DayTrip Chick; June 20, 2009
Yesterday afternoon I purchased the trail guide 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Nashville by Johnny Molloy.
Not being one to think about things too much, preferring to just jump in with both feet, I woke up this morning and told Swamp Thing and Baby Boy we were going on an “adventure”. (Big Daddy & Big’un had left the nest about 4 a.m. this morning to chase the bass across Old Hickory Lake.) Swamp Thing immediately inquired “Where?” I offered up the choice of, “somewhere along the Natchez Trace or on a trail with a cave.” He immediately opted for the cave, while Baby Boy chose to continue to dream about his upcoming high school adventures from the comfort of his temper-pedic loft.
With our sunscreen, Camelbaks, and the camera in tow, we hit the road and headed South on I-65 for #31 in our guide - Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail. Swamp Thing asked if he should bring his head lamp for the cave, doubting it was a very big cave I replied probably not. Lesson #1 for the day, always carry a flash light.
The directions in the book were great and we were able to find our way to the trail without difficulty. The final turn of the driving directions sent us down a gravel road. It is was here that I briefly wondered if I was in my right mind. Here I was out in the middle of nowhere with my middle son and only a sleeping teenager at home knowing we went on an “adventure.” With a quick prayer for protection, I made a mental note to leave a written note with a destination and expected time of return in the future. The gravel road ended in a loop with the sign for the nature conservancy area. Parking next to the sign, we prepared to hit the trail.
Lesson #2 for the day – Bring cooler with extra water. Knowing our hike was less than 2 miles and would only take about an hour, we set off with two 70 ml Camelbaks full of water. This should have been plenty, but if one doesn’t get sealed properly, mine, a partially filled Camelbak upon arrival in the middle of nowhere is a bit unnerving. Judging that I still had close to a liter of water in the tank plus ½ a Sonic Cranberry slushie for the ride home, I decided we would adventure on.
We did have to look around to find the kiosk for the entry to the trail. But once we found it, the trail was clearly marked the entire way and we were never unsure about which direction to follow. The terrain was very rocky with lots of shale, but still easy to navigate. My last six weeks of in town hiking along Radnor Lake and Percy Warner Park, where the trails are pristinely maintained, had lulled me into a sense of complacency about trail conditions.
Lesson #3 for the day – wear long pants with removable legs if you don’t know the trail. There was lots of leg-whipping (flora) growing along the trail. We had to be mindful of poison ivy. Also, since this not a heavily trafficked trail, there are lots of fallen limbs that want to reach up and grab you.
We were surprised at all the prickly pear cactus and “pony-tail” type palms we saw. Swamp Thing said it made him feel as if we were in Texas or New Mexico. I mused that if we needed a juicy snack, we would be able to “pick one up” along the way. We’ll have to research indigenous plants for the Duck River to find out if these are native or transplants.
The view from the bluff was interesting. If you are not faint of heart or afraid of heights, there were several outcroppings that you could stand on and look almost straight down at the river. On our first pass we noticed a large grill down below, sitting alone on a sandbar in the river bend. On our way back there were boaters tied up at the grill having a picnic.
The cave was bigger than we expected. Fearless souls that we are, we had to keep our impulsivity in check and be satisfied with basking in the cool air coming from inside. Swamp Thing insists that we need to take up spelunking in the near future and will probably never forgive me for lack of a flashlight.
We had taken the right fork when the trail split and hiked the long way around the loop leading to the cave. Leaving the cave we continued on the short side of the loop and were soon back where the trail forked. My Camelbak had reached empty shortly after leaving the cave, I was happy to know that we had less than a third of our journey back to the car and the remains of my slushie.
Along the way we encountered many spider webs, crickets and startled a couple of lizards. We were very watchful for snakes, never encountered any, but I did hear one slither off on my left at one point.
We were able to complete the hike in an hour. Only after we got back in our car and were headed back up the gravel road, did we see anyone else. If the family in the Ford Explorer we passed wasn’t headed to the Cheeks Bend Bluff for a hike, then they were very lost. The entire trip took about three hours. One hour from our home in Franklin to the trail, one hour on the trail and a third to get us home…where Baby Boy was still asleep!