river to river top
2007 Thru-hike Log:

Day 1 – Sunday September 23, 2007

Denny Maxon, owner of Circle B Ranch, where we stayed Saturday night, shuttled Joel and me to Elizabethtown.

Iron Furnace
About mid-morning we arrived at the road crossing near Iron Furnace. Joel had never seen the Iron Furnace so we hiked the extra quarter mile off the main trail to see it. This is a very interesting part of local history. Informational displays describe and depict how charcoal was produced at the site for the purpose of firing the 50 foot tall furnace to produce pig iron. The pig iron was then shipped to mills to be made into steel plate. An entire village had grown up around the furnace in the mid 1800s at the peak of it’s productive years. Odds are pretty good that some of the early armored warships of the civil war had steel from the Illinois Iron Furnace.

High Knob
We stayed our first night on the trail at the High Knob Ranch campground. We enjoyed a hot shower and some snacks from the little store. There were few campers. The one we spoke with had just gotten his arm broken when his horse spooked going through One Horse Gap. This is a very narrow passage and his horse is large and wide. He said there was room for the  horse to get through,  but had lost his nerve when it  got tight.

Day 2 – Monday September 24, 2007

Garden of the Gods
We made it to Garden of the Gods by mid morning. We walked through the scenic area. I had seen it before. In fact, my very first hike on the River To River had started at the campground there. Some visitors gave me two bottles of Gatorade which I gratefully took for Joel and me as there is no longer water available at this site. Then I discovered that I had left my two towels at High Knob Ranch in the shower. I called and the Rick, the owner agreed to drive them to me, which was very generous of him. And he wouldn’t take any money for his trouble, just wished us well with our hike.

We got to Herod in the early afternoon and enjoyed the spring water that hikers are invited to take there. We sat for a while and got well hydrated and fed before leaving Herod.

Approaching One Horse Gap from the east the trail is mostly rocky and narrow with steep cliffs and caves on the right hand side, the uphill slope. A tree had fallen immediately next to the trail on the downhill slope exposing a tangle of roots and dark empty spaces. I happened to look down into this just as I passed by and, startled, found myself looking into the eyes of a copperhead. His head was no more than six inches from where my leg was passing by him. I kept moving steadily until I was clear and then stopped, told Riley to stop and was grateful when he decided to obey me. I let Joel know what was going on and threw him Riley’s leash so he could bring him around through the brush alongside the trail and avoid the snake. We’re a couple of guys, so naturally we had to have a good look at this danger before we could go on. Just out of harm’s way and being very still and slow in our movements, we took a goods look at him. It took Joel a few moments to separate him from the background. His camouflage was very effective against the background of tangled roots and dark cavities. He had chosen a good place from which to conduct an ambush. He was kinked and coiled, ready to strike but we were out of range and we gave him no reason to think that we meant him any harm.  

John’s dash for the finish
I have a tendency to pour on the speed toward the end of many hikes when I am ready to be at the destination and know it is close. Joel was having some difficulty at this point keeping up. He shared with me later that he was hurting badly and wondering if he had gotten in over his head. Of course, within a few days, at his age, he was stronger than me and had no more trouble of this kind.

One Horse Gap
In fairness to Joel, once I got to One Horse Gap, I was pretty hammered too. It took me a long time to work up the motivation to pitch my tent and cook dinner. I remember it taking me an unusually long time to accomplish these relatively simple tasks after I started them.

I had camped a couple of times just below the gap. We decided to camp on top this time. I think some people call this Rocky Top unless I’ve got it confused with another rock outcropping. This is a cool place. There is a large area of relatively flat rock outcropping. There are little hollows that make a very comfortable place to lie back. And there are shelves that make a comfortable place to sit. We sat out for a long time that evening on the rock, looking at the stars and talking.

Day 3 – Tuesday September 25, 2007

Concord Cemetery
We got to Concord Cemetery late morning. We sat by the road in front of a house for a while in the shade of a tree eating some early lunch. No one answered my knock at the door and I decided to take the liberty of helping myself to some water from their outside faucet.

New trail markers had been put up indicating that the River To River Trail now followed the gravel road north rather than west into the Lusk Creek Wilderness. I had hiked the west route and we decided to stick to that rather than explore the new route. I learned later that the new route was put up by the forest service and not agreed to or recommended by the River To River Trail Society. I have since explored the new route and there is a very confusing part of it, but now I have that worked out as well. And the new route does include a very pretty section along Little Lusk Creek which I think is a great addition to the trail there.

Lusk Creek Wilderness
The River To River Trail bypasses some of the most beautiful scenery in the Shawnee National Forest as it travels through Lusk Creek Wilderness. Our goal was to hike the entire trail and time was limited so we did not take time for any side trips. I have since taken some of these and highly recommend visiting Salt Peter Cave and Secret Canyon when you can. As of this writing I still have not visited Indian Kitchen, but it is high on my list of places to explore next.

Owl’s Bluff
Joel and I stopped at Owl’s Bluff for a rest and some refueling. This is a dramatic lookout and we enjoyed it a lot. Standing near the edge of the sheer drop off looking straight out, the tops of very tall trees are about 30 feet away.  The bluff is located just a few feet from the trail itself. The day was warming up quite a bit by this time and it felt good to sit in the sun.

Bowed Tree Crossing
Just past Owl’s Bluff is Bowed Tree Crossing. I am told that for many years there had been a large tree at this crossing which, in fact, was bowed over, explaining the name for the crossing. This tree finally rotted away and was not in evidence to us. The forest service has rebuilt the crossing using large cut stones to form steps where the bank before I am told had been steep, muddy, and generally difficult. We encountered more stone work between there and the Lusk Creek Wilderness trailhead all done for erosion control. I am told that the laws protecting wilderness areas do not allow for any wheeled or motorized vehicle to enter and so these very large stones had been hand-carried or carried on pack animals several miles into the wilderness.

We arrived at Circle B Ranch about 3 PM where we stayed the night and resupplied from our waiting vehicle.

Day 4 – Wednesday September 26, 2007

Flat tire on van
Just as we were getting ready to hike from Circle B I noticed the van had a flat tire. A friend had very generously offered to move our van to Giant City State Park while we were enroute to there on the trail. I needed to deal with the flat tire now. Thanks to the kindness of a complete stranger whose office was next to the only garage in Eddyville (but which was unmanned that morning) I was able to plug the flat myself and use an air hose and we were able to get back on the trail.

Millstone Lake
We discussed staying at Millstone Lake for the night, but I suggested pushing on in order to stay at Dutchman Lake.on Thursday. So we pressed on and put in an 18 mile day. Our campsite was simply alongside a logging road.

Day 5 – Thursday September 27, 2007

Dutchman Lake
We camped by Dutchman Lake for the night. Joel went swimming in the evening.

Day 6 – Friday September 28, 2007

Ferne Clyffe State Park
We got a late start from Dutchman Lake, made the 7.25 mile hike to Ferne Clyffe arriving about 1PM. We made the hike up the steep road in considerable heat to the RV campground rather than stay in the primitive camping area in order to be close to the showers. I was not feeling well and went to sleep in my shelter as soon as I got it put up. Joel scored a couple of cold cans of Coke for each of us.

In the evening we started walking to Goreville, which is about 2 miles away and before we got out of the park we were offered a ride in the back of a pickup truck, which was pretty much our plan from the start. We went to Dad’s Pizza ready to put away a lot of pizza. I had been to Dad’s a couple of times previously and every time the wait was extremely long to get a pizza, but well worth it. This evening proved no exception.  We had been there about a half hour and still had not gotten our order in. We kept being told that someone would be with us as soon as possible. After a little while longer an employee came out of the kitchen with a huge pizza, went to the side room and found that the family who had ordered it had given up and left. He asked if anyone wanted a free pizza. We quickly decided that that was the pizza for us.  It was wonderful. We also got a ride back to the park from some fellow diners.

Day 7 – Saturday September 29, 2007

Damsels in distress
The RR trail leaving Ferne Clyffe State Park is a beautiful section. It crosses then follows along a creek (unfortunately very dry on this day) through what is known as Happy Hollow. After passing next to a large pasture one faces maybe the steepest climb of the RR trail and not a short climb either. As we began the ascent, we noticed some people on the trail ahead of us about halfway up. In a few minutes we caught up with them and discovered two women with two young girls very ill prepared for hiking this particular trail. The smaller girl was no more than three years old and was being carried. The other we learned was nine. Nine year old Madeleine was quite taken with Joel, blushing slightly at the friendly conversation he struck up with her. The women hadn’t realized how long this trail was and had no water, map or compass and all were in sneakers on a very rocky trail.

I knew from earlier scouting that ahead of us a couple of miles would be Buck Creek Parking lot and that the RR would go very close to it. When the women were able to get a cell phone call out I instructed them to have their husbands find this parking lot and we would stay with them until they were reconnected. After about an hour of rather difficult hiking they were back together with their families safe and sound. Madeline blushed some more as she said goodbye to Joel regretting the nearly twenty years difference in their ages. Joel assured me that he has that effect on most women.

Riley gets rescued
There is little doubt in my mind that if the temperatures would have stayed in the low to mid 80s and there had been more water in the creeks that Riley would have made the whole hike with us. But instead, temperatures were increasingly hot each day, creeping up into the 90s. Our canine companion was clearly in trouble. We had begun to notice his distress the previous afternoon during our hike from Dutchman Lake to Ferne Clyffe. It was on that leg of the hike he first started darting from shady spot to shady spot wherever possible and lingering as long as possible once he got to one. Eventually he started lying down in the shade to catch his breath whenever we would pause, no matter how briefly. Since there was little water for him in the creeks, we would stop periodically and give him water from our supply.

Today these same symptoms were all there and it was still morning. We had to make a decision. The worst stretch of paved road hiking with little shade was ahead of us today, about five miles of it. At Bork’s waterfall, where sadly, no water was falling due to the drought conditions, I decided that something had to be done for Riley. A couple from Paducah Kentucky who had come to see the waterfall were kind enough to drive Riley and me to our day’s destination, the property of some friends near Wayside, IL. Then we returned to Joel and completed the hike to catch up with Riley. I assured Riley that I was very proud of him and that he had nothing to be ashamed of. He had hiked over one hundred miles in six days on his short nine inch legs. But he was going to go home now. It was very sad the next morning to start hiking without him and he was very distressed as we walked away without him.  Our friends got him to Troy, IL and met my wife there to retrieve him.

The overnight with our friends was a lot of fun. They grilled Italian sausage and hamburgers for us. There was a lot of talk about the River To River Trail. They have ridden the entire trail on horseback. Joel and I enjoyed sitting at their picnic table rather than on the ground. Small conveniences take on new significance on the trail.

Day 8 – Sunday September 30, 2007

Panther’s Den
Panther’s Den is a wild and beautiful place. I had hiked through it in June of 2005 and had again hiked through and camped nearby the previous April. It was Joel’s first visit and he was fascinated by it. Panther’s Den evoked for Joel a feeling of generations of native Americans considering it a sacred place and using it for their religious ceremonies. He had a strong sense of the holy in this place and a feeling of being at home. We climbed around for most of an hour and took pictures, which unfortunately did not turn out well due to the low light levels.

Giant City State Park
We arrived at Giant City State Park Lodge in the mid afternoon. After getting the key to our van from the front desk, we went to the campground, got cleaned up a bit and chose a campsite. Then we drove to Carbondale, enjoyed some real food at Lone Star Steakhouse, visited the Laundromat and bought a few supplies.

In the morning we found a shuttle just by chance after striking up a conversation with a man in the campground parking lot. I’m not sure what we would have done if we had not found Tom. I suppose we would have continued hiking and worked the phone on the way to Devil’s Backbone Campground to try to get a ride from there back to Giant City.

Day 9 – Monday October 1, 2007

We made a stop in Makanda and had an excellent sandwich at the Makanda Country Store.

Cedar Lake Spillway
The Cedar Lake Spillway is a cool place. Like One Horse Gap, there is a large area of rock surface making for dry, clean sitting and relaxing. We both swam and it felt so good I wondered why I had not had better sense and joined Joel in swimming at Dutchman Lake. Ever the inventor, Joel spent a good hour constructing a fishing pole and tackle arrangement from items he found on the ground or that he had with him. We had brought no real fishing gear. I think the bobber was a plastic lid from some sort of can and the bait some peanut butter paste from peanut butter crackers. No fish extracted from the lake resulted from all this effort. But, I thought to myself, it keeps him occupied and out of trouble.

A slight storm blew up and we rushed to get our tents up. About the time we achieved this, it was done raining. Joel then made a fire for us, which we enjoyed a lot through the evening.

Day 10 – Tuesday October 2, 2007

Alto Pass
We arrived in Alto Pass about lunchtime and helped ourselves to the picnic pavilion in the downtown square and water from the spigot there. I treated Joel and myself to a Sprecher Root Beer from the root beer place, which tasted wonderful.

Bald Knob / Clear Springs Wilderness
When we arrived at the Bald Knob / Clear Springs Wilderness trailhead there were three backpackers resting, the first we had encountered on the entire hike. Someone in Alto Pass had mentioned that a group of backpackers had come through town that morning ahead of us. One of them had some wicked looking blisters and the fourth member of their group had hiked out to get their vehicle. Their hike was over.

Joel told them about the trail data I had been collecting in the hope of perhaps publishing a trail guide one day. They gave us their email addresses in order to get a copy when I got it done. To my surprise I recognized one of their names. It turned out to be a guy who had done some work as a consultant for our company and who I had had some direct involvement with several years before. He had since become the pastor of a church in Peoria.

We arrived at the western trailhead for the Bald Knob / Clear Springs Wilderness about 4 PM. The last several miles had been on a high ridge with very steep sides. We would have been hard pressed to find a flat spot to camp. Mosquitoes were starting to become a problem and we had run out of insect repellent. Rain was threatening. All that remained between us and the end of the trail was 11 miles of gravel road. We debated the merits of finding a place to camp there and going on to the end and decided to finish even though we had already hiked 14 miles that day.

Devil’s Backbone Campground
Finishing those 11 miles was a grind. We were swarmed by mosquitoes with no head nets or repellent. We walked into Devil’s Backbone Campground after dark at about 8 PM.

My feet and I were badly beat up, but the pull to get home that night was strong. After a quick shower at the campground and putting on some clean clothes from our van, we started the three and a half hour drive home. I learned later after finishing the trail measuring and documenting for the trail guide I was to publish a year later that we had hiked 25.5 miles that day.

It was a great trip and I look forward to doing it again some time.