The first couple hundred miles of Alabama are not what one call beautiful or fun. It's pure road walking, which is undoubtably the most dangerous hiking there is.
The part that scares me more than anything, however, isn't the cars or perverts or axe murderers or muggers (I haven't even seen those last two, but I'm sure they're out there). It's dogs.
Especially on country roads where owners feel their dogs don't need to be kept on leashes or enclosed in a fenced yard. Most days, there are probably anywhere from five to ten dogs that rush out into the street, barking and looking dangerous.
It's so bad, I often consider where I might run for protection before I even see any dogs. I'll see a good, solid fence and think, "Hey, that would make a good place to climb up to escape any dogs that might think about attacking me."
I look for places that give me a height advantage, figuring dogs would have a tougher time getting me when I'm several feet off the ground. I also look for places that have a single entrance or exist--usually a fence with the door wide open--thinking it would be harder for a pack of dogs to surround me.
When I pass by houses on these rural country roads, I often carry my trekking pole instead of walking with it like intended so it won't make that 'click click click' sound every time the tip hits the ground. If I do use it, I'll make sure the tips hit the dirt or grass on the shoulder of the road where it won't make as much noise.
Basically, I try to sneak through neighborhoods so dogs don't hear me.
It's not usually effective--usually dogs will see or hear me when I get close enough--but it gives me more time to look for terrain to defend myself and sometimes I've heard dogs rushing into the street barking at me after I already walked a quarter-mile past them.
Little dogs generally don't worry me since I figure I can fend them off fairly easily. Big dogs with large teeth worry me the most. They look like they could snap my neck like a twig.
Gangs of large dogs scare me the most. When you're surrounded by four very large dogs that are close enough to see the color of their teeth, it really gets the adrenaline pumping.
The trekking pole is wonderful for at least giving me a sense of having something to protect myself with. I'll point it at dogs, yelling at them to stay back, and they seem to understand that the trekking pole can be used as a weapon because they'll back up a bit whenever I swing it in their direction.
Fortunately, no dogs have yet tried to attack me. Just a lot of scary moments where I wondered if this would be the time they finally attacked. I figure if one does attack, the trekking pole should be used as a lance rather than a club.
My natural tendency is to want to club them, using both hands to whack them hard with the trekking pole, but the poles are lightweight and hollow inside so I figure they'll likely snap if I used them as a club. Anyhow, it would spread out the point of impact along the length of the pole.
No, I figure using it as a lance would be more efficitive. I've worn the tip down so it's rounded, but it's still a small rounded point that I have little doubt could pierce quite deeply into the dog. The poles are designed to take weight lengthwise, so I could put a lot of power into the thrust without breaking it.
I'd probably try to pierce the body since it would be a big target. An eye or something would probably be very effective in getting the dog to retreat, but those are pretty small to hit. I figure trying to nail it hard in the body would be my best bet.
More than once, I wish I took a page out of Snap's playbook and carried mace. Don't mess with Snap. He does carry bear mace, but he carries it specifically to protect himself from dogs. If I ever had to thru-hike this trail again, I'd carry mace--and I recommend that everyone who hikes this trail do the same. People rarely are out to attack or kill you, but there will be dogs you'll want it for.
It's kind of sad, plotting how best to protect myself from loose dogs and plotting how best to hurt or kill one that tries to attack. It's not something I ever spent much time thinking about before, but it's a vital survival tool on road walks.
And every time one of those dogs runs out into the street after me, a small part of me wishes a car would come by and hit them. It would serve the owner of the dog right for not keeping their dog under control, and perhaps in the future they'll be more responsible.
So I hiked, wishing the road walk would end and wondering why I wanted to hike to Springer Mountain in the first place. If I had stopped at Pensacola, I thought, I'd already be home.
Not much happened to report this particular day. No police or perverts stopped to talk to me, and I pushed through to somewhere near the county line another 20+ miles up the trail, a mile or so before the town of Bethlehem.
I stopped, I think, just barely short of the county line. The trail went onto a dirt road--one of the few places where the trail became dirt--which seemed rarely traveled and largely unpopulated. I figured it would make an ideal location to stop for the night.
I found an overgrown road leading off the main road, and followed it optimstically. If other cars weren't even using this road anymore, I would certainly have the place to myself.
It led to an abandoned house, mostly collapsed, and I set up camp on the far side of it. I didn't want to be too close to the house--the remains are probably home to rats, snakes, and all sorts of vermin I'd rather avoid--so I camped a good hundred or more feet away.
It was a wonderful location, padded with pine needles. I was so far off the main road, I didn't even worry about my headlamp giving my location away--assuming anyone drove down the road in the first place.
For the first time since leaving Andalusia, I felt like I could relax and not worry about the 'human problems' that plague road walks.
I read Daddy's Girl for the rest of the night, happy to engross myself in a novel for the first time in months. I finished the book near 10:00 in the evening before finally going to sleep. The campsite was a much needed break for me.