Not one to worry about such things, I continued following Highway 52 east out of Chatsworth. That's what my directions said, so that's what I did, but still, there was no sign or blazes indicating that the Pinhoti was nearby.
The road walk wasn't particularly bad. The highway went into the mountains, so cars weren't able to speed at high velocities along the narrow, winding road. Nor was there much traffic to begin with--just enough, however, to insure dog owners didn't let their dogs run loose.
But the road walk was still a road walk, and I figured I'd be pretty much doing that for the whole day. Near the end of the day I expected to hit real trail again, and perhaps not even that given my late start in the morning. (Naturally, I had to use the Internet before checking out of the motel.)
Near the entrance for Fort Mountain SP, I stopped to eat lunch. Normally I eat snacks for lunch, but my pack was terribly heavy and I decided to cook a meal of rice, bean, and cheese burritos which, including the use of water to clean up with, I figured lightened my pack by three or four pounds. Still a heavy pack, though.
I passed by houses and lodges, skipping a restaurant (must eat food in pack first!), and was surprised when I arrived at an overlook at the Murray-Gilmer County Line to see a small trail, marked with Pinhoti blazes, entering the road. At last, I'd refound the Pinhoti.
But it bothered me that it came in on a trail from the woods. What the heck was I road walking for when there was a perfectly good TRAIL to hike on?
I continued following the road, wondering where the Pinhoti had meandered before reaching the road. Obviously, there had been a *substantial* reroute since my data sheet was created.
The trail soon veered off the left side of the road, even though my data sheet suggested I continue following the road. I hate road walks, though, and decided this time not to follow the directions on my printout. I tromped down the trail with no idea where it would lead.
I had another problem--I was running dangerously low on water. I used most of it while cooking lunch, but I used more than I anticipated to put out a small fire it had started. I'd been passing water sources all morning long and didn't worry about it, but following the road along the ridgeline, water sources suddenly disappeared.
I started to ration the water that was left, and figured following the trail down off the ridge would likely lead to more water sources than sticking with the road.
Eventually, I did come across a small spring. I heard it more than I saw it since the spring was down below the trail. No water crossed the trail at all, but I heard the drip, drip, drip of water nearby.
I dropped my pack on the trail and took out two water bottles, bushwacking with them down 20 feet or so down a steep slope where I found the spring. I drank all that I could, then filled up the water bottles.
Now that I'm in the mountains and have been finding springs and streams with beautiful, clear water, I've largely stopped treating water. The water in Florida I never really trusted--stagnant, smelly stuff. Even the occasional clear spring tended to smell like sulpher. So I've thoroughly been enjoying the natural mountain water and trust it enough to no longer bother treating it most of the time.
The trail continued meandering, eventually coming out to a dirt road, and I wasn't entirely sure which direction to follow it. I thought I had seen Pinhoti Trail blazes from higher up on the trail that went left on the road, but now that I was on the road, I only saw a single blaze that led to the right.
I followed the single blaze, which passed a small stream. Not sure if I'd be camping near water for the night and given how late it was in the afternoon, I filled up the rest of my water bottles.
Except for a one liter bottle whose cap I accidentally dropped in the stream and I sadly watched drift downstream out of view before I could get it. Damn.
I walked a bit further down the road but saw no additional blazes and started second guessing myself. Maybe I really was supposed to have turned left on the road?
So back I went. At the trailhead, I reexamined the one blaze that led me to the right, and decided to hike left a quarter mile or so to see if I could find any other blazes--particularly the ones I thought I saw from higher up on the trail.
But I found nothing, and returned back to the trailhead and back the way I originally started walking, grumbling to myself about wasting time by walking back and forth on the same road.
I knew I was on Conasauga Road since that's the name that was used on the mailboxes I passed, but that wasn't particularly useful information since my data sheet assumed I was still back on Highway 52.
Argh. Would it be so difficult to put in an extra blaze or two?
On the plus side, while walking past the stream I had refilled at, I saw a strangely uniform black dot in the water on the other side of the road where I had lost my cap. Surely I couldn't be so lucky as my cap getting stuck here on the other side of the road in plain view?
I had to bushwack a bit to get down to the stream (stupid thorns!), and sure enough, it was my lost cap. So the backtracking turned out not to be a TOTAL waste of time.
About a mile down the road, I spotted new blazes leading up into the woods, which I followed happy to have finally confirmed I was headed in the correct direction.
With all my backtracking, however, it was starting to get dark. I kept my eyes open for a place to camp, and did so on a soft pile of pine needles about a mile away from the dirt road.
I wasn't sure exactly where I was, but I was pretty certain this trail I was following was considerably longer than the road walk would have been had I continued following the directions on my printout.