And sometimes, we fish...

Fall Trip: Nov. 3-5, 2017, to Cane Creek Wildlife Management Area; John Curtin, John Hennessey, Bill Ankenbauer, and Mark Neikirk.

By Mark A. Neikirk

The forest service road leading to Cane Creek is a gravel bed through a thick forest of new growth hardwoods that are brightly colored as fall peaks. Orange. Yellow. Red. Remnants of green. The road descends gently over three miles before it is low enough to parallel the stream, which bends more often and more serverly than the road so the two are not exactly parallel but they stay within sight of each other.

We drove this road on a Friday afternoon and passed a man walking with a shotgun over his shoulder toward his truck parked a couple of hundred yards ahead. A small dog, probably a Jack Russell, darted in and out of the woods ahead of the man, finding and treeing squirrels for the man to shoot. Passing the man's truck, we could see the day's take laid neatly in a row across the bed cover. Nine squirrels, three over the bag limit of six. This hunter wasn't finished, obviously, since the dog was still hard at work. Awful as this might seem, to hunt squirrels in this methodical, efficient and unsporting fashion, at least he wasn't carrying an assault weapon, as a hunter we drove past the next day was.

The last essay I wrote of the Patio Boys site was a bit of a rant about the degradation of Kentucky's wild places, and I don't really want to make a habit penning vehement philippics. But somehow, every time I hike in Kentucky there is more evidence that too many of my fellow Kentuckians take our commonwealth's natural beauty for granted and treat the regulations to protect that beauty as optional. Cane Creek is a wildlife management area, a designation intended to offer it extra protection. The designation works up to a point but unless we unleash a TSA-style squadron of enforcers (let's not), then the designation like the hunting regulations rely on the users of the wilderness to acquiesce to them. Is it too much to ask that these modest regulations be followed as a social contract among the users of these public lands? For some users, yes, it is.

I was introduced to the woods by my grandfather, Ed Clem, who look me squirrel hunting before I was old enough to learn multiplication tables, and this was not how it was done, with dogs and trucks and guns designed for war. A proper squirrel hunter rose early so as to be situated before daybreak. By the light of the moon, the faint light of dawn, or both, Grandpa Clem taught me to look for freshly shelled walnuts or acorns, then sit perfectly still and perfectly quiet until sunup, waiting for the slumbering squirrels above to stir. Inasmuch as our squirrels were for dinner, and my grandmother had planned accordingly, the purpose of the hunt was to provide. Slaughter was neither likely nor desired.

It fair to ask, if you have read this far, what does any of this have to do with hiking ‒ and I will try to answer. Were I to answer with bullet points, as so much writing nowadays does, the first would be: This happened on a hiking trip. The second: We ought to care. The third: We don't seem to.

The Cane Creek Wildlife Management Area is the setting for a particularly gorgeous segment of the 281.7 mile Sheltowee Trace Trail, where we had come to hike. I rode down from northern Kentucky with two others in our band of brothers, John Curtin and John Hennessey, and met Eric Krosnes, who drove from his home in Nashville, at Steak 'n Shake at the I-75 London exit. Over a lunch memorable only for how abysmally inept Steak 'n Shake's kitchen is at producing one of the world's simplest sandwiches, the BLT, we agreed to go first to a place on Cane Creek where the state stocks the stream with trout. The plan was to fish a short while, catch dinner, then be at the parking lot on Ky. 192 at the trailhead by 3 p.m. to meet Bill Ankenbauer, who had worked the early shift as a cameraman for the WLWT morning news in Cincinnati. Eric and I had packed some aluminum foil, butter, and salt and pepper for preparing the trout. We imagined an evening, fireside, placing foil-wrapped trout atop the coals nursed to glowing red. Two immovable forces conspired against us. The first was a yellow Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife sign informing all anglers that during this season only catch and release is permitted. The second was that we didn't catch any fish anyway. But the stream was beautiful, slicing through the woods as streams do, becoming a focal point for everything around it. Boulders exist here for same reason the Mona Lisa has a frame or, for that matter, the the Louvre. Trees exist so as to reflect in the water, which is shallow and clear, rippling over stair-stepped slats of rock before pooling deep at a bend and then unleashing itself in tight torrents of white knots that disappear into the next pool, the rage above tamed into a few bubbles floating next to fall leaves.
But no fish. None seen. None caught.

Three miles back on the gravel road, back past the squirrel hunter, back to the main road, back to Ky. 192, and seven miles to the parking lot and the trailhead ‒ the actual hike began. This was to be a different sort of Patio Boys hike. We had fewer people, five, than a typical trip, and it was the first (and, I hope, the last) fall or spring trip without Patio Boy founder and CEO Bob Pauly, who plans the trips and leads them much to the collective benefit of the group. Bob has a wedding upcoming (congratulations, Shelby) and, to mark the momentous passage, had decided to take his wife, Brenda, and their daughter backpacking in Virginia a month earlier. Having used as much vacation time as he could for backpacking, he decided to forgo this trip. Once we decided to change another Patio Boy standard and make the trip shorter, Bob was tempted to reconsider. He could leave after work Friday and be home by Sunday evening, ready for work on Monday morning. That would be as compared to a typical Patio Boy hike, which requires taking off on Friday and Monday. But Bob's son, Sawyer, was starting his first season as an assistant coach for Thomas More College and so would be courtside for a fun preseason game against Xavier University at X. So the same dad who willingly sacrificed the fall 2017 hike first to introduce his daughter to multi-day backpacking would willingly sacrifice it again to support his son's coaching start. We would be on our own, though Bob came to the planning meeting at my house to offer his counsel and his maps ‒ and drink my bourbon.

Also not with us was Mark McGinnis, who had just been to Cane Creek a couple of weeks earlier with friends from Fort Thomas. Mac G would be accompanying his wife to a class reunion and, like Bob, properly chose family over us. But he brought his fresh intel from Cane Creek to the planning meeting, which was pretty useful. The trail at Cane Creek, in one regard is simple if you are going straight up the Trace. But the various spurs that permit a weekend loop hike are somewhat intricate and poorly described in the guidebooks; so having someone who had just hiked it was handy. Also, Bob and Mac G are good company, whether on the trail or at a planning party. Bourbon, chili, maps, friends. Makes for a good night.

What made Cane Creek a fit for this trip was it relative proximity. Less than three hours away, it was much closer than a Smoky Mountain trip. The Smokies have been our go-to destination for a fall or spring trip over the years, but they require more days, more days, more logistics. Cane Creek would reduce the complexities. I knew of a campsite less than three miles in, which meant that if anyone arrived late he could get to camp easily enough, even in the dark if necessary, though it was not. The site would also be a perfect staging base should anyone wishing to go fishing instead of hiking, as was my intention and Eric's. The Patio Boys passed through Cane Creek in 2005, my first trip with the group. More recently, I day hiked the trail with my wife, Kate, and her friend and mine, Good Golly Miss Molly, who goes also by Molly Wesley. On the first trip, Cane Creek was our exit point after a 25-mile hike and instantly memorable as a striking place. With Kate and Good Golly, a trip taken earlier this year, none of what I remembered was diminished by seeing it again. We were passed by mountain bikers, one of whom had come up from North Carolina, as this section of trail draws cyclists looking for a technical and challenging course.

The main attraction here is Van Hook Falls, 2.5 miles from the road and a destination that would be well worth the walk were it ten times that distance. Short though it is, the trail passes a succession of other waterfalls, each distinctive and different. The first is on a side stream, with water falling in curtain into a pool about 10 or 12 feet below. The next is another side stream, and this falls you see from above as the land just sort of ends, dropping instantly and steeply into a pretty hollow. The trail has a wet crossing just before the plunge. To see the falls requires bracing against a tree at cliff's edge and craning forward. The next falls is easily missed, as it is best viewed from a short side trail. It's a long, narrow and high falls over a wall of rock and on the opposite side of the Cane Creek gorge from the trail. So it is a little distant, but gloriously framed by the various trees around the opening that permits you to see it. On down the trail is Cane Creek, and there is the trail's fourth falls ‒ actually, three distinct falls all part of one run of water. On the other side of Cane Creek, the trail goes up, follows a precarious ledge, tucks under a cliff and around boulders, and then rises to a wooden staircase built after our first trip here and making it easy to get within sight of Van Hook Falls. It's water falls in thin curtain from the inside of C-shaped cut in the rocks above and reconvenes itself as a stream some 60 or so feet below in a cavern-like spot strewn with fallen, mossy trees and looking like Yoda might live here, dispensing wisdom and insight. "Stop and ponder the falls and life, you should." There is even a bench on a landing of the wooden staircase where you can take a seat and do this pondering. With Kate and Miss Molly, we took time for lunch there.
On this trip, we would need to wait a day before visiting Van Hook Falls. By the time we arrived at the campsite on late Friday afternoon, set up tents, gathered some firewood, and made a trip to Cane Creek for water, the sun had fallen below the high walls of rock around us and the day was done. We cooked and ate by firelight and flashlight. It was a fine evening. We talked, traded tastes of bourbon, lamented the absence of those not with us, listened to Bill's playlist. It tends toward the soft rock of the 70s and 80s, with ample doses of John Prine and country music, including Carley Pearce, who has a No. 1 hit and once sang in Bill's living room.

It was a warm night, barely chilled enough to require a fire but a fire is requisite, a sine qua non for a hiking group called the "Patio Boys" although the origins of the name are not as they might seem. I once heard a scholar of Cicero call made-up word origins spook etymologies and you could be forgiven for believing that the Patio Boys are so named because around the campfire we are recreating life on the patio, as we tend the fire, kick back in Helinox folding chairs, sip and share Old Weller or Elijah Craig or Old Forester or Rowan Creek or Blanton's, and talk about old girlfriends, music, football, world affairs, and the meaning of life. Were this a Saturday night at home, the scene on the patio might be similar and often is. But attributing our hiking group's name to that similarity would be a spook etymology, derived from an assumption that no matter how reasonable would still be wrong. There's a whole story about how the name "Patio Boys" came to us. It involves baseball, opinions, and insults. It's a good story in all of its various versions. It has nothing to do with life on a patio. Well, that's not entirely so. I'll have to deal with that another time. It's long and involved.

The next day, Saturday, would offer options. Hennessey, Curtin, and Ankenbauer planned to hike. Krosnes and Neikirk intended to fish. More specifically, to fly fish. There's a long tale about this. The short version is that a decade or so ago Eric and I took up fly fishing, mostly at my insistence. Together, we learned the intricate basics of tippets, leaders, and lines and pursued fly fishing long enough to favor some flies over the others ‒ the elk hair caddis making it to No. 1 among dry flies. We took fly rods on our annual trip to Quetico Provincial Park, imagining ourselves slaying the smallmouth bass with wooly buggers only to come to terms with the fact that the fly rod is an imperfect instrument in Quetico. An ultralight spinning rod is more productive and probably as much fun when landing a large smallmouth and considerably more fun when landing a little one from Quetico's deep waters. So this year, when I took my fly rod to Quetico for old time's sake, Eric laughed and said in so many words or maybe in exactly these words, "Fine. You take the fly rod. I'll catch the fish." When I said let's take them to Cane Creek, he groaned and said OK.

So, as the hikers went north to follow the loop to the Rockcastle Narrows that Mac G had outlined for us at the planning meeting, Eric and I went south back to the parking lot and his Landcruiser so as to drive back to the fishing section of Cane Creek. We stopped at a country grocery that advertised fishing supplies because we assumed that a local shop might suggest best spots and best flies. Not so. A hard-of-hearing man walked in and the store owner asked him where he would suggest fishing for trout. He said, "Huh?" and "What?" and finally, "No idea," and then paid for his lunch, which he had ordered ahead. He had the countenance of a man who lived alone and who ordered lunch from the store not so much because he was hungry for the food as for the brief companionship of a woman, and the proprietress at this store treated him much as a caring wife might treat a husband coming in from the fields for lunch. There was a sadness to the scene ‒ a man imagining a life he once had, or maybe wanted but never had, and paying $3.95 plus tax for it. Couldn't hear much, didn't say much, wouldn't feel much except this little respite from a day otherwise spent alone in unrequited desire for human companionship. Hardened by the despair of not having it, he came to the store for lunch with a countenance that looked a lot like anger but was maybe just a man weathering life's disappointments.

We bought chips and sodas and left to fish, no better advised about the trout but reacquainted vicissitudes of the human condition.

On the way back along the forest service road the day before, we had seen the pull-off where the trout truck stocks Cane Creek. We would try that spot. Once there and parked, it took a while to get ready. Either my eyes are worse or the fly eyelets much smaller. "Can I help with that?" Eric asked. Few things entertain him more than ridiculing me so he threaded the eyelet for me and then posted a photo of me on Facebook trying in vain to do, adding a smart-ass caption and getting abundant likes. What are friends for?

Streamside, we saw trout scurry as soon as we stood over the water. This looked promising. We began working the water, both with dry flies and both to no avail. Soon enough, we ended up together working a pool just upstream from where the truck empties its load. I might add that the truck does not come in the fall and winter, so any trout here are left from a stocking earlier in the year unless they are the offspring of an even earlier stocking. That is unlikely but not impossible. Put-and-take trout, bred and started in hatcheries, don't often find ideal conditions for reproduction in the steams they've been put into to be taken from.

After maybe 45 minutes of casting without so much as a strike and no sightings of trout other than when we first arrived, Eric declared he'd had enough and would be going to the Landcruiser to get his spinning rod and Rooster Tail spinners. Returning, he cast five times into the same pool where I was casting a fly and he caught five fish, each one brining his mood to higher heights of delight and his marvel, too, at why anyone would continue to fly fish in the face of such evidence. Anyone, of course, being me. Unwilling to give up on the fly rod but by now convinced that I needed to a wet fly that would move and flash underwater as a Rooster Tail does, I went back to the Landcruiser and found one in Eric's box, tied it on, and returned the stream. By now, the trout had turned off just as quickly as they had turned on. They weren't taking Rooster Tails much less flies. Whatever urge to eat that came over them 15 minutes earlier had passed. Fish turn on, they turn off.

We worked our way upstream, scrambling over a shoreline of twisted roots other obstacles. One thing about Cane Creek. It never gets any less beautiful; rather, more so. Standing atop a boulder, I cast into a riffle below as Eric worked the same stretch of water from the shore. A few casts in, my rod snapped, breaking uncleanly about 8 inches from the tip. Earlier, I'd been snagged in a tree overhead and tugged the line and when it came free a small limb fell on the rod. Maybe that had cracked it, though it hardly seemed enough of a hit to do so. In any case, we were done for the day.

Near our campsite, we passed through another where two young men from Versailles, Ky., had come for the night. They seemed hot and exhausted from the short walk, as if they were put there to renew evidence that youth is wasted on the young, who sacrifice their fitness to gods of excess. Eric and I said hello and made our way down to Cane Creek for water. On the way back, we found the two young men still seated in the same place but now with a damp, dry-rotted log occupying most of their fire ring and smoke that looked more like steam coming from beneath a can of Chef Boyardee. Hard to start a fire, they told us. Their blow torch was out of fuel, they told us. Indeed, at their feet was a blow torch they had hauled into the woods for starting a fire ‒ versus, say, a box of matches. It was so utterly weird that we found ourselves speechless and a more than a little indignant but kept that to ourselves.

Perhaps it was a teaching moment missed. Gentlemen, we might have said, let us instruct you on starting a fire. We, after all, had in our company a master. There is a reason Eric's trail name is One Match. Here is how the lesson might have gone: It has not rained in the past 24 hours, so there is abundant dry wood. However, the long you have selected is wet, as rotten logs turned to sponges by the rot often are. It isn't going to burn, not unless you have a lot of blow torches and a lot of time. By the way, so long as you brought the blow torch, you could have just heated the Chef Boyardee with it and skipped the whole fire thing. Not that we approve of that. Just saying. Next time, leave the four pound blow torch at home. Gather a few pine needles, a few twigs, and light those with a match. One should be enough. Nurse the little flame, incrementally adding sticks of increasingly larger diameters. Soon, you'll have a fire.

A day later, when we walked through the camp, the boys were gone but left behind a mess, including the Chef Boyardee can and the empty propone canister for the blow torch. What's wrong with people who hunt squirrels with no rulebook or who bring blow torches to start fires to warm cans they leave behind?

Back at our camp, the hiking three had returned. They'd had a good day, taking a spur that followed Cane Creek toward its confluence with the Rockcastle River, which has cut its own, grander gorge. Just downstream it winds through the Rockcastle Narrows, a kayaker's paradise of drops and doglegs, one after another. The hike, steep at times, was nonetheless easy by backwoods standards and made more pleasant by fall's colors and the day's warmth. Since I was not there, I asked Silver Pops for his account, and he provided what follows, with a little hyperbole. For those who do not know us by our trail names, Jumpin-Johnny, later referred to as JJ, is also known in other Patio Boy stories by his other trail name, Silver Pops, is John Curtin. He is our senior member and chief officer of esprit de corps, as his paragraphs below will confirm. Bull is John Hennessey, who is as tough has his trail name suggests. And Billy-Goat is Bill Ankenbauer, who has feet the size of a jon boat and as sure-footed as a mountain goat. Captain is me, so named because early on no one could remember "Neikirk" and so called me Captain Kirk after the Star Trek hero and One Match is Eric Krosnes, who needs exactly that number of matches to start a fire no matter the conditions. Here is Jumpi-Johnny's account:

It was Saturday morning, November 4th. After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, Pop Tarts and black coffee, followed by the traditional shot of bourbon, the Bull, Billy-Goat and Jumpin-Johnny, a bit disappointed that their other companions, One Match and Captain would not join them on their hike through the wilderness, set off  like a John Krakauer novel  Into the Wild.  It was mid-morning, the sun was high in the eastern sky. It was unseasonably warm, but the air was full of life and excitement, why you may ask. Well, it’s simple; the Patio Boys were on the trail and they were ready for whatever nature could offer!

Just like John Wayne in the movie “The Quiet Man”, the boys were out for a “little stretch of the legs”! and what  a stretch of the legs it would be, over 8.13 miles of some of the most treacherous hiking in the lower 48! It was the “Long Hot Summer” in November on the Sheltowee Trace!

We all felt a little like accused barn burner and con man Ben Quick (Paul Newman), when he arrived at the Varner’s front porch on a moist humid summer day in a small Mississippi town! The big difference here was that Joanne Woodward in guise as Clara Varner was welcoming him with a large lemonade, heavy on the ice. For the Patio Boys, it was water, loaded with iron, pumped out of Cain Creek! We were welcomed by flying critters that were well past their prime on this late Indian Summer day in the mountains that Daniel Boone knew well!

 I digress! Back to the trail. Lled by the Bull we covered the undulating  mountains at a “quick” pace (not meant to refer to Ben Quick above), our Nalgene bottles were safely packed away until we were ready for our first break, which  would be lunch along the Rockcastle River! We located an old campsite, ready made for our makeshift lunch of bagels, peanut butter and granola bars, fortunately JJ brought a juicy winesap apple that he willingly shared with his hiking companions!  Our site selection for lunch was beyond compare, the majestic rocks that formed the river stood over us like medieval castles! To say the least, this trail was very memorable!

After we broke from lunch, we did what only the Patio Boys could do, and that was to get lost on a single trail! How could this happen you may ask, well apparently the trail crossed over an intermittent stream that led to the Rockcastle River. It was not well-marked, and we meandered past it like Otis would after sleeping off a rough night from too many bourbons in the Mayberry Jail! Fortunately the trail was a loop that brought us right back to where we started. I got the feeling that we weren’t the first group to make this mistake!  We immediately saw the big turtle trail  sign on a tree on the other side of the stream! Over the steam??? We went, the Bull, or was it Billy-Goat, immediately sank into the muck up to his knee caps. For a moment it looked like quicksand, fortunately he kept his legs moving and was able to escape with no more than a good coating of wet smelly dirt on his lower half! After a few good laughs, up the hill we went, ultimately reaching an old logging road/Narrows Road! Do we go left or right. This was the first good decision we made. We turned right and a mile later we arrived back at camp. Another great trip for the Boys!!

Two quick footnotes. One, Patio Boys are never lost though, as in the above account, are sometimes misplaced. And as to whether it was the Bull or the Billy-Goat, it was the Billy-Goat, who provided this personal account: "It was the B-Goat who stepped where he shouldn’t have and sank forward up to his knee! Good shoes and my great ability of swimming like Michael Phelps saved me from sinking to hell!!!!" Meanwhile, I , as author of this essay, shall commit, in finsihing this story while using the exclamation point no further, as Jumpin-Johnny and B-Goat have used it to abundance in the above paragraphs. And I'll leave the John Wayne and Paul Newman moved references to him as well. Jumpin-Johnny knows them better than I do, although I think I could compete line for line were the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." We'll have to see about that around some future campfire. A

With the aforementioned November 4th winding down, Jumpin-Johnny, Bull, and Billy-Goat were back at camp before the Captain, i.e., me, and One Match. They had a fire going and a nice supply of wood cut and stacked for the evening to fuel the conversation. Saturday night was something of a repeat of Friday night, but with inquiry turning toward Eric's interesting life as a medical computer tech who travels the world to install and repair operating room robots that allow specialists to remotely participate in surgeries they cannot attend. England. Russia. Germany. Czechoslovakia. South Africa. Turkey. In any given week, Eric may be in one or more of those places, installing or fixing or training. It's a fascinating life and fun to hear about. A few more Americans living like this and we might, as a nation, be less inclined to demonize anyone a little different from ourselves. Here's to that.

The night brought a small gift. Visiting my tent to get something, a jacket maybe, I knocked a stake out of place. Shining my flashlight on the ground to fix it, I saw an additional flash of silver. Next to the stake and buried beneath a layer of leaves was a nice single-blade, folding Kershaw camp knife, worth about $70 retail. Happy to have found it, though sorry for the fellow who lost it, I opened it and admired its simplicity and functionality. Next morning, John Hennessey had a similar experience, finding a Gerber mini-tool in the leaves around his tent. There's a lesson there about taking an inventory before you leave a site. For those who lost these things, we can only assure that we'll put them to good use.

Sunday, Eric and I rose early, had a cup of coffee and headed to Cane Creek. I had a spinning rod now, since my fly rod was snapped in two. I borrowed a Rooster Tail from Eric, who also had his spinning rod. I fish with 4-pound test, a Shimano ultralight reel and a two-piece Berkley ultralight rod. The smallest fish feels worth the battle on such a rig, and since the trout in Cane Creek are 8 to 10 inches, lightweight gear is ideal.

The Sheltowee Trace crosses Cane Creek at an especially stunning place. A rusty little steel truss bridge crosses swirling water below a falls that drops maybe ten feet beside a shore of stone, a piece of which is triangular and juts out unsupported like a table without legs. People stand on it often to have their picture taken by someone on the bridge. The photographed person looks especially brave in such a photo, standing on this jutting rock with a serious waterfall in the background. It's only an illusion of danger but a fun one.

The bridge itself is a work of art the way anything old and functional is. It's also unexpected in place more wild than not. Why someone, or some department, thought this spot worth of a bridge I have no idea. The trail gods could just have easily opted to follow the stream up or down to a shallow place and routed the trail across Cane Creek there, leaving it as a given that feet might get wet. Instead they elected to put this bridge in place over this spectacularly scenic spot with a gorge sort of pouring toward the bridge and emptying toward something more placid downstream as Cane Creek makes its final approach to a confluence with the Rockcastle River.

Eric went just below the bridge to cast into a pool above some boulders and yet another falls. I wanted to try the falls by the bridge. The triangular, jutting rock provides just the right angle to cast a Rooster Tail toward the falls and let it fall into the pool below before rapidly retrieving it. I did exactly that, and on the first cast got a strike. Fish on! After getting shut out Saturday, this was fun. The fish wiggled off. I cast again. Another strike. This time, I landed the fish. As I've said, the trout here are not big. Nine inches max. But this one, like its kin, fought above its weight and, in the morning light outside the water it was green and red and brown and white and gold the way rainbow trout are. In the water they are as nondescript as the stones around them. Funny, isn't it, that their colors are all but lost in their habitat and accentuated outside it? There must be some purpose to those colors beyond our appreciation. The trout seems not to give a whit about human appreciation. Nine inches of muscle and beauty, with that hooked jaw and intense eyes that scream, "Put me back in the water, you son of a bitch." And we did. It took the fish a moment to gather itself. At first, it was belly up and sinking. I laid down on the rocks and used by rod to reach into the water and turn the fish upright, at which point it flipped it tail and darted off.

Eric, who had come up to see my trout and photograph it, now took a position above the falls, and soon caught a trout, too. Afterward, our little hotspots by the bridge went cold so we worked our way up the stream into the gorge that almost immediately became wilder and prettier, both in delicate ways with brilliant red and yellow leaves falling like feathers and in grander ways with towering cliffs that create a claustrophobic caress. Thorny stalks of devil's walking stick made a grove of harmless terror because, laid bare by the season of their foliage, they can be navigated. Some kind of stump stuck out like the carved decorative head on the bow of an old wooden ship. It had been shaped by beavers, which had the beginnings of a dam nearby. Those were some visionary beavers, thinking they could tame this stream, which over millennia cut this gorge and still today is a force, especially after a rain when it uses all of the high ground it left above itself as gargantuan collector so that it might feel a little like its old self, at least for the duration of its flash flood. So against all odds, the beavers were giving it the old college try, imagining a lake and a beaver resort. Industrious? Delusional? You decide.

The day, and the river, were finished yielding trout. Eric and I were not quite finished trying. Of such mornings are great weekends in the wood made. I left with a new guiding thought: Any day that begins with catching a trout is a good day. Most days don't.

The above is an account of the Fall 2017 Patio Boys hike on Nov. 3, 4 and 5, to the Cane Creek Wildlife Management Area and the Sheltowee Trace Trail section of Ky. 192 to Van Hook Falls. Participating: Bill Ankenbauer, John Curtin, John Hennessey, Eric Krosnes, and Mark Neikirk. Total miles varied by participant. Bill, Johnny C. and John H. hiked an 8-mile loop on Saturday while Eric and Mark fished. The hike to the campsite was 3 miles. The maximum distance was that doubled plus the 8-mile loop or 14 miles. Two weeks earlier, Mark McGinnis made the same trip with backpacking friends of Fort Thomas, where he lives. With him were Jim Ankenbauer, a Patio Boy in good standing, as well as Andrew McGinnis, Eric Schimpf, Barney Stengle, Mike Laber, Kevin Groneck, and Pat Conniff. Due to the arcane rules of the Patio Boys (cf, Spring 2016 essay, "Why Don't We Get Together and Call Ourselves an Institute?), our trip was an official Patio Boys trip but the one Mac G led was not.