River to River Trail – GPS & Maps

We used John Voigts trail guide and found it indispensable. We also found Jeff Wegerson’s maps and GPS files extremely useful; they were originally published on the Chicago Thru-Hike Backpackers’ Meetup page, but that group has since been disbanded. We are reprinting them here with Jeff’s permission. Between the three (trail guide, paper maps & GPS data) we got lost far less often than we would have … and had an easier time returning to the trail, when we did.

The map images show the older River to River Trail on the topo-map, Jeff’s GPS route with colors indicating when they walked road vs. trail, and the Voigts map coordinates. Having all three was incredibly valuable, since there were areas where old and new trails diverge, and occasionally the Chicago Thru-Hike Backpackers went their own way. When you aren’t sure where you are on the trail, its nice to have options!

Click the links below to download either GPX or KML-style GPS files:
KML SegmentsKML Points
GPX SegmentsGPX Points

Click thumbnails below to get Jeff’s high-res map images for printing on legal-size paper, or get enlarged and reformatted 8.5 x 11 PDF maps at the bottom of this page.
(We recommend waterproof paper and a color laser printer if possible.)

Jeff Wegerson’s maps, on legal sized paper, had details that were too small for us to read or use for navigation in the elements. Arbor considered using large 11 x 17 paper, but finally settled on reformatting them to print double-sided on standard 8.5 x 11 paper.

Click links below to get PDFs of the actual maps we carried from the West (on the Mississippi) to the East (at Elizabethtown), and sent General Delivery with our food:

Overview: Side A (Mississippi R.) & Side B (Ohio R. at E-Town)
1st Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 47,45) & Side B (last Voigts: 46,63)
2nd Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 44,09) & Side B (last Voigts: 43,45)
3rd Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 41,36) & Side B (last Voigts: 40,76)
4th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 38,59) & Side B (last Voigts: 35,84)
5th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 34,54) & Side B (last Voigts: 33,51)
6th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 31,61) & Side B (last Voigts: 29,29)
7th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 28:85) & Side B (last Voigts: 26,62)
8th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 25,27) & Side B (last Voigts: 23,80)
9th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 22,18) & Side B (last Voigts: 20,52)
10th Leaf: Side A (last Voigts: 19,49) & Side B (last Voigts: 18,99) <– E-Town woohoo!

… be sure to print "actual size" from Adobe Reader rather then fitting or shrinking.

Try printing some out or load your GPS for your next Shawnee outing … and have fun!
~Tau & Arbor~


River to River Trail – Day 25

Elizabethtown to Home
0 Miles hiked

In spite of being able to sleep in, we woke up at 5:30 per usual.  We putzed around on the internet for a bit, then got dressed to putz on the internet outside on the gorgeous porch overlooking the river.   The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, warm without being hot and a light breeze off the water.

There was hot coffee available and we enjoyed it outside while we caught up with all the events that had been published on Facebook over the last month or so.  Bertis was there and we chatted a bit before he went to mow the lawn.  We checked out the gazebo on the property and just did our very best to relax and enjoy this day in between hiking and heading back to the world.

We got called in to breakfast and were treated to the most wonderful spread.  I think I have fallen in love with biscuits.  Arbor tells me that it’s because the last few places we’d had them, knew how to make them really well, but he thinks he can start making them for me at home.  Yum!  I’m a picky eater, but everything on my plate that morning was right up my alley and Becky had on a classic tunes radio station, playing all the songs straight out of my childhood.  

We went back to our room and packed up everything and dragged it outside, so that they could prepare the room for the next guests at their leisure.  We returned to our spots on the porch.  We could have explored the rest of the town, but I honestly never wanted to leave that view.  Becky’s daughter in law joined us and then Becky did as well, and we all sat around talking and sharing stories until our eldest arrived to bring us home.  I got hug from Becky as we left, who told me we were their most interesting guests yet.  😉

Arbor got behind the wheel and mentioned how alien it felt to be driving after so long on our feet.  We passed signs on the road pointing to all the various places we’d been and I was overcome by a bittersweet feeling.  I was thrilled to be done, and yet would miss all we’d experienced.

Arbor started searching for the highway overpass we walked under, and then there it was.  We looked down to see what our trail looked like from the road above.  It was pretty daunting and bigger than I’d thought at the time.  I tried to get a better photo, but we passed it in the blink of an eye.

We are usually chatter boxes when we road trip, but we were both rather quiet on the way back.  We listened to the Avett Brothers and got caught in our own internal thought processes.

We pulled into our driveway about 4:00 and opened the door to find 4 very eager dogs, a relatively clean house, a giant pile of mail and three happy kids.  It was good to be home.

River to River Trail – Day 24

Elizabethtown wilderness to Rose Hotel
6.84 Miles

I woke up at 5am, but wasn’t quite ready to jump out and get started.  This was my last day out on the trail, and I had to think on that a while.  Finally about 45 minutes later, I woke Arbor and we worked on morning routines.  I was ready to go by 8, but waited for Arbor to be settled and we headed off at 9:15.

The trip was a lot more lovely today, so it was a nice way to finish out the trail.  It certainly wasn’t downhill, however.  We kept joking about who threw all these uphill climbs in our downhill day!  There was a ton of variety in the trail, forest and fields and we walked through an area that was in partnership with Quails Forever and the Illinois chapter of Wild Turkey Federation.

There was a chimney along the road, in the middle of the field.  It must have been a lovely location to live, once upon a time.

We stopped by the Iron furnace, the only one remaining from our state’s historic iron industry.  It closed production in 1883.  It was much larger than I had anticipated, and was actually really cool to see.  It’s a bit off the trail, but worth the time.  We had a full days worth of water when we started, but we filtered again at the creek near the furnace.  Good thing too.

I got close to a really large 4 point buck, unintentionally and we scared the dickens out of one another.  We saw box turtles, and hummingbirds and saw the tail end of a snake shimmy away.  I even saw a monarch butterfly – the first of the whole trip, and I have to say the first I’ve seen in a couple of years.  I even spied a scarlet tananger, which was just wonderful.

We got lost a couple of times, and had to bushwhack to stay on the trail that our gps showed us, but nothing too tragic.  We took a lot of breaks today, including a beautiful spot by a lake.  It was pretty hot and we drank 7 electrolyte drink mixes, when we normally drink 3.  It was just a really rough day.

Arbor fell to his knee hard once, taking his fall tally up to four times – but not beating out my five.

We finally made it out of the forest and into farmland.  The sky was amazing and the vistas were a welcome sight.  We even got wifi and started texting the news as we walked.  It was a gravel road for three quarters of a mile and then we curved onto blacktop and we could see the beginnings of Elizabethtown.  

There was a ballpark, church and homes, and we quickened our pace as we walked through downtown.  One block down and we could see the Ohio River!  We had made it!  

Lo and behold, right there at the end of the trail say the famous catfish restaurant that we had heard about all along the trail.  I can’t imagine why anyone goes the other direction – this way you end up right at food!  We walked in, and sat on the floating deck area.  We ordered our catfish and Arbor spilled his Mississippi River water into the Ohio, right off the side of the deck.

We ate, texted, instagramed and called my mom.  I was still in disbelief that we had made it.  After a certain point, I knew we would finish – and yet a different part of me still couldn’t see myself as someone who was capable of all of this.  That part was struggling to embrace the feat that we had undertaken and succeeded at.

The weather started to turn, and I desperately wanted to get settled into our hotel before the rain hit.  We grabbed our packs and walked the block over to the Rose Hotel that also shared the shoreline with the restaurant.  It’s a beautiful building with a double decker porch that overlooks the water.

We walked up and greeted the folks sitting outside, and they just happened to be the hotel operators who greeted us by name.  Becky told me later that when we’d called her from he trail, she hadn’t realized we were hiking.  When she heard we were coming from Grand Tower, she figured we were cyclists.  She said when we walked up with packs on, she was just stunned.

She gave us our key, showed us our room and when I asked about the possibility of laundry, she very generously said we could run a load. (Even though it’s not something they offer) I immediately gathered laundry while Arbor took a shower, and 30 minutes later I was shifting things to the dryer and made myself comfortable on the porch with Becky, her husband Bertis the mayor and their daughter in law.  

We told all our crazy trail stories, they were wonderfully curious about some of the logistics and we launched into so many of our other wild dreams and past exploits.  We learned that this is their first year running the hotel – although the hotel itself has been in operation for over 100 years.  We even met the area Marshall, who loves to bow hunt carp and stops in at the hotel to touch base with Bertis and Becky frequently.

I never went upstairs to take my bath because their company was so utterly engaging.  They offered Arbor a beer and even had a Smirnoff for me.  We sat out until after dark, just swapping stories like we were fast friends.  I just love it on that porch, and never really want to leave it.  We will definitely have to come back, preferably for the 4th of July when the whole town puts on an amazing show (I even got to see the street play rehearsed) and feast, and the fireworks are shot off the River and the hotel has a front row seat.

I love that we ended our trail here.  It’s the perfect conclusion to an amazing journey, and solidifies that a true highlight of the hike were the amazing people that we met along the way.  I will never forget them, the incredible things I’ve seen, and the person inside of me I wasn’t aware existed.

River to River Trail – Day 23

High Knob Campground to wilderness before E-town
9.71 + miles

I slept well and was grateful for the rest.  Our devices were all fully charged as well, and that was a real boon.  We made our oatmeal and coffee and reflected on the time ahead of us.  One more night in the woods and two days of hiking left.  It was surreal to think we were so close to being done.

We worked our way over to the camp office, where all the men in the neighborhood came to drink JoJo’s free coffee and talk about the events of the time.  They are also  a bunch of practical jokers, and pulled a fast one on JoJo’s husband who was away in Michigan.  We joined in the conversations when we could, and as always when the talk of our trip came up, people asked about snakes.  We showed our photos and they told us we’d seen a chicken snake and a common grass snake.

I snuggled on the dogs some more and then we said our goodbyes.  JoJo have us warm hugs and blessings and we walked up the hill to high knob.  It’s a half mile straight up, but we were heartened by the knowledge that after that climb, everything else would trend downhill. It was also a perfect day.  The rain the day before made the temps bearable, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  It made me extra glad we’d stayed instead of driving on in the rain.

We enjoyed the view up at high knob, ate our second breakfast and Arbor was able to catch enough signal to Instagram and text the kids.  I think my life proof case blocks my reception enough when the signal is weak, and I’m just out of luck. It just means I get to conserve my battery life more anyway.

Most of the rest of the day was following old forest service roads through some of her ugliest parts of the trail yet.  JoJo talked about the 18 mile climb demoralizing folks, but I now think it’s combined with the uninspiring landscape as well.  If you don’t know that hints will get vastly better, it’s hard to imagine the trail is worth it.

*not* a creek crossing – this is the trail

this is a dryish creek crossing

We had a long day before us since we stopped short of our goal the might before.  It ended up being rather grueling with lots of tall weeds and bush whacking, plus the trail was terribly muddy from the storm, so we didn’t escape with dry feet.  We had four major creek crossings and several smaller ones as well.  We managed to keep our shoes on for all but the last, but didn’t always keep our feet dry in spite of trying.  

The last creek crossing was .87 miles before the campsite notes in the Voigt’s book, so we needed to load up on water there for the night and the following day.  I was rather worn out by then, and made my displeasure known.  This had the I intended effect of causing Arbor to worry about me and trying to hurry things along.  We filtered and packed up, and in his haste, he left the filter hanging on the tree, but put the full bladders in his pack.

We hiked on to the campsite, and it was just a large gravel circle without even any trees just along its border.  While it could do for a tent camper (though you’d need an air mattress I’d imagine), it wouldn’t work for us.  We pushed on and it was after that that Arbor realized we’d left the filter.  I turned to head back, but Arbor said he was going to leave his pack where we stood and go back to collect it.  I don’t like leaving packs unattended, so would need to stay with them.  He said we could find a better spot for me to wait, and that’s when we saw the hill with some leaf litter and decided that’s where we’d camp.  

We found trees and he left with his walking pole and a bottle of water and I set up my hammock and pulled my chair onto the path to write this post and wait for him to return.  I’m a natural worrier, so I’m doing my best to believe that it’s just a slog there and back, and nothing more.

At 7:15 I started to panic a little, and I walked up the path a ways and shouted his name three times as loud as I could, but heard no reply.  I didn’t want to leave everything behind, yet I had the worst scenarios running through my head.  I retreated to my hammock, because that’s the safest place I know, and I needed to get a grip of my wild imaginings.  I told myself that at 8:00 I would hit the trail with a headlamp and my emergency whistle.  

I was counting down the minutes when Arbor called out that he could see our area and I hollered back that I was so glad he wasn’t dead!  He got back to camp at 7:50.  He put up his hammock, forgoing his tarp and I made dinner.  We ate just as the sun was slipping under the horizon and then headed to bed to sleep our last night on the trail.

River to River Trail – Day 22

Garden of the Gods campground to High Knob Campground
3.68 Miles

I woke up at five, but the campground was still sleeping including Arbor and I didn’t want to risk waking anyone, so I laid in the hammock and read my book until 6.  I whispered to Arbor that it was time to get moving, and we made breakfast and talked in hushed voices the best we could.  By the time we were done eating, Brenda and Laura were moving about and we got to the task of packing up.

When I was done, I walked over to their camp and joined them for more conversation and laughter.  They told me about their trip so far, and the different campgrounds and adventures they’d experienced. They are a terrific family and it makes me glad to see them out here together spending time together.  They talked of the rest of their family with well placed pride and we got to see photos and hear the stories.  They were so much fun that we were reluctant to leave.  Arbor had joined in once he had finished and we let the morning pass by while in such terrific company.

Ultimately, we had to go and we made our way down the road to the trail and headed in.  The path was wet and squishy from the nights rain, and it made for slower going and more careful placement of feet.  We had the Packa covers on, and soon enough we needed to pull them open as the rain started gently falling.

The surroundings were beautiful and the ground became entirely muddy, but the rain kept the temperatures low and nice for hiking.  The ups and downs were very manageable, nothing like the previous days and about halfway in, the path contained gravel for more easy foot grip.

Something about the weather made us less visible to the wildlife, and we ran across several deer who raced across our paths at breakneck speeds since we surprised them with our proximity.  Even a turkey vulture had to swoop just in front of us as we startled him from his perch.  The turtles thought the weather was divine and stretched out in the middle of the trail to greet us as we passed by.

All in all it was a nice hike in less than pleasant conditions.  The rain never really let up, and it was starting to come down more persistently as we walked into High Knob Campground.  We weren’t planning to stay, but I had heard so many great things about JoJo that I really wanted to meet her, and rumor had it that she had a small store where I might be able to nab another soda.

She had gone for lunch when we arrived, so we waited on the covered porch, out of the rain for her to return.  We didn’t wait long, and she heartily welcomed us into the office where we were overrun by four of the friendliest dogs.  I have four dogs back home that I miss, so all of this canine affection filled a giant hole I hadn’t been aware was even there.

We sat and chatted and she asked us about our trip and what direction we’d come.  I think our answer may have surprised her, because the vast majority of hikers coming her way depart from Elizabethtown.  It’s an 18 mile climb from town to her camp, and most do that in one day – and then 60% of them go home immediately after.  She told us that high knob, a half mile up from her spot, is the highest point along the trail, so everything is easier from there – but she doesn’t know if everyone realizes that, and then et overwhelmed and head home.  It reaffirms for me the decision to go west to east, because I don’t know that I could have survived the constant uphill at the very outset of our journey.

JoJo told us that she has a soft spot for hikers, and that she’d love to have us stay and take a hot shower, do a load of laundry and sleep in one of her cabins as a gift to us.  She wouldn’t hear of taking any money, not even a token amount.  We really had more miles to do, but the rain was coming down rather hard at that point.  What ultimately convinced us to stay was JoJo herself, who is an absolute delight.  She had one story after another, about hikers and her camp and the local area. I can’t even list all the amazing things we heard, or this entry would go on for ages.  I really just wanted to share more of her company.

We started our laundry and took our showers, and hung out in the office with JoJo and her assistant Joe and talked for ages.  I worried that we were taking too much of their time, and we probably were, but they were so generous with their company and time and I couldn’t help soaking it all in.

Joe is a farmer in the area with 1800 acres.  He helps out JoJo when he’s not working the farm and though he calls it just a job, I think he enjoys the community that’s built up around the place.  He seemed to think we were a little bit nuts to want to take our vacation time to walk all these miles, and asked questions in order to wrap his head around it.  I asked him what his ideal vacation was, and he said probably duck hunting up in Canada.  He just loves it up there and when I asked him what duck hunting was like, he talked about getting up super early to go out and freeze his butt off and talked about what a lot of work it was.  I smiled at him slyly and said it sounded an awful lot like hiking.

JoJo had me hop in her golf cart so she could show me where we’d be staying the night.  What we didn’t realize is how large the campground is.  She has several campers and cabins to rent, a brand new hotel/bunkhouse, and dozens of permanent camper residents.  There is primitive camping, horse stalls and a playground.  There is just so much to offer here, and the entire area has suggestive decor of a faux ghost town, just adding to the charm.

Once our laundry was done, she let us use the golf cart to haul our backpacks to our cabin, and then we set to settling in.  Unfortunately, our plumming plague followed us and after using the toilet it overflowed.  There was no plunger handy, and the water just kept running.  Soon the water had run out of the bathroom out into the main area all alone the wall and behind the sofa.  We panicked for a moment, and the grabbed the only large absorbent item we could, which were the sheets off the bed.  We did our best to stem the flow – I was most worried about the water getting in and under the baseboards.  I worked on sopping up the best I could and Arbor rushed back to the office.  JoJo wasn’t available at the moment, so one of her residents who helps out have us a plunger and a roll of paper towels and Arbor brought them back and I set to work drying everything I could.  The plunger wasn’t fixing the problem, and we were at a total loss for how to make things better.

Arbor took the sheets to he laundry area, brought back some disinfectant and headed back to the office to wait on JoJo.  I cleaned all the floors.  Mostly I just felt bad.  She had done us this wonderful kindness, and we were quickly becoming nothing but a problem.

JoJo up had been up all the night before because of a gravely ill mare, and it turned out that she had gone to her house to make a couple of phone calls and had fallen asleep.  She had left her office open unintentionally, and that’s where Arbor had been waiting.  Ultimately it was Arbor and JoJos resident helper who determined that the cistern for the cabin plumbing had filled up due to the rain and he came out himself to try and get it going again.  Ten minutes later we had a good flush and all was right with the world.

I was too stressed to eat after all that, so we called it a night and went to bed.

River to River Trail – Day 21

Herod to Garden of the Gods
8.2 Miles

Boy, we camped at wildlife central.  As soon as the sun went down the night birds were calling, the frogs were thunking, and the deer were barking loudly everywhere.  Arbor woke in the middle of the night to pee and I woke as well and realized that I’d hung the foot end of my hammock a touch too high and I wasn’t very comfortable.  I got out and adjusted it and went to pee myself, and at that point I was wide awake.  I laid in the hammock for 90 minutes trying to fall asleep again to no avail.  I finally got out my iPad and read half of my new book, finally feeling tired about 5am.  Woke up again at 6 and got up for the day.  Since I didn’t sleep well, I never really relaxed, so all my muscles were tense and sore – which didn’t bode well for a long day up uphill climbs.

We had a quick breakfast of bars and coffee and set to work to get packed up as quickly as possible.  We’d hoped to be on the road by 7:30, but didn’t make it til 8:15.

It was hard climbs right away.  It was a crazily steep gravel road.  I’ve been getting adjusted to uphill roads, but this one felt like mountain climbing for a half mile or so.  It was easier after that and we made quick work of the two miles to the post office.

Just before the highway bridge, you pass what was once a spring water pump made accessible to hikers.  From what I’ve read, it’s not been working for a few years now.  It’s a shame because it’s very well positioned in an otherwise dry area.

We had a short walk along a busy highway. You can see here how nerve wracking some of the road walking can be!

We got to the post office in plenty of time and we retrieved our boxes and sorted through what we kept and what got mailed back.  Susan, the postmistress, was quiet at first, but was very accommodating and helped me with tape and paper to use as a mailing label.  She as even able to give is cash with the use of our debit card!  She finally opened up and heard about our trip.  She exclaimed that you’d never catch her sleeping in the woods around here because there are black panthers in the area.  She saw one a couple of years ago while driving up by Garden of the Gods and even saw the yellow slits of the eyes.  She’s not the first person to mention black panthers here.  Becky from Bay Creek Ranch said she saw one galloping through a farmers field, also a couple of years ago.  It’s hard to believe, but I’ll definitely have to look it up when I get home. (Later in the trip, a local mentioned that there are black cougars, and she believes all the panther sightings are just that)

Susan is from Australia and lived in a shipping town where she met her husband.  She moved to Southern Illinois where they farmed for many years.  Her husband now works at the coal mine and she’s been with the post office for nine years.  She says it helps keep her mind sharp, as her father died of Alzheimer’s.  We talked about her family more and I really felt that we made a connection deeper than the usual trail talk, and it was a genuine pleasure to get to know her.  We took her photo, but she told us that it was against regulation to take any pictures inside of a post office, so as long as we didn’t post it online, it would be ok.

We left and hiked another hill a mile upward until we found the trailhead for the Garden of the Gods Wilderness.  For such a popular area, I was surprised at how rampant the poison ivy and oak were.  We hadn’t seen anything this bad since our first day.  Fortunately we were well conditioned and properly attired this time around.  Up and up the trail went, and then up some more.  The ascent this time just never really stopped.

About a third of our way, the thunder began.  It was loud and nearby and we pulled out our packas to be ready for the downpour.  There was a scenic lookout 2.28 miles ahead of is, and I could only imagine how great the photos could be if we got there before rain hit.  We decided to try and beat it, and hiked like we never had before.  We just never stopped our pace and pushed ourselves to the brink for the mission in front of us.  Incredibly we made it and were treated to some really cool sky.  You can see the rain coming down across the valley in the picture.

There was another lookout .20 miles away, so we rushed over there, but the rain began before we made it. And then suddenly it was over.  Just a tiny smattering of rain to go with all that bluster of lightening and thunder.  The second lookout was disappointing with too many trees obstructing the view, so we were grateful we caught the first one when we did.  We figured we were doing so well that we might keep going to make sure the trail stayed dry, and we kept chugging along for another half mile, before I finally hit a wall.

We took a break to eat some food, and Arbor needed a new water bladder because he’d already consumed his three liters.  I was only too happy to get rid of the extra 1.8 liter bag I was carrying, and it made my pack feel so much better when I put it back on.  Onward and upward we climbed until we reached the Garden of the Gods recreation area.  All in all, I’m confident that at least 6 of today’s 8 miles was uphill, and probably more than that.

click for a larger image

Garden of the Gods is a very popular tourist destination and we found benches to drop our packs and rest on while people walked by and over the cliffs nearby.  First we just needed to catch our breath, but it was high enough that it was the first cell signal we’d had in over a week.  We texted with the kids and friends, looked over any critical email, downloaded the weather for the rest of the trip and chatted with my mom.  It felt do good to reconnect with the greater world.  I know many people hit the trail in order to unplug for a while, but that’s never been a need of mine.  I have no conflict with nature and technology, and get as much out of one as the other.  In an ideal world, I could have both at the same time.

We eventually made it out to the cliffs ourselves, admired the view and took pictures.  Having satisfied that, we climbed down to find the campground.  The map was unclear, so we did a little backtracking, but found our way out to the road and over to the sites.  I was so glad we had money now to pay for the spot, what a relief.  There were several nice spots with good trees and I even spied two hammocks already hanging!

I walked over and introduced myself and met Brenda and her daughter Laura.  I asked about their setup, and they’re using Hammacka hammocks, a brand I’d not yet heard of.  I just love how expansive the hammocking world actually is.  We talked gear for a bit then learned that Brenda intends to hike the River to River trail next year!  Like us, she intends to go slowly and was glad to learn how long it’s taken us.  I rambled on quite a bit.  I don’t think I’d eaten enough for the days work, and so I’m afraid I embarrassed myself in front of these nice ladies.  

We went to set up, and Brenda mentioned she was heading to Walmart and asked if we needed anything.  I asked her for a cold Dr Pepper and went to get some cash, and she waved it away.  Such a small act of generosity made my whole week.  I’ve been craving a soda for so long now!

Alas, there were no showers or electricity.  It was a primitive campground with pit toilets and a hand cranked water pump.  Still, the ground was free of ivy and there was lots of room to spread out.

We got to work setting up our space immediately and efficiently.  This is pretty uncharacteristic of us as we tend to drop everything and just sit for at least thirty minutes until we find the will to get moving again.  Even after today’s exertion, we were like hammock machines.  It’s a good thing too because the thunder was suddenly back.  We went to Brendas camp and moved her few belongings under their tarps and then I quickly made dinner and we moved under my tarp to eat.

I keep making the mistake of setting up my tarp for dry summer days.  It’s higher and wider and allows for excellent air flow.  The moment I heard the thunder, I should have run for my tarp and reset it low and tight.  Instead I blithely ignored that wisdom, thinking about today’s earlier joke of a rain spirt.  It got very dark very fast, then the wind came roaring in and the rain hot on its heels.  The rain just blew in under the tarp and sprayed all over everything.  It came down so hard that all of the ground became a puddle, and I pulled up the tyvek at the edges to make a dry island for my pack as the water rushed around it.

I ultimately climbed in my hammock while poor Arbor hung out either squatting or stooping under the tarp.  He couldn’t sit anymore because of how wet the ground had become, and it was coming down too hard to make a dash to his own hammock.  Staying dry has become the holy grail of backpacking.  Fortunately the strong winds meant that the storm moved quickly, and it let up enough for Arbor to find his own shelter.

Just at the tail end of the rain, Brenda returned and brought the soda to me in my hammock, proclaiming “Merry Christmas!”  What a gift it truly was.  Sooooo good.  Arbor is presently napping while I write this, and the rain has stopped and the sun returned. 

I went back over to get Brenda and Laura’s photo and learned that Brenda is a hair stylist and her daughter is going to Columbia to be a writer.  They’re taking two weeks to camp and hike at a whole variety of parks and loving every minute of it.  They were both charming and funny and we had a great time getting to know one another.  We gave them a tour of our hammocks and hiking gear and I could see Brenda making mental notes and filing them away for when she plans out her own River to River hike.  I’m totally excited for her, and I hope she touches base with us before she leaves.  

Just as we were finishing up, I noticed the clouds over the ridge.  We walked out to the bluff, just off a campsite, and saw a line of cloud vapor snaking through the trees on the opposite side of the valley.  It was ethereal and hauntingly beautiful and I’m glad I caught it before the sun blasted it away in the morning.

It’s 8:53 and I’ll just read a little and try to make up for the sleep I missed out on last night.  Today certainly wasn’t the most challenging, but I do think it was the most physically difficult.  We hike past High Knob tomorrow, and then I think it’s largely downhill from there!

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.