Hiker Challenge Section 3 – Day 1: Misery Isn’t All That Bad

Mt. Misery

While the previous sections were 26 miles each, this section increased to 35 miles. This increase was a little daunting at first, but it helped to know that this section traversed through one of the best locations in Kentucky – The Red River Gorge. This wilderness area is full of hundreds of natural arches and some of the best views in the state. The Sheltowee would only visit this area briefly, but it is a very remarkable part of the trail. But first…. we had to get there.

The starting location for this section was the same as the last, except this time we would be traveling south! The shuttle pickup point was the Natural Bridge Skylift parking lot, which is about an hour-and-15-minute drive from my house. A new 9:00 a.m. shuttle time was added, and while that was appealing, I opted to go for the 7:30 a.m. shuttle. I arrived at the shuttle point a little after 7:00 and learned that the first shuttle was running late so we would not leave until 8:00. I hung out with other Hiker Challenge participants until the shuttle arrived, and then we were off!

I am usually quiet and reserved in the shuttle rides, but this one was about an hour in length, so there was plenty of time to carry a conversation with the others in my shuttle. It was great to listen to stories from a former member of the Peace Corps!

Once we arrived at Clear Creek Furnace we had our first difficult task – crossing a small creek. Leading up to the hike, I had told myself that it would be smart to wear my Crocs so I had an easy start to the day, but I completely forgot. Since this was the start of the day and I had 18 miles ahead of me, I opted not to cross in my trail runners, instead taking the time to change into my Crocs, dry my feet, and then hike on.

Awaiting me once I resumed hiking was the dreaded Mt. Misery! This 400-foot climb in just half a mile is one of the steepest climbs on the entire Trace. I was ready to go and approached this obstacle with an “attack the hill” mentality. I queued up Metallica’s S&M album and rocked out to Master of Puppets as I tackled the climb. Honestly, it didn’t seem that bad, and the worst part was the false summits to the top.

After this climb, the trail followed the ridge top for the next nine miles. Unlike previous sections, the trail this time would go around the various ridge tops, instead of straight up and down them. This change made for more technical hiking but opened up some awesome rock formations and the first view of an arch on the trail.

The author standing next to the first arch on the trail.

Danger Ahead!

The trail finally descended to a road and an old Red Barn. Not as iconic as the old AT Red Barn, but a welcome sight and a great spot to rest for lunch.

The red barn that greets you after a nine-mile ridge walk and before your road walk begins.

After enjoying a Jimmy John’s sandwich that I packed with me, I was ready to begin the nine-mile road walk. After a little over a mile, the trail turned off a somewhat busy country road and onto a single-lane country road. The next three miles were a good glimpse into the rich and poor sides of Eastern Kentucky country life. There are plots of land with nice-looking houses next to plots of land with an old RV camp and a tent that someone is living in.

About a mile in, my group was passed by a local sheriff. We thought this odd at the time, and odder still 15 minutes later when he returned and stopped us. He warned us that the road ahead was dangerous and he strongly advised us to turn back. We told him that we were hiking the Sheltowee Trace and that we were prepared, but he still warned us again.

We continued and came upon an odd car with a dog barking in it. The windows were tinted, so we couldn’t get a good look inside. We didn’t know if there was someone else in the car or not, and none of us were willing to take that chance. We didn’t feel safe approaching the car, and it wasn’t hot enough for this to be a life-threatening situation for the dog. We made the hard decision to continue on and leave the dog in the car. We found out later at camp that there was someone in the car, and she was the one who called the sheriff. Apparently, a group of hikers on an old country road is alarming!

After three miles on this road, the trail crossed an old creek. With the recent rains, the water flowed decently, and there was no way to skirt around the creek bed without getting your feet wet. My group put our water shoes back on and then waded in the creek for about 40 yards to get to the other side. I left my group at this point and hiked up an Overlanding 4×4 trail for a mile before getting back onto a two-lane country road. The views were drastically improved and the next four miles were sweeping valley views of the area as the trail headed back into the woods finally.

The last 4 miles of road walking is wide open.

Camp and trail magic

I finally reached camp around 4:15 and found a welcome surprise – trail magic with some donuts, fruits, and sugary drinks! I had run out of water after the 4×4 road climb, so this was a welcome sight!

After resting for about ten minutes, I headed to the camp area and looked around for a camp spot. This area has a lot of trees that are possible widow-makers, so I made sure to get an area that would be safe. Once my tent was set up, I joined the crowd around the campfire and enjoyed a few hours of camaraderie. The last shuttle at 9:00 a.m. had five people on it, and they strolled in well after dark! I was glad I didn’t take that shuttle, as I didn’t want to road walk in the dark.

A former Hiker Challenge participant has a cabin nearby and brought more trail magic for dinner – sandwiches and chips! Since I just had a sandwich earlier in the day, I wasn’t as excited about this meal as I would have been if we had, say, some pizza! But nonetheless, any trail magic is pretty awesome. Some people went the extra step and skewered a hot dog on a stick.

I was tired from the long day and settled into my tent around 8:30. Although there were plenty of people by the fire, the conversation did not bother me and I fell right to sleep.

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