for her pacing me and encouraging me to keep going. Without her there, I would have been sluggish and might have even bailed out. We ended that section at the Laurel Lake dam and while the waters looked inviting, I opted to run up to the Holly Bay campground and payed to use their showers before my 3-hour drive home. The August section was the longest of the whole Hiker Challenge. The trail follows Laurel River through a patch of Kudzu that completely overtook the trees and tall cliffs. It was an other-earthly scene and made for a good photograph. We hiked on to Cumberland Falls and stopped for hot dogs and Slushees at their snack stand- the most satisfying lunch I've ever had. The rest of that day was some hard, but scenic hiking as the trail followed the Cumberland River. I ended up logging total 23.7 miles for the day- the most I've ever done. In the same day, I had the most satisfying dinner- Cumberland Falls Resort has a all-you-can-eat buffet with home-style country fixin's. As I laid down on my bunk bed in a Sheltowee Trace Resort cabin, I wondered how in the heck I was going to hike another 10 miles tomorrow. But I did. I was actually the first or second hiker to reach the Flat Rock Baptist church where my car was waiting. I hiked fast because I wanted to get home and get out of the heat.
I cannot wait to hike these sections again because they were so green in the summer. I don't think it would be very enjoyable in the winter with the leaves off and water everywhere.
Saturday logged miles- 21.27
Saturday map miles-18
Sunday logged miles-11.83
Sunday map miles-11
I'm still trying to find the right amount of time it takes to break in a new pair of hiking shoes. I haven't found it yet. The hardest part of this section was that I was wearing new trail runners that had less than 10 miles on them and had horrible blisters. Another hard part of this weekend was simply getting down to the shuttle point on Friday night. I had forgotten a lot of things for the Friday night campout. I stopped at Walmart on the way to grab a pillow and comfortable blanket so I didn't have to deal with my backpacking pillow and my small down quilt. I also forgot beer and thought it would be really nice to have some for car camping. Walmart didn't sell beer and it took me another trip to the gas station to realize I was in the middle of a dry county. I backtracked 15 minutes to the next county over and finally got a 6-pack of some Country Boy Cougar Bait. I didn't exactly know what to look for when trying to find the shuttle point and I got lost. I thought it would be right on the trail, but it was a mile out. When I finally got to the grassy lot, I sat down with a few other challenge hikers and we chatted around a fire. I set up my tent next to the car and didn't sleep very well under the bright, full moon. It was really frustrating to wake up to a soaking wet tent in the morning. The grassy lot turned into a beautiful field of white fog as the Challenge hikers rolled in for the 7am shuttle to Heidelberg. I hopped in the front seat of Billy's Double Dog Adventures shuttle and we had a great conversation about traveling. I smiled for the group picture and was the first one who took off down the road and over the Kentucky River Bridge. I wanted to see what kind of pace I could maintain and for how long so that I could train for my future hikes this summer. I started out at 3.7mph but it dropped down to 3 around the middle of the day. It was such an awesome relief to come upon the support van with gatorade. I took a long break on the side of a gravel road next to the van and chugged two little bottles. I looked at my feet and knew I had to put moleskin on a few toes. Eventually I got back up and went on down the road in the heat of the day. I put my music on and tried to just cruise it. After a few miles, I had to stop to take pictures of the cool rock shelters. The moleskin didn't stop the toes from pain. It was really hard to push through the last 4 miles. I was exhausted and was regretting not breaking these shoes in more. At the last mile, I caught up with 4 ladies who obviously felt the same way I did. We hiked the last downhill stretch and counted the tenth-miles as we went. We heard water and knew we were almost to the cave and creek where we were camping. I found a nice flat spot and claimed it by throwing my tent bag down and left my pack next to it. I hobbled over to the creek and stuck my feet and legs in and it felt so numbing but in a good way. My feet were so swollen and they welcomed the chill. The creek was flowing directly from underground through Resurgence Cave, so it was pretty clear. The blue shale creek bed made the deep waters a beautiful turquoise. After a while, I got up and hobbled back over to my campsite and set up my wet tent. I had to let it dry before putting anything in it. This was annoying as I really wanted to lay down and put my feet up. I made the best dinner of Packit Gourmet's Chicken Ramen Rescue with creamy chicken ramen. It was tasty and flavorful. After talking around the campfire for a while,- making sure everyone knew about the backpacking trip I am leading this weekend- I crawled in my new NEMO Hornet 1-person tent and tried to get some sleep.
I woke up at 3:30 and did not go back to sleep. It was hard to sleep because the ground was very uncomfortable and I was in a lot of aching pain. Somehow I managed to pack up my tent- which was dry, thank god- and started up the hill away from the cave. I was going a solid 2.2 miles per hour. I couldn't even begin to tell you all the negative thoughts that flooded through my head. This shit was hard. I looked at the elevation profile and gasped in horror. It was literally a gradual uphill for about 6 miles. Then it was flat for 5 miles and downhill for 1. I was so discouraged and in pain, I stopped to put Chris's phone number in my phone. I thought about texting him to pick me up so I could bail. As beautiful as the trail was, I just couldn't enjoy it. I stopped on the trail and sat on a rock at a particular long, steep hill. Margo caught up with me and I knew I had to keep going with her, or I might not make it. We went at the same steady pace all the way until the last mile. I enjoy letting my body propel me downhill with some tricky footwork and Margo took the safe route and hiked down with her trekking poles. At the bottom of the hill, the trail came out at a wide creek and then on a road that led to the shuttle pick-up point. I let my feet get submerged in the cool water as I tried to get down the road one more tenth mile. Chris picked us up on 421 and drove us back to the grassy lot. I got in my car, exhausted, and somehow made it 3 hours home with a nice stop at Jimmy John's.
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...
Saturday- 17.0 miles
Mason has joined me for this one. My pack weighed almost nothing thanks to that weight distribution! (by almost nothing, I mean about 16 pounds.) We got down to Black Bear Lodge in RRG at 1 am because I forgot to put the 5lb drop bag in the car. I realized this after driving for 45 minutes. We couldn't go without sleeping bags, so we had to turn around and add 1.5 hours to our drive. So frustrating. Off to a rocky start. We got a few hours of sleep and rushed over to the Park n Ride to catch the shuttle. The shuttle ride was beautiful. It was going to be a cool, sunny day- perfect hiking weather. We started off hiking on old forest roads until we met back up with the official trail on top of a ridge. This part of the Trace was becoming more and more Gorge-like: rhodo, mountain laurel, rock formations, and higher and barer ridge-tops. Mason seemed to be enjoying himself- hiking as fast as he can in front of me, of course. It was really an enjoyable part of the trail. We endured a short 2 miles of road walking, and then back into the forest and into Clifton Creek. The trail was actually in the creek. I avoided getting my feet wet, though. We found a nice spot to stop for lunch and listen to the babbling brook. The creek bed is a sea-green blue-ish shale that makes the water look blue. The water itself is really quite clear. We passed another sign that we were nearing the Gorge- a rock shelter. This one had graffiti in it and a stream of water going over the top. Mason itched to move on, but I stayed for a minute and took pictures. We had a few more miles of road walking until we reached Corner Ridge. We were on pretty exposed land here. It was super windy. At least it was sunny, that's all I can say. We passed some farms and houses and walked through a major intersection. Back to country roads again and to the Corner Ridge Trailhead. I was so exhausted, I decided to look for a campsite to pitch the tent and come back for the 5lb drop later. I wasn't sure where the fire would be as I missed the campsite we were supposed to take. We ended up walking about a quarter mile down the trail- I didn't realize thats how far it was from where we were supposed to set up. We passed out for a few hours and woke up stiff and sore. My foot had a twinge in it- that did not feel good. I started to walk back towards camp and felt my foot giving me some real pain. I thought it would be better eventually that evening. We sat around the fire for a few minutes and got water before hobbling back to the tent. It was kind of a restless night because the moon was so bright and there were some really loud, creaky trees nearby. But, I heard the whippoorwills! The sign of spring in the Gorge!
After hearing a few other people go by, we woke up and packed our packs and headed down the trail still in a haze. The pain in my foot was awful! I just couldn't imagine hiking 10 miles on it. I was seriously struggling! There were some other "pros" to bailing on the second day, so we went back to the trailhead to wait for Steve to come get us and bring us back to our car. The sunrise was beautiful over the Hess' Hickory Farm. I got out my camera and tried to capture the dew shining on the bright green grass. I don't feel defeated easily. I know I will have a great time making up this section when my foot heals. Hopefully its nothing too serious.
Saturday- 13.9 miles
Sunday- 14.1 miles
This was going to be a good section. I have done this one before and its pretty scenic. I parked my SHLTWEE wagon in the parking lot and hopped in Steve's van with Tyler and Brit and Sprinkles. We got to Morehead and took the group picture and headed off down Main Street. Through the Clearfield neighborhood and up Mill Branch. I met back up with Tyler and Brit and we strolled along the trail as it wove in and out of an old logging road. We finally came upon the beautiful Cave Run Lake basking in the sunlight. I stayed behind to get some pictures. I got to camp and set up my tent on the other side of the trail. I walked back out to the lake to sit by myself and take it all in. The water was so blue and the mountains hovered right above them- something I am not quite used to seeing next to a lake. They had a warm brown glow as the sun set behind me. I started to walk back and took pictures of the sun glowing over the field on the way. Everything is always prettier at sunset. I grabbed my cooking stuff and hiked over to sit by the campfire with the other 30 people. Steve was talking and making everyone chuckle. I enjoyed my pad thai- Good to Go is the brand. Its the best freeze dried meal ever. Me and a few other folk stayed around the campfire sipped some Wild Turkey and Makers Mark. I'm more of a beer snob, but when backpacking, you have to think about the weight to alcohol content ratio.
The next morning was foggy and gray. I almost got my tent down in time for it to start raining, but I was too late. It was sleeting softly as I started out in the dark on the windy trail that skirted Cave Run Lake. It has always been muddy from horses on this section, This part of the trail is gorgeous and pretty much flat- easy to put on that cruise control and listen to some tunes. The water in the lake is some of the cleanest in Kentucky. At the deepest, the it was a dark blue. On the Stoney Cove shore, more of a dark sea foam green. In the inlets, it was bright sea foam green. The color was an amazing contrast to the brown and red leaves on the hillside. It is really an odd sight, but certainly a beauty of Kentucky. 6 miles later, the trail was flooded with this bright sea foam green water- TRULY an odd sight. Going around the flooded part required bushwhacking. I wasn't even sure which direction to whack, but everyone helped each other and I was not alone in this battle. It was a strenuous half mile detour, but eventually I got back to the trail after getting whacked in the face with a few rhodo branches. It was a few more miles back to Clear Creek, through Cedar Cliffs, which offered an obscured view of the next ridgetops over. I love the Cave Run area, but the Gorge offers the best views. Still, the fog was still peacefully lingering in the valleys, making for an excellent sight. I remember when I had done this section in the summer and how I got ticks and had to wade through spider webs. I pretty much had a breakdown on the trail because the spiderwebs were so bad. The conditions were much more favorable this time. I descended the familiar hillside and was happy to say that "it was all downhill from here." I got to the Clear Creek parking lot and passed Steve's van which had my 5lb drop in it. I got back to my car and got ready for the 2 hour drive home. I waited as long as I could to wake up the snoozing Steve so he could unlock his van and get my 5 lb drop. He awoke with a fright. Sorry Steve. My afterhike meal this time was McDonalds. It was not satisfying and I will have to plan better next time.
Saturday- 11.2 recorded miles
Sunday- 17.1 recorded miles
Woot woot the first hiker challenge! I drove down Friday night and stayed with Bob and Lucy (thanks:)). I can't say I got a whole lot of sleep. I was excited and a little nervous, especially because there were 40 people that signed up to hike. That's a lot of people. I drove a few minutes to the Morehead Conference Center and hopped on a shuttle to the northern terminus. It was raining cats and dogs- of course! We took our group photo with our rain gear on and took off into the wet woods. It was the same trail I remember from hiking last summer. Just a little less green this time. I was really glad I bought these gaiters last minute. They were actually keeping my legs and feet warm. The hike this day was only 9 miles so I took it easy. I thought for sure this I wouldn't get solitude in a group hike like this. I still don't understand. 40 people began hiking at the same time and within 30 minutes, I was not within earshot or sight of another hiker. Just the soggy trail and the sound of raindrops. I took a side-trip down a jeep road for a few minutes. I looked at my gps to see where I was. The road eventually would go on private property. I thought it best to turn back. I hiked up and down the rolling hills of Rowan County and eventually passed some people taking a lunch break and eating under their rain ponchos. I just ate a packet of buffalo chicken while I was walking. I also looked forward to the chili supper. The rest of the day was pretty much the same as the beginning- roller coaster type of trail. I eventually reached Dry Branch about 2:30 and got my tent set up at Clark's Park. I was pretty exhausted so I took a nap. Dinner was served at 4 by the wonderful people of the Cave Run Lake Chapter. I'm glad Lucy was there- it was nice to have someone to talk to. I didn't really know anyone else besides Steve. I did eventually make friends with a few people my age. We bonded over some Makers Mark whiskey. I slept well that night thanks to my 0 degree bag, but I felt bad for other folks because it dropped down to 9 degrees overnight.
I woke up in 3 inches of snow! Frozen boots is one of the worst things that can happen to you backpacking. There was no time to dry them out on the portable heaters, I had woken up pretty late. I savored every moment though. I tore down camp keeping my sleeping bag around me, waiting until the last minute to stuff it away. I shoved my feet in those frozen boots and ran over to give Steve my 5lb drop. Off I went up the familiar hill and through a gate that you had to keep closed. I looked back at the empty Clark's Park covered in a blanket of snow with scattered footprints. I got over the suspension bridge on Holly Fork Road and skirted the field to find a creek crossing. It wasn't a shallow one. I looked fairly easy to jump over, but my leap was not so graceful. I smeared a good amount of mud on my pants and had one hand immersed in the soft bank of the creek. Well there go my dry gloves. Now I hiked with my hands in the pockets of my puffy. Crossing over i-64, it was still 17 degrees out. As I walked down the forest roads, the sun came out. I put on the cruise control as I listened to music and watched the snowflakes sparkle and reflect the sunlight. Gorgeous. I was pleased to see Eagle Lake as I rounded a corner and reached the top of the hill. Almost there. So close to eating Penn Station! (The after-hike meal is solely what keeps me motivated on long backpacking trips.) I walked to through downtown Morehead and was surprised to see I had logged 17 miles- the most I've logged in one day! I was super super sore but I can't wait for the next section!
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.