I am sitting in the Panther Branch Watershed, about 100 yards from the end of Tecumseh Trail. We’ve begun our 6-day trek through Hoosier National Forest/Yellowwood State Forest/Morgan Monroe State Forest in South Central Indiana. As I sit here listening to morning–the fabulous din of buzzing, birdsong and creaky shifting trees–I feel that web of interconnectedness right in my very core.
There was a definite sense of coming home as we found our campsite last night and made our happy, cozy dwelling place. But it was at the end of a very hard day that tested our will right away.
Lois and Erv dropped us at the Crooked Creek parking area (the trail head of Tecumseh at the southern end) around 5:30 last Monday evening, June 11. We planned to hike the 2 miles from that trail head to the official southern end of the trail near the border of Hoosier National Forest and Brown County State Park. It was grueling at the start with a vicious switchback trail cutting up the first ridgetop. I had a couple of “oh shit” moments as I realized Lois and Erv were long gone with our 2 daughters in tow and we were truly on our own. “Can we do this?”
My mind eased when we hit the top and had a gentle stroll along Miller Ridge. This gave Cass and me a chance to enjoy the scene, hear the evening sounds, and of course, catch our breath.
We came across the solitary grave of William Stogsdill somewhere along the ridge. His final resting place was just a few feet from the path. A warped metal fence surrounded the crumbling tombstone. Someone had placed a tiny American flag at the grave. I remembered reading about William when I researched the trail. He died in 1866, according to the trail data book I read. He was “reputedly buried away from family, because he died of a very contagious disease.”
The next moment of uncertainty, which blossomed into a small bloom of anxiety, came when we reached an intersection of fresh logging roads and realized none of them had the tell-tale white blaze marks of the Tecumseh, including the path we had been traveling for quite some time. No panic, but it was unsettling. Nerves tend to get frayed when your destination is unclear from the point where you’re standing. And it was getting dark. We had to back track, but not as far as we feared, and we quickly got on the right track.
A final decline from Miller Ridge brought us to Panther Branch and its flat, soft, flood plain. Lots of good camping to be found, plus tiny pools in an otherwise dry creek bed that gave us plenty of water that night.
We ate minestrone soup, avocados, hummus and pita. We took out the flask of Scotch Cass had packed and toasted our friend Laurie Duncan, who had wandered the trails in California with us before her death a few years ago. Then we turned in to be serenaded by a host of night creatures.