Or at least I think I might be able to give it a try? If there is one lesson I learned from my adventure on the Sheltowee Trace last spring it is this: Expect the unexpected. I am not invincible. I can fail and stand back up and laugh about it. Keep trying.
I remember the first time I learned about the Sheltowee Trace. It had been a name I had seen on the maps of the Red River Gorge and on trailhead signs throughout the area. The “turtle” I would sometimes see painted on trees…but really never gave it much thought. After all, at that time in my life all I thought about was climbing and all the other things The Gorge had to offer were oblivious to my small mind. It was in September of 2002 I was actually visiting The Gorge to go hiking instead of climbing. I was with this guy I was dating at the time and we stopped by the Red River to let the Duck out to swim. We happened to stop in the Sheltowee parking lot. The guy proceeds to tell me about the Sheltowee Trace and how it was a trail that started all the way down in Tennessee and that some people actually started down there and hiked the whole thing. The trail only passed through the gorge. It did not end or start here. I was not impressed. As a matter of fact I thought it was pretty stupid. You see, as a climber, my experience with “hiking” was carrying a heavy ass pack (full of climbing gear) up a steep ass hill (not a trail designed for hiking, but rather getting to the base of the cliff as quickly as possible so you could spend more time climbing). I remember trying to imagine that day why anyone would even want to consider hiking all the way through Kentucky. Ten years later I found myself doing just that.
Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone when I fell in love with hiking. In 2010, I moved to the Red River Gorge and after some time, decided that I needed to “get to know” my neighborhood. After all, any time I moved to a new area in Cincinnati, that was something I usually did. Walk around; see what good restaurants were around. Check out the faces on the street. Where the nearest grocery store would be…the usual stuff. It became apparent very quickly that I would be limited to the two gas stations for entertainment. The non-climbing locals saw me as an outsider and making new friends was quickly becoming unrealistic. While feeling sorry for myself one day, I started thinking about my neighborhood and how boring it was without coffee shops and symphonies and movie theaters that played foreign films. I realized my “neighborhood” was that woods. Those amazing cliffs I fell in love with ten years earlier in 2000 were the “houses” and those ridgelines were the “streets”. So, I grabbed my loyal companion, Duck, and headed for the forest…and quickly got lost. Where in the hell was I?? What was that cliff line over there?? Where does this gravel road lead?? So I bought a map and started studying it…and hiking each area at a time. I hiked mostly in the winter so I could see the cliffs and learn them by their faces. The puzzle slowly started coming together. Through all of this, I learned to love to the solitude of the woods and the quiet lessons it had to offer.
So, when my faithful companion, Duck, died something happened to me. Inside. I was hurting and I didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want people to see the tears. So I headed for the woods and let the trees and cliffs listen. My plan was to spend 30 days in the woods and when I came out the pain of his loss would be gone and I could go on with my life. It was going to be that simple.
Well it wasn’t.
I went into the woods ill prepared and out of shape and emotionally unstable. Five days later, I came out of the woods, tail between my legs, very sore and a bit rattled by rainstorms and tornados.
But what an adventure!!!!!
I swore I would try it again and began to work inside my head what needed to be done. Stronger knees, less weight on me and in my backpack and a healed mind.
So in 2012 I exercised more and ate less. And I cried and allowed myself to mourn slowly.
2013 is here and I feel more prepared than ever to hit the trail and finish what I started. Will I hike all 300 miles? I hope so. But it will be ok if I don’t because for this gal the journey was not about the ending but the steps along the way.