Hiking Kentucky in one of the the wettest years on record
Carrie Mudfoot Stambaugh
Eight months ago I landed my dream job: Updating a hiking guidebook.
Yup, that’s right. I have been paid by the Globe Pequot Press to hike (and write, of course), in order to produce the third edition of Hiking Kentucky, a Falcon Guidebook.
I signed my contract in October, and by December my first book advance ever arrived in the mail. I was ecstatic!
I spent our long, snowy winter emailing land managers, plotting out when and where I’d hike when the spring arrived. I’d have the book, with its 80 trails, done by mid-July, my editor’s imposed deadline.
But then it started raining. And continued raining, and then rained some more. Then it rained, flooded and rained again.
By early May I was in a panic. I had to get my boots on the trail.
The first trip it rained so hard, and the trail got so muddy and slick, that myself and my hiking companions had no choice but to evacuate down Pine Mountain. Thankfully, we found a thoughtful Whitesburg Rotarian to rescue us off the side of the road and drive us to safety.
On the second trip, it rained non-stop too. As it did on the third trip.
The hiking conditions only seemed to deteriorate further as we headed into late June and I turned my sights on parks in western and southern Kentucky.
In addition to trekking in two days of down pours, my mother and I out ran the rising Green River while driving to our next destination from Mammoth Cave National Park. If we’d driven the road we took toward Taylorsville Lake State Park just a couple hours later, we could have been swept away or stranded.
We got lucky. At Taylorsville we found the trails so muddy and horse-trodden that we abandoned our hike after traveling only 1.5 miles in three hours. We opted for the paved road instead and headed, defeated back to my car.
That Monday I called my editor and explained I didn’t think my deadline was humanly possible. She understood, thankfully, and extended my due date to September.
More specifically, out came the seed ticks. Although just in their “larval stage” they are worse than their adult counterparts. Why you ask? Because they congregate together by the hundreds and thousands and are so tiny, they are unnoticeable until it’s too late and seem immune to even high concentrations of Deet.
We discovered them first in the Pennyrile State Forest. I’ve since found them populating the woods and meadows of the Jesse Stuart Nature Preserve and Pilot Knob Nature Preserve.
In addition to my father, my husband has endured them as well. I’m glad I have such patient, loving men in my life that they would take on what surely is the Devil’s Spawn to support me in completing my dream. (By the way, just writing about seed ticks makes me itch.)
I also smashed a toe on a rock, sprained my ankle, had my arms and legs shredded by briars, was stung by an unidentified insect and have been bitten by a laundry list of other summer pests including mosquitos, no-see-ums and chiggers.
But it was all worth it. I am living my dream. I have always only wanted to wander and to write. I am doing both and getting paid to do them.
This weekend I finally finished hiking for the book. The final trail took me to the top of Pilot Knob where there are views out over the Cumberland mountains to the south and the bluegrass region to the west.
It was breathtaking, in part because of the mile hike straight up hill to get there, but as I sat there on the edge of the rocky cliff high above the forest, I felt uplifted and comforted.
I was reminded that that I am but a tiny human in a world that is unfathomably bigger and more powerful than me. Spending time outdoors, at the mercy of Mother Nature puts my life in perspective. Every time I hike, I realize anew that in fact all I truly need to survive is food, water, shelter and love.
I have all that and so much more. I hope my book will help people explore Kentucky’s natural beauty and find peace in it as well. I put a lot of sleepless scratchy nights into it and so did a lot of people that I love.
It was a pleasure and a challenge, just like a good hike. That said, I’m praying for a “normal” amount of rain next year, so my next book, Padding Kentucky, can be completed with a little less drama and be on bookshelves in April 2017.
Carrie and her husband, Carl, have two Golden Retrievers, Benton and Cooper, who often go paddling with the pair.