Better known as, “The Land of Seed Ticks.” But we’ll get to that part of the story.
During the whopping five minutes we spent planning this trip before leaving Michigan, I spent about half of that being most excited to get to Kentucky Lake. Scrolling down the inland river system on Google maps, this area of shoreline peaked my interest more than any other.
The first sixty miles or so of shoreline, along the right descending bank of the lake, follow twists and turns of the coves and cliffs lining Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The first place we anchored (by recommendation of the captain who towed us there), Moss Creek, turned out to be a great introduction to the rest.
Waking up in the morning to our friends on “Ra” bidding us farewell, RJ climbed aboard the dinghy and paddled to shore. I spent some time writing before ultimately following him on my paddle board, yet by then he was long gone. There were numerous quiet fisherman weaving in and out of the cove throughout the morning, keeping themselves mostly unnoticed. Paddling out of the opening of the creek and turning right, my eyes climbed the walls of the cliffs to the trees above. Bouncing with the wake of passerby’s, I eventually made my back to the boat, to join RJ for breakfast.
After fueling up, taking a long nap on deck (me), and scrubbing the boat and dinghy (RJ), we headed to shore together. Climbing the hill of the north bank, our bushwacking connected us to a trail leading to the north entrance of the recreation area and a large campground. Real bathrooms!
Grabbing a couple of maps we planned a loop to take us on a hike back to the boat and fueled our desire to take our time for the next few days on the lake. Getting close to October at this point, the woods felt spooky, filled with cemeteries of families dating back to the 1800’s. RJ kept telling me to just focus on what was actually there, but I like scaring myself, so I let myself feel spooked.
Reaching a cliff lookout just before 6:30, we sat down to enjoy sunset before returning to the boat. Nothing can ever destroy my sunsets. Climbing down the hill and walking along the rocky shore back to our connecting ferry (our dinghy), RJ hit the jackpot and found three unopened beers scattered in the rocks. Making guesses to how they got there, and checking the expiration dates, he decided they were suitable to drink. After being chilled, of course.
The following morning, we went a mere ten miles to Vickers’ Bay, another unbelievably beautiful cove surrounded by flying bald eagles during the day and yelping coyotes at night. Throwing down the anchor and almost simultaneously making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we loaded our packs with some snacks for a long hike to the Bison and Elk Preserve. Climbing up a small hill after rowing to shore, we connected with the North to South Trail and turned south. It was nearing four o’clock in the afternoon and we had over nine miles to hike, in addition to the time we would spend admiring the monstrous creatures.
Our legs moved quickly, as they have been craving physical activity while sitting on the boat for entire lengths of days. The fall foliage, while not yet at it’s peak, left crunchy leaves beneath each step and dotted the tree line with color.
Four miles of trail, winding up hills and down valleys, past the Vickers’ Cemetery, and about half a mile of road side walking before arriving at the Preserve. Walking up to the gate, we saw a large sign that read, “VEHICLES ONLY. NO FOOT TRAFFIC. NO BICYCLES. NO MOTORCYCLES.”
I suppose it was getting hard to believe that our day had been so wonderful. Sitting on the curb and cracking open our PB&J, it was just before six o’clock. A few cars passed by, entered the Jurassic Park gates, and there we sat.
We got lucky, though, and some wonderful strangers stopped and offered us a ride through. We told them what happened, they said that’s what they assumed as they saw us while driving up, and so we were all gifted. Almost immediately after entering the gates, the bison herd was heading down the road. Rush hour.
The couple that gave us a ride frequents the preserve and said that they almost never see the bison. I guess picking us up was good karma for them.
Driving around the loop, we listened to the elks bugle and watched the cars crowd around the areas where the animals grazed.
We spent the most time admiring an extremely large elk. We, along with fifteen other cars, watched him eat grass and occasionally make his silly mating call.
The sky began to darken and Shannon and her husband (whose name slipped my mind), dropped me and RJ off at the picnic area closest to the trail back to the boat. So many thanks! It was almost 6:45.
Headlamps on our heads, prepared for our night vision to wear out on us, we started our return trip. My legs moved quickly. We saw lots of spiders gleaming in our bright lights once we finally had to turn them on. There was no shortage of frogs and crickets scurrying off the trail before our feet would get to them.
By the time we returned to the dinghy, it was so dark we could barely see Patches on the opposite side of the bay. Getting in a few arguments about paddle techniques, we slowly made our way across the water and into bed. Sighing with relief, knowing we were going to be sore the next day, we planned to sleep in. After reading a chapter or two of Robinson Crusoe (of course), we went to sleep.
I won’t go on too long about the following day, we mostly swam and relaxed, not making any miles on the boat.
Our next destination was to be Panther Bay.
I’ll shorten this next part by saying that when we got there, we followed the channel incorrectly, got scared, and went ten miles further to anchor for the night, passing by the last of Land of the Lakes. RJ, feeling unsatisfied from cutting off our hiking a day earlier than expected, took us back to Panther Bay the following day. We found our way in, anchoring comfortably in the southern side of the bay for two nights.
Though we weren’t necessarily satisfied with that stop just past Panther, it did give us a beautiful gift. The sky was filled with pink clouds dancing around a nearly full moon.
Our first day in Panther, we went ashore to the primitive campground that was close by, and hiked a simple four or five mile loop.
(There are two things hidden in the first two pictures below. Can you see what they are?)
Our second day in Panther, is where the real action happened. There is an expansive web of a trail system jutting out below Panther Bay, called the Fort Henry trail system. I am not absolutely positive that anybody has hiked any of these trails since the day they were created years ago. Apart from the main trail, all the side/connecting trails seemed mostly overgrown.
Tall grasses. Spider webs that hadn’t been disturbed for days. Fallen trees.
RJ led the way, knocking the spider webs out of the way. Though, even behind him I was still picking webs out of my eyelashes.
About halfway through our hike, RJ stopped and was staring down at his ankles.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Look. Probably just a lot of newly hatched spiders.” I looked closely at the bottom of his pants and saw tiny brown specs gliding across the fabric. Looking down at my own legs, I saw my socks covered. Brushing them away with my hands, we kept on walking. Walking through more tall grasses and not thinking anything of it.
Our hike lasted about six hours. Getting back to the boat, I stripped my clothing off, discarded it in the laundry bag and jumped into the lake. It was a hot, humid day and I needed a refresher. Grabbing the Campsuds, I lathered up the majority of my body and rinsed myself off.
Though exhausted, RJ did the same, before cooking dinner and heading into bed. While stretching, I looked closely at my legs.
“RJ, I think those spiders are still on me, but that doesn’t make any sense. I jumped into the water twice. Wait, how small can ticks be?”
RJ looked at my legs before grabbing the computer for a quick internet search. Our amazing days of hiking have officially come to an end. We spent the following three hours picking ticks off of ourselves, and one another, with tweezers and duct tape.
Crawling into bed, worried about what could still be crawling on us, we made plans to go into a marina the next day.