AKA: What goes up must come down. Okay, it started about 3 a.m. when I woke up because I thought I heard rain. But, it was 3 a.m., so I went back to sleep. Sure enough, when my alarm went off three hours later, it was, indeed, raining. But, we have only five days to hike eight parks, and the large umbrella purchased on the fly at Big Lots was going to have to suffice to keep my notebook dry while taking trail mileage and GPS points and other notes. Oh, and reason I call it the “trail less traveled” is because there were so many spider webs across the trail that Frank had to use the umbrella to fend them off–literally hundreds of spiders landed on the umbrella. Freaky.

A sample of the blackberries that have overtaken the Indian Rock Trail.

A sample of the blackberries that have overtaken the Indian Rock Trail.

So, back to Big Ridge State Park where we would hike the Big Valley Trail up to the Indian Rock Trail Loop on Big Ridge, itself. The climb up Pinnacle Ridge and down to Dark Hollow then up Big Ridge, despite being in the rain, wasn’t that bad and about what we expected. Then we entered hiker hell. The Indian Rock Trail was 2.6 miles of dodging overgrown trail–trail covered with blackberry brambles and poison ivy amongst other plants. And, of course, they were sopping. The rain stopped, but the plants were happy to soak our legs and boots. We descended through this hell all the way to the shores of Lake Norris before climbing back up to Big Ridge and the eponymous Indian Rock–at one point we went straight up hill for a quarter of a mile. And when I say straight up, I mean that it was so steep I was grabbing any hand hold I could find–sapling, rock or even a blade of grass. The bright side was that we had chosen to head left on the loop not right. I cannot imagine that I could have made it down that quarter of a mile without falling and sliding on my backside most of the way. When we reached the top, we faced more overgrown and rocky trail.

A sample of some of the overgrown trail but not the worst, by far. Much of it was hip-height.

A sample of some of the overgrown trail but not the worst, by far. Much of it was hip-height.

When we got back to the parking area more than six miles later, we were definitely worse for the wear–hot, tired, dehydrated. Frank had soaking boots, I had a nasty gash on my shin from crossing a blow down. A good lunch was called for before we started hiking in Norris Dam State Park. Bellies full and rehydrated, we discovered that most of the trails at Norris Dam were either horseback or biking trails. Bizarrely, the hiking trails were only accessible via each other. That meant we had to hike the Lakeside Loop to access the Christmas Fern Loop to reach the Tall Timbers Trail. It made for a convoluted hike, and at one point we had to climb 92 steps up a hillside, but compared to the morning, it was nothing. And only about 2 miles.

One of the so called "tall timbers".

One of the so called “tall timbers”.


The next set of trails involved making a figure eight out of the Harmon Loop and Fitness Trails. They also featured more climbing than expected. We found ourselves joking along the fitness trail, sponsored by a local hospital (I am not making this up) because 1) it claimed to be for seniors but was hardly easily accessible, involved some elevation gain, and the bugs were extremely annoying; and 2) the rapidly deteriorating stations along it promised to send more seniors to the hospital than to help them physically. One station, a balance beam, was perched on the edge of steep drop off–guaranteed to send granny tumbling down the hill if she couldn’t maintain her balance. What were they thinking?

The "Fitness Trail".

The “Fitness Trail”.


Bright spots in the day–two tortoises we saw on the Big Valley trail and two deer on the 3-trail loop, the lake was beautiful, and there were lots of lovely wild flowers and mushrooms. Plus, the sections of trail that weren’t too physically demanding were quite refreshing. All in all, a rewarding but physically demanding day. Tomorrow: Frozen Head.

Tortoise #2--actually the only photo I managed today.

Tortoise #2–actually the only photo I managed today.