Trip Report – Red River Gorge (Part-3)

Part-2 can be found here

Welcome back!
This is he 3rd and final part of the Red River Gorget Trip Report. Lot’s of pictures and a few videos in this one. Enjoy!

Waking up early
In order to beat the heat of the day I was up at the crack of dawn and out the door by 7:30. I had packed everything but water and food the night before so it was pretty easy to hit the road early. Temps were in the low 70’s and the humidity was at least 80%.

Props to the new Subaru for handling the Kentucky roads, paved and unpaved, like a champ. This car is a MUCH better fit for my lifestyle than the Mercedes Sedan I previously owned, but not nearly as much fun to drive…

Driving to the Trailhead
I’m still amazed how un-congested the whole Red River Gorge was during the 4th of July holiday. I expected a lot more people to be out and about in the area. I was pleasantly surprised at how few people I saw on the trails.

The Nada Tunnel separated be from the trailhead. As mentioned in Part-2 this is an old rail tunnel that’s been converted into a one-lane road.

Auxier Ridge to Courthouse Rock Trail
After driving for about 30-minutes I was finally at the trailhead. It was a very well groomed gravel lot with a pit toilet in case you needed it before/after your hike. There were 2 other cars parked here when I started about a dozen when I left.

I changed into my Hiking Shoes, threw on the day-pack, and headed out. Almost immediately I was greeted by a Rhododendron grove still in bloom.

The trail was in great shape and had a layer of sand that was soft to walk on but not so thick to get into your shoes or be a problem. I’ll take this over a gravel or muddy trail any time!

The views along this trail were amazing. You would have a little stretch of a green tunnel that would open up into view after view of the nearby ridges and valleys.

It’s pretty amazing to think about what it took to carve out the Gorge and create the arches that are hundreds of feet in the air. This place was created over thousands/millions of years and, in a way, feels ancient and new at the same time.

As the trail continued I had my head on a swivel as there were things to see on both sides of the ridge. It was nice to see a little wildlife in the form of a baby bunny along the trail. He was pretty calm and allowed be to get closer than I thought I could to get a picture. As soon as I passed he took off into the brush.

There were many outcrops along the trail and you could see where people had been camping. You’re supposed ot be a minimum of 300-feet from a trail when you camp, but that’s pretty difficult to do on a 200-400-foot wide ridge with a trail running down the middle.

In the distance I could see “Double Arch”, one of many arches in the area and a place I want to check out when I return.

I found a great area to get close to the edge of the ridge and take a peak at Courthouse Rock which is off in the distance in the picture below.

As I worked my way closer to the end of the trail it was time for a snack and water break. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my package of “Dietz Nuts” but now was the time to find out…

Other than the some greasiness on the surface (from the warm temps) these meat bites were really good! I think they could use some work on their naming/marketing but I’d pick these over traditional beef jerky every time.

Finally at the end of the ridge it’s time to descend into the Gorge and get out of the sun and into the humidity!

Descending into the Gorge
I took the steep stairs down to the bottom of the gorge and was met with cooler temps. Everything was wet from the humidity and I quickly learned that being the first one on the trail isn’t always a good thing. Someone has to break through all of the spider webs for the day and it was my turn today! I ended up with several spider bites form this experience, not very fun…

It was very interesting to see the dynamic change of my surroundings. There were mushrooms everywhere and the trail was a lot less obvious than what I had been hiking on 150 feet above on the ridge. I walked along the contour of the ridge bottom and headed back towards the starting point.

Climbing to the Top
Once I reached the end of the lower ridge trail I was expecting to see another set of stairs but instead I was greeted with what looked like a steep washout. That was the way back to the top of the trail and it was a pretty tough climb to get to the top. Time for another snack and water break!

I’m a fan of the RX Bars but I’ve found from others it’s something you either love or hate. They’re very dense and sticky chewy. The flavors are pretty tru to the description and this Peanut Butter & Berry flavor was no exception. You definitely need something to wash these down with but I really enjoy them and they keep for a long time.

After completing the hike I took some time to explore the area some more and identified several places I’d like to camp when I return next. Disbursed camping is pretty much everywhere. I wasn’t expecting to see so many places along the roads. There are NO amenities when you camp like this so if you want a bathroom and running water your best bet is to stick with some of the established campgrounds in the area.

I was expecting to do some fishing when visiting the RRG but quickly found out that it’s not really possible. The Red River is VERY muddy and the other streams in the area too shallow. I’ll leave the fishing gear home next time and just focus on hiking and camping.

Day 4
I packed the car up the next day and headed north towards Morehead and Maysville, Kentucky. I wanted to stop by a family gravesite to pay my respects as well as visit the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.

I really enjoyed driving on the back roads of Kentucky and twisted my way up and over the hills along my journey. I finally made it to Cincinnati after lunch and checked out the Museum.

The American Sign Museum is a really cool place. They’re preserving a piece of American history. It’s been so popular they’re expanding into another space with will double the existing square footage and allow them to continue to add to the already amazing collection. If you’re in the area and have an hour to kill I recommend checking it out!

Final Thoughts
I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting the RRG area. I was VERY impressed with the number and quality of trails in the area. I wasn’t so impressed with my cabin rental but it could have been worse. The crowds were way less then I expected, especially for a holiday weekend. I want to return in the fall when the leaves are changing, the temps are cooler, and the humidity lower.

If you’re looking for a very low key get away and want to spend some time enjoying nature RRG is a nice, inexpensive place to visit. It’s 4-hours south of Indianapolis and an easy morning/afternoon drive. There are lots of places to stop along the way to make the trip even more interesting.

That’s it for this trip report. I have a few more trips in the planning stages as well as more gear reviews in the works. If you have any feedback about the review or questions about the RRG area please leave your comments below. Thanks for reading!

Trip Report – Red River Gorge (Part-2)

Part-1 can be found here

Driving to Red River Gorge
After an awesome lunch at the Stave I continued my journey Southeast towards Red River Gorge (RRG). It was an uneventful trip with the usual Kentucky countryside of rolling hills and horse farms. Everything was green this time of year and the roads were light with traffic.

This is the GOOD stuff!

Nada Tunnel
One of the many attractions in the RRG area is the Nada Tunnel. It’s a 900-foot long 13-foot high one-lane tunnel that used to be a railroad. It’s now considered the “Gateway” to the Gorge and has been paved for vehicular traffic.

I was kind of surprised there wasn’t any kind of signaling device to help with traffic. Instead you must creep up to the enterance and look for approaching headlights. If you don’t see any you’re good to go. I always followed the car in front of me thinking they would have cleared the way. It worked every time I used the tunnel.

Look for a short video in the next part.

The Cabin
Once I arrived to the rental cabin I found that it was still being cleaned so I set out to explore the town of Slade, Ky. There’s not a lot in the area. Food wise you have 4 options. Miguels Pizza, a Mexican place, a BBQ shack, and a Coffee Shop/mini grocery. That’s about it unless you want Subway at the gas station out near the highway.

I received a text saying the cabin was ready so I headed back. The cabin was located deep in the woods at the end of a long gravel road. I’m glad I have All Wheel Drive ad some parts of the road were steep and others had deep gravel that limited traction. This was a fun little road both in and out of the property.

The website said the cabin had been renovated a year ago and I learned very quickly the website hadn’t been updated in a few years. While the cabin wasn’t terrible it was a little rougher that I expected. At only $129 a night I certainly didn’t expect to be stating at the Ritz. Overall it was clean and the AC worked so I made the best of it.

The Internet
I had DSL service a long time ago and it was adequate for the Internet of that time. The place I was staying in had DSL and I can assure you it’s NOT adequate for the Internet of today. First think I did was reset the modem and it helped a little bit but it was clear I wasn’t going to be online much in this place which was fine by me. I just needed to check on a few messages and map out some areas to explore. I had offline maps saved in Google Maps as well as Gaia GPS so I was in pretty good shape.

The area
I was expecting the area to be a lot more crowded with tourists because of the July 4th holiday. I was presently surprised that it wasn’t. There was a small campground that I passed on the way to the cabin and it had a lot of climbers camped out. The area offers whats called Dispersed Camping which pretty much allows you to setup camp off the side of the road in designated areas. All that’s required is a parking pass you purchase from area retailers. It’s a lot different that what I was expecting and, when I visit next time, I’ll be sure to check it out.

As I stated earlier the Slake Ky area isn’t fancy by any means. There are a few cabins a motels scattered around the area. Other than the local Pizza place it’s definitely not a hot spot. In a way I kind of liked it that way. I have a feeling it might be a little more trafficked when the temps are cooler and the trees are coloring out in the fall. I hope to revisit at that time either this year or next.

Dinner at La Cabana
Since the Pizza place appeared to have a line out the door every time I passed I opted for dinner at the La Cabana Mexican Restaurant down the road. I wasn’t sure what to expect but, hey, even sub-par Mexican food is usually pretty decent. I can make a meal out of Chips and Salsa and a beer or two.

La Cabana had inside seating and an outdoor bar. It was pretty typical of any other Mexican place with the standard menu items. They were featuring a Tacos El Pastor that night and after seeing several orders come out of the kitchen I settled on that. It didn’t disappoint and I was very happy with my choice. The sauce they had on the side was like FIRE. A little bit went a long way and it was quite tasty. The side plate of beans, while looking pretty plain, were very flavorful and complemented the tacos nicely. I left with a full, happy, belly.

Evening with offline shows
After arriving at the cabin, unpacking all my gear, and filling up on Mexican food, it was time to get settled. I finalized the plan for the next day and settled back with a few offline shows I had downloaded to the iPad. This is a great way to carry some entertainment for yourself or others and not have to rely on Internet service, which I practically had none of.

Next up, hiking in Red River Gorge and a recap of the trip!

Trip Report – Red River Gorge (Part-1)

Trip Intro
This is going to be a multi-part post over the next few weeks. I took a ton of photos and want to share some of them here as well as detail the trip as best as I can. I hope you enjoy and I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.

I decided to take advantage of the July 4th holiday being on a Wednesday this year and plan a Hiking/Camping/Fishing getaway. Initially I was looking at the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to do some camping and cycling. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do up there but then I stumbled upon a YouTube video that featured the Red River Gorge (RRG) in Kentucky. It looked to have a lot of the things I was looking for and was a lot closer to Indy than the U.P.

I watched several more videos and was convinced this is were I needed to go on this trip. I was a little concerned about the holiday crowds and found the camping situation a little confusing. I opted to rent an inexpensive cabin so I’d have a place to stay and explore the area. I really wanted to camp too so I booked one the last available spots at a Kentucky State Park called Big Bone Lick that’s on the way to RRG.

Packing & Prep
Since I was going to travel solo and base out of a cabin I pretty much packed everything I though I’d need from camping supplies, to fishing gear, as well as an assortment of food and entertainment options. Of course I packed entirely too much but I had the room and figured this would be a good test to see what I’d actually use vs what I think I needed.

I store the gear for each of my hobbies in large, stackable, plastic bins that are easy to just grab and go. I ended up with the following assortment (some bins had more than one category):

  • Food and Cooking (cook pot, stove, fuel, dehydrated food, snacks)
  • Sleep System (tent, footprint, hammock, tarp, sleeping bag)
  • Fishing Gear (waders, boots, tackle)
  • Hiking Gear (packs, boots, trekking poles, maps, compass)
  • Clothing (hiking, fishing, sleeping)
  • Misc (electronics, lights, batteries)
  • Cooler (food, drinks, snacks)
  • Water (7-gallon plastic Jerry can)

This gave me the option to go with the flow and hike a little, fish a little, and relax. I’ll admit this is a lot of gear to bring but like I said, this is a shakedown to see what I would really use.

Car Problems
I was about 500 miles away from scheduled maintenance on the car so I thought I might as well stop at the dealer and get it knocked out. Boy was that a mistake… Long story short, the oil filter (that sits on top of the engine in this car) didn’t get seated correctly and proceeded to leak oil all over the engine as I drove to work. By the time I got there the car was smoking like it was on fire. After a tow back to the dealer I got home with a freshly cleaned engine at 8pm. It was still smoking a little as what was left burned off. By the time I got to my first stop the next day all was well again.

Day 1 – Leaving Home
I got things organized starting a few days before departure and loaded it all up the morning of the trip. Since everything was already grouped and in a bin it was easy to just slide things in and hit the road.

I use a medium sized snowboard roof rack (I think it’s designed to old 2-3 boards) to transport the fishing poles. It’s a lot easier than trying to have them in the car and the racks lock so things stay pretty secure and out of the way. I can carry about 10 rods and reels with this setup but I usually only have 3-4 up there.

REI Cincinatti
My first stop of the day was REI in Cincinnati. I was hoping they would have some maps and info on RRG. I was able to find a book dedicated the the trail system in the area & it’s been a great purchase. I found some areas I didn’t know about and more detail on the areas I was focusing on this trip.

Findlay Market
If you haven’t been to Findlay Market you should stop and check it out next time you’re in the area. I usually go on the weekend and it’s a lot different during the week (not nearly as many vendors). The market has a lot of specialty vendors and you can find some great food and produce.

Newport on the Levee
I haven’t visited this place for a while and WOW, it’s changed a lot. I almost got lost because of all the new construction. I mainly just stopped buy to do a quick walk through and get some pictures of the Cincy skyline (annnddd I left my phone in the car, oops!).

USA Soccer & Thunder Storms
The day was ticking along and I was killing a little time before heading to the campground. I happened to find a Drakes sports bar in the city of Florence and it was just in time to watch the Team USA beat England in the Women’s World Cup. A pop up thunderstorm happened to hit while I was watching the game. It also blew through the campsite I was driving to too, so taking a break to watch the game turned out to be a good idea.

Big Bone Lick State Park
This park has a lot of fosses in the area because it had an abundance of salt licks in the prehistoric days that attracted animals to the site. Today they have a herd of buffalo roaming the grasslands.

I arrived at camp a little after the front office closed so I cruised back to the spot I had reserved. Interestingly the 3 spots next to me were marked off and not being used. The other side of me had an RV from New York and their porch was on the other side, so I had a pretty private site at the back of the camp with very little traffic.

The neighbors turned in about the time it got dark and I sat out under the stars and enjoyed some wine and cheese before climbing in the tent and listened to the crickets and frogs until I fell asleep.

Day 2 – Waking up to Nature
The birds in the trees had me awake at sunrise and the Daddy Long Legs spider that ran across my face was better than any alarm clock I’ve ever used. As I exited the tent I could not believe how many of these spiders were on my tent. Took a while to brush them all off and pack up the tent.

I’m not a big breakfast eater and since I had a lot of things to do that day I packed camp up and hit the road about 8am. About 9am I got a craving for a Sausage McMuffin and had to stop. I also wanted a sweet tea which, I think, gets better the further south you travel in the US.

Buffalo Trace Distillery
The first stop of the day was the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort Kentucky. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States. The tour was pretty basic compared to other producers like Woodford Reserve and Makers Mark but it was very interesting to learn more about the history of the facility.

After the tour and tasking (it was 11 am so not too early for a nip) the gift shop had a nice selection for purchase. Sadly there was no Blanton’s or Pappy Van Winkle for sale.

Lunch
I had a few ideas for places to eat lunch in the Frankfort area but one was closed and the other one looked a little sketchy. I fired up Yelp and found a place about 20-minutes away called The Stave.

The Stave is in the middle of nowhere and is inside an old farm house. Once I got cellular coverage again I realized I was just down the road from the Woodford Reserve Distillery. The lunch menu had a nice variety of dishes. I settled on the Pig & Pickles sandwich with fries (as well as another sweet tea). The sandwich was amazing, and the fries were double cooked and perfectly crunchy.

My server asked me if I was one of the “Lookie-loos” and I had to ask her for some clarification. Evidently there was a big warehouse fire at a Jack Daniels warehouse the night before and the place was crawling with Media and people trying to see the damage.

Up next, driving to Red River Gorge. Lots more to come over the next few weeks. I have some more gear reviews in the works as well. Stay Tuned!

Trip Report – Turkey Run State Park

I took an opportunity towards the end of May to take a day off work and go exploring at Turkey Run State Park. It had been years since I last visited and I really didn’t remember it very well.

The weather was just about perfect and I was surprised how close the park actually was to Indianapolis. When I arrived I was one of the only cars in the lot and the Nature Center was just opening. I settled on what’s called the “5-Mile Challenge” which in reality is 5.9 miles of combined trails around the park with photo ops along the way to complete the challenge (and get a sticker).

I was excited to try my new trail shoes and Merino Wool Socks that I reviewed in a previous post and set off towards the suspension bridge that takes you across Sugar Creek. There are a LOT of stairs at Turkey Run and you encounter them almost immediately when you leave the parking area.

As I started off on the first trail it was obvious that this was going to be a wet day. The trails were pretty sloppy but overall well groomed and marked. Some sections required some creative use of the trekking poles to navigate between trees and over rocks.

As I climbed in elevation the trail started to dry out and I was able to relax and enjoy the sounds of the woods. After 3 miles things started to get interesting when the trail descended into the various ravines and sandstone cliffs. At times the trail was part of the stream bed and it was nice to clean the shoes off in the cold water and have the socks instantly warm up my feet as the water worked its way out.

The final stretch of the loop was the most technical as well as the most beautiful. The sandstone walls towered above and the water continued to etch its way through the canyons towards Sugar Creek. It’s really hard to believe this park is only an hour outside Indianapolis. The crowds were starting to increase and I was starting to feel the effort to get up, down, in, and around the trail.

Overall I’d say Turkey Run is a great place for a day hike and has enough variety that it would take several trips to see it all. Camping is available and was completely sold out when I drove over to check out the sites.

I have some more gear to review in the upcoming months as well as a multi-day trip to the south that I’ll be blogging about soon! Thanks for reading and be sure to leave any comments or questions you might have.

Gear Review – Altra Lone Peak 4 Trail Runners

I’m back!  I kind of lost interest in the blog over the winter and made the (mistake?) of purchasing Red Dead Redemption 2.  That game is a HUGE time suck but amazing and I don’t regret it.

I also got hooked on some new YouTube channels* over the winter and it’s rekindled my desire to be outdoor more often.  I already enjoy cycling and kayaking but haven’t really been camping/backpacking/hiking since I was in Scouts.

After a long winter of watching these channels I could not help but be ready for better weather and a chance to get outside again.  Several of the YouTubers are through hikers and have either hiked the Appalachian trail or are in the process.  While I think that would be an amazing accomplishment It’s not something I see myself doing in the near future.  I’m just fine with shorter adventures.

A piece of gear that’s critical when hiking is footwear.  I’ve always worn traditional hiking boots.  They provide great ankle stability but they’re heavy and, if waterproof, make your feet hot and sweaty.  They also really suck if you happen to get water IN them.

A new category of footwear called the “Trail Runner” was introduced to me over the winter.  These are a hybrid between a boot and a running shoe.  The most popular appear to be from a company called Altra and the model mentioned more than anything else was the Lone Peak 4.

Altra Lone Peak 4

After a few hikes around Indy in my traditional hikers and a pair of low rise boots I realized my feet were going to be an issue.  I already have a pair of custom orthotics that I wear in some of my shoes but they’re not very comfortable to walk in for miles at a time.

A review in Outside Magazine help me decide to purchase these shoes and then it happened…  REI had one of their big sales & I was able to pick up a pair of Lone Peak 4’s for 30% off!  I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the sale.  REI was selling these things like deep fried Oreos at the State Fair.

In the store the Lone Peak’s felt a little weird at first because the front (toe box) of the shoe is very wide and they have what’s called a “Zero Drop” which puts your foot level with the ground vs raised in the back.  They also fit different and I ended up going 1.5 sizes larger than I typically wear.  I was a little concerned this was going to be an issue and worried about blisters which I got a lot in Scouts with traditional hiking boots.

Altra Lone Peak 4

Following the advice in the Outside review I ordered a couple of pairs of Merino Wool Socks for breathability and the ability to keep your feet warm and dry.  I’ll detail it more in an upcoming trip report but let’s just say the combo worked better than anything I have ever tried.

I decided to try the Altra’s out on a 6-mile rugged loop at Turkey Run State Park (I’m planning on a trip report soon).  As soon as I started walking I could feel an immediate difference.  The Merino Socks were a little slippery and the shoes were “Squishy” (technical term).  

After the 2nd mile on the trail I was a fan.  My feet felt amazing and the rock guard build into the sole kept the bottoms of my feet protected and comfortable.  I usually have issues with rocks (gravel especially) bothering the balls of my feet when trail walking.

Then came the ultimate test.  Time to get my feet wet as the trail went up, through, and along a stream (several in fact).  The Outdoor review was totally right.  As soon as you leave the water the shoes pump the water out and the wool socks help you feet dry out and stay warm.  I’ve NEVER had so much FUN getting my feet wet!  Normally this is something you want to avoid when hiking but I was stomping through the water like a little kid and enjoying every minute of it.  

Traction was excellent and after finishing the loop my only complaint was some knee pain which I later found was a result of descending the numerous hills, and something I can help with some more conditioning and maybe some better insoles.

I’m pretty much sold on the Trail Runner concept and I look forward to putting a few more miles on these shoes this weekend. If you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional hiking boots you should give these a try. They make different versions for different situations but I’ve found the Loan Peak 4’s to be a great all around shoe for my needs.

*The YouTube Channels that hooked me (in no particular order):
Outdoor Adventures
The Outdoor Gear Review
Dan Becker
Homemade Wanderlust
Darwin on the Trail