Hiker Challenge Section 4 – Day 1: Road Walking

Getting Started

Of all the sections in the Hiker Challenge and on the Sheltowee Trace, this was the one I considered skipping the most. And truthfully, if it was not for this blog, I would have skipped it. This section was 31 miles in length, but only 5.5 of these miles were in the woods. The rest are all on the road. I have not mastered road walking yet, and it always tears up my feet. This hike would be no exception.

I decided to take the late shuttle at 9:00 a.m. for this section. With the recent time change, I knew that it was staying lighter longer, so I didn’t worry about potentially walking roads in the dark. The shuttle pick-up point was about an hour and a half away from my house and would serve as our camping location as well – Lago Linda Hideaway. This little oasis is a mile off the trail, but they have an awesome campground with several campsites, a large tent area, a common area, and a bathhouse.

Since my car would be parked here, this was the perfect opportunity for me to slack-pack this section! I have had the chance to do this for the other sections as well, and I know that several Challenge participants have done so. They would come in either the night before or early morning the day of and set up their tent, taking a light pack with them for that section. If I had to drive further away, this would be more appealing to me. But since I am still under two hours away from the trailheads so far, I have not been interested in this option. But with the road walk, I decided to take full advantage of it!

I arrived at Lago Linda around 8:30 a.m. and went into their café area to register for the night’s stay. I had a good conversation with the owner and they had eggs, sausage, bacon, and biscuits available to eat. I had already eaten, but it was tempting! I only saw one other hiker (Kara), and just assumed that some others would show up closer to 9:00. When the shuttle arrived, I found out that it was just the two of us on the late shuttle, and I was the only one who signed up for the late shuttle. Kara was running late and switched to this shuttle. I felt bad that they had a shuttle just for me, and if I had known that I would have taken one of the earlier ones. If the late shuttle is offered on future hikes and I take it, I will be sure to let the Director know that I will take an earlier shuttle if I am the only one on the late one.

Natural Bridge

Kara and I were dropped off across the street from the campground where the last section ended. From there, we had a short hike to Natural Bridge starting area. The Natural Bridge is a sandstone arch that spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. Several different trails will take you to the top of the arch, with the Original Trail being the fastest and a steep 0.5-mile climb. There is even a Skylift that will take you to the top if you do not want to hike up it.

When I was young, my family had reunions at a nearby park and we would always end up going to the top on little excursions. When I was old enough to drive, I would be at the park early in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday and spend hours hiking around the various trails. I have always loved the view and solitude that the top of the arch brings.

The official Sheltowee Trace path to the top is via the Balanced Rock trail, which is a short and steep .75-mile hike. When I got to its entrance, I was greeted with a “Trail Closed” sign and a small gate built into the handrails. Kara and I had not heard about this, so we weren’t sure if the trail was impassible or if it was closed due to some minor fire damage. We took the chance and went up the trail anyway! We were able to make it up to the top, but it did take some scrambling to do so. A fire recently came through this area and caused some damage to some of the steps that help with the steeper parts. There were two sections where the steps were completely gone, and we had to find a way up. Once we got past these obstacles, it was smooth climbing to the top. Kara was racing to meet up with a friend who took an earlier shuttle, so she quickly outpaced me.

The early morning view from atop Natural Bridge

I rested at the top and enjoyed the view for a few minutes before continuing. The Sheltowee Trace went out the back side of the area, following one of the longer trails for a few miles. At an intersection, the trail split off and continued on top of the ridge for another two miles. Then the trail was on an old forest service road, which eventually turned into gravel, and then into a paved road.

I am not sure who started this, but someone has designated one of these miles as a #NakedMile. I chose not to participate in this, but I do wonder if anyone ever has.

#nakedmile

The Dreaded Road Walk Begins

This paved road would be the trail for the next ten miles. There is an ATV park that I passed, and over the next three miles, I saw several ATVs on the road heading to various trails that make up the park. After three miles, the road starts to descend sharply down into a valley. One of the Hiker Challenge participants has a cabin nearby and was there with some chairs, water, and lots of snacks! This was a welcome sight and a good rest at about the halfway point. While I stopped there, I was speaking with her, and surprised to learn that I was not the last person. I must have passed a few groups who stopped at the ATV park where they had a small grocery store. Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw two groups coming towards us.

After a nice break, I continued on my way, with one of the groups ahead of me by a few hundred feet. The trail continued on the pavement in a steep climb down and then leveled out for a few more miles. Finally, the trail went back into the woods, following along a creek. There was a high-water route that I could have taken, but I didn’t think the water would be that bad to warrant that. Sure enough, the water wasn’t that high, but it did go right into the creek. The creek wasn’t high, but there were lots of rocks to navigate and I eventually got tired of rock hopping and put on my Crocs and just walked half a mile to where the trail eventually had to cross a bigger creek. Before crossing, I stopped for a light lunch and enjoyed the flowing water and peaceful area.

Lunchtime views!

This area has a lot of ATV trails and I saw several groups while eating lunch and then when I started hiking out. The trail crossed a wide stream and then climbed up out of the valley on this ATV trail. The climb was pretty steep, and I thought I reached the top a time or two only to realize it kept going up! After a small access road, it was right back onto the pavement again for the next mile.

Enjoying Camp

I made it to Lago Linda right around 5:00 p.m. When I spoke with the owners earlier that morning, they said that I could set up my tent near the café in an open area near a barn that they have. There is a large field for tents, but a Boy Scout troop was staying there, so the barn area would be the better spot. When I made it to Lago Linda, I saw Steve and he mentioned that the “guys” were set up near the bathhouse, but still a little away from the Boy Scouts. I headed over there and found that four guys were hanging out around some picnic tables and a fire pit. I set up my tent and then hung out with them for the rest of the night.

These were the same four that I ended the last section with and who I led astray on taking the harder trail! They all came prepared for this hike and each of them brought something for dinner – chips, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, lettuce, etc. They had planned and were starting to cook as I set up my tent. They were nice enough to share with me and we all had a great camp meal. Thanks guys! It was very much appreciated.

After dinner, we started a fire and then sat around it and laughed and joked and got to know each other. All of us got along well and had lots of laughs. The rest of the Hiker Challenge participants stayed near the café area and enjoyed a buffet with lasagna and pasta for dinner. One by one we started to turn in, and I went to the tent around 10:00. The Boy Scouts were all amped up and we could hear them throughout dinner and into the night. I think they eventually quieted down around 10:30 p.m. I had a little trouble falling asleep but eventually did around 11:00.

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