Two Lakes Loop Trail
- The Hoosier National Forest

My backpacking trips aren't always filled with beautiful alpine views, babbling brooks, and relaxing waterfalls. At times, they can be hot, sticky, itchy, and completely unforgiving. 

From my hiking journal,
the night of July 3rd, 2010

I can hear fireworks, but only see the flash of fireflies. Bangs and pops, but no whistles or screeches. High-pitched sounds don’t travel as far. And with the banning of fireworks within the boundaries of the Hoosier National Forest, the night is mostly silent.

It’s July 3rd. I’m hiking alone overnight on the sixteen-mile Two Lakes Loop Trail. As usual for this time of year, when the sun finally sets, the pyromaniacs can’t wait any longer to light their fuses and blow shit up to show their love for America.

The temperature is finally starting to drop from low-90s to tolerable. Both sweat and humidity test the old adage that teamwork divides the work while multiplying the success, by effortlessly sticking a nylon sleeping bag to my skin.

I put my book down and climb out of my hammock tent to brush my teeth before I fall asleep. My headlamp reveals a blue-tinted forest around me and illuminates the toothbrush and toothpaste in my backpack. Moths fly dumbly toward the light on my forehead. Dozens of them stick to my sweaty face and neck, beating their delicate wings in a confused frenzy. I swat at them pointlessly, like a much less scary parody of Hitchcock’s, "The Birds".

I turn off my light, so I can brush in peace.  I stand barefoot and add the acoustics of teeth brushing to the nocturnal sounds of the forest. The moonlit surface of Indian Lake shimmers between the silhouettes of trees.

Bang, bang, pop. More fireworks.

Somewhere on the lake, a fisherman is floating in a boat. He occasionally scans the lake with his spotlight between short nicotine and tar coughing fits. I briefly wonder what he would think if he saw me in the woods. I could stand by the shore with an emotionless blank stare. His own monochromatic blue light would illuminate me for a moment as it passes by, then I'd quickly duck into the shadows. He’d look back, certain he saw someone standing there, but now wonders. I could give him a story to tell. In my opinion, that is the best gift of all.

Instead I retreat to my hammock. I really have no desire to stay outside its protective mesh and get even more blood mugged by mosquitoes. Right before nightfall I started a fire that is now ash and embers, to help keep them at bay, but near the lake I’m sure they are in swarms. A couple hundred are already flying around the forest, bellies engorged with my blood; my DNA buzzing above me like Mike Teavee in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

With the mosquitoes, cicadas are also out, repeating the same harmonious mantra over and over like druids. It's relaxing, but ugh, what I would give for a cool breeze. The only breeze I’ve had tonight was from the flutter of moth wings in my face.

Fireflies are landing on the tent mesh giving me an opportunity to really study them up close from underneath. Even with a bit of knowledge on bioluminescence, their random flashing still seems like magic. At least I think it’s random.  Maybe they are trying to communicate with me. A message of great importance repeated again and again, every summer. “Ryan, you are the chosen one, you must stop the reactor. You're the planet’s only hope.” The distressing part is, I'll probably never know for sure.

The trail is only sixteen miles long, but I am intrigued by the intersecting American Discovery Trail, the coast-to-coast pathway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I thought if I wanted to extend my trip, I would detour onto it for a while, just to say I—

Ok wait, that was a flash, pause, flash, flash, flash, pause, flash, flash. If there is a firefly Morse code, I’ll figure it out.

Anyway, I might take a detour on the ADT. It seems fitting for Independence Day to be on a trail that spans the whole country. One of these days I’m going to get on it and not stop until I leap into the Pacific.

Two flashes, pause, then five.

I should note that I’m roughing it with Pinot Noir in a flask, probably why I’m writing all this. See, I’m not insane, as you may be thinking, but nor am I drunk. Just a little… wine happy.

Ooh seven consecutive flashes. Wait, 1, 3, 2, 2, 5, and 7? Those are all prime numbers. Interesting. Can’t be a coincidence.

Yep. All alone in a hammock, in the woods. Sipping Pinot Noir from a metal flask with sophistication and class. It would be impossible to sip it any other way.

Hmm, maybe the fireflies are trying to give me GPS coordinates. I should keep writing the numbers down and see where they lead me. It’s a good a reason to travel somewhere as any, right? It would be spontaneous. An adventure. Maybe I’ll find that reactor, or something.

There is a ridiculous number of bug bites polka-dotting my arms and legs. Maybe anemia is the root of my peculiar thoughts tonight. They haven’t started itching yet, but histamines are on their way to set off an inflammatory immune reaction that will irritate nerve endings all over my body causing me to itch uncontrollably. I can’t wait.

Regardless of the bugs, bites, and humidity, somehow the trip has still been worth it. My time spent in the hammock listening to cicadas has actually been nice.

My backpacking trips aren't always filled with beautiful alpine views, babbling brooks, and relaxing waterfalls. At times, they can be hot, sticky, itchy, and completely unforgiving… but I absolutely love it. No matter where or when I walk into the woods, I find a silence, solitude, and contentment that nothing else provides.

(By the way, I put my recordings of the firefly flashes into Google Earth as GPS coordinates. They took me to an isolated dirt road near Turrah, Sudan. Screw that! Sorry Fireflies, you chose the wrong messiah.)

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The Knobstone Trail, Part Four
- Number 69 on my life list.

Part Four 
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

I woke up in the middle of the night and, for just a moment, I felt like I couldn't move my legs. I thought for about two seconds that it was another episode of sleep paralysis; where you are conscious but an ill-timed disconnection between your brain and body prevents you from moving.

I realized quickly that I was just extremely stiff. I had never been so stiff in my life. The next morning I spent several minutes stretching and felt amazingly better. I felt so good that I couldn’t believe how I felt the night before. 

After another couple of miles going down into shaded valleys then back up again on switchbacks, I came to Elk Creek Lake. The sky over the lake made for an appealing photo opportunity so I stopped briefly at an established campsite, that was right next to the water. I passed many ideal campsites like this, but they were never there when I was ready to stop for the night. If I do the trail again I’ll adjust my mileage to change that. 

It had been over two days and I hadn’t spoken a word since the couple of sentences to the father and son I met just after mile six. Never was this more evident than when a toad crossed my path and I greeted it. I tipped my hat and nodded but the word "ma'am" only came out as a hoarse whisper. Perhaps not talking for a couple days also causes me to do peculiar things; like properly greeting a toad, that I presumed was female, in much the same way a 19th century cowboy might have greeted a woman passing him while exiting a saloon. 

At about mile 33 I passed another backpacker and shortly after a gray-haired older man who I assumed was his father or grandfather. As the old man met up with us he fell but got back up quickly. I asked if he was alright and they both ignored the whole situation like it happens a lot. I figured he was about 70 years old. He looked like he has had his share of adventures and hard work. Kind of rugged looking and showing his age but at the same time seemed youthful and spry.

One day he said he heard about the KT and decided, "I’d like to try that." The younger man who was with him asked if he wanted company, so, they went to buy gear and headed out for their first backpacking trip.

"You picked a tough trail to be your first", I said unnecessarily since they had already figured that out. 

“So you do this a lot?” the old man asked. He didn’t say it but the look on his face and his tone suggested that his next comment might have been, “are you nuts?” I asked them if they planned on thru-hiking. He said that was the original plan but wasn’t sure if they could finish. 

They had hiked thirteen miles since Saturday afternoon and as I was about to find out it was a tough thirteen miles. In my opinion, whether he finished or not didn’t matter. What did matter was that he was still searching for an adventure. I hope that I find that spark of courage to accomplish something new in my later years. 

We exchanged some information about what was coming up for each other on the trail. I told them of the easy section around Elk Creek but also warned them of the exhausting terrain that would follow. We went our separate ways and the old man turned to thank me for the information. 

When I'm hiking I like that my mind wanders and I occasionally have an interesting thought or remember some repressed memory that I hadn't thought about in years. One childhood recollection in particular made me want to be at home sitting in front of a fan on high, eating cereal, and watching my copy of the Karate Kid on VHS. 

As the day went on, my thoughts weren't as nostalgic and certainly not interesting. That afternoon I was thinking of the lyrics to the song ‘Ironic' by Alanis Morrisette and how nothing she says in it is actually ironic by definition, coincidental maybe. Technicalities aside, I couldn't get the song out of my head. It really isn’t necessary to say, but, I was running out of things to write about in the little black journal I keep in my back pocket. 

I was six miles from the finish and decided I wouldn’t be stopping for a third night; but instead would push through the final stretch. Partly this was due to the tick problem. I wasn’t able to lie on the ground or sit up against a tree and enjoy the simplicity of it all like I normally would. I could only focused on the tiny legs of ticks and mosquitoes and very small insect mouths digging in to pilfer my hard-earned blood. 

Also, I had eaten all of the appetizing food left in my pack and had no desire for the other foods that I would need to retain my energy level. I had only eaten about one-fourth of the calories I should have and I started craving a fast food cheeseburger which I hadn’t eaten in years. After a while the taste of the water from the streams became less exceptional and was starting to be hard to swallow. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s time for a new filter. It was hard to keep down so I was only drinking enough to not get dehydrated.

Every stream I passed was extraordinarily refreshing to see and hear, but not to drink, which made me even thirstier. Whenever I heard the sound of rushing water I wanted to dive in. I stopped at one stream that was deep enough to stick my whole head into, which wasn’t all that common on this trail. Some salamanders, that had already claimed the spot, were somewhere between their hatching day and emerging from the water to test out there fancy new lungs. Their feathery gills still remained, along with four legs with toes all sticking straight out from their sides. They wiggled towards the protection of the roots of a tree while I got down on the ground to put my head in the water. 

I relished the feeling of being on the ground with my hands on the rocks, getting dirty and not caring, while the cool water surrounded my head. After hiking for three straight days without a shower it was the most refreshing thing in the world. You might be contemplating something right now that you think is more refreshing, but you'd be wrong. This is the most refreshing thing, trust me. 

One of the final sections of trail was through a forest of towering pine trees on a path of brownish-orange dried pine needles that contrasted the bright green foliage on each side. White moths fluttered around me creating a especially peaceful atmosphere that felt much different than the rest of the trail.

After some trouble getting around two large fallen pine trees and emerging on the other side with a couple of scrapes, I had a choice to make. Towards the end of the trail it does a loop for those who want to do a short section that begins and ends at their vehicle. I could take the long way and do an extra mile or take the shorter but more difficult route. I decided on the shorter but harder section and after one more final climb I got back to the car. I could see its green paint between the green-leaved branches of the trees. It was such a sight for sore eyes.

I was thirsty, hell-bent on eating a cheeseburger and ready to rest my now very sore left foot. I stopped to take a photo to mark the end of my journey and immediately drove to a soda machine that I knew was next to the showers at the campground. Luckily it had something other than soda. I don’t drink soda, but probably would have in this case. I grabbed a dollar from my wallet but the machine wouldn't take it. Isn't it coincidental? Don't you think? It's like rain on your wedding day. Uh, that song was still in my head.

I turned on my “Songs From Quentin Tarantino Films” playlist and headed out of Delaney to the theme from Pulp Fiction. It seemed a good fit to the end of my short but exhausting expedition. 

I drove into Salem about sever or eight miles from the campground and, after a few minutes, found a Wendy’s. I stared at the menu for a few seconds at the selection of cheeseburgers. From left to right each burger got larger and less healthy than the one before it. I settled on the largest greasiest most unhealthy in the bunch. A double cheeseburger with a half pound of beef and several strips of bacon. I knew I wouldn’t have another one for a few more years if at all so I ate it slowly and enjoyed each bite to the fullest then washed it all down with 32 ounces of lemonade… it was glorious.

When I arrived at home I didn't bother taking my gear inside. I opened my fridge and guzzled every ounce of liquid I could find. I headed upstairs and crashed on my bed with my aching feet propped up on pillows; not waking up once for the next 12 hours.

On my backpacking trips, I come back with a new appreciation for things that would normally seem mundane. This one was no exception; namely cheeseburgers, lemonade, showers, a tick-less place to sit, and music blaring on a car radio speeding down a highway. That is one of the great aspects of backpacking. Even though there will occasionally be things that makes a trip less enjoyable than you’d like, you will always enjoy something enormously by the end of it that you weren’t enjoying before you left. Whether it’s the trail itself or those same mundane things you had at home all along. In this particular case it was a little of both. 

Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

The Knobstone Trail, Part Three
- Number 69 on my life list.

Part Three
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

The next morning I kept hearing very faint voices. I assumed that other backpackers were getting ready to pass by, but I didn’t see anyone. This went on for a while, but I never could pinpoint where it was coming from. It seemed close. It was like one of those dreams where you are moving forward but can never quite get to your destination. Is this similar to what the schizophrenics are hearing? How could I really know if I was crazy?

As I made my way down the trail, the voices seemed to move with me; always just ahead but never closer. Once I came near enough to the source I realized it was coming from a speaker hundreds of yards away.

It was a peculiar auditory effect that I still don’t understand. I tried to make out the muffled words, but, it wasn’t until they were put to music that I understood. A young girl’s voice started singing the national anthem. I imagine the sounds were emanating from a nearby baseball diamond. I would have put my hand over my heart or saluted but I was too busy defending the legs of Helm's Deep again. 

I hiked about eight miles today before stopping for lunch. A log was reaching over a shallow stream that was dry in spots and offered a perfect place to sit and rest. 

I propped my backpack against the log, sat next to it and unpacked my cooking gear. Today’s feast was going to be dehydrated chili mac, more turkey jerky, and an energy bar. The chili mac didn’t taste good at all, so I pulled the trowel from my pack, walked a little further into the woods, and buried the uneaten portion in the ground (leave no trace). I enjoyed this spot so I sat on the log a while longer and listened to the gurgling creak and took some photos. 

After another day of many strenuous ups and downs, I decided I couldn’t go up another hill. So, for some reason, I climbed one more. I got to about mile thirty before finding a decent spot to setup camp. 

Seventeen miles was my new one day record. My feet had taken a lot of abuse but were still holding up pretty well considering. I had a sore developing on the back of my left foot from the steady friction of an exposed piece of plastic in the back of my worn out hiking shoes. Before leaving I knew this spot would be a problem, so, rather than spend more money on gear, I tried to repair it with some aquarium filter media and duct tape. It was comfortable for a while but overall an incredibly dumb idea. I learned my lesson. Good shoes will, from now on, be my most important piece of equipment. 

The rest of my body felt great, with only mild but expected soreness in my shoulders from the weight of the pack. I only had sixteen miles to go and was debating whether or not I should take it easy and do the rest in 2 days or get done early and spend Tuesday recovering at home, before going back to work early the next morning. I figured I'd wait and see how I felt. 

The campsite was similar to the one the night before. I laid out my tarp and tent on top of a flat bed of dried pine needles and leaves. I also spent this night much like the previous one; had the same meal and listened to the same sounds. The one difference was I could sort of see the sun setting as I got into my tent. The trees were thick but I could see the orange sky between the few openings between leaves.

Part 4 >
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

The Knobstone Trail, Part Two
- Number 69 on my life list.

Part Two
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

It was a warm night, so I woke up often. Eventually, I rolled the windows down due to the rising temperature and humidity in the car. This made me feel a little unsafe. Once realizing that a slightly rolled down window wasn't really going to protect me anyway, I put them down all the way and felt a cool breeze pass through the car. After that I had no trouble staying asleep.

I was awoken the next morning by an early-to-rise fisherman parking next to me in a red pickup. I was coated in a thin layer of dew and thankful it was morning. The scenery around me was kind of pretty. There was a good-sized pond hugged by hills covered with dense trees. The fisherman was making his way around the pond to find his spot. After getting out and stretching my legs, I headed into the woods for the usual morning bathroom visit.

Less than five feet into the woods I saw my first wild animal, an Eastern Box Turtle about five inches in length. I presumed I’d see wildlife, but seeing something after only hiking five feet was a good sign that there would be lots more.

I headed back to Delaney to see if I could use their showers. One of the hardest things about living in the woods and hiking several miles each day under a hot sun is the lack of showers. I wanted to start my hike feeling clean and fresh. The teenage boy was there again, playing his guitar on a bench at the entrance. He let me in to use the showers. A typical campground shower with little privacy and no water pressure, but I knew if I had been here after the hike, instead of before it, it would have been the most wonderful shower ever.

I agreed to meet my driver at 9 AM at the gatehouse. It was still early so I hung around the park for a little while. It was a picturesque well-tended park. They had camping spots in an open area, but right up on the lake, and others that were more secluded beyond a line of trees. The backdrop of lush green hills closing in the area was comforting. If this place was near home I'd be a regular.

9 o'clock came and went but still no driver. I started to worry since I had no cell phone coverage and no easy way for us to communicate. 

“Are you Ryan Grayson?” the boy yelled from the gatehouse window. He had a message for me from the driver that he would be arriving soon. I found a nearby picnic table, sat on it for a little while, and just stared out at the landscape. A crew of workers was out maintaining the grounds, a few people with towels started to gather near a sandy beach, and a woman was giving three small boys a ride on a golf cart. I was picking a tick off my pant leg when the driver arrived about 9:30.

He was a really interesting and friendly person in his late 40s, dark long hair and unshaven. We drove back to the trailhead past the woman and three boys from the golf cart before, who moved to the side to let us by. My car got stuck in some mud for a few seconds as I tried to keep up with him in his 4x4. This is where my journey would end. My car would be waiting to reward my accomplishment with air conditioning and comfortable seats. 

I loaded my gear in the back of his red jeep wrangler and hopped in the front seat.

"I wish that lady wasn't there so I could take a leak." he said after getting in on the driver’s side. 

He apologized for being a little late and said he was up all night working his night club. He owns a bar that has been in his family off and on for years and runs it by himself.

"I brought in over two grand last night." He complained later about pains in his hand from opening so many beer bottles. 

He prefers to do it by himself mostly because, as he says, employees just get in his way and he gets a lot more tip money. He told me some stories about what goes on in that bar that may not be suitable for this particular post. I'll just say I don't think he gets bored very often. 

In some ways I related to him. I think we shared common philosophies. His brother is the CEO of a large company, that I know you've heard of, but he prefers the simpler life. He has a small home on the side of the hills in Southern Indiana with a good view, works for himself, and is immersed in his backcountry hobby by offering the shuttle and trail guide services to make some extra cash. He has spent over 700 nights on the KT and had plenty of advice to offer. Some practical regarding water sources and others of things I would have never thought of. 

“Have you ever heard of a hoot owl? If you take a hoot owl call you can attract owls to your site. I once had a dozen at my campsite at once.”

He seemed like a guy that truly enjoyed nature. He says his brother once told him that he envied his lifestyle because, unlike him, he's always under incredible pressure. Conversely, even with the millions of dollars and no debt, neither one of us envied his brother.

The ride to Deam Lake took just under an hour. We talked the whole way. I talked of last year’s backpacking trip. He talked of his trips to Colorado and how a few days ago he accidentally gave his son over $450. His teenage son needed some cash so he handed him a tip jar from the bar, with what he suspected was about a hundred-plus dollars. Later when his son called him to thank him for his generosity he just kept his mouth shut and instead took the pleasure of hearing how happy it made him.

"He's been hiding stashes of one's all over the place," his ex-wife said over the phone, who he also didn't tell of his mistake.

I write about this mostly because I like to remember the interesting people I meet on my trips. My backpacking trips, so far, have been solo, but so far it seems I always take away stories of at least one interesting person that I meet along the way. 

We finally arrived at the beginning of the KT. He got out of the vehicle and, after a long wait, got that leak he was deprived of at Delaney. He waited for me to unload my pack and offered one more piece of advice.

"I'm shuttling three college girls up here tomorrow so you might want to take it slow and allow them time to catch up."

I just awkwardly laughed knowing that even with that knowledge I would still try to get the miles I needed each day. I'm willing to except the notion that I, perhaps, need to reevaluate my priorities.

Before he left he told me to call him if I had any trouble. It was nice to have that safety net. He suggested I camp just past mile marker six where there was a nice spot with a fire pit and a great view. I appreciated the advice but still planned on getting at least ten miles done today anyway. My goal was to hike ten miles on day one, thirteen on days two and three, and ten on the final day.

He pulled away and I lifted my pack onto my shoulders. The sound of tires on gravel faded away and I was left standing there in near silence with only the contents of my pack, my car 46 miles away, and a sign that said Mile 0. I felt a sudden sense of isolation. I was loving it already. 

Somewhere between mile four and five I stopped for my first break at a creek under a green canopy of tall trees. I was glad to slide the pack off my shoulders and dip my towel in the clear water to put over my face to cool off. I opened up my pack to get my filter and filled up my hydration pack and plastic bottle. 

While filling up, two women passed by on an intersecting horse trail. No matter how many times I see horses on the trail I still stare in awe like a child.

"Hey look it's a human", they said to their horses, not to each other. "He's getting himself a clean drink of water. You fellas want one."

They stopped to let the horses drink from the same stream I was filling up in. This along with their “it’s a human” comment made me feel sort of like just another feral animal living in the wild… a wild animal with a water purifier, hiking shoes, and state-of-the-art fabrics for shelter and warmth but still wild nonetheless. 

I pulled out my cook stove and made a pot of instant buttery mashed potatoes. Dessert was dehydrated apple chips I made a couple of days prior. I sat a little while longer, drank my water then topped off the bottle in the creek. I hoisted the pack back onto my shoulders and headed north again. 

Less than a mile later I made it up my first "peak" and got my first taste of how difficult this trail could actually be. I was amazed that I was this high up and in the normally flat Indiana simultaneously. It was high enough to see the Louisville skyline in the distance about 15 miles away. Some of the locals call these mountains. I'm not sure I'd call a thousand foot high hill a mountain but still very beautiful and unexpected. 

Just after mile six I found the spot the driver was talking about to stay for my first night. It was situated on a small flat plateau on top of a steep knob with a 360 degree view of the valley below. It was an excellent spot with four logs surrounding a fire pit in the middle and room for a few tents around the perimeter. I sat on one of the logs and tried to repair some hot spots on my feet. 

I've gained some calluses from previous hikes but was still developing some potential trouble spots. As unattractive as it may be I welcome the calluses. I have less blisters each time I go hiking. I'm willing to guess that this will be the only blog where you’ll read about the hardening of one’s foot skin due to hiking... and you’re welcome. I should bring this up sometime on a dinner date. "So Ryan what do you do for a living?" "Oh some stuff with computers anyway let me tell you about my foot calluses… each time I go hiking I start building up these hard patches of skin that..... Hey where you going? Come back I'm not finished with my stories? You gonna finish this chicken?" 

Anyway, back to the trail, a father and son passed by and sat on the log next to me. Wanting to explore this chance of meeting someone else interesting I tried to start a conversation. No luck at all. I didn't get the feeling they wanted to talk, so I left after pulling three more ticks off my legs and taping up potential future blisters. 

One thing I will not, and cannot, forget about this trip was the dozens of ticks I had to pick, peel, and flick off my body. They constantly attempted to crawl up my legs trying to make it past my first line of defense, wool socks pulled up past my ankles. 

They scaled my legs like they were the walls at Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings. Occasionally one managed to get past the wool wall and made it to skin. They were no match against my second line of defense, however, sensitive nerve endings and leg hair.

Every once in a while I thought I felt one tucked away under my sock or in my shoe; perhaps waiting for me to fall asleep to make their next move. I pictured a video camera zooming in under the sock revealing to a breathless audience of movie-goers the one castaway slyly concealing itself, waiting for my slumber. That would have been an excellent place for an act break in a movie about my journey with Lyme disease, if it happened, but it didn’t. Either way, I still itched at imaginary bugs even after I was safe in my tent. And I'd still see them at night when I closed my eyes. If the unholy pests can't get burrowed into your skin they find a way to get burrowed into your subconscious. 

I didn’t take any other breaks on this day. Instead opting for getting more than the ten miles I needed. I crossed the path of a couple snakes, a Green Tree Snake and one I identified later as a Northern Water Snake. I know Southern Indiana is home to a few poisonous snakes but I wasn't really concerned about that. A few years of owning a pet store got me use to things I never would go near as a child. I had also passed a couple of fence lizards and blue-tailed skinks, both female and the beautifully colored males with their bright blue markings. 

As I passed mile 13 I started looking for a place to settle down for the night. I found a nice clearing that had obviously been camped at before. There were a couple fire pits and the ground was flattened by backpackers whose trips had come and gone. I setup my tent and laid out my tarp to give myself a tick-free place to sit and rest. 

I ate what I could from my pack that didn't require starting up the stove. So that meant some homemade trail mix, turkey jerky and dehydrated apples, and a foil packet of salmon. I tied a bag of my uneaten food to a rope and hoisted it over a tree branch to keep critters from stealing it. Then I organized my things and laid down in the tent with the rain cover off so not to trap in unwanted heat. 

I sat up for a while watching the trees sway through the clear mesh tent ceiling. This is one of my favorite backpacking moments; lying there in a bug-free tent, resting my tired body and listening to the sounds of nature. Birds chirping to each other in their unique way trying to be noticed in a world flooded with sound, the communal harmonics of an ensemble of cicadas, and trees creaking and wailing as if they too had matters to communicate to fellow species.

I fell asleep, but soon woke to hear a light rain’s rhythmic patter join the cicadas. I grabbed my head lamp and got up to put the rain cover on. When I got back in my tent I hoped for a little more drizzle than what I got purely for the sound it makes when it taps the rain cover. I love that sound the most.

Part Three >
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

The Knobstone Trail, Part One
- Number 69 on my life list.

Part One
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4

The Knobstone trail traverses 46 miles through mixed hardwood forests with several exhausting climbs to flat-topped ridges along the Knobstone escarpment. The southern Indiana trail runs from Deam Lake near the Kentucky border to Delaney Park, eight miles north of Salem.

It is the state’s longest trail and has been compared to the famous Appalachian Trail, which is also on my list. I hoped this hike would help prepare me for more strenuous long-distance treks as this land is the most rugged in the state.

I left after work on a Friday and arrived at Delaney Park around 8pm. The plan was to stay there for the night, leave my car where the trail would end, and have a shuttle service drive me to the start.

I pulled in at the gatehouse and learned it would cost $26 to spend the night. The shuttle driver tomorrow would be expecting $60… no doubt also in cash. There was $80 in my wallet. I quickly considered the possibility of sleeping in my car, but where.

Also, I realized I had forgotten to pack my hiking poles. I didn't like the idea of hiking a trail as difficult as this one solo without the security of the poles. They help keep me balanced, reduce the chances of falling or injury, and take some of the strain off my knees. No matter how much I plan, unexpected little things like this always seem to happen. But, with each trip's unforeseen events I gain a little knowledge to prepare me for the next.

I asked the teenage boy behind the gatehouse window if he knew of a place I could buy hiking poles. He pointed me to their camp store just a few yards from the entrance, but didn’t seem to think they would have them. 

From what I could see as I approached the shop’s screen door, I knew I would be out of luck. They didn't have much of anything in their hundred square foot space. Although, if I was in there for one of those miniature Snoopy fishing poles, some ketchup and mustard, and a can of soda I would have been pleasantly surprised.

A woman sat behind a counter being paid to read a paperback novel. I asked her if she knew whether Salem had a 24-hour department store.

"Salem doesn't have anything," she said in a friendly, but melancholic tone. "I know because I live there." I thanked her and went back to the car to check my map. The town of Scottsburg was twenty miles away.

The boy at the gatehouse told me Scottsburg had a Wal-Mart. "What time do you leave for the day?" I asked. "Ten," he said. I still had an hour and a half to get to the store, hopefully find hiking poles, get some extra cash from the ATM, and get back before the gatehouse closed. 

One of the first things I saw going into Scottsburg was the Wal-mart. So far so good I thought. Getting back in time was starting to seem possible. 

I went straight to the sporting goods section and was relieved to see that they had two sets of poles in stock. I reached past a woman standing in front of them to secure a set before they were gone, as though it was Christmas Eve 1983 and she was standing in the way of the last two Cabbage Patch Dolls. 

It was ridiculous to think she was there to buy the last two sets of hiking poles, but they were an important survival tool and you can’t suppress instinct. Nevertheless, if she did grab them, I was fully prepared to pry them out of her hands and sprint to the checkout. She walked away not knowing the primal thought process taking place in my brain. After a quick quality test on the poles, I hurried to the checkout. 

While waiting in line one of the strangest things I ever experience at a Wal-Mart happened. Some of the employees started chanting "Give me a W... W!. Give me an A... A!” until finally ending on, “What’s that spell, Wal-Mart! What? Wal-Mart!” My cashier excitedly got involved as well and repeated the mantra with what seemed like pride. But could it be? I’m not use to this. I've never seen anybody so excited to be working at Wal-Mart at 9:30 PM or anywhere for that matter. Their enthusiasm helped to get me back into a good mood. After a stop at the ATM and after grabbing a quick sandwich at the in-store Subway I headed back to Delaney in good spirits and ready for my trip. 

About three miles from the entrance the clock struck 10:00. Nobody was there. Later I found out that they went home early. I decided to pull into the Spurgeon-Hollow Knobstone Trailhead, just a couple miles from Delaney, to sleep in my car. It wouldn't be the first time. I actually don't mind it.

I drove down the bumpy narrow gravel path to the parking area driving slowly over several dips, so my car wouldn't bottom out. It was dark and difficult to see exactly what was around me. There was a pond or small lake and a van backed up to it with people presumably fishing out the back. 

I backed my car into the gravel parking lot, cracked my windows, watched a couple videos on my MP3 player while eating my sandwich from Subway, then easily fell asleep.

Part 2 >
Go to Part 1, 2, 3, 4