In the morning, a few drops of rain fell--nothing serious, but I took my umbrella out so I'd be prepared if it started up in earnest. I had no weather forecast to rely on anymore having passed the one week mark since I watched the Weather Channel in Wetumpka.
A couple of miles into the hike, I met a couple of older gentlemen hiking in the opposite direction of me who told me that there was a 20% chance of rain for the next couple of days which I deemed sufficiently low enough to return my umbrella to the pack.
The rest of the hike was largely uneventful. I planned to pull a long day, at least 26 miles, and started off strong.
Entering the Dugger Wilderness area, there was a section with severe blowdowns. Several dozens of trees heaped over the trail. It was recent--the needles on the fallen pines were still green--but it looked like a wrecking ball went through tearing everything down.
And it was rather tough to navigate. I've been seeing blowdowns ever since getting onto the Pinhoti Trail, but nothing as serious as this one. One section, I stood there just trying to figure out how to pass. Going around it up the slope was blocked by more blowdowns, as was navigating around it down the slope. I ended up stepping on branches and going over the trees. The trees and branches were so thick, however, I was able to go nearly 20 feet without my feet actually touching solid ground.
And being in a wilderness area, I knew the trail maintainers wouldn't be allowed to use chainsaws to open this trail again. It was going to take a lot of manual labor to clear the trail of trees. Can you say cross-cut saw?
I figure the blowdowns happened that day I hiked north out of Andalusia. There was a severe weather alert when I hiked out into the rain that morning for pretty much all of Alabama with wind hurricane force wind gusts and threats of tornados. Throw in some rain with the mix and that's a potent recipe for blowdowns.
With so many blowdowns at this particular location, though, I wonder if it was more than just a wind gust that brought them down or if it was a small tornado. Glad I wasn't in the area when it happened, though, because the noise would have scared the bejeebers out of me! The carnage was awesome.
About 25 miles into my hike, I reached the Oakley Shelter. Which was a nice surprise since I didn't know there was a shelter located there. I waffled about stopping, still wanting to do another hour of hiking, but ultimately, I got sucked in.
Two hikers had already set up camp in the shelter! There was company! People to talk to! Passing up such an opportunity would have been foolish, not to mention that I do like the protection of a shelter.
I had been following their shelter registry entries all through the Pinhoti Trail, so I knew they were ahead of me. I did not, however, expect to catch up to them so soon.
Warren was headed to Springer Mountain, finding geocaches along the way. I know, geocacher, but he was a nice guy. Really! =)
The other, Mortis, is planning to hike to Springer, north on the AT, then follow the Mountains to the Sea trail through North Carolina to Ashville. He also did about 200 miles of the Florida Trail and had already heard of some of my adventures, apparently meeting up with Gorden Smith sometime after he met me and even seeing my signature stamp from registers in those Florida Trail shelters. Small world, to bump into him another thousand miles later.
We had a grand time talking the night away. Well, at least *I* had a grand time. Mortis and I talked about the Appalachian Trail (he's a 2001 vet) and other various long distance hikes. Warren and I talked about letterboxing and geocaching for what seemed like hours, probably annoying the other hiker who hadn't heard of either activity before meeting either of us. =) He's well on his way to being an expert in both hobbies now, though, whether he liked it or not. ;o)
I really enjoyd the company, though, after so many lonely nights on the trail.
I'd also like to mention, I haven't written much about the Pinhoti Trail mostly because there's not much to complain about. The trail has been absolutely wonderful--well marked, free from dogs, cars, and curious police officers, with wonderful views and plenty of fine camping locations on the way. Frankly, this trail has been awesome and perhaps my favorite hiking so far on the trail. In Georgia, there is supposed to be more road walking (yuck), but the section of the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama--absolutely wonderful hiking experience. It's everything a trail should be.
On one sad note, I blazed past a shelter today without stopping. Later, our friendly geocacher told me that someone had written an entry in the register saying they had planted a letterbox. I have a sneaky suspicion that note was meant for me, but alas, I missed it. If you have a clue for me, please e-mail it to me through AQ mail. I can't surf the web to check clues, but I can check e-mail (including AQ mail).
And Bob Saget? I just wanted to keep you reading to the end of this post. There's nothing about him to report on this hike. ;o)