This past weekend my girlfriend and I took an adventure into the wilds of Shawnee State Forest in Southeastern Ohio. I guess this post is not directly about the Appalachian Trail, but all my experiences will help me with the challenges I will face on the trail.
There are three take home points from this weekend. 1) Always have waterproof boots, 2) The trails at Shawnee State Forest are absolute shit and 3) Always have waterproof boots.
If you live in Southern Ohio, or just keep track of the national weather picture far too obsessively. you know we got a shit ton of rain. I’m an environmental scientist and I can tell you that “a shit ton” is the technical term. The streams were extremely high and I knew it was going to rain most of the time; so I knew it would be a fun challenge for the weekend.
Have I told you my boots are apparently no longer waterproof?
I really just want to talk about the trail conditions at Shawnee State Forest. First off the backpacking loop trail has been created using this loose dirt and gravel mixture that let’s the trail be quite wide, but really hard to get your footing. The trail is very up and down and the trial slips out from under your feet whether you’re going up or down the hills. Add that to the rain and it was just plain hard to hike this trail.
When the trail goes up or down for a sustained amount of time they use that gravel/dirt mixture and make the slope of the hill, in my opinion, unbelievably steep. I’m used to hiking up some pretty steep trails in the Smoky Mountains and some of these hills were far more difficult than anything I’ve experienced. Combine that with this really loose gravel/soil mix and it takes a lot of energy to move a short distance. We are in shape people and it took us over 4 hours to hike six miles on the first half of Day 1. It was exhausting and frustrating.
Did I mention by boots aren’t waterproof anymore?
Another reason I was disappointed with their trails was lack of any sort of bridges. There are many stream crossings, even without the heavy rains, and there were no bridges. I felt like a canoe would have been really helpful (though probably not worth the extra weight). The water was so high this weekend that I had to step into the streams to cross and that’s when I found out my boots were no longer waterproof, unlike every other time I’ve used them in the past. I never submerged them or anything, but it didn’t take much water to have a puddle in my boot. It was just so wonderful. I brought two pairs of socks, I really needed about 8 with how often my boots soaked through.
I did wear my Chaco’s for a bit but they wound up rubbing badly so I changed back into my wet socks and boots. I know the water isn’t normally this high but I feel like a couple bridges over the largest stream crossings would be extremely helpful. They need to call up their local Boy Scout troop and get those scouts building bridges for eagle projects.
They also have downed trees all over the day hiking trails. Huge trees. I’m pretty sure they never get out to maintenance the trails and cut the logs where they intersect the trail. If it was a few I wouldn’t complain, but at one point there was a stretch of 2 large stream crossing and three large downed trees in a stretch of 200-300 yards. It was also right next to a main road, so there is easy access for maintenance crews.
Lastly, the day hiking trail that cuts the 40 mile backpacking loop in half isn’t completely made up of the pure evil gravel/soil mixture, but isn’t really a trail at all. There really isn’t any sign there is a trail there except for the 8000 trail blazes in each half mile section of the trail. We were walking on an angle the entire time because the trail was never built into the ridge side, they just drew them straight along the side of the ridge. It just made it a pain to walk on because your ankles were always bent, putting a lot of pressure onto your feet and joints.
Did I mention by boots are no longer waterproof?
The weather was beautiful on Sunday though and we finally got a long section of trail following a few ridge tops instead of the constant up and down we experienced most of the trail.
I’m pretty sure that gravel/soil mixture was laid on the trails to allow for logging trucks to drive over. There were spots in the forest that were heavily logged and the backpacking loop looked like it had tire marks on it. I guess Ohio prizes logging money and deforestation more than wild areas and giving people quality wilderness experiences. That’s not very surprising though, John Kasich (our governor) is dumb as shit and I assume gets money from the logging industry.
Did I mention by boots are no longer waterproof?
Overall we were happy we completed our trip and had a valuable experience, it’s just we’ll never go back to hike there. Definitely not worth a weekend trip for such poor trail conditions. I’ll drive an extra hour and go to Red River Gorge.
What about my boots?!? Well I have been hiking in a pair of Merrell’s since last May and they were always amazing. I can remember having water come up nearly to the top and my foot would be completely dry. I bought them at Track n’ Trail so I called them up today. It was an outstanding customer service experience I had today. I was able to bring in my boots, that for some reason are no longer waterproof, and trade them in for a new pair of the same kind. It was quick and easy and I respect Track n’ Trail for it. I love good customer service, especially after working at a Lowes customer service desk for a year. My feet will be happy hikers once again.
I know sections of the AT will probably have poor trail conditions and be very challenging, so I’m glad we were able to get through this with nothing more than sore joints and some cut up legs. I’m just happy knowing that on the AT we won’t have some huge time restraint because we have to get back home for work in 2 days. If we have a slow day due to weather or trail conditions it’s not affecting much since our goal to finish will be a few months away and not a few days away.
I hope everyone had a fine Monday and I will talk more directly about the AT this week…..in case any of the 5 people reading this are wondering.
116 days til’ Katahdin! #MainetoGeorgia