Our happy Crew tackled the Laughery Creek Trail this week. It was a toughie: 34 miles of road hiking; and all four seasons experienced within three Indiana Spring days. It was a good time. Five hardy souls (three youth, two adults), and not a whiner in the bunch. Our youth included Crew President T.C. as well as brothers T.J. and Zach. Adults were Yours Truly and T.C.’s dad, Pat. Zach was the youngest at 16, I was the oldest at 61 (so our ages were, like, inverted).
I was very concerned about my ability to do the trip. I’ve been nursing a bad Achilles tendon for some three months now, and it is very painful at times, despite all that a podiatrist and physical therapist can do. But then, too, I thought that if I remembered to stretch it out frequently and walk correctly, then maybe I could get through and it might even finally improve.
Getting to the trailhead was the first challenge. We decided to hike this historic trail backwards, for one thing, because the usual end, at Versailles State Park, was a good 45 minutes closer to us than the supposed beginning, at Aurora, Indiana. But then, there were lots of other transportation issues. So Jerry P., a schoolteacher on break, offered to get us to the start. He picked me up at 8:00 a.m. Monday, March 23. Zach and T.J.’s mom, Kara, had to work early, so Jerry and I then went to pick them up a few miles south of the church. Then we took off for Judah, to pick up T.C. and Pat, who live in the next county south of us.
Strangeness began almost at once. T.J. forgot their water bottles in their fridge. Luckily, we were only a few blocks down the road and could quickly circle back for them. After we picked up T.C. and Pat, however, I began to get a sinking feeling in my tummy that I had left my cabin keys on the dining room table. My phone was in my backpack (as were my keys, as I hoped). It would have to wait until we got to Versailles to check on. Well, we got to Versailles and got dropped off. Jerry noted the laundry baskets in which we had loaded gear to be divvied, saying, “I need to take these back, right?” And then he drove off and forgot them. I asked the Park rangers to hold them until somebody could come pick them up. Then I checked and couldn’t find my cabin keys. I called Deanne as we stumped off down the trail. Sure enough, they were on the dining room table. She agreed to drive down to Friendship, where we planned to camp Monday night and get them to me, so we could stay in our cabin at Wilderstead Tuesday night. So much for dropping all stress once the trip has begun.
Anyway, Zach was in the lead as we left the Park close on to 11:30 a.m.. We immediately hit a big hill. Thankfully, it was going to be the only big hill of the day, but we had to get up on the ridge opposite the Park entrance, in order to then spend the rest of the day working our way back down to Laughery Creek, along which lies Friendship, 11.75 miles away. After we finally got up the hill, the road leveled out and passed alongside more of the State Park, here given over to horse camping. We stopped and had lunch at a nice spot where a riding trail crosses Cave Hill Road.
We had another nice stop about five miles along the trail, high above the creek. The ground dropped off steeply from the side of the road, and we looked out among the bare trees to distant farmsteads. It was very peaceful. Almost immediately after that, we began a rapid descent. Different muscles hurt. About a mile further on, we came to the first of two bridges that cross the creek. Halfway, now.
We pushed on. The afternoon sun began to fade. We felt a sprinkle of rain and put on rain gear and pack covers, but the weather held as we finally stumbled into Friendship on the west side of town. Friendship is a little town, but it lies stretched out for nearly a mile along the highway. The National Muzzle-Loading Rifle Association has its headquarters here and maintains a camp. During its two annual meets, a humongous flea market is also held in town. These two events bring in lots of people. Friendship has at least two other private campgrounds in addition to the NMLRA campground. All of these places were pretty much deserted as we walked through town to the east end. There we crossed a bridge and the camp caretaker (just heading home at the end of the day) stopped his truck and said, “You must be the Scouts.” That would be us. He told us where to find stuff and we went on to pitch camp at the top of the campground, near to the underground restroom bunker.
We dropped packs at 6:25 p.m. We had covered nearly twelve miles in seven hours, which is not bad, especially considering that we were carrying full packs. Deanne arrived half an hour later as we were making supper. “You owe me Big Time,” she said. And then frozen rain started to fall, a little blizzard of mini-hail pellets. As she turned for home, I thought, “This is Spring, you know.” Yeah, well, der Frühling ist kaput.
We went to bed as soon as supper was cleaned up and it was dark, about 8:00. We all spent a rather fitful night. I was warm enough, but kept waking up (a usual problem for me the first night of any trip). Finally, I woke up and heard a goose fly overhead, and thought, “okay, it’s morning.”
It was about 7:00 a.m. when I got up. I got water started heating, went to the bathroom, woke up the others on my return. Wild turkeys were wandering the campsite and flying in and out. Geese flew overhead, heading for the creek. “Honk if you love Jesus!” I cried out to them. As people emerged from their tents, I checked the thermometer on my pack. It read 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Ouch. I tried to take a picture of the morning sun rising up “like a red rubber ball,” but found that my camera battery had died. Perhaps the cold leached some of the power out of it. I was reduced to taking pictures with my phone the rest of the trip, and I haven’t yet been able to download them from there; hence, no pictures with this report. : (
Tuesday was to be our longest day, at 13.5 miles or so. T.C. was the hike leader of the day, and we started out just before 9:30 a.m., filled our water bottles and left town. The first two miles of our trip was a long, steep hill on a curvy highway with little or no shoulder. We caterpillared up it (a technique of team mountain hiking, which allows for as much rest as hiking). As we neared the top, we began to feel the cold wind blowing across the top of the ridge. Once we topped the ridge, we had a long, cold step to Farmers Retreat.
We immediately turned south on Bells Branch Road and walked past an old pioneer cemetery to lunch at the still-used St. John’s cemetery. There were some trees there for a wind break. Just south of this cemetery, we turned off on Prosperity Ridge, and began a long walk through some very flat country. Eventually, Prosperity Ridge took a steep descent and by 1:50 we reached Laughery Rd., which runs beside the creek again.
Between Prosperity Ridge and the highway bridge at Milton was a long, painful walk. We shuffled along like zombies: the Walking Dead. We finally reached Milton at 4:30. We stumbled through the town and up the hill, a good mile and a quarter. We took our last packs-off break at the intersection with Hartford Pike. As we left there, it started to lightly patter rain down upon us. A mile or so down the road, we reached Akes Hill Rd. and turned up the hill to my lane.
We arrived at Wilderstead just before 6:00. That’s 13.5 miles in about 8.5 hours; again, not bad at all, no matter how much we were hurting. We were proud of our endurance. And glad to be inside a cabin. We fired up the wood stove and soon had delicious warmth. We ate a hearty supper and went straight to bed at dark again. It rained steadily through the night, a good, soaking rain with just a little bit of lightning and thunder.
Most of it we simply slept through, though everything outside was still very wet when we got up the next morning. I was first up again, about 7:30 or 8:00, and put a pot of coffee on. We were in no particular hurry for this last day. It was going to be the fewest miles of any of the three days, so we could take our time. Four of us even got a couple of games of euchre in while waiting for our President to bestir himself.
We made breakfast, cleaned up, filtered some water out of the creek. I told them to leave all the crew gear we weren’t going to use (tents, ground clothes, cooking gear); I would pick all this up next week on my next trip out. This made everybody very happy. All our packs were much lighter now.
It was a beautiful spring day with blue sky and puffy clouds when we left Wilderstead at 10:30 a.m.. About 11:45, I took advantage of a long break by a sheltering barn to take off my flannel shirt and change to shorts. The sun was now burning very bright. We were very warm, and our rate of water consumption began to increase faster than the previous two days. We picked up trash along the roadside this day, as a service project to the historic trail.
We stopped for lunch by the now-abandoned Hartford United Methodist Church. After eating, I took the Crew up to a nearby body shop I knew, where the owner let us fill up our bottles. Gary is also somebody who carves logs with a chainsaw. He offered to come give demonstrations of his craft to Scouts. I took his card and will recommend we invite him to next year’s Winter Rendezvous.
Now, we only had four miles to go, but it was a hard four miles. We were shuffling along at a crawl, about as fast as window-shoppers in the mall. Various people greeted us. A woman calling herself Lorna ran after us. We thought we must have dropped something, but she just wanted to give us some Pink Lady apples (I love Pink Ladies -- yum). She asked if we were hiking the Great American Discovery Trail. We said No, we were hiking the Laughery Creek Trail. Well, it turns out that there’s a coast-to-coast walking path called the Great American Discovery Trail which also takes Hartford Pike. Lorna met a lady last year hiking it from Delaware to California. The mind boggles at the thought.
Finally, we stumbled into French, and there before us was the world’s only Triple Whipple Bridge, now reserved for foot traffic over Laughery Creek from Ohio to Dearborn Counties. And what is a “triple Whipple” you ask? Well, there is a particular kind of engineering truss named after its inventor, a man named Whipple. It uses a diagonal cable stretched between upright members. There are apparently many bridges that have used this design. A few have seen the cables stretched across two sections of upright members in a repeating pattern; this is a double Whipple truss. But this particular bridge, which used to carry Highway 56 from Aurora to Rising Sun, is the only bridge in the world where the cables are stretched across three sections. Which makes it historic: a triple Whipple.
Riverview Cemetery lies just across Laughery on the northern side, but we had to walk its entire length to reach the gates, where we were to await Kara’s coming to pick us up. We arrived at 4:30 p.m., having covered 8.5 miles in six hours. Everyone but I dropped their packs in the shade of a big tree by the wrought iron fence. But I did what I do at the end of every trek: I dropped to my belly and did five push-ups in full pack, and then rose to my feet and cried out my Venturing challenge, “Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!” Then I dropped pack and collapsed.
Kara arrived shortly thereafter, and we began the three hour drive home, stopping to eat supper at Subway in Versailles. All in all, a very satisfying trek. I am very proud of our Crew. This was Zach’s first backpacking experience, and I think he liked it. We all found each other’s company congenial, even under the stress of too much exertion after a long winter of little exercise. We qualified for BSA’s Historic Trails patch, as well as the Laughery Creek Trail patches. And this little jaunt brings my lifetime hiking total up to a hefty 1,586 miles. God be praised for it all.