Since we left the Rocky Mountains, we have ridden 99% on roads. Kansas has almost no government owned property, so any trails are in small localized areas. Missouri has some trails- especially four wheeler trails- but as with most trail systems, they follow ridge-lines and valleys- which on this continent, primarily run North/South. This makes it very challenging to find any trails that actually head in our easterly direction. Now the American Discovery Trail that we have followed on and off, does follow trail in Missouri, but it is off limits to horses, not to mention that we stayed further south due to riding through the winter.
Thus, it was very enticing to ride up to the River to River trail in Illinois. It was only a couple miles north of Cave in Rock, where we were heading to catch the ferry, and it went from the Mississippi River on the West side of southern Illinois to the Ohio River on the East side.
It was the first time we’d seen American Discovery Trail markers in months, plus it was quite refreshing to get off the roads and onto the single track trails.
But there was one problem- well two actually. First, the River to River Trail is very difficult to follow due to it being poorly marked and incorrectly marked due to many changes in the route. Plus, there had been so much rain lately that it was extremely muddy and slippery for the horses.
We had fun for a while- kind of like a scavenger hunt trying to find the next trail marker, scanning the map, and reading the compass to know we were going the right way. It was very beautiful scenery too. But it eventually became frustrating. We were making very poor time and mileage compared to the amount of work our tired horses are doing. It’s a lot harder on them going up and down hills and skiing on mud, so we felt bad every time we made a wrong turn and had to do the last hill over again. After nearly 14 months of hard work, we try to save every calorie and speck of energy we can for our horses so we knew we could not continue on the trail if it kept up like this.
In addition to that challenge, we had taken on an extra 20 pounds just in water weight. All of our gear was soaked, including our tent that is no longer waterproof. The desert simply wore out our tent from the beating sun, and the last of our 4 zippers finally broke so we no longer can close either door! (That led to a night of 2 ticks just entering our tent as they pleased and walking across my forehead in the wee hours of the night! Ugh!) We woke up in a huge puddle with our tent leaking like a sieve after a night of outrageous thunderstorms and decided it was a top priority to do something about this problem! But my point was, the horses were carrying more weight simply due to our gear absorbing the rain, so that didn’t make the trails easier for them either. But we didn’t make a beeline for the roads because our location was such that none of the nearby roads went any straighter east than the trail. So we slipped and slided on.
After our second evening on the trail, we were sent by a local to a horse campground which was perfect for us. While there, we met Mike, a man who was passionate about keeping the local trails open, and he took us to a warm meal, and even brought us breakfast in bed (well- sleeping bag!) for the next two days!