Spring 1996, Sheltowee, Pickett State Park to Peter's Mountain

A return to the trail and the birth of the Patio Boys

Distance: 18.2 miles

Todd, Bill, Me

I am finally backpacking again after about 10 years. I owe it to Todd for rekindling my interest and to Bill for going along.

We decided on the Sheltowee Trace Trail because it was only a four-hour drive and it transverses the state where we live. We could see all of the best that Kentucky had to offer.

Since it was our first trip I planned to have a car with extra food and equipment waiting for us after about a day and a half. We left a car at Pickett State Park in Tennessee and placed another one at Hemlock Grove Picnic area in southeastern Kentucky. It was a great plan - although one that didn't quite work out as planned.

Day 1: We left Pickett with high adventure in mind. The first day we hiked about 12 miles to a random campsite along a creek. It wasn't a great site but we were all tired and Bill could go no farther. Along the way, we passed the Hidden Passage, a swimming hole and numerous waterfalls. We mostly followed Rock Creek. That night we were kept awake by some late-night partiers who happened to park their trucks and play satanic music most of the night. That night I also found out that Todd carried a pistol with him. I made the mistake of getting out of my tent in the middle of the night and making strange sounds around his tent.

Day 2:
The next day we passed Great Meadows Camp Ground and made it to my stashed car at Hemlock Grove. We were ready for a cold beer and an equipment exchange for the next phase of our trip. That is when I discovered that my keys were safely tucked away in the glove compartment of Todd's car back at Pickett State Park.

We did not panic. Todd and I knew of an old fire road that might get us there before night all. We grabbed one bottle of water and left Bill to soak his poor knee in the creek. The hike back started out right. We got a two-mile ride to the fire road and started the hike on a long, hot gravel road. After about an hour we were out of water and had no idea where we were going. One car was going in the opposite direction but we didn't have enough money to pay them to take us to the park. After about another hour we heard a truck coming our way. We were sure they would pick us up but when they went by I got desperate. I dropped to my knees and shouted Lord have mercy on us. The next thing I knew they were stepping on the brakesĀ and getting out of the truck. It was then I saw how big they were and the guns in the truck cab and the "We Hate Kentucky People" bumper sticker. We were doomed. Again there was no panic. Todd reached for his pocket Swiss Army knife and I bent over and dropped my drawers. Lucky for us they were a bunch of good old boys just getting out for some beer that they had in their cab. They took us all the way back to the car and even let us have some of their beer.

After getting Bill out of the creek, we hiked up Mark's Branch Trail 2.2 miles to Peters Mountain. We found a random campsite in a large weed field with plenty of mosquitoes and ticks. It was hot and we were tired but this didn't stop Bill from starting a fire. He claimed that he did it to keep the mosquitoes away.

Day 3:
The next day we hiked back to Hemlock Grove on the Gobblers Arch Trail. We made a few mistakes on this trail but still had a great time.

A footnote about this first trip: None of us really had trail names yet so we actually called each other by our real names. The trail name tradition would be born later, as would our designation as the Patio Boys - the drinking club with a hiking problem. But this 1996 trip was when it all began, as I returned to backpacking after a decade of abandonment and then began to talk other suburban friends into exchanging a weekend television, beer, yard work, steakhouse dinners and patio life for a weekend of walking with a 40-pound pack to some remote spot in the woods, where the luxuries might include rain, bugs and, in the end, a Sonic burger.