River to River Trail – Day 20

One Horse Gap to nearly Herod
3.72 Miles

What a night!  Just as I was getting ready to close my book, I looked out of my hammock to see a fury of lightening bugs at the border of the trees.  It was an incredible sight to see them all flashing on and off into the forest, like something out of a fairy tale.  Just wonderful.

I fell asleep and just after 1am a strong wind started blowing.  It wasn’t dissimilar to the wind right before the thunderstorm he night before, so I worried about Arbor’s lack of tarp.  I called to him and he told me that he saw clear skies from where he lay, so I tried to lay back and relax.  My tree kept making noises and I just couldn’t give up the worry so I got up to check my lines and everything looked solid.  While doing so,  I saw the stars through the leaves and asked Arbor if he wanted to go up on the bluff and look at the sky win me.

We climbed up through the gap using a headlamp and out onto the rocks.  The sky was brilliant and clear and all together amazing.  We could see the Milky Way and a gazillion different stars.  So many stars that we just couldn’t pick out any of the constellations we knew.  We both wished we’d brought our phones up with us because we have star map apps on them, but neither of us wanted to climb down and up again.  We laid down on the rock, held hands, and watched the sky.  It was quite romantic and in the space of ten minutes, we saw five shooting stars.  

Once we climbed back down, the wind had all but died away.  The romantic in me says that the wind came just to make sure we didn’t miss the opportunity to look up into the night sky.

With my sleep interrupted, I didn’t wake until 7am.  I’m usually up by 5:30 or 6 these days, so 7 seemed crazy.  Arbor was up and getting a jump on his chores.  I got dressed and brought breakfast over and we were mixing our oatmeal when Mike rode up on his mountain bike.  He stopped to chat when he got a call on his cell from his wife Pam, who was out on horseback somewhere.  Mike rides this route regularly and talked about the other hikers he’s come across up here, some doing better than others.  He told us that just two days prior he was riding win a 22 year old who’s front wheel got “tacoed” and they came up to try and fix it rich where I was sitting.  Mike himself is 53 and in amazing shape.  He lives just off the trail a bit and it sounds like both he and his wife are making the most out of living in the area.  He was really interested in our hammocks and my chair and we talked about gear a bit before he took his leave and headed back the way he came.

We took our time over breakfast and breakdown and said goodbye to what ended up being a truly lovely campsite.

Hiking was just as pretty.  The bluffs continued for quite a ways and we even passed another camp spot in a shallow cave.  It would be fun to stay there if we were tent goers. The walking remained largely downhill, and the temps had cooled off as well as being slightly overcast, so it was just brilliant conditions.

We turned onto a road, but it was one of those gravel roads rarely used and entirely shaded.  It was gorgeous and flat or slightly downhill, making it some of the easiest hiking we’d ever done on this trip.  Four horseback riders came along our path and they stopped to talk with us.  Jerry and his granddaughter Hannah live in the area, while Robert and Angela hail from Kentucky and come out here to ride rather frequently.  They are retired dairy farmers who took up riding as soon as the farm was behind them.  Like us, they feel like this is a new chapter in their lives and are among the most of it.  

Everyone was surprised that we were 42.  That seems to be a common theme, most folks believe we are in our twenties, and when they hear we’re from CU, they think we are students at the university.  I tell them that all the sweating is good for the complexion, but really I’m very flattered.  I guess backpacking is a young persons sport in the minds of most people.

It was a nice visit and we parted ways to enjoy the truly excellent day.  At our next road turn off, we set down our packs to have a snack break.  We realized we only had a mile and a half to go, and all downhill.  We officially declared it to be the best hiking day ever.

Down we went, toward the creek in deep forest.  We arrived at the established campsite at 1:30 and we weren’t even winded.  Certainly it was a low mile day, but even all downhill at that.  We would love to have pushed onward, but we need to camp so that we can reach the post office as early as possible the next morning, and this was the last forest before the road. 

With all our extra time, we did a detailed inventory of our packs for future trips.  We then sat down in the creek and watched all the different fish, water bugs and crayfish wander across our field of vision.  We even had a resident lizard skitter back and forth on the log spanning the creek, looking for a meal.  It was wonderfully relaxing.  Of course, now my pants are wet.

We set up hammocks and filtered another giant load of water.  Tomorrow is going to be a far more difficult day.  It’s a post office stop and the rest is straight uphill to a scenic overlook, and there won’t be any water.  Hopefully the weather will stay on the cooler side, so we don’t need to drink as much on the way up.

We looked over all of our plans and are reconsidering much of our route.  We were planning to stay at High Knob Campground the day after tomorrow, but our lack of cash makes us decidedly nervous since none of the campgrounds have taken credit except for Giant City Lodge.  We’ve heard wonderful things about JoJo the owner, and how she’s partial to hikers, but we don’t want to push our luck.  It might be best to push through to Garden of the Gods tomorrow, where we know there is water and then hike past JoJo’s for a handful more miles the next day.  It just makes tomorrow that much more strenuous because I suspect that most of it will be uphill.

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