I got up at 5:30 and made coffee, then heated water for oatmeal. I got the others up at 6:00 and we ate a quick, hot breakfast. We readied our gear and made assignments. It was Logan's turn to be the hike leader -- a big responsibility, and he the youngest of the three Scouts. Andrew got the mapigator job. That left Matt and the two adults, Don and Art.
Up and At 'Em
Everyone was rarin' to go. The morning was bright and cool. I locked up the cabin and we stepped off right around 7:00 a.m. Logan set a nice, easy pace, one we could keep up over a long, long day. I had warned them that it takes about twelve and a half hours to do this twenty-miler, but none of them had any clue just how long a day that would make. Still, we left in good heart.
We had gone a mile or so on Hartford Pike and were nearing Highway 262 when Logan asked to use the magic orange trowel. I suggested he take advantage of the woods nearby before we hit more open, settled country. For the uninitiated, I'm referring to digging a cathole for one's bodily easement. Logan had never done this before, so this was a learning experience. I've noticed that boys tend to avoid having to do this until they really have to do this; it's all very well to talk about theory in Scout meetings, but in the end, experience is the best teacher. I mean, it's not like we can do live demonstrations for the boys.
That challenge conquered, we stumped on down the highway to the little town of Milton, and there turned away from Laughery Creek towards Bear Branch. We stopped by the local Church of Christ -- a facility in the shape of a quonset hut that I refer to as the Jesus Barn -- to eat a second, cold breakfast about 8:40. Because of the vast amount of energy we would be using this day, I had planned for five complete meals -- three to be consumed on the trail -- plus snacks. When you're doing a really long hike, it's important that you keep stoking your furnace to keep up a head of steam; otherwise, you will slow to a crawl and be miserable.
Rev. Billy Joe Bob's Jesus Barn
Refreshed, we started a long uphill climb to the top of the ridge that carried the Milton-Bear Branch Road. This ridge forms the southern redoubt of the Laughery Valley. At times, we could look down and see the creek below. Often, we would see the northern ridges across the creek in Dearborn County. Once up on this ridge, the road would wind along almost level for several miles.
The weather was beautiful: blue skies and fluffy clouds, cool and shady. The high was supposed to be 78, and the humidity was low. Perfect hiking weather. Many homes had little man-made ponds for recreational use. And we saw an outhouse by one; indeed, we saw many, many outhouses (most probably no longer in use, to be sure). Outhouses are kind of a cultural thing along Laughery Creek, particularly down by the banks where lots of old fishing camps are maintained by people who live in larger towns and come out to the creek to play.
There's another one
As well as seeing a lot of outhouses on this trip, we met many dogs. Most were well trained, staying in their yards but barking as we went past. Just doing their jobs. This one was a beautiful mixed breed. The head looked like a Saint Bernard, the body was all bird dog, and the tail was a feather duster affair, a regular plume, which he waved to the breeze with great abandon.
Going to the dogs
Each person moves through space differently. I spent most of the morning walking behind Matt, and I noticed that he could never settle into a rhythm. He was constantly speeding up, then slowing down. He poked every abandoned pop can with his walking stick. He was given to sudden movements to look at things. He's a strong young man, but he wastes a lot of energy because he can't settle down into an easy rhythm. That will come in time, I hope.
I'm also an inveterate observer of how people place their feet, how their spines and legs move, how much up-and-down motion goes into their walking. Sometimes, I can give helpful comments to other hikers. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to straighten my own feet, since I tend to walk with my toes pointed out a bit.
After seven or eight miles, the boys began to get restless. They wanted to know when we would reach Lost Bridge, the goal of this hike. I had to keep tamping down their curiosity, since if you get over-invested in keeping track of miles (real or imagined), you wind up constantly disappointed that you're not making the progress you want. And the discouragement can get you down. People think that hiking is just a matter of walking from here to there, but it's not. The challenge of hiking is as much in your head as in your feet. You have to keep your spirits up, find things to enjoy along the way, manage your expenditure of energy by how you take rests, and -- in a group -- manage the team to get the best effort out of the whole crew.
We finally turned south a bit and stepped out of the shade of the road into open farm country. The sky was enormous as well as beautiful. You really can't get it all in a snapshot, but here's an attempt.
The next landmark was St. Peter's Lutheran Church. They finally spied it in the distance, and with a marker to aim for, picked up the pace to get there. "The church is always a beacon of hope," I remarked to Don. Best of all, there was an outside water spigot in the shade of their porch, and we all topped off our water bottles with nice, cold water.
A Beacon of Hope
Another half mile down the road and we came to Old St. Peter's Cemetery, where we turned off on Iceburg Road. (No, I didn't misspell that.) We paused to look at the graves. I wanted the boys to see this. In that cemetery there was an important story of immigration and assimilation.
Side by side were two tombstones. One was in German; not only that, it was carved in the old Fraktur script. The family name was Kütenbrink, and the man whose grave it was died in 1896. Next to him was another stone, this was carved in Roman letters. The family name was now Kettenbrink, and the date was 1936. Many German immigrants helped settle Indiana, especially coming into the country by means of the Ohio River, and running up the various large creeks to settle homesteads. Over time, they Anglicized their names and starting speaking English instead of German, even in the home. And, of course, between those two generations represented by those two tombstones, there interposed the calamity of World War I, which brought with it significant anti-German feeling and hastened the assimilation.
A short stretch down Iceburg Road, we came to Bells Branch Road and started a rapid and prolonged descent to Laughery Creek. Every little culvert we crossed, the boys asked if that was Lost Bridge. I said No, Lost Bridge is a big steel truss bridge. Eventually, we sighted it off in the trees. It was a magnificent bridge, all painted red. Just before crossing it, though, we stopped for a double-long lunch break. We all took off our boots to rest and air out our feet, too. It was just 12:30, and we had been hiking for five and a half hours.
Lunch by the Side of the Road
After a nice rest, we laced up and crossed Lost Bridge from Ohio County back into Dearborn County. Having spent the morning up on the ridge in Ohio, we would now walk the valley road in Dearborn. I checked out the creek before crossing, and saw a blue heron take off down the valley.
I once was lost but now I'm found
All throughout our trip, I told the boys stories about the area they were hiking through. About how Ohio County was split off from Dearborn County in the early 1800s in what was surely illegal -- but they got away with it. About how my great-grandfather and his brother were kidnapped by Morgan's Raiders between Osgood and Dillsboro. And about the massacre of Capt. Archibald Lochry and his men by Joseph Brant and his Mohawk warriors. It was during the Revolutionary War, and Lochry was hastening down the Ohio to join George Rogers Clark for a planned invasion of the Northwest. Brant had let other groups go by as too large to attack, but had fastened upon Lochry's soldiers as easy meat. They attacked them near the mouth of the creek, just south of Aurora. Something got out of hand after the battle was over, and most of the Americans were killed. The loss of Lochry and his men meant that Clark didn't have enough for his expedition and delayed American victory on the frontier. The creek by which he died was named in his honor. The spelling came out "Laughery," but the pronunciation remained "Lochry" (lock-ree); however, the locals -- for what reason nobody knows -- pronounce it "Loth-ree."
The afternoon was going to be a challenge. There were sunny stretches as well as shade. Plus, we were getting tired. The second half of a long hike is inevitably slower than the first half. By 3:30, we were about 15-16 miles into the day's work, and people were starting to hurt a bit. And get impatient. I expected this. It's one of the challenges you face.
But I also noticed that Logan was not moving comfortably. He was the leader, and he would speed up whenever he thought about it, but slow down quickly. Perhaps this had to do with his being two years younger than the other two, and so lacking a bit of stamina. But also, without a succession of landmarks to see, the hike was entering a long phase where the road just went on and on. I let Don sweep the trail, and I moved up to walk beside Logan. I helped him estimate his distances and time his breaks; I showed him how to pick a spot far ahead to walk to, and other inside-your-head tricks in order to manage the road and not let his mind wander into a slow and weary zone.
The pace picked up a bit, but counting our breaks, we were probably moving at about a mile an hour. Still, "best possible speed, Mr. Sulu" and all that. We were moving, and grumbling was kept to a minimum. I saw my third blue heron of the day down in the creek. We found an outdoor spigot and topped off our water, but it was full of sulphur.
Around 4:30, a tree trimming crew we had passed earlier was heading back to the barn at the end of their work day and stopped to share their cooler of ice water with us. We dumped all the nasty sulphur water and drank our fill of ice water, topping off at least a liter apiece to finish the hike. The world is full of good and helpful people. Shortly thereafter, we stopped for a long break and ate a trail supper. By 5:00, we were under way again.
When we got back to Milton, instead of crossing Laughery and taking the highway the long way round to my cabin, I pointed down the valley and asked the Scouts if they could see a notch between the trees about a mile away. That was my holler, I explained, and if we crossed the highway and took Huesman Road over yonder, we could wade the creek and then ascend Akes Hill Road just below my cabin and finish the hike sooner. They were thrilled by that, for sure. And so we moved on down to the ford below my land.
Down to the Ford
Once we reached the ford, we changed to water booties and sandals and waded across. Just minutes from home, Andrew was eager to hustle up the hill; however, we had our only real cause of concern the whole day right at the end of the hike. Don was sick to his stomach from some medicine he had taken. Andrew took his pack, and Matt stayed by his side to assist him when he felt woozy. Logan and I set a very slow and easy pace up Akes Hill to my gate. And so we came back to Wilderstead, all of us in good order. Don would feel better soon.
The Water is Wide
Nearing the Finish Line
When we reached the cabin, I dropped and did my usual five pushups with my pack still on. Andrew joined me. I rose and called out, "Troop 119: Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!" and asked Don for the time. "7:28," he said. And so, even as I had said to their disbelief at the start of the day, we had completed our twenty-miler in almost exactly twelve and a half hours.
And with that, we flopped down in the cabin and whomped up a big pot of Ramen noodles, which we ate with White Cheddar Cheezits. As the dusk gathered around us, we sat and talked and slowly continued to eat, re-hydrating and adding needed salt and fat to our depleted bodies. By 10:00, we were all zonked out upstairs.
The next morning, I was up at 6:00 for my usual morning routine. I began the day with a double shot of Naproxen Sodium, following some wise advice from my friend Cheryl, a P.A., who says: Get ahead of your pain. By the time I woke everybody else up at 7:00, I was feeling pretty good. I taught the boys how to make omelets, and they caught on to the technique quickly. We had a good breakfast, cleaned up the cabin and were driving away by 8:30.
Morning After Omelets
We were back in Ellettsville by 11:00, and everybody's mom had picked up her son by 11:30. Another adventure in the books. Today's weariness will soon be forgotten, while braggin' rights are forever.
My estimated lifetime hiking mileage is now 1,650 miles.