After sleeping in, I emerged onto the last 20+ mile road walk of the trek.
So, after yo-yoing the River to River Trail back in April, I was then able to set my sights to the future. Two distinct adventures were ahead of me: A 300-ish mile trek in the fall, and the 1,100-mile Ice Age National Scenic trail in the winter.
After fixing a flat tire at the Devils Backbone State Park, the eastern terminus of the River to River Trail (and where I had left the car for those 2 weeks), I drove straight on up towards Rothschild, WI for the first few days of the Ice Age Trail Conference, making sure to stop in New Glarus, WI to visit the New Glarus Brewing Company, get a much needed shower, and sleep in a bed at a motel.
A short drive the next day and I was meeting and talking with lots of very interesting folks who absolutely love hiking trails. It was a nice change of pace after hiking for days on end. At the trail conference I felt at home in the hiking community. I got to share my adventures, network with some amazing people, learn about the conditions I will encounter on my Ice Age Trail winter thru-hike, eat a ton of great food, and even hike some small sections of the Ice Age Trail.
Even in April the trail remains snow covered and it even snowed lightly on one of the outings! Foreshadowing to a rough winter ahead I suppose.
The people I met and conversations I had rejuvenated my hope that I can accomplish my goal. The Ice Age Trail has a tightly-knit community of trail stewards who are more than willing to help out in any way they can. This will keep my doubts at bay as I move forward, or at least help. I suppose I'll let them know I'm coming through.
A surprisingly difficult journey on the River to River trail has ended in success! Each hike I complete turns out to be WAY different than I had expected it to be. That's some of the mystique of long distance hiking. A wise man said it well:
I'm glad to be back home (electricity, beds, cars and friends abound!) and have jumped right back into the swing of things with hardly any time to bring my head up for air. Life is simpler on the trail; it's getting on and off the trail that can be hectic. Work, work, work to save money, money, money to go hike, hike, hike. C'est la vie.
I'm all moved into a new place and ready to get back into some trip planning and steady grindin'. But before we jump into whats ahead, let's look back at Southern Illinois and the tough and muddy, sometimes-paved, sometimes-wilderness experience on the River to River Trail.
The River to River trail yo-yo challenged me in ways I didn't expect. Wet feet every day but one, road walking for nearly half of the route, and shared use with equestrians and ATV's (which can obliterate the trail) makes for unpleasant hiking at times. Blazing wasn't always straightforward (although overall it is pretty dang well marked), and I always felt like it was taking longer to get down the trail, like the mileage numbers were too small (although I now believe it to have been the abundance of difficult tread).
But the soft, rolling hills and quiet forests brought peace to me on my hike. I was happy with my gear choices and overall logistical preparation. Some moments still stick out in my mind: pausing for minutes to hear nothing but the wind in the leaves, run-ins with friendly, generous and interesting folks along the trail, bacon cheeseburgers with onion rings at a restaurant that floats on the Ohio river. Of course there's more, but that stuff's for me. If you want all the good stuff from a hike, you gotta be there yourself and take all the bad along with it.
For those of you who may be interested, an updated gear list with post-trip comments can be downloaded here.
Its been over a month since I finished my relatively short "jaunt" on the River to River trail but it feels like just the other day. Those 13 days on the trail trump the 30+ days I've been back in terms of scenery, experience, and serenity, making it easy to be glad I hiked it. This trail is rather well known around its area, but remains an otherwise overlooked treasure chest of the US.
Check out lots more pictures and information on the River to River Trail Yo-yo page.