(Some photos from Don added to mine.)
A friend Joe from the Chicago area whom I had the pleasure of hiking with before had planned a Thru Hike starting the 22nd, and I soon joined up. My wife becomes very anxious when I hike alone and that was part of the reason I ended my thru hike last October. (along with the mother of all blisters and the drought)
A new friend from a couple of miles away Don, had also decided to join and we hiked a few long daytrips together to become acquainted and practice in preparation.
There were two more guys who joined, friends Tim and Boyd from the area close to the trail.
My wife was ok as long as I called every night with the understanding I’d contact asap if I had to camp with no signal.
Thursday the 22nd came around. The forecast was looking bad in the weeks prior, but you don’t pick the weather, you pick the dates and roll the dice.
We all met up at just before 7 am at the area up by the new sign and took a few photos. It was pretty cold but sunny, with rain not predicted until the next day.
We headed out about 7am trying to get the most out of the relatively dry trail. Passed Lakes Tecumseh and Whoopie Cat and took a few pictures. Then the creek Crossings. The water was flowing but not too much. The hiking temperatures were close to ideal.
Our goal was the junction with the Battery Rock leg. Everyone was feeling pretty good, so we decided to continue to High Knob Campground. JoJo made us a deal we couldn’t pass up for rooms in the “Cowboy Hotel” to the point of ridiculousness (Not sure she even broke even), and Tim & Boyd made arrangements to have one of their wives (sorry, I forgot who’s ) to bring pizza for all of us, so THANKS AGAIN Guys! We spent the first night in relative luxury!!
We headed out early towards GOG, Herod and One Horse Gap. Rain was forecast about 5pm I think and Don had talked to the folks at TK Ranch Campground and they had given us permission to stay under their porch at the office if we made it that far. Well, I had never hiked that far, I always seemed to end up a mile or so before One Horse gap starting from High Knob, but the threat of rain and a chance to be out of it spurred us on.
Rocky top. I don’t recall that we actually stopped for lunch.
We did get there before the rain. Sorry no photos. If someone posts them I’ll add them.
T K Ranch is at the end of that little spur off of the trail below and East of One Horse gap.
The rest of the guys lined up under the porch in their tents for the most part. I took the penthouse about 6″ higher on a connected porch with an American flag tarp/windbreak between an outdoor refrigerator and an oven. It rained pretty good overnight (no high winds or thunder I don’t think) but was just sprinkling and misting the next morning.
Oh Boy. Lusk Creek today. The first deep crossing. 4 times I think.
To tell the truth, I’m missing a bunch of photos along here that I should have taken, but when it’s raining, I put my electronics in a plastic bag in the middle of my pack, under my rain poncho and it’s a real pain to get out, plus everyone else will be a mile ahead, so I’ll just have to tell what went on the rest of the way to Eddyville until I can cabbage onto some photos.
The LONG climb from the spur to Benham Ridge Road takes a lot out of you. I had heard there was a new trailhead parking lot at the south end of the trail below One Horse gap and it was nice, though I had envisioned it at the spur. It is at The Benham Ridge Road intersection and is HUGE!!! I mean Wal*Mart huge. You know where that field was across from where the old trail jogged right (WB) and re entered the woods? That field is a parking lot now, flat and well graveled. I’ll add it to my maps soon.
Onwards and upwards. eventually we got to Concord Cemetery and the long uphill to Bethesda Church. I had never actually tried the city water spigot at the horse camp just below and I went to check it out. It isn’t turned on. It may only be on during the season, or maybe just for events. I think I’ll take it back off the map.
The laying on the ground signpost near Bethesda Church is gone. It was in the wrong place anyway. It had some ridiculously short miles until Eddyville on it, like 8 miles. It sure wasn’t two miles from the one at Concord Cemetery that says 10.
Next stop is the first Lusk Creek Crossing. They moved it to the left quite a bit since remarking it. I crossed at the new crossing but after everyone saw how deep it was they all went around the bend in the creek to the right where it was a lot less deep. My waterproof socks were no match but they held water great for the rest of the day.
The next two crossings were pretty deep and no really great place to cross, so everyone had wet feet by then. I didn’t keep notes at all but I think it might have rained off and on by then.
We were coming up on the new reroute to Owls Bluff that took me 3 trips to find (It helped when after taking down all the old markers and putting up “trail Closed” signs the FS finally marked the new trail. Cart before horse.)
Joe was up ahead of the pack and out of sight when we got to where Forest Road 425 turns North and the new trail follows. There was no marker there at all. There were dashes of blue paint on the trees of the old trail visible there and Joe and anyone else traveling it previously since the marker went missing went straight.
We didn’t know that and didn’t see which way he went. The new trail is at least a mile longer, and if he had turned the proper way north, he might have continued North to who knows where if he missed the next turn. After some deliberation we decided he would have gone straight.
There is a trail not on any map that passes some boundary markers and skirts the edge of some private property. (about that line under the waterdrop at owl bluff) I remembered it from being lost trying to find the new route before and knew it came out at the last curve before owl bluff. It was the shortest way there. When we came out at the curve and saw the R2R markers I yelled for Joe. He yelled back from just ahead. Couldn’t have planned that better, he didn’t even have to wait for us, he had just then arrived himself.
~~ The Breaking of the Fellowship~~
Crossed the creek at Bowed tree Crossing then the long, long uphill to Lusk Creek Trailhead. Tim and Boyd were done with it. They called for a ride home. It was cold & wet all day. We were all totally pooped and still had 3 miles to Eddyville, the last 2 of which were uphill.
Things took a different turn when the Sherriff came along on New Home road and asked if we were all ok? We talked to him awhile and he asked if we needed a ride to Eddyville. Well, it looked like we would be getting into town about 7 as it was 6pm. which would have given us a pretty short window to eat, even with it being Saturday night. So we took the offer, though with our packs and his nearly full trunk it took two trips for the 3 of us Joe, Don and me. We thanked him profusely! On the second trip we saw Tim & Boyd’s ride going the other way, and they came and shook hands and said their goodbyes. They lived in the area, and had already seen it when it was cold & wet. We all got full on the great food at Shawnee Lounge, and the management there got a hold of the owner at Bear Branch campground (he was already there) and although he wasn’t open, he rented us a cabin.
The guy (don’t remember his name, sorry.) took us to Shawnee Mart first to resupply some. We didn’t have hot water at the cabin (it was getting a tankless heater by the looks of things) but cold water and a gas stove top worked.
Joe had gotten a call from his wife who wasn’t feeling well, and the situation wasn’t any better in the morning. He had to part ways as well and get a ride back to his truck in E’town leaving me & Don to carry on. Don was hurting from his pack and made the decision to leave his tent at the cabin and continue with just the rain fly from his tent. Mine is barely enough for a person and his pack. 6 days left. Rain forecast for 5, and I can’t continue without a fellow hiker, and he doesn’t have a tent. Compromises had to be made. We walked the 2 miles to town (negating the ride to Eddyville yesterday) and continued the trip. Past Bay Lake/Millstone lake headed towards Gum Springs Trailhead. We made it to within maybe half a mile from Gum Springs Trailhead. It intersects a forest road there (484) and there are a few old home sites to the South and Don set up in a tree line at the trail edge. I went to a flat space by a bunch of daffodils and set up camp. That was actually the last time I set up my tent, though I did sleep halfway in it the next night.
We headed out the 4th day and headed towards Dutchman Lake with heavy thunderstorms forecast for tonight. My 2 plans were either the I 24 overpass, or if we could possibly get there, a shelter at Ferne Clyffe. That one was pretty farfetched since it was at least half a day farther than we should get. There aren’t any other shelters I could think of.
I wasn’t able to contact my wife until I stood on a rock wall at the top of the hill west of Gum Springs trailhead. She said heavy rain at midnight, but we should be ok until then.
I had originally thought about heading over to Cedar Lake Campground for showers if the guys needed to but Don was ok without and it was kind of redundant with the spotty rain we were getting. So we stuck to the trail and passed through Max Creek without any problems.
I don’t think Don was too impressed with Route 37, but we did a few photos at Goddards Crossing and took a 5 minute break to celebrate the halfway point.
We crossed the 3 electric line and gas pipeline clearings, and did see the truck cab at the first power line again. I told him there was a couch to rest on after the gas line but someone had actually pulled out the bed (braver than me). There are 3 couches along the trail. One North of Lake Tecumseh, One here, and one off trail at Goreville. Oh, and I did find the ’58 Pontiac on trail above E’town, I haven’t seen it for years and I took it off my pages. It’s way down a ravine just before the trail crosses Cadiz road. The trail used to cross a lot closer to it, no way the car moved. That’s what we think about all day. Landmarks.
So on that note, we came to the worst night on the trail. the I-24 overpass. This isn’t an entirely legal, smart, or anything else place to stay. It would be shelter in an emergency. There wasn’t time to make it anywhere else Heavy thunderstorms you know. We got up there at the top where there was about a 5 ft level place at the top. Between the girders. We took the two innermost openings. We had to pickup the broken glass from who knows who and spread out our stuff. I didn’t take any photos.
My tent is bright orange and we really didn’t want to draw attention up there, so I took my rainfly and put it down flat then put my sleeping pad and bag on top of that. There was a shelf higher up towards the back we laid our stuff out on and we were set for the night. Except it was about 6pm and light. Yes the cars and trucks were thundering over about 3ft over our heads. And a very cold wind was blowing hard right through the gap we were in. It was freezing cold in my bag. I had to turn everything around so my feet were toward the wind. It was still freezing cold in my bag.
Ok, I’ll have to admit to a little bit of a mistake in my gear selection. I usually bring some gym pants for camp and if it is forecast warm enough a pair of cargo shorts. I decided to save weight, and I could barely stuff them in my full backpack, but I brought the shorts and left the pants. So every night I slept in cargo shorts. That’s part of the reason I was freezing. That’s also why I was very antisocial. When we made camp I got right into my sleeping bag. And despite the forecast, it was always too cold to think about going out except for those late night cold weather um, trips to the urinal.
So I said I slept halfway in my tent the next night? well, my legs were cold so I grabbed the rolled up raincoat off the shelf in the dark and unrolled it into my sleeping bag around my legs and it did work and warm me up, but it was a hard job in the morning folding my tent that I had mistaken for my coat back up on that small flat space with hardly any head room.
Ok, sleeping was nearly impossible. Don said he never slept but there are 2 things that contradict that. His snoring for hours, and the incident.
It was cold, I was freezing and at some point in the dark I had to venture out to make that short trip on the steeply angled concrete, barefoot and in shorts, No light so as not to give away our position to the many people who were looking for people sleeping under the interstate overpasses, (or wake Don). I was returning and going girder to girder until I got to my niche and went back up in the darkness feeling for my sleeping bag.
Well imagine my horror finding it not empty! Imagine Dons horror finding something grabbing his leg! He yelled thinking it was a raccoon jumping on him, and I was apologizing for going up into the wrong niche. Eeesh. I’m lucky he didn’t knock me down the ramp.
It never did rain, there WAS something continually messing with our stuff on the shelf that we had our stuff laid out on trying to get in our food and messing with the water bottles but wasn’t there every time I turned the light on. I did finally pass out for awhile about 5 in the morning. It warmed up some overnight in preparation for the days storms. The cold concrete we were on sweated condensation so bad everything was wet. Of course everything outside was dry. I couldn’t pick up a signal so I couldn’t make contact with our weather source my wife until we got to Tall Trees lane on the other side of Dutchmans lake.
When I got ahold of my wife, she said we were going to get hit by bad storms with lots of red & yellow and she had gotten us a cabin at Goreville on 37 on the way into town. I wanted to know which way we went after we came out at the top of Ferne Clyffe, and she said we didn’t have time to do Ferne Clyffe, we need to head all the way up 37 and get to the cabin. It would be raining by 11am when the storms were going to hit. I think I said something snarky about them being 12 hours late, but I was running on very little sleep. I only took one photo, the picture of the deck as we got to the cabin when the raindrops had just started and rumbling in the distance. Compromises had to be made.
It rained hard all night. We had a rest day, with a trip to Dollar General for supplies and the gas station next door for fried chicken and the trimmings. We were going to make a trip back for dessert and ice cream between the rain but never got off the chairs. The hot shower was wonderful and the place was brand new with big screen tvs and a coffee maker and a can of folgers, and a basket of complimentary breakfast roll assortments that got severely sampled.
Tomorrow was going to be rain all day and it was hard to leave. We washed and dried what we could. I actually had dry socks to start with. I just left my shoes on the porch. My waterproof socks were okish if the water didn’t get over the top of them. Don wore shopping bags in his shoes the whole trip.
The Creeks were very high. No way we could have done Ferne Clyffe now. We started West on Goreville road, and although we considered taking the mile to Hawk’s cave to see the waterfall, we ended up just continuing West. Don said his closest to quitting moment was when he saw that Mt. Vernon Sign at the I-57 intersection pointing towards Mt. Vernon, and the cold front had come back and his breath was blowing that way.
Common sense told us we couldn’t make all the creek crossings today, so we bypassed Wayside and Panthers Den and continued to meet the R2R again at Antioch Road going into Giant City to the Lodge.
This was the small creek before the Giant City Campground. It wasn’t too bad.
We were at the ponds past Shelter #5 between The campground and the lodge when we came upon a car on the trail with the windshield broken from the inside by his head and a semi conscious man inside. There were bloody paper towels on the trunk and he was moving but not much. No idea of anything else and no idea if he was drunk, high, injured, or a medical condition. I went past with Don then called 911. I said there was a car on the trail with an injured semiconscious man inside (though his feet were technically outside). I had to wait for the responders to show them where he was as it wasn’t visible from the road there. They actually came probably in 10 minutes time, some Giant City security people and the Sherriff were there first.
I left after that and Don had already checked in and found the shower when I got to the Lodge.
We headed to the Lodge and sat down for a meal after warming up and showers and we were dressed in our finest dry cleanish clothes. Him in long sleeved t shirt and PJ bottoms and me in jacket, cargo shorts and sandals. Mine would have been fine if it was in the 70’s instead of 50’s.
Instead of chicken we both got steaks. I was going to buy for whoever was still there when the troop got there and since it was just us two the cost had gone down quite a bit. The payments had actually gotten pretty mixed up by then. I owed him for this and he owed me for that, and I hope he accepted. Can’t remember for sure, but that was the deal.
That was Don’s worst day. I gave up the next.
But then DON didn’t want to give up.
It rained all night again off and on. It was still raining when we left. My wife had gotten a place to stay in Makanda (actually just off 51) and was coming down to spend the night and pick us up after the big finish. We had our first deep crossing, though not very wide within earshot of the Lodge. My waterproof socks were wet yet again.
That was a nice waterfall along the trail in Giant City.
The creek was high going into Makanda. It was raining pretty good too. I went to sit under the porch at the strip for a minute, but it was all wet, and I joined Don under the pavilion for a few minutes. The plan was to take the trail straight up to Old Eastern Star road and then turn west down the dangerous Makanda road because I knew the creek crossing north of Sheppard Road would be impassable. At least we cut off one of the blind curves with no shoulders that way. The water was roaring down the ravine to the left of the trail, but photos don’t do it justice.
Just before Rt 51 We heard honking behind us and it was my wife on the way to check in at the Golf Course cabin. We waved and headed on down Old Route 51. Got to Lirley Trailhead and I was determined to get through. I didn’t know what the spillway between the upper and lower lakes at Cedar Lake would be like, but I hoped it was wide enough to contain the water without it being too deep. I knew also that we might be able to just go around the lake to the north and not do any creek crossing there, or go the old route below the lake and have to cross the creek at the far side.
Instead, the Lake had come to us.
The bottoms were flooded for miles. We walked the trail down to the water but that’s as far as we could go. After walking miles in the rain we were both chilled to the bone and wet from head to toe. We turned around and went back the way we came. Across the valley we could see all the creeks coming down and there was a huge waterfall across the valley which would have been great to bushwhack to. I said we were done. There was no way around it I could think of. I called my wife to come and get us at the trailhead. She wanted to know if we wanted to be driven to the Alto Pass waterworks. I didn’t see any point to walking all that 5 miles of road to Godwin trailhead in the rain, and we couldn’t go the Godwin trail until tomorrow because there weren’t enough hours of daylight even if she drove us there right then. I was ready to quit. Don said why don’t we at least stay the night and do the Godwin trail and the rest in the morning. I hadn’t really considered it, but yes, let’s just do it and finish it any way we have to.
At least tomorrow the sun was supposed to come out after 7 days of rain and we would get to finish it dry.
We had a great afternoon and evening in the cabin and my spirits were back up for the last day. The sunny day turned gradually less sunny all week, and when it was time to head out it was still sprinkling. We started off at Godwin trailhead and headed off for the last days adventure. Don dropped his unneeded stuff and brought the essentials. I went with a full pack because I’m stubborn and wanted to do it with everything, though Paula pointed out I didn’t need my tent, sleeping bag or Ground mat. Yes, Yes I did. So there. I had my heels dug in.
So off we went.
It was easy going on the ridge walking. The only thing I was concerned about was Hutchins Creek, but I had already crossed it in full flood with “Swede” a few years ago and it hadn’t rained hard since yesterday.
We got to the first small creek crossing and Don had the great Idea of throwing a nearby small tree trunk over the creek. We did it on the count of 3 and it worked perfect.
(another smaller crossing)
Still had dry feet.
Then we got to Hutchins Creek. I knew my dry socks were gonners. The creek was up but not flooding. It was up another couple of feet when Swede and I crossed it.
We found the shallowest place, then hit the knee deep channel at the end and made it without swimming.
Back up the ridge for more ridge walking to Pine Hills road.
The sun was coming out and it was getting warmer.
We got to Pine Hills road and got down and joined Snake road for a short way until heading West down the Big Muddy levee. No snakes. Too cold.
There were several flights of big birds circling overhead. We met some birders in a truck that were watching them, turns out they were pelicans.
If you go on the River side of Devils Backbone, you see the old ovens. Or you can take the River to River official route and walk the right side and see nothing but road.
At last 4+ hours of levee hiking and we are here at the end. We made it by whatever it took. Proud as I was last year walking it all from Battery Rock. Nothing left to prove, I officially just retired from Thru hiking the R2R. I’ve done the levee 3 times now. Don is also retired from at least the levee part. But we did it today.