Chrissy and Chris

Hiking The Sheltowee: Northern Terminus to Route 799

Hiking The Sheltowee: Northern Terminus to Route 799

It started as a cancelation. For weeks Chrissy had been talking about a hiking trip. The section of Sheltowee trail between the northern terminus and Morehead. As it would turn out the planned trip fell on the opening day of modern gun deer season, so it was canceled. No one wants to be mistaken for a deer during deer season.

This is where I come in. Chrissy, downhearted at the cancelation, Ask me if I’d like to go the week before. I went down my list of check marks I had to mark. Turns out I was available! That gave us a couple of weeks to prepare.

With global warming, murder hornets, and Covid 19 who knew what the weather would be in November!? As I thought about it I figured my number one priority was to be warm. I’m well fed enough that I could go a couple days without food, but warmth is a different story.

A day or two goes by and we’ve decided to hammock camp. So I’m racking my brain trying to find an affordable way to stay comfortable. A comforter that’s the answer! I go to goodwill and find a nice large, dense, comforter. I take it home and start putting grommet holes along the edges. My idea, you may ask? I’ve decided to wrap the entire hammock up like a burrito koozie! I laced it together with paracord and stretched it over my hammock. I decided to be fair I’d strip down to shorts and a t-shirt. It was 45 Degrees on my back porch and I laid there for two hours in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt. I was comfortable!

As the trip approaches I end up digging though my shed for my old camping gear. I’m the kind of fella that’s assembled stuff for years and the things that I could make, I made. I packed up everything that I felt I would ever need on an overnight hiking trip. My pack was about to bust at the seams! I decided that I would do a weigh in for giggles. My pack, excluding water and food was about 37ish pounds. In my mind I was thinking “no big deal.” I use to walk around at that same size before I got on keto. I ended up rolling with the pack the way it was.

The night before the hike I went to Chrissy’s and we consolidated our stuff. No sense in packing things we had duplicates of. We trimmed off a pound or two altogether. What I had removed was soon replaced by food and water. So, let’s do some math, I took away around a pound of stuff. That puts me at 36 pounds I added two quarts of water so that’s four-ish pounds including the bottles. I added about 3 pounds of food. That puts my pack at a grand total of 43-ish pounds. I wasn’t going to add a second quart of water but Chrissy talked me into it. Get ready for the foreshadowing! I’m so glad she did! If anyone is interested in this information: I used a Gatorade bottle for my second quart of water. I took a length of paracord, wrapped it around the body and the lid of the bottle and strapped it to my backpack. It’s my go to method of water mobility now!

As the sun rose we were finishing off breakfast. The hike had went from theory to real as I finished my last spoon full of yogurt. The weather report had given 48 degrees for the low and 72 for the high. According to the weather man it was going to be a beautiful day for a hike!

We left Chrissy’s car in Morehead, and we drove towards the Northern Terminus. When we arrived we were the only ones parked there. It looked like we we’re going to have a trail to ourselves. We threw our packs on as the sun was starting to peak though the trees. It was still pretty cold in the valley. I had a freshly bought pair of hiking pants, a “fishing” shirt, and a puffy vest my dad had given me the night before. I was downright snug.

About a quarter of a mile in we had crossed a small stream, walked through a fern valley, and came to our first real up hill. I hadn’t found my sea legs yet. We’re about a third of the way into the accent, and I’ve decided I’ve had enough of this puffy vest. I start stripping down as I’m huffing and puffing. I strap my puffy vest to the back of my backpack almost like it’s wearing it. Chrissy said she couldn’t tell whether I was coming or going. I imagined it looked like I was carrying around some disembodied torso. As long as I wasn’t drenched in sweat I was okay with that!

As we reached the top of the ridge we took a moment to enjoy the sunrise. In every direction the world had turned to a golden hue. The leaves were at the end of their lives giving us every ounce of beauty they could muster. It was a appreciated sacrifice.

About three miles in we decided it was time for a longer break. I threw down my backpack. My shirt was soaked with sweat. It was pretty warm by this point in the day. I decided to take off my shirt and hang it in a tree to dry out a bit. I sit down and leaned up against my pack, and started digging though pockets for snacks. Chrissy and I sit there basking in the gold of the forest eating handfuls of trail mix. I can’t remember a time that I felt more connected to the Earth. As we sit there gathering our energy and thoughts the wind began to blow. The foliage began to rain down. We were surrounded by yellows, oranges, reds and the occasional Simi-green. As the mountain air caressed my chest and I filled up on seeds. I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be there rather than a cubical.

We pressed onward and upward. The ridge we were on had a lot of little up and down hills. Sometimes the uphills took a little more out of me than I’d like to admit, but the views at the top made it all worth it! At what I’d like to think is the 2/3rds point in the trail we sat down for another break and Chrissy told me she had a surprise. She retch down into her pack and pulled out a caramello bar! We laid there on the ground divvying up the sacred goodness. At that moment I could have laid there eating caramello bars for the rest of my life. Midway through our caramello break a great bird flew overhead. Looking back it may or may not have been the Mothman.

As the sun sank low into the late fall sky we started to get anxious to get to our camping spot. The water was running a bit low and 90% of the food we had in our packs required water to be cooked. Of course we had the almighty can of spam. I was trying to hold on to that for a special occasion! Fact of the matter was we needed water, but there’s no water to be found on the ridgeline. With each downhill I found myself a bit relived only to find false hope with the next uphill. Eventually we came to a downhill that felt right. I didn’t want to get my hopes up until I saw camp though! Chrissy went ahead in search of water in case we had to make camp for the last ounces of sunlight left. A few minutes after she had went ahead I heard a dogs bark echoing though the trees. If nothing else we had found civilization! I came dragging down the trail to find a water spicket and a camp shelter! We were 10 miles into our hike and had arrived at camp! It’s a beautiful feeling when your feet are feeling raw, the sun is sinking low, and you set eyes on the place you’re going to sleep tonight.

Clark Park
Clark park

I caught up with Chrissy, and threw my pack down at the base of a tree. I retrieved my water bottles and made my way to the speckit. I’d been carrying my bag for so many hours I found myself hunched over as I crossed the bridge to hydration. I’m pretty sure I drank the first quart that I had refilled to catch up with what my body had lost.

The owners of the property had built a magnificent campground for weary hikers. There was clean water, they had built a shelter with a kitchen, and there was a fire pit with wood. What more could a tired hiker ask for! Toby, a huge gray dog was the icing on the cake!

We didn’t have time to relax long once we got to camp. We drink some water and Chrissy started hanging the hammocks and I started building a fire. Thanks to cotton balls, Vaseline, and free fire wood the fire was roaring in a matter of minutes. I went over to help Chrissy with the hammocks and then I remembered the dangers of dew. Sure it was supposed to be 48 but with dew on us and our sleeping rigs we didn’t stand a chance. I went to my pack and started digging into the supplies. I had a length of rope that I took around the entire triangle of trees. I dug out two 7×12 painters’ tarps I had for such a problem. Attached those to the rope. Then I found a ground tarp hidden away to cover the last open side of the make shift shelter. I had to leave the end open but for the most part we we’re now dewless!

I stoked the fire a bit to keep it going. The heat felt so good after such a long hike but we still had things to do. Chrissy had gathered up our food supplies and I got my little stove and fuel tank. “Noodles or Raman noodles” I went with the Raman. We boiled up a kiddle of water and awaited our gourmet dinners. This is the first time in eight hours we had time to catch up with ourselves. We didn’t have to keep moving to beat dark, we didn’t have to worry about water rations, we weren’t thinking about the blisters on our feet. The only thing that existed was us and our dehydrated noodles. There’s something to be said about putting in a hard day toward a goal, but we didn’t say much until after we ate. I can’t say that Raman has ever tasted so good to me.

Food Rations
Food Rations

We sat there for a bit talking about the hike. Chrissy brought up how all your concerns melt away while in the forest. No deadlines to be had other than making it to a safe camping spot before dark. Water, food, and warmth those are your priorities. To survive was your goal. It brings life back to an elemental state, which it was meant to be.

We walked over to the fire and enjoyed the heat for a little while drinking some tea we had stowed away the night before. A good hot drink on a chilly night can make all the difference. I lost myself in exhaustion and the dancing of the flames. Soon after we left the fire for our hammocks.

At 11PM I’m pretty sure Toby saved us from some sort of small woodland creature. He was barking outside of the shanty tent. After a bit I drifted back off to sleep. I was somewhere between awake and asleep. I was still pretty conscience of everything that was happening around us, but I was also dreaming. I thought about how this is how our primitive ancestors lived. Somewhere between awake and asleep but still resting. Sure they didn’t have modern hammocks, camp stoves, or Raman. But at the end of the day we’re still doing the same basic functions to survive.

At 3AM Toby came though camp and stuck his nose in my hammock. I like to think he was checking on me. Once I came to my senses I realized how cold I was. My teeth were chattering, and I knew that I needed to leave the warmth of my hammock to find more clothing. I had only worn a pair of long johns and a fleece shirt to sleep. It made since if it was only supposed to be 48. Turns out the weather man missed it by about 10 degrees. It was in the high 30’s when I looked at 3AM. Not long after Toby’s check in I heard Chrissy rustling around in her hammock. I told her if she needed to get up I’d get up with her. We rolled out of our hammocks, she did her thing, and I went and found more layers. Once again the hammock was bearable.

I woke up for the day around 6:30AM. Toby was laying in the middle of camp. Chrissy was still sleeping. I was pretty cold. I laid there for a while trying to get warmer but the only answer was to climb out and build a fire. I laid there for another hour or so. I didn’t want to wake Chrissy because I knew she was tired. If she was sleeping well then I should let her rest. I laid there thinking about how much it put me at ease to have Toby patrolling at night. I knew that if any creature entered camp he would have let us known. I had thought about bringing one of my dogs on the trip, but let’s all be honest. My dogs would have invited the coyotes over to hang out.

As cold as I was the night before there was not a single moment were I felt like I was in danger. We prepared great for the night we thought we were going to have. But we prepared pretty fair for the night we actually had. Sure if weather conditions would have changed. Things could have gotten dangerous for us quickly. At the end of the day we could have walked to a house from where we camped. If things would have gotten bad we could have been making phone calls.

Once the night had broken and I could see the forest I figured it was time to start moving. The first order of business was to rebuild that fire so I could thaw out. I guess me moving around woke Chrissy up. She came out of her hammock and as I built the fire she prepared breakfast. Thanks again, to cotton balls and Vaseline we had a nice fire in no time. Thanks to Chrissy, we had a nice breakfast of oatmeal with trail mix dropped in it and two cups of green tea. It was a very nice and warming breakfast. We sit around the fire thawing out as I came up with a plan. Chrissy knew the folks that had created the park and I thought “we’re going to be home at the end of the day. Why would we pack all our overnight gear?” We talked about the idea of leaving some things behind and both agreed it was a winner.

After thawing out we started liquidating our packs. My pack went from 40ish pounds to what I estimate to be 15 or so. I’d bet Chrissy’s pack weight got cut into about half as well. After liquidation came hydration. I figured while we had fresh water we should pound a quart or two while we had the opportunity. I’d rather be over hydrated than dehydrated. We had left camp and said goodbye and good boy to Toby.

As we were moving along there was a gate on the side of a hill across the road from the Cark’s Park. There were signs posted to “shew the dog away” if he started to follow. I don’t believe I said anything out loud but I started to ponder on how different people would have shewed Toby away. I imagine it was a pretty hard thing to do since he was such a sweet dog.

Again, on the second day we had gotten about a quarter mile into the trail and we had come to our first uphill. I was wearing my puffy vest from the day before and not more than 15 minutes in I had to shed that thing. I hated to because it was providing a place for the pack strap to ride with cushion. My arm had gotten a little raw from the 40ish pound pack from the day before. Chrissy had taken her toboggan, doubled it up, and placed it between my shoulder and the strap. Once I had taken my vest off she was already placing the toboggan. So she was a real life saver for my shoulder!

I hadn’t gotten my sea legs yet when we started the uphill. This time it was a logging road. It was steep but it wasn’t terrible. We kept walking up and up until we came to a bend in the road. I’m pretty sure at this point the logging road went from steep to vertical for the last 300 or so feet. We came off of the road to a mountain top cow pasture. We didn’t see a single cow but we did hear one and I stepped in some evidence. At this point there was no clear trail markings so we had to figure out what direction to go. Back when we started hiking the day before there was a map at the northern terminus. I had pulled my cell phone out and took an overall photo of the map and then I took photos of individual sections close up. Then I turned my phone off. I booted my phone up, and looked at the maps and we we’re golden within 30 seconds.

The Cow pasture followed a pipe line. The grass was soft to the feet. Almost like walking on a carpet after the rocky trails the day before. We made our way to the back of the pasture to find more of the Sheltowee turtle signs. Once we saw those we knew we were back on path. To the left of the pipeline the trail cut back into the woods. Not far on the cut we came to a deer stand next to a small pond. We walked through the weeds to look at the pond. I saw piles of corn sitting what couldn’t have been more than 75 feet from the tree stand. To me that seems like cheating a little. But who knows maybe there was a reason for such things. It could have been Helen Keller’s tree stand.

Not far out the path we came to a steep downhill. We were very close to people. We heard chainsaws echoing though the trees. As the echoes started to fade we found ourselves in a valley covered with ferns. Once again the sun had set the forest ablaze in golden hues. A small mountain stream ran parallel to the trail. It was pretty dry due to small amount of rain this fall. I thought to myself “what a perfect time to hike this part of the trail. Any other time of the year and our feet would have been soaked.” We lucked out.

As we made our way down the leaf covered trail we started to realize that someone was ahead of us. We started to notice signs everywhere. Once we came to the crossing for Holly Fork we found where someone had camped. They had left what appeared to be a rain canopy. Maybe they had done what we had that morning and lightened their back pack.

Crossing Holly Fork we came to a swinging bridge. Now I’ve been on swinging bridges before but this one earned its name. Chrissy took one for the team and crossed first. She told me she felt like the whole thing was going to go toppsie tervy as she crossed. Next was my turn. Filled with an over confidence in dry rotted boards and rusty wire, I crossed like a champion. I figured, what’s the worst could happen, it was like a 20 foot fall on to slate. I mean it would hurt and I might be busted for a while. But best case scenario I could talk about how shady of a bridge it was later. And that’s exactly what I’m doing! Spoiler! We both made it!

Across the bridge was some sort of crop field long since harvested. The trail led us around the field and back into a thicket of pine trees. Seemed like a wonderful place to take a break. I threw off my back pack and laid down on the trail as Chrissy did foot surgery on a blister that stopped by to say hello. I took the opportunity to rehydrate and fill up on trial mix. A couple of minutes in and I had all manner of seed, nut, and bitter sweet chocolate nib resting in my beard. I was hoping for some Disney movie woodland creatures to hop out and groom me before we left, but it didn’t happen. My guess is they were shy since I had never hiked there before. But next time they’ll be ready!

Making our way through the pine thicket. We journeyed in to an area much like the fern valley from earlier in the day, but this valley was a bit different. Sure there were ferns, but his valley was much wider with steeper sides. The trees felt bigger, the ground was a little softer on the feet. The creek that flowed through the valley. Although dry, was much deeper in points than the creek we had followed earlier in the day. Felt like the sort of place you might happen upon the ghost of John Muir whispering in the wind. This might have been my favorite part of the hike. It’s hard for me to say though. The entire hike had been beautiful!

After a couple of miles we started to hear the sound of society flowing though the valley. We were nearby state route 799 and the interstate. According to the map the trail was to come out where the two roads intersected. We were still in the valley and I knew we were about to make some pretty significant elevation changes. The once wide valley started to narrow, then we came to the end. We crossed a narrow but deep creek dropping down from the slope. We had found our inevitable hill climb. This climb was very steep, possibly the steepest of the trail. Or maybe my feet were telling me this because they were starting to ache. At some point this trail became a river I could tell by the ruts and loose stone. Luckily, on our hike it wasn’t! We slowly but surely climbed like rookie mountain goats to the forest road that lead back to 799. We thought we had made it!

I threw off my pack and sit down on a stump that looked suspiciously like a toilet. Maybe it was wishful thinking from my colon. Either way it was a nice sit. So Chrissy and I started to talk about the math and the miles. With the first leg of the trail the night before that had put us at the ten mile mark. Walking around camp getting things ready for the night had given us a few more miles. At the top of this climb had put us at the 19ish mile mark for the hike. We had guessed around 22 miles would have put us back at her car. But the math wasn’t adding up. There was five miles of fire road on the other side of the interstate, and another 3-4 miles after that back to her car. Sitting there with throbbing feet we made the better judgment call to be picked up at 799. It was a good stopping point. It didn’t hurt matters that Chrissy’s son was already nearby so all we had to do was walk to the road and get extracted.

Once we made our way back to our feet we we’re thinking only like 200 feet to the road, easy squeezy lemon peezy. We walked down the access road and we came to a bend, then another bend, then five more bends, and then the little uphill. We followed the access road at least another mile and a half that felt like five miles on blistered feet! Finally I caught a glimpse of the radio tower. The tower was near the end of the road! We weren’t far! As we came off of the trail there was a fella across the road mowing his drive way, which I found pretty odd? I threw off my pack, changed into my little comfy potato shoes, and watched that man mow his gravel. Soon we were plucked from the side of the road. What a glorious dust cloud that man kicked up!

After Hiking from the Northern Terminus. It set in how amazing it is to mark a bucket list item off both mine and Chrissy’s list! We’ve lived in the shadow of the sheltowee our entire lives. The northern terminus for the trail is only minutes from our town. The fact that we used what we had, and didn’t prepare physically and did an overnight 20 mile hike amazes me! I plan to be writing about the next section soon!

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