During the 24 hours I spent in the Shawnee Forest, the sun became both my compass and timekeeper. For the first time ever, I took a solo journey into the woods and let the earth be my guide. I had help from Moscow, my 10-year old canine companion, who has an uncanny sense of direction when he’s not following the scent of a turkey vulture.
I left in a rush that Wednesday, wrapping up a freelance project around 1:00 p.m., leaving me with about an hour to pack food, clothes, and Moscow. I stopped off at Clintonville Outfitters and asked Jonathan, the owner, to recommend a tent, sleeping bag, and backpack for my inaugural solo backpacking trip. He suggested Big Agnes products which confirmed the tiny bit of research I had done the previous night. As I chattered away, full of adrenaline and anxious to get to my destination before sundown, Jonathan calmly explained that many other people have done what I was doing – buying their critical backpacking equipment a mere few hours before embarking on their first backpacking trip! True or not, I felt just fine with it.
Twenty minutes later, I jumped in the car and we were off! I looked at the clock in my Xterra and it showed 3:00 p.m., March 28th. By 6:00, I had checked in at the trailhead of the Shawnee State forest, and took my first steps onto the white and blue blazed trail that cut through the backpacking loop trail to Camp #3. I wasn’t sure if I would make it all the way to the camp by nightfall, but I was going to try. Hiking 5.3 miles didn’t seem too far when I embarked, but after about 40 minutes, I might as well have been attempting to hike back to Columbus.
My typical fast pace was slowed down quite a bit, due to the 40+ pound pack, the extreme terrain of the trail, and the sporadic trees that had fallen across the path, causing me to detour. My plans to backpack the Shawnee State Forest originated several years ago when I was traveling around the southern part of the state, having just finished reading the Allen Eckert historical novel, The Frontiersmen. Through Eckert’s writing, I grew to know and love the colorful personalities of Simon Kenton, Simon Girty, Tecumseh, Chief Logan, and countless others who lived at the turn of the 18th century in the lands of “Can-tuc-kee”. Eckert’s vivid writing, steeped in footnote references, coupled with my over-active imagination, made the conflicts between the European settlers and the natives come to life. I felt compelled to visit the parts of Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky that bore witness to the battles, attacks, and ambushes that were commonplace once upon a time. My feet yearned to feel the ground that their feet ran on, my ears wanted to hear the call of the pileated woodpecker that they heard, and my nose wanted to smell the scent of the dogwood blossoms that they smelled. The best history lessons are learned by paying attention to the land.
After about 45 minutes of traversing up and down the hilly terrain, Moscow suddenly raced up a ridge and I saw a flush of a few turkey vultures. As I waited for him to return, I noticed a slight chill in the air and the sun slipping behind a facing ridge-top opposite from the one I was standing on. Just to my right was a patch of flat land – the flattest I had seen for the past 1/2 mile or so. I decided this spot would be our campsite for the night.
I began to set up the tent, which I found surprisingly simple. By the time I had it set up, Moscow had returned and was practicing being a guard dog of the wild. I enjoyed a dinner of simple black bean salad and Moscow enjoyed some kibble and what I offered him. As the sun set, I felt grounded in the peacefulness of the land and the warmth of the stars’ shimmer smiling on us.