I'm hiking at Apple Creek Conservation Area when I hear a loud rumbling sound. "That's just a jet," I thought.
Sure enough, the rumbling subsided as a jet airplane flew overhead.
But then a few minutes later, I hear another rumbling sound. "That's just another jet," I thought nervously while noticing that the clouds had started to get rather thick.
No such luck. The rumbles didn't go away. It was obvious that a thunderstorm was approaching.
Naturally, I found myself at the worst possible place along the trail -- the half-way point -- with the trailhead over a mile away. To make matters worse, two steep hills stood in my way, so sprinting back to the trailhead wasn't an option. At least, not if I wanted to avoid a heart attack, which would definitely put me behind schedule.
After examining the wind speed and direction, estimating the distance from the thunderstorm, and studying the trail map, I could only reach one conclusion: I was going to get wet.
As it turns out, the rain held off until I reached the trailhead. Nevertheless, my prediction was right: I did get wet. Not from rain, but from sweating while frantically hiking the rest of the trail.
This could be a new exercise fad: Thunderhiking. Burn calories while you try to outrun downpours, tornadoes, and golfball-sized hail! Set new personal records while sprinting across open fields as you dodge lightning strikes! Use new muscle groups while racing up and down steep slopes so you can safely cross that creek ahead before the flash-flooding starts!
On second thought, maybe not. I prefer to do my storm chasing from the comfort of my own front porch, not while hiking on a trail in a remote corner of Cape Girardeau County, where the roads are indistinguishable from creeks.
I guess I should write something about the trail
Apple Creek Conservation Area is best known for its shooting range, yet the multi-use trail provides a quality outing for hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. (But only during storm-free days.)
The entire trail, forming two loops, is 5.7 miles long. Thanks to the ugly weather, I only completed the lower loop. Two trailheads are provided: one for equestrians (at the upper loop) and one for everybody else (in between the two loops).
From the second trailhead, the route follows an old gravel road as it skirts past the shooting range. The well-marked trail eventually veers right and descends into a wide valley along a tributary of Lovejoy Creek.
The Conservation Department has planted crops in the bottomlands to provide food for wildlife. Most of the fields have been planted in corn this season.
After fording the creek twice, the trail turns right to enter another valley.
Passing a series of plowed fields that have been shoehorned into the narrow hollow, the trail climbs a steep hill to reach a grassy clearing at the ridgetop. It then drops back down over an extremely steep slope.
At the bottom, I spotted a cluster of interesting rock formations along the creek. If the creek had water full-time (it doesn't), these rocks could be described as a shut-ins.
Passing another series of cornfields, the trail ascends a steep hill and then returns to the trailhead. (Actually, the hill wasn't that steep, it just seemed that way when the thunderstorm was only minutes away).
Apple Creek Conservation Area is a short 25 mile drive from Cape Girardeau. [Google Map]
Take Interstate 55 to the Fruitland exit (#105). Turn right on US 61 and continue north 3 miles to the turnoff for Route C. Turn right and take Route C north for 6 miles to New Wells. Turn right to stay on Route C, then turn right on Route CC. After 1 mile, turn right on County Road 525. Go 1.2 miles and turn left at the turnoff marked "HORSE TRAILER PARKING." Drive past the equestrian parking area and continue on the access road (making a right turn) until the road ends at the parking lot and gate. Trail maps are provided at the gate, or you can print your own.