This weekend I ventured out for my first shakedown hike in preparation for my A.T. thru hike next year. I chose Red River Gorge for my first shakedown, since I know the area and knew it would help prepare me for the inclines/declines of the Appalachia. Red River Gorge is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. It’s full of ridgelines with fantastic overlooks, and gorges full of trees, wildlife, and water sources.
Friday night I arrived a bit later in the day, getting to the Pinch-em Tight trailhead only 1-2 hours before dusk. Luckily, my hike for the night was only 2.5 miles out to Hanson’s Point, so I made it to the point just in time for the sunset. With the little sun that was left, I set up camp and attempted to have a good night’s rest. I slept horribly the first night, but that’s what a shakedown is for, right? Trial and error.
Saturday, I awoke before the sun by a good hour and a half and hiked back to my car, with my headlamp guiding my way. I’ve never hiked at night before, so having to hike through what my dad and I consider “Blair Witch” woods was a bit unnerving. Nevertheless, I made it to my car with few spooks, and just in time for the sunrise.
My next stop was the Natural Bridge State Park for a group hike. I liked to think of it as my “bubble simulation”. Thirty to forty of us hiking in a group is probably bigger than the bubble I’ll encounter on the A.T., but I enjoyed it! I got to meet a lot of new people and got a lot of advice from seasoned backpackers. We hiked about 6 miles up to the Natural Bridge, Battleship Rock, Lover’s Leap, and down Devil’s Gulch. After our hike, most of us went to Hop’s, a local restaurant with good food and even better beer (& bourbon!). I had a chicken pesto sandwich (amazing) and an orange cream cider (equally amazing). I left the group after 1-2 hours at Hop’s and went off to begin my last hike of the day.
The last hike consisted of Bison Way and Indian Staircase. I took the route around the staircase rather than ascending the real thing… I have done it once before and knew that wasn’t going to happen with the pack on my back. Once I hiked a few miles, I set up camp about halfway between the staircase and Adena Arch and watched the sunset over the gorge.
This morning I woke up at dawn to crawl out of my cozy sleeping quilt and see the sunrise. I found a nice spot and captured the picture at the beginning of this post. Looking out over the gorge as the sun came up was surreal. The trees were so still that it felt like I was looking at a painting! When the sun was fully up over the horizon, I packed up camp and headed to Adena Arch. My dad and I have a shortcut we took last time that took us to the road below, without having to head back 3 miles in the other direction. The shortcut includes some sliding on butts and using tree limbs and roots for stability, but it’s honestly a lot of fun!
My phone was just about to die after I reached the arch, so I was relying on my memory to get me to the shortcut. Luckily, my memory got me there! The best part was that the shortcut came out right where I had parked my car. I had parked about 0.4 miles from the trailhead, so that saved me that extra 0.4 as well! A win-win in my book!
Reaching my car in this glorious fashion marked the end of my first shakedown hike. I learned a surprising amount from my first shakedown hike, and am already planning the next one!
- Night hiking isn’t nearly as scary as I expected.
- Cheap hiking socks won’t cut it for my thru hike. I got two blisters from a 15-mile weekend. I’m thinking the Darn Tough & Injinji duo that I keep hearing about might be worth a try.
- I can’t sleep with cold feet. Night 2 was so much better with the quilt zipped and cinched at the feet.
- I can’t sleep with socks on… I’m glad my quilt can zip and cinch!
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