Sheltowee Trace Shakedown Hike 12/28/2019

Start of the hike, both excited and scared!

The Shakedown

I awoke this morning to the lingering smell of Deep Blue essential oil on my pajamas. A Ziploc bag full of water was beside me, the bed around it damp from the condensation of melting ice cubes. I was stiff and my leg hurt. I grabbed my phone to self diagnose an inflamed IT Band (Iliotibial Band). It took several minutes to gather the courage to arise from the bed, and I walked stiff-legged to a bare wall to lean on while I gently stretched my tight muscles. The blue foam roller called to me. As I slowly lowered myself to my knees then onto the roller, I clasped my hands as if in prayer, my head bowed while I rolled back and forth over my thighs. It hurt so good. I tenuously maneuvered my aching body into Child’s pose, and lingered there, not wanting to get up.

Shakedown Hikers – L to R: Vicky, Julianne, Rush, Brent, Morgan, Andy and Roscoe the dog
Sheltowee Trace Sign at Corner Ridge Road Trailhead

Two days earlier (12/28/19) I met 5 strangers who were up for the adventure of a 17 mile ”shakedown“ hike on the Sheltowee Trace in preparation for the 2020 Sheltowee Trace Hiker Challenge with the Sheltowee Trace Association. A shakedown is meant to test your equipment, your pack and your ability. We arrived at the Corner Ridge Road Trailhead near Frenchburg, KY (our ending point), where David would shuttle us all to Whittleton Campground in Slade KY. I learned that Vicky Lantz (see Vicky’s great blog – Vicky’s Adventures), Morgan, Brent, Andy and Rush were all seasoned hikers and a bit of intimidation began to set it. Oh, but I mustn’t forget Roscoe! This gentle, part pit rescue dog also accompanied us, pulling along Morgan or Brent from his leash.

We went through the Nada Tunnel on the way to Whittleton Campground
Whittleton Campground
Early Morning Fog on the way to the trail
Fog shrouded roadway
Fog provided a lovely morning scene on Day 1
One of the hikers on the trail

The early morning fog had introduced a beautiful day for a hike, temperatures in the 50’s. I was immediately full of both awe and reverence as I always am when I enter a forest. As we hit the trail, it was apparent that this was a group of fast hikers. Rush was enthusiastic as he chatted about his adventures on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and others. Even as they pulled ahead I could hear his voice competing with the sounds of the forest that I longed to hear. I found myself thinking “utshay upyay Rush!” I quickly forgave him though. He was friendly. They all were, and I learned that I liked to experience both the sounds and the sights of the forest as well as the new friendships this hike would bring.

The group at Indian Arch – L-R: Julianne, Morgan, Brent, Andy, Vicky and Roscoe the dog
Resting at the Indian Arch

Periodically I would find the group waiting for me until I caught up. I hated to hold them up – actually enjoyed hiking alone, but was so grateful to have them watching out for me. This was especially true when I grabbed onto a decaying tree trunk to pull myself up over a steep outcrop. The added burden of my backpack made it more difficult. My hand came away with a handful of rotten wood and I slipped. Catching myself, I looked down. This could have been a deadly fall. I was comforted in knowing that at least there would be someone who could potentially locate my lifeless body.

Trail Scene — some places were narrow and tight
Wilderness Trail
Wild Mushrooms
Mushrooms on a tree

There are no words for the beauty around me, the wonder that I felt. There are also no words for the difficulty either. The effort was rewarding, satisfying, worth the sacrifice. I realized that I was more capable than I thought. We hiked over 11 miles the first day, the longest distance ever for me.

I’m certain that my slower pace delayed our arrival at camp until after dark. Headlamps adorned we quickly set up camp near Indian Arch. Brent had a fire in no time and I broke in my alcohol stove which boiled water within minutes for my freeze dried meal pouch of Chana Masala for two. I set up my Sheltowee Hammock and tent like tarp like a pro (although it was the first time), tying the knots that Alex Gash (the owner of Sheltowee Hammocks) had shown me. Alex made my hammock with custom colors of grey and Moroccan Blue. I loved it. I was feeling grateful for what I knew would be a warm, dry, comfortable night in solitude where I could ponder the spectacular day. I sat there in my hammock, gently swaying as I ate the entire meal for two and settled in to sleep. It was only 7:30 PM.

Sleep would not come however. Outside my enclosed sanctuary of the tent like tarp, the others sat around the campfire. Unseen, I felt like an intruder to their conversation, yet could not escape their words. This common experience had already created both a bond and freedom as they shared their most intimate stories. Much of it was difficult to hear. These were my new friends, but I realized it was another world they lived in, with experiences foreign and at times horrific to me. It was another reminder of how insulated my life is. With this new adventure I embraced the richness that comes with acceptance and diversity.

One of the Suspension Bridges along the Sheltowee Trace
Vicky hiking in the rain

The night was long with sleep evading me. Once the campfire conversations died down and others retreated to their tents, the quiet solitude was deafening. I was desperate for sleep. At about 1:30 AM I begin to hear sporadic raindrops on my tarp which was unexpected. I quickly unzipped my Hammock cocoon and grabbed the things I had left outside my tarp, pulling them in to be safe and dry. The hypnotizing rain became steady and yet sleep still eluded me. I began to meditate, concentrating on the cadence of the rain accompanied by the synchronized snores of my fellow campers. The symphony was punctuated by the occasional jingle from the chain on Roscoe’s collar as he shook the rain from his coat. Soon I would feel his nudge under my hammock as he found a dry space under my tarp. Added to the concert of falling rain and snoring was the smell of wet dog.

Early sunrise as seen from camp

We arose with the sun. I’m not sure I slept at all but was spurred into action when I realized others were packing up. I quickly heated the water I had filtered from the creek for my oatmeal which I had pre-assembled in a baggie with raisins, cinnamon, walnuts, and ground flax seeds. I knew it would be a hearty start to a challenging day and hoped it would sustain me until the hike was over. As it set in my camp pot, it tipped over spilling some of its contents. I would have a smaller portion, and Roscoe would get an unexpected treat which he eagerly lapped up.

Finishing the trail in the rain with Vicky
Trail Beauty

The second day of our hike would be 6 miles. I thought it would be easy, with such a short distance compared to the day before. But adding to the hike was a steady downpour of rain. I enjoyed this new experience in reality. It was new to me and refreshing. It wasn’t too cold, and the rain made the forest glisten, adding a new layer of beauty. I was prepared with a new raincoat which included pit zips, a feature using descriptive terminology I found hilarious. It provided great ventilation and I was comfortable despite the rain. The hiking though became more tenuous for me. My previous broken arm had occurred on a slippery rock face and I cautiously considered and gingerly placed each foot in front of the other, falling further and further behind. My right knee began to bother me, especially walking downhill, and despite the added exertion I looked forward to trudging up the hills, and dreading the downhill. The path had become less rocky, more steady, but there was evidence that horses had used the trail which created deep puddles of muddy water mixed with horse manure. Ahead of me now was a wide creek and there, sitting alone under a tree in the rain was Vicky, the wonderful trail guide who had volunteered to host my shakedown. The others thankfully had long before abandoned any effort to wait for me, and on this day I enjoyed a mostly solitaire hike. I was happy to see Vicky though. Surely we were almost done! The creek was deeper than any we had crossed and I scanned the banks for a place to rock-hop. It wasn’t to be. Vicky matter-of-factly announced that I would be getting my feet wet during the upcoming challenge and I may as well get used to it. She instructed me to just march through the water. I knew it would come over the boots which had thus far kept my feet dry, and it did! I hiked the remaining distance with wet feet!

You’re going to get wet feet, but not here if you’re careful!
Brent, Morgan and Roscoe finishing the hike
Sheltowee Trace logo found on trees on the trail

Once across the creek I saw ahead of me the familiar white turtle trail blaze on a tree trunk, yet Vicky was turning left. I questioned her to make sure we were on the right path and pointed out the blaze ahead of us. Vicky knew the trail and assured me that we were to go left, and I trusted her. Soon she was once again out of sight. Had Vicky not been there to guide me, it would’ve met another 11 miles on top of my 6 mile hike that day.

I methodically placed one foot in front of the other, weary and in pain hoping the next turn would reveal the trail head parking lot. Each log across the path became a dreaded barrier as I contemplated how I would navigate it without bending my knee. I began to become discouraged, questioning my ability to complete the Sheltowee trace challenge during the upcoming year. I realized that I was completing this 17 mile hike in two days, and that many of the hikes in front of me would be 17 miles in one day! How could I possibly do that as tired, as weary, as spent as I was?

Hiking with Vicky
I Made It!!

Once again, I saw ahead of me the familiar  patterned raincoat that Vicky wore. Missing was her backpack! As I approached she announced that we were close, and that David was waiting. She had come back to escort me the remaining distance. We talked as I hobbled onward. She asked about and addressed my concerns regarding the upcoming Sheltowee Trace Challenge. She reassured and encouraged me. Her confidence in my ability lifted me from despair and discouragement. I can do this! I will do this!

Julianne and Vicky at the finish of the hike

David took pictures as we approached — my own personal paparazzi! The sense of accomplishment surprised me, and the gratitude I felt elevated my spirits, overwhelming me. I will be forever thankful for this experience and the part that Vicky and the others played in making it a most memorable and rich introduction to more adventures ahead.


My Travels in 2018

Life gets so busy. The first two months of 2019 have been exceptionally busy and so I am just now getting to my annual review posts for 2018.

Visiting Route 66 in Oklahoma

At the beginning of 2018 I didn’t have very high hopes for many travel opportunities. I had begun a new job in early October of the previous year and I didn’t have any definitive travel plans. But, I had also learned to roll with things and, as good fortune would have it, 2018 actually became a really good travel year.

Over the course of the year I was able to travel through 26 different states and drove nearly 12,000 miles. I was able to add a plethora of photos (I took over 15,000 travel photos in 2018) and content for use in future blogs and books. Though many of my travels were alone (which I love), I also was able to travel with family on some of the trips (which I also love!).

Morning sky taken between Bend, OR and Brothers, OR (near Millican, OR) on US Hwy 20 heading east.
A sunset scene taken from the Edmonds to Kingston Ferry in Washington
Lovely sunset after a windy day. Taken on a side road of Interstate 70 just east of Abilene, Kansas
Mt. Aetna as seen from US 50 near Monarch Pass, Colorado.
Desert and snow-covered peaks in Nevada

My major trips included:

  1. A trip to Nashville in January to visit with my new employer On this trip I also visited the cool and “off-beat” Paradise PointMarketplace
    Welcome to Paradise Point
  2. In late January I made a trip down to Barren River Lake State Park in southern Kentucky to view the sandhill cranes which had migrated down there.
    Sandhill Cranes take flight
  3. In February I was asked by son Seth to come down to Cypress, Texas to watch his two sons for a couple of weeks while he and his wife were off on a cruise. The trip south took me through Calvert City, KY where I visited the Apple Valley Toy Land and Hillbilly Gardens. I also found my way to Kenton, Arkansas, home of the white squirrels, then to historic Walnut Ridge, Arkansas to see some fun Beatle’s things. I then meandered my way into Louisiana and visited a few fun places. While in Cypress with the boys I also visited Austin and then took the boys venturing out on some of the back roads around the Houston area where we discovered some fun places. My return trip took me up to Keller, Texas to visit my sister and while there I found a few more fascinating places. I then made my way home through Oklahoma and Arkansas, traveling back roads all the way and discovering some fun places. I finally returned to Lexington at the end of February.                                                                                               
    Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden – Calvert City, Kentucky
    Sumoflam with the Beatles in Walnut Ridge, AR
    The Beatles in Houston, statues by Houston artist David Adickes
  4. March saw me again on the road for a quick trip up to Cleveland, Ohio. On this trip, with my wife, we visited sites in Cleveland and then on the way home stopped in Columbus to see the famed Topiary Garden Park. It was a quick, yet fun and interesting trip. 
    Topiary Garden Park of Columbus
  5. On April 2 I set off on one of the biggest road trips I have had in a couple of years. We had a family event taking place in Port Orchard, Washington. I drove while my wife flew (she had a tighter schedule and needed to take some PTO time). I set out heading west through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. I had hoped to go up through Minnesota, but a major snowstorm diverted much of my initial plan. Nonetheless, I always find something. This trip allowed me to visit seven different Peter Toth “Whispering Giants” , which also took me to other unique places along the way. I ultimately made my way through Iowa Falls, Cedar Rapids, northern South Dakota and overnight in Belle Fourche. I then headed northwest into snowy southeastern Montana and crossed the state from there through Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and overnight in scenic and touristy Wallace, Idaho. From Wallace I made my way to Spokane and then east on US 2, to complete my travels on the western portion of that highway (other parts I had driven on in previous road trips. This took me through Washington’s high desert and then into the Cascades and back down into apple orchard country. I ultimately made my way into the Seattle area. The return trip went down through Olympia and then into Oregon on US 101 and then across Oregon’s high desert, through Winnemucca, Nevada and then into my old stomping grounds in Murray, Utah, near Salt Lake City. I then ventured to Colorado Springs to see my son Solomon and then across Colorado’s high deserts into western Kansas, and finally back home through St. Louis and Louisville. It was an amazing two week adventure! 
    Visiting the Whispering Giant at Starving Rock State Park in Illinois
    One of over 200 sculptures from around Raymond, Washington
    A stretch of Oregon Highway 205 south of Burns, Oregon
    Leavenworth, Washington
    Snow walls taller than me on both sides of the road at Stevens Pass in Washington
    Helper, Utah
    Dignity: Of Earth and Sky – 50 foot tall statue by Dale Lamphere near Chamberlain, South Dakota
    Men’s Room Door at a gas station in Ashland, Montana
    US Hwy 101 in southern Washington
    Garden of the Gods in Manitou Springs, Colorado
    On the road somewhere in NW Nevada
  6. I didn’t really venture out on a road trip again until mid-June when my wife and I took a day long trip up to Cincinnati to see some things we hadn’t done before. It was a nice sightseeing adventure.
    A day trip to Cincinnati with my wife
    The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge as seen from Carew Tower in Cincinnati. When opened on December 1, 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet main span.
  7. In late July I was joined by my oldest grandchild Autumn for a fun adventure to Cypress, Texas. I was again asked to babysit my two granddsons for about ten days. Autumn and I meandered our way down there through Tennessee and Alabama down to the gulf coast and into Biloxi, Mississippi. We traveled along the Gulf Coast into Louisiana and eventually into Texas. While in Texas, the four of us made a few trips as well, including a day-long adventure to the weird city of Austin. Autumn and I then returned home through central Texas and up to Keller to stay with my sister and allow Autumn to hang with her cousin, who is the same age. After a couple of days in Keller, Autumn and I returned home through Oklahoma, Kansas and into Missouri, where we visited the unique touristy place called Uranus and then finally home. It was an amazing fun trip.
    Sharkhead in Biloxi, Mississippi
    Decatur, Texas
    Welcome to Uranus Missouri
    Getting stabbed in Bowie, Texas
    One of hundreds of frog statues in Rayne, Louisiana
    Peach Water Tower in Clanton, Alabama
    One of a number of murals in a section of Houston
    Vulcan Statue, one of America’s tallest, in Birmingham, Alabama
    Woody Guthrie Water Towers in Okemah, Oklahoma

    Over the next few posts, I will try to catch up with content about different themes…road scenes, wood art, murals, roadside attractions and more.

    I hope you will enjoy the ride with me as I revisit these adventures.

Have you seen my most recent book yet? “Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions” is available on Amazon!

The book is 130 pages of FULL COLOR whimsy and kitsch as I tell stories of my visits to these places all over the U.S. and Canada. Definitely was fun taking these back roads trips to quirkville and I am excited to share them with you in words and photos.   I hope you will be able to check out the book or even get it on Kindle.

You can order the book here:   See Offbeat and Quirky Roadside Attractions


Cincinnati: A View from the Top – Carew Tower

A view of downtown Cincinnati from atop the Carew Tower

Had a wonderful (but hot) Father’s Day 2018.  My wife asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to take a trip to Cincinnati and visit the downtown area for fun.  Cincinnati is one of those cities that has a great skyline to photograph.

So, before we went, I looked for places that we could get good views of Cincinnati.  In the past, I have taken shots from across the river in Newport, KY and a couple of other spots, but I wanted something more unique.

Cincinnati skyline as seen from Devou Park in Covington, KY. Carew Tower is tall brown building on the left

More expansive view of the Cincinnati Skyline from Devou

Our first stop was in Devou Park, east of Cincinnati and across the Ohio River in Covington, KY.  Devou Park sits up on a big hill and offers some wonderful views of the city.

Another view of Cincinnati from Devou Park

Cincinnati as seen from Devou Park

After Devou Park we headed downtown for another chance to see the city.

A Panorama View of Cincinnati from the top of Carew Tower.

The 49 story tall Carew Tower in Downtown Cincinnati

Great American Tower as seen from the top of Carew Tower.

Enter the Carew Tower. The Carew Tower is a 49-story, 574-foot Art Deco building completed in 1930 in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, overlooking the Ohio River waterfront.the city.  It overlooks the Cincinnati waterfront and offers a panoramic view of the city.   It is the second tallest building in the city, but was the tallest until 2010 when the Great American Tower was completed.  It is 86 ft higher than Carew Tower, but Carew Tower is actually still the highest elevated building in the city so viewers from the observation deck can look down on the Great American.

Welcome to Carew Tower Sign in Carew Tower Elevators

Art Deco Window on the 2nd floor of the Carew Building

Grand Hall in the Hilton section of the Carew Tower

Art Deco design in the elevators

Historically, the Carew Tower was built in 1929/1930 in an Art Deco style with the idea to have a hotel, a shopping area, etc.  Basically, a city within a city.  It was named after Joseph T. Carew, who founded the Mabley & Carew Department Store Chain.   We didn’t have the opportunity to look inside the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel, but probably should have as there are a number of massive murals inside the building as well as some immaculately ornate rooms.  This deserves a next trip!!

That said, the highlight was the view from the top.  Enter the hotel from the parking lot on the second floor and take the elevator, an express zoom up to the 45th floor.  Once off that elevator, its a short walk around a corner to a much smaller (and older) elevator which takes you to the 48th floor and then a few steps up to the 49th.  Pay your $4 fee and step out to a spectacular view, one that lets you look over the river to Kentucky and way west into Indiana.  Following are a few of the shots I got from the top:

The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge as seen from Carew Tower. When opened on December 1, 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet main span.

The 4th and Vine Tower is 31 stories (495 feet) tall. It was formerly known as the Union Central Tower and Central Trust Bank Building. When completed in 1913, this was the fifth tallest building in the world.

The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge is 2099.5 feet long. The bridge was built in 1976. Also called the Big Mac bridge because of the “Golden Arches” reminiscent of McDonald’s.

Wife Julianne takes in the view

Downtown buildings of Cincinnati as seen from Carew Tower.

The top of the Great American Tower at Queen City Square. The tallest building in Cincinnati at 41 stories and 665 feet tall It was completed in January 2011.

A view of the Union Terminal in Cincinnati as seen from Carew Tower. Built in 1933, it is another great example of Art Deco architecture. It is now home to the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The Clay Wade Bailey Bridge over the Ohio River. Built in October 1974, the bridge is 2208 Feet long.  The bridge in the background is the Brent Spence Bridge which handles I-71/I-75. Built in 1960, it is 1736 feet long.

Mother of God Roman Catholic Church across the Ohio River in Covington, KY.  Built in 1869

The Queen City sign as seen from the top of Carew Tower

Happy at the Top (despite the 100 degree day)


If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, is currently being worked on and I hope to make it available in late  June  or  mid -July 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2