Day Nine: Steedman to McKittrick
Well, with every silver lining there are clouds. When I got to Steedman, I proceeded to set up my tent and go into the bar. When I asked to put in a food order, I was told there was no food. "Well, we can fix some appetizers and stuff like that," Terry said. I said that would be fine. So I had fried potatoes with sour cream and a toasted cheese sandwich. While I was eating, Terry then tells me that it might rain and that the tent was located in an area that tended to flood. So, I moved the tent to a little bit higher piece of land.
At about 9 p.m., I was getting a little droopy, so knowing that the bar would be going strong until around 1:30 a.m. or so, I figured I would go on and get a little sleep. I laid there planning out the next day for an hour or so and then started cat napping. Well, sure enough, the bar closed at 1:30 or so. But all that really meant was that the party moved out to the porch and parking lot near where I was camping. I got to listen to a medley of Hank Williams Jr., gravel crunching, hooting and hollering until about 3:30 a.m. And, of course, it never rained that night. A little after 5:30 a.m., I decided to go ahead and start getting things together and begin the day's hike. I pulled out of Steedman a little after 7 a.m. The river valley was foggy and still cool. It was really a nice time to be out on the trail.
The first sight on this stretch of the trail is the Standing Rock. It is a rock formation that has all the flood levels marked on it for the last 100 years or so, and possibly even earlier. It looks like it fell off the bluff nearby, but it is actually a structure that has been there all along, and the surrounding rock eroded away from it. Nearby is a Lewis and Clark marker that talks about the first animals that were unknown to science at the time that were described by the expedition. I think it was a rat that infested the woods around this area.
This was my second day out with the fully-loaded backpack and I was feeling the effects on my feet, just like I had before during the first leg of the trip. The blisters were beginning to return with a vengeance, and the knees and back were also feeling the strain. In fact, during the previous day's walk, I checked my feet and had a couple big masses of skin come off where I had been blistered before. While this is normal, what was bad is that new blisters were forming on the older areas. Not a good thing. At this point, I decided to just press on.
The first town that I hit after Steedman was Portland. I was in the area where German settlers had colonized during the 1830s and '40s.
While I was there, I met an older man that was riding his bicycle all over North America. He was from Alberta, Canada, and he had ridden to Fort Worth the previous summer, across East Texas into the Mississippi River valley, hit all the blues sites in the Delta, and was now riding the Lewis and Clark Trail. I asked him how far he intended to go, and he said "October." He said he wanted to get into the Dakotas before he quit for the year. Wow.
Highway 94 leaves the side of the trail for the next six miles and it becomes you, the trail, the bluffs and the river. It is some of the most wilderness-heavy stretches of the trail. It was gorgeous. You really don't get a sense of the scale of the bluffs until you are approaching them on foot. Amazing.
At Bluffton, I stopped for lunch. There is a campground/weekend concession stand there, Steamboat Junction, that is run by a couple that graduated from the same high school that my brother, sister, nephew and niece graduated from in North County. It is sure a small world. The lady told me that business has been slow and they were thinking about shutting down. She thinks gas prices are curtailing some of the trail-users. That would be a shame, since it is one of the few rest stops along this whole section.
My feet were really beginning to give me trouble after I left this point. The heat was also pretty high and there was very little shade. It seemed to take me forever to get to the next waypoint, Rhineland. The town has a couple of really pretty country churches.
When I stopped at Rhineland, I checked my feet again. What I saw was not good at all. The blisters were beginning to bleed a little and I was developing a new line of them from my right ankle around to the back of my heel. I knew that I couldn't go on much longer with this happening.
I reluctantly decided to press on to McKittrick, call the B&B where I had reservations so I could get taken over the bridge into Hermann. I also decided that I had better call home and fill them in on my condition. It broke my heart to have to admit defeat, but with my feet breaking down and the associated pain, I was really losing the point of this whole trip, to experience the sights and scenes along the trail. All that I could think about was when the day and the trek were going to be over. This, in short, becomes drudgery.
I called the family, and made some preliminary plans to be picked up the next morning in Hermann. I then called Birk's Gasthaus, the B&B I was staying at, and Rick, one of the owners told me he would be there in five minutes.
I have to give Rick and the B&B all the credit in the world. After he picked me up, I asked him if he would mind swinging by some fast food place so I could get something to eat. He said that would not be a problem, but that he had a frozen pizza in the over and would gladly give me half. I took him up on the offer. In the meantime, he told me that he had to shift the room reservations around a little bit, and that I was actually being placed into one of the larger rooms, but at the price that I was renting the small room that I reserved. This is looking even better. After I got settled in, took my first shower after two days of sweating, I hobbled downstairs to eat pizza and drink a couple of beers. The next morning, breakfast was great and, since my cellphone wouldn't work in Hermann, Rick loaned me his to call home and arrange the pickup. What a guy! Birk's is an oasis. If anyone EVER wants to take a trip to Hermann and stay overnight, this is THE PLACE to stay. Rick and his wife Dianne are wonderful hosts. I give it six stars on a scale of one to five.
So, I had to bail out of the trail. I am disappointed, but I did complete 163.8 miles on this trip with 61.3 miles to go. Part of me feels like I should have just found a way to tough out the last 3 1/2 days and finished it off. But I think I might not have been able to walk for a week afterwards. As I write this on Tuesday around noon, the blisters are subsiding somewhat, but now the knees and shoulders are yelling at me.
But having said all of that, I must say, I WILL finish this hike. By my estimation, I will need a span of four days to knock out the rest of the trail. I will be posting more in the next day or two about lessons I have learned, and some strategy I want to try to tackle this project.