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.

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Red River Gorge – Slade, KY: A Different Look

Slade, Kentucky Welcome Sign

Ofttimes when we visit a place, we have a destination in mind.  The Red River Gorge area of Kentucky is one of those places.  Visitors typically are focused on visiting beautiful and expansive views of the gorge, hiking some of the well known trails, taking a hike up to the Natural Bridge or something else.

This past weekend (August 31, 2019) I took my wife to the area fora hiking meetup.  This left me with a three hour window to do other things.  I am not able to hike some of these trails right now because my knee has been causing problems.

Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

So, after dropping my wife off, I headed back to Slade to do my “offbeat travel”  thing and find some of the unique and quirky of the area.  I had no problems with that, because inevitably, where there are lots of tourists, there are also the quirky and offbeat to draw them in.

Many dangerous cliffs in Red River Gorge, but a climbing heaven for rock climbers.

As the Welcome Sign above indicates, Slade is the “Adventure Capital of Kentucky.”  And it is true.  A drive around the area in the summer months will prove it as one can see license plates from all over the United States and Canada.   According to one website (GEARHUNGRY), the Red River Gorge is the second best, just behind Yosemite for rock climbing.  They call it a “must-do list contender for the serious climber.”   The site notes that there are over 1600 potential climbs in the area.  And Slade caters to these visitors big time.

Slade Welcome Center just off of Exit 33 on the Bert T Combs Mountain Highway
Miguels Pizza in Slade

A drive down Kentucky 11 (also called Natural Bridge Rd.) from the Slade Visitor’s Center will take you past the REALLY World Famous Miguels Pizza and its neighboring Miguels Rock Climbing Shop, both of which cater to climbers big time.

Founded by Miguel Ventura, who was from Portugal, the place has become a go to for climbers and hikers since 1984 (the name was changed to Miguels in 1986).   As the Ventura family continued to befriend climbers, they expanded and opened a campground and soon the place got the nickname “The Camp Four of the East” by climbers. (The Original Camp 4 is a climber’s campground in Yosemite National Park).  For over thirty years the Ventura family has made a name for itself all over the world as a result.  Then, in 2016 in the field behind the Pizza Shop, the Rock Climbing Shop was opened and now is a full-service climbing shop as well as the check-in spot for the campground.

Climbers and hikers from all over the world set up tents in Miguels expansive campground
Miguels Pizza in Slade, Kentucky
The Sign on Highway 11 for Miguels Climb Shop
The artsy Miguels Pizza front door has been opened with hands of people from all over the world

Rock climbing is not the only drawing card of the area.  Another big hitter are the more than 30 big hiking trails in the area.  It includes the 282 mile long Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail which begins in northern Kentucky on KY377 and travels south nearly 290 miles to its terminus at Pickett State Park in Tennessee.  The trail meanders through the Daniel Boone National Forest and also gets its name from the Shawnee name given to Daniel Boone by Chief Blackfish.

Star Gap Arch on Auxier Ridge Trail (#204) in Red River Gorge (Photo by Julianne Kravetz)

But Sheltowee is not the only trail.  There are many other trails from easy to very difficult. Most of the trails are numbered (all are in the 200s) and there are plenty of maps in the area.  Many of the trails offer spectacular views, many arches and lots of scary cliffs!

Cliffs as seen along the Auxier Ridge Trail (Photo by Julianne Kravetz)
Fall Colors over the Red River Gorge in Kentucky
Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Slade, KY
Natural Bridge Skylift

Drive down KY11 a little further and you get to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, home of a large geologic formation called Natural Bridge, which is 65 feet high and 78 foot long.  It is one of the few large arches in the Eastern United States.   The hike is about 2.5 miles long, but those that prefer a more casual adventure can take the Natural Bridge Skylift up to the scenic arch.

I had fun driving through the park and catching some of the unique.  For instance, where can you go to find a unique speed limit, like 23 MPH?  Then there are the other things…

Speed Limit 23 in Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Low Gap Trail leads up to the Natural Bridge Arch
Watch out for Bears!
One Lane Tunnel

Take the opposite direction from Slade on Kentucky 15 northwest to Kentucky 77 which leads to the Nada Tunnel (pronounced nay-duh by the locals), a 900-foot long tunnel which is considered as the “Gateway to the Red River Gorge.”  This unique single-lane rough hewn tunnel was originally built in 1911 for the Dana Lumber Company.  It was named for the small town of Nada, which was a logging town at the time.  Its original use was for a railcars, but has since been paved and is used by thousands of visitors every year as they traverse into the geologic wonderland of the Red River Gorge.

Entrance to Nada Tunnel
A lit up view of the interior of the otherwise very dark Nada Tunnel
Exiting the Nada Tunnel
Wild Things of Kentucky

For me, much of the fun is discovering the “other stuff” that can be seen on the road.  Probably the most interesting “touristy stop” along the way was the Wild Things of Kentucky tourist stop where they advertise their Kentucky Snake Pit, the Kentucky Aquarium, an hilarious restroom and other things.  Sadly for them, they literally JUST missed out on being included in my most recent book about unique and quirky tourist destinations. (Have you seen my new book?  If not, check it out HERE!)

Wild Things of Kentucky -another unique tourist stop
Feed the Goats that reside on the roof

Places like this always try to find things that become a drawing card for tourists.  Indeed, they have some unique finds in the shop.  And, for a small fee you can visit the “Snakes and turtles and fish…Oh My,” as their pamphlet advertises.  Over on the other side of the building you can feed live goats that reside on the roof of the building.  You can get a selfie with their “Sitty Hall” outhouse or with their own version of “Bigfoot.”

Selfie with Sitty Hall
Feed a Goat
Too funny/weird – The Snake Pit
The “Aquarium” includes a couple of turtles
Can’t be a trading post without the Indian
Inside the store
Entrance Fee for Wildlife Exhibit
Better not use the porch! Go use Sitty Hall.
They have goats…why not Goats Milk Products too
Lots of fun shirts and stuff… much of it Red River Gorge themed
Yes, they do have a resident Bigfoot.. He wants you to choose happy

And back to the road…a few more fun scenes from the Slade area roads

Big Arrow
Need Wood?
Go through the tunnel to get to The Depot
A bearable bear
There are folks that set up on an empty corner with lots of interesting stuff
Take the forest roads to the trails and there are forest service restrooms. Some of the signs are funny
And then there was this…

ENJOYING WHAT YOU SEE?  TRY MY BOOKS.

Now have three books out. Check them out!

You can check my books out on Amazon for more fun reads about my quirky back roads travels.  Get them out on my Amazon page https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0784XVGSW

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June 2019: The Great Southwest Trek

On June 5 I departed home on a 10 day adventure to the southwest U.S.  I had made plans with my sister Sherry to accompany her and her family to Tucson and Albuquerque to visit our brothers Aaron and Gary, both of whom neither of us had seen on over 20 years.

Red Rock Crossing in Sedona, Arizona
Route 66 in Winslow, Arizona

I love my road trips.  But I really looked forward to this one as much of it would take me to many of my old stomping grounds.  Plans were to visit Aaron in Tucson, then go up to Flagstaff, via Sedona, for a couple of days of touring around there and then off to Albuquerque to visit Gary.

San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff, Arizona

I was really excited about the Flagstaff part.  From 1980 to 1984 we lived in Flagstaff, where I attended Northern Arizona University and, for three years, worked as a Tour Guide/Driver for the Gray Line Tours franchise called Nava-Hopi Tours.  That job was always one of my favorites as I got to take people from all over the world to see parts of the world that were fascinating.  The geography and geology of the area is world-renown. The history, with the ancient American relics and the present day Native American Navajo and Hopi tribes and their life styles were also fascinating.  I really was excited to visit many of the places I had not visited since the 1990s, when I took a return trip up there after getting back from Japan.

Delight, Arkansas
Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona
31 Miles an Hour in Trenton, Tennessee
Grand Canyon

This ten day adventure took me over 6000 miles of highway and through nine states.  During the trip we got to visit two National Parks (including Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest) and four National Monuments (White Sands, Sunset Crater, Wupatki, Montezuma Castle).  We visited mountain tops and deserts and saw a lot of great scenery.

It has taken a while to compile much of the road trip fun.  Hopefully, over the next couple of weeks I will be able to get a few fun posts out about what will likely be my big road trip for 2019.

Welcome to New Mexico
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona

Watch for detailed posts on the road trip and the many places.  ENJOY THE RIDE!

Like what you see? Well, there is lots more!  I now have three books available about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips. You can see all of them at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Book 3 was published and available on August 24, 2019.

 

Book Cover for Book 3 – Cover Art and design by Antsy McClain

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