Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow....

By now, I needed to average about 17 or 18 miles per day to reach Springer Mountain in time, which was nice. It meant I could sleep in in the morning and quit hiking early in the day, curl up in my sleeping bag, and enjoy reading a book and cook a hot meal.

So I lingered in the shelter longer than I normally would before hiking out the next morning.

I wasn't especially excited about the hiking, though. The day was beautiful and cool, but there would still be quite a bit of road walks which generally do nothing but depress me. As far as road walks go, it wasn't bad. Dogs didn't chase me along the streets, the roads weren't busy, and no policemen questioned me, and the surrounding terrain was quite nice--but I was thoroughly sick of road walks and dreaded them.

The trail got back into the woods after a few miles which I much appreciated, but I knew it was only temporary and that the trail would return to road walking later in the day, so for most of the day, I just felt blah. I wanted the hike to end.

When the trail returned to road walking, I stopped at the Riverside Restaurant for a late lunch, arriving 15 minutes before they closed. The restaurant wasn't open from 3 to 5, and I actually surprised myself by arriving before three. I'd been walking sluggishly because of my funk and didn't think I'd arrive before they closed.

Not that I needed to eat there--I still had plenty of food in my pack--but I liked the idea of sitting indoors and letting others cook a real meal for me. The one perk to road walking that I actually liked. =) I'd have still traded it away to have stayed in the woods, however.

By the time I left, ominous clouds had started blowing in. The weather forecast called for rain today the last time I had checked, and it looked like it could start at any time.

The trail entered the woods once again, and looking through my data sheet, it appeared my last road walk was now behind me. Nowhere were there instructions to turn on such-n-such road, or to follow a road. Several places it mentioned where I would *cross* a road, but nothing to suggest I'd actually have to follow one, and when I got off that last road, my spirits soared.

"No more &&@^!@# @&!%#ing roads!" I shouted with glee. =) What a relief to finally be done with them.

My pace picked up and I hiked a couple of more miles to a gap on a ridge with a spring nearby.

The wind was bitterly cold and surprisingly strong, so I set up my tarp alongside a log that could act as a wind break. I piled on all my layers of clothes and slipped into my sleeping bag. It was getting darned cold out, and my gut instinct told me this might be the coldest night I'd ever spend on the trail and a good test for the 20 degree bag I picked up after getting out of Florida.

Near sunset, I heard precipitation hitting my tarp. Frozen precipitation. I wasn't sure if it was actually snow or just very small pieces of hail, but there were only trace amounts of it and I put it out of my mind, curled up reading The Bourne Legacy until about 10:00 that night.

I stayed warm throughout the night, and the next morning I lounged around late not wanting to get out of my sleeping bag. "Damn cold!" I thought. "Damn cold."

Then the precipitation started again, this time I could see it was small flakes of snow swirling through the air. Nothing that stuck, but it seemed like Mother Nature wanted to remind me that it was cold outside.

Eventually my bladder forced me to leave my sleeping bag, then I quickly broke down camp and started hiking just to get warm.

The snow grew thicker as the morning progressed, then turned into small pellets of hail which did not immediately melt upon hitting the ground like the snow was doing.

But my spirits soared. I was having FUN again! =) I sang Christmas songs to myself and watched the snow flakes twirling through the air. It's like I could watch the wind itself rather than just the effects it has on the objects it connects with.

By late morning, some of the snow and hail started to collect on the trail, and my feet would make a satisfying 'crunch!' with each step.

The snow was something of a surprise to me since it was never in the weather forecast I saw. Rain the day before, yes, and bitter cold starting today, but it was supposed to be sunny and cold.

But I was glad for the snow. It was new, exciting, and different. I told Amanda before I even started my hike that there was a good possibility it could snow on me at least once once I reached the mountains in Alabama. I knew it could very cold in April in those mountains, and planned for it with warmer camp clothes and the new 20 degree sleeping bag. I was ready, and I was glad that extra preparation could be put to use.

And I much preferred the cold and snow to rain. I hiked all day without an umbrella, more wet from sweat than from the precipation.

And, I thought, I should reach Springer Mountain the next day. My hike was nearly over. The theme song for Rocky ran through my head between Christmas songs as memories flashed through my head. Walking through water, hiking through fire. On roads and trails, over mountains and through air force bases. And now the trail had one last challenge to throw at me--snow.

The snow did stop briefly a couple of times during the day, to melt off before continuing again. But for most of the day, it came down in varying intensities.

I stopped for the night at Bryson Gap. There weren't any significant logs to block the wind or snow, so I carefully set up my tarp perpendicular to the wind, put on all my layers, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I expected another cold night.

The weather forecast, when I last checked it in Chatsworth the week before, predicated tonight would be get down to 30 degrees. That was in low-laying Dalton, however. I figured up in these mountains, it was probably 10 degrees colder than that, perhaps even in the high teens. Definitely a new record for the coldest weather I ever camped in.

But I stayed plenty warm during the night. With my old 40 degree bag, however, it would have been a truely miserable night. As far as I was concerned, that bag paid for itself these last couple of nights.

And tomorrow--if all went well, I'd be standing on Springer Mountain.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The End of the Pinhoti

The weather forecast for the day included interesting adjectives such as 'severe' and ugly nouns such as 'thunderstorms.' It wasn't weather I looked forward to, but it was weather I'd have to live with.

My goal for the day was to reach the end of the Pinhoti Trail and the beginning (for me, at least) of the Benton MacKaye Trail. Originally, had I followed the original road walk described in my directions, I'd end the day six or seven miles down the Benton MacKaye. Not knowing where I was or how far away that trail was, I hoped to simply reach the Benton MacKaye. That would still put me within easy distance of Springer Mountain by the 16th.

The day started cloudy and stayed that way for pretty much the whole day. Eventually the trail reached the Mountaintown Trail, which thrilled me to no end since my data sheet had a line marked "Begin Mountaintown Trail" and I felt confident that my directions were now on course with the trail I followed. I now knew where on the trail I was, and the end of the Pinhoti Trail was another eight or so miles away.

I figured that would put me at the end of the trail--my minimum goal for the day--at close to 4:00. If the storm held off until later in the day, I thought, I could be in camp with my tarp set up before the first drops of rain hit me. And oh, would that be awesome!

So I hoofed on, reaching the northern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail a little before 4:00 that afternoon where it intersects the Benton MacKaye Trail. Despite the threat from the weather, I took a couple of pictures of me at the junction, then backtracked a hundred feet or so to a nice little place just off the side of the Pinhoti.

Knowing severe weather was in the forecast, I picked a high point a couple of feet up from the trail where it would be impossible to flood and strung my tarp between two stout trees--the better to hold my tarp in place if the wind really picks up.

It was an excellent location, deep in a valley and surrounded by trees where I would feel safe from the passing thunderstorms. When I know thunderstorms are in the forecast, I like to camp in low-lying areas rather than on ridgetops for obvious reasons. I also like to be surrounded by thousands of trees so they can protect me from severe winds and so I'm not camped under that single, solitary tree you always hear about. Nope, I want there to be thousands of 'targets'--the safer to hide out in.

So I was rather pleased with how well this campsite fit my criteria. My only complaint, and a minor one at that, was that I didn't see any water nearby. But I already filled up all of my water bottles not knowing if I'd be camping near water, so that wasn't an issue.

I set up camp and cooked a fine meal of rice, bean, and cheese burritos--finishing up just as I heard the first of the thunder in the distance. "The rain is near," I said to myself, and I quickly cleaned up the mess from dinner before it arrived.

The thunderstorm arrived with a fury, and a hard rain pounded my tarp, but I relaxed underneath reading the book I picked up in Dalton. No problem for me!

The storm passed by, but seemed to do so in a series of waves, each more severe than the previous. The first thunderstorm passed and the rain settled into a light drizzle before the second onslaught started a few hours later, and a third wave hit well after midnight with a crashing percussion that made my ears ring. From flash to boom, only a second or so elapsed. Unable to sleep, I stared at the roof of my tarp and timed the lightning to the thunder, more often than not thinking to myself, "Damn! That was close!"

The last of the thunder passed by, however, and I finally went to sleep for good. The next morning, a light rain continued to fall, but I decided to wait it out for a couple of hours. The weather forecast predicted no rain for today--clearly wrong at this point--but I figured the chances of the rain stopping soon were better than average.

And the bet paid off. The rain stopped within an hour or so, and even the tree snot had stopped falling by the time I broke down camp.

I put on my dry clothes (except the socks and shoes, which were still wet from a stream crossing late the afternoon before), proud that I managed to spend the entire storm under the protective cover of my tarp. I couldn't have timed things better.

I followed the white diamond blazes, though at this point, I didn't know exactly what direction I was walking anymore. I was located north of Springer Mountain, so I'd have to hike south at some point, and I would be heading south on the Benton MacKaye Trail.

Most of the morning, the trail stayed well in the woods, but by afternoon, it started following dirt roads and meandering through a community I'd later identify as Cherry Log.

As far as road walks went, it isn't bad. The roads weren't busy and no loose dogs came after me.

At one point, I filled up a couple of water bottles from a stream that looked like it came in away from where the civilization was to make sure I'd have plenty of water overnight before reaching camp.

Water, I thought, seemed dicey at best here because of the civilization. Who knows what chemicals people were using on their lawns or houses, so I picked water up from a creek that--from my point of view--seemed to come in from above the civilization, but I couldn't be completely sure. I picked it up in case I would need it, but I hoped to replace it with a better source before the night was over.

As I started picking up my pack, a car driving by stopped, then backed up several feet to me.

A woman leaned out the window. "Do you plan to drink that water?"

"I hope not!" I replied, "But I will if I have to."

She leaned out the window with a small half-liter bottle of water. "Take this. Don't drink the water."

I took the bottle and thanked her, and she drove off into the sunset. I kept the water I picked up anyhow, however, since I needed a lot more than half a liter of the stuff, but I was glad to at least have that little amount of known safe water.

I stopped a few miles further, seemingly in the middle of Cherry Log, at a shelter. The shelter was in a strange location, with houses in view all over the place. I couldn't even find a place to pee that was completely out of view of all the houses. The shelter was much more public than I expected, but it was still a step up from stealth camping between houses.

A nice creek ran passed the shelter, but decided I liked the water I picked up from the questionable stream better than this creek which I *knew* ran through plenty of civilization.

I pulled on all my layers of clothes and prepared for what already was becoming a very cold night.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Onward and Onward

After dinner, Mortis headed back to his room at the hotel, to watch girls basketball or something. The rest of us decided to head out and find a letterbox at night at a park there in Dalton.

I had not come prepared to letterbox, and wore my camp shoes while my headlamp was still in my hotel room. The others had better shoes, but surprisingly few flashlights among them.

Without a light (or even the clue, for that matter), I didn't look particularly hard and instead focused my efforts into scaring everyone that the cops were after us. "Look!" I'd say, pointing to a car that pulled into the parking lots. "I bet its the cops! Hide!"

And all the flashlights went off. =) It wasn't the cops, though it could have been considering all the noise we were making crashing through the brush.

"Well," I told everyone, "I know my record is clean. How about the rest of you?" =)

Then there was some concern about poison ivy all over the place, growing three feet high, to which I replied, "That's okay, I'll just take a shower when I get back to the motel. The rest of you are screwed, though!"

I'm always so thoughtful. =)

Ghopper eventually found the box pretty much as everyone else finally gave up on it. We stamped in, then I was dropped back off at the hotel.

I washed my clothes in the sink figuring it was probably a good idea to get any lingering poison ivy residue off of them then hung them up to dry. The next morning, I used a hair dryer to dry what little wetness was left in them.

I checked out of the motel and started hoofing it east on Walnut Street. Ghopper and friends left me their clues for other boxes in Dalton, so I stopped by a park on the trail to find one then stopped at Walnut Square Mall--the very place I went the day before in the hopes of seeing a movie--where another letterbox was located.

The day's hike was all road walk. It started off relatively nice, with sidewalks and slow traffic. Shortly past that Walnut Square Mall, however however, the sidewalks left me and traffic speed picked up.

Eventually I reached an intersection that left me scratching my head. A sign had been erected for the Pinhoti Trail, pointing to the right. The directions I had printed out and had been following continued straight. Should I follow my directions or the sign? Hmmm....

I considered the consequences. My data was old--in fact, the date it was last updated, according to the last page, was in 1999. Almost a decade old. I had no doubt that meant the trail had been rerouted at some point and that the sign was correct.

But I had a couple of problems with that. One, I had no idea where the reroute went, and if just one blaze or turn was missing, I'd be pretty well screwed. Two, it seemed to go down a less busy street, so I suspected it might be a longer route that avoided the 'dangerous' road walk but ultimately ended at the same place my directions led to. Frankly, when it comes to road walks, I want the most direct route to get it done and over with. And third, those road walks on the road less traveled have their own perils--dogs. I'd rather take my chances with the cars.

So I blew off the sign and continued straight. It was the most direct route to the forest, and it was the forest I wanted to be.

The road wasn't terribly bad to walk on, with a wide shoulder that was easy to walk on in most places. The thing that got to me most was the heat, which I would later learn reached the high 70s, and my pack weight which was extruciatingly heavy since I loaded it up with ALL the food I figured I'd need to reach Springer Mountain--at least 20 pounds of food alone.

I finally reached the town of Chatsworth, which I figured was a respectable 15 or so miles from where I started in Dalton, and seeing as I only needed to average about 16 miles per day, I decided to stop there in town.

It's a much smaller town than Dalton, and a cashier at a gas station told me that a hotel was up the street, perhaps a quarter mile off the trail, so I walked over to it and checked into the Best Western, room 112. It was a luxury to be certain, costing $69 plus tax for the night--way more than I usually care to pay for a hotel room--but I so did not want to find a place to stealth camp since that's what it looked like I'd have to do in all this civilization, and I'm rather tired of camping outdoors anyhow at this point.

So I got the room. As an added perk, however, which practically made the price worth it, there was a computer in the lobby that guests could use for free, and I ended up spending about four hours on it trying to catch up with e-mail, message boards, and such. It was the most computer time I've had since Amanda took the laptop away in Andalusia.

I did not go out for dinner. I had carefully planned out exactly the number of meals I'd need to reach Springer Mountain--over 20 pounds of them!--and needed to eat the food in my pack.

So that's what I did. Figured it helps make up for the relatively expensive room by not eating out for dinner as well. =)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lost on the Pinhoti

I expected to pick up the Pinhoti Trail again in Chatsworth, but I failed to find any blazes before getting my room at the Best Western or the next morning upon checking out.

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.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Carpet Capital of the World

I have to admit, until a few days ago, I'd never heard of Dalton before. Mortis mentioned resupplying in Dalton shortly before we arrived in Cave Spring, and I asked him, "Dalton, Massachusetts?!"

The Appalachian Trail does run through Dalton, Massachusetts--I had a wonderful act of trail magic manifest itself in a heaping bowl of ice cream with syrup and raindow sprinkles on a top there. No, I won't ever forget Dalton, Massachusetts, but who ever heard of Dalton, Georgia?

Apparently, it's not nearly as unknown to folks who live out here as it was to me. It's a sizeable city--easily the largest I've been in since Montgomery--and bills itself as the carpet capital of the world. I passed a couple of warehouses and what seem to be manufacturing facilities for Shaw (a company I know of only because it's owned by Berkshire Hathaway, of which I own one class B share). I assume this is where Shaw is based, or at least is where a good portion of their carpet business is run from. Who knew? =)

You learn a lot of things while hiking the trail, and I'm learning a lot about Dalton.

I had camped, I figured, about nine or ten miles before reaching town, and annoyingly, I could see civilization down there off the mountain ridge I followed for most of that time, while I grumbled about why the trail was following this ridge line instead of going 'down there' to Dalton. I wanted civilization!

The trail finally decended from Dug Gap, where a historical marker told about Confederate troops who defended the gap and Union troops who tried to take it over a couple of times.

The road emptied out at a busy on and offramp for I-75 with all sorts of wonderful establishments as far as the eye could see. Mostly gas stations, hotels, and restaurants, but they all looked so exciting and fresh.

My first order of business was lunch, so I hoofed into town far enough to pick up reading material--a USA Today with news of Charlton Heston's death on the front page--then to Taco Bell for lunch and a place to sit back, relax, and read my newspaper. Pure joy, you have no idea. =)

It always seems like you're the last person in the world to find out news while off in the woods hiking. I knew Heston was pretty old, so his dieing wasn't a shock to me. (John Ritter, however, when I was told he died at a shelter on the Appalachian Trail, I thought was a stupid practical joke and didn't believe it until I read it in a newspaper two days later.)

But despite this long article about the life and times of Heston, I never saw anything about how he died. Was that already old news?

Very perlexing, so figuring out what day he died became something of a mission for me.

After finishing the paper, I walked back to a hotel, America's Best Inn, and checked into room 222. I asked the clerk behind the counter where the nearest place was for Internet access, and she suggested the library, but that, "It wasn't within walking distance."

I couldn't help but laugh. "Try me," I told her. "I walked here from Key West. You might be surprised at what I consider walking distance."

She figured it was about one and a half miles away. Indeed, easy walking distance. Perhaps a half hour walk away.

I went up to my room, took a shower, then hit the town. I figured I'd try the library first. I didn't know if they were still open or not (it was already 5:00 in the afternoon), but it didn't much matter. It would give me an excuse to walk around a bit and see some of the town.

The library, much to my delight, was open until 7:00, but it took me nearly an hour to walk there so I figured it's distance to be three miles away. Unless there was some other closer branch I didn't know about, which was entirely possible.

I was only able to use the computer for a half hour before it kicked me off, then I followed some back roads back to the hotel to make a proper loop of my walk.

On the way, I stopped at Big K figuring I could find a magazine or book that I could take with me on the trail, and ended up walking out with about $62 in junk. They had these ENORMOUS bags of peanut M&Ms with dark chocolate, and a lot of other junk food in bulk. Then, since I was already there, I figured I'd look at their shoes because hey, I was stuffing leaves into my current ones each night which strunk me as a sign as perhaps they should be replaced.

I'm sure the shoes would have gotten me to Springer Mountain so I wasn't worried about shoes, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to look at their selection which is how I ended up with a nice, new shiny pair of shoes. They ought to last me for months after I finish my hike this time. (I intended to dispose of the Sears shoes immediately after finishing my hike.)

And I did buy a book--The Borne Legacy, I think it was.

And finally headed back to my hotel having decided to zero the next day in Dalton, the carpet capital of the world.

The next afternoon was spent running around town, mostly sightseeing and relaxing. I walked to the library to use the Internet, then spent hours and hours reading through magazines like BuisnessWeek and Civil War Times. I'd never seen Civil War Times in a library before. Only in Georgia. =)

Interestingly, it had an article about fences. The fence posts would often be used as firewood by the roaming armies, and apparently it caused all sorts of problems for the south (where most of the fighting took place) since animals like deer were then able to eat the crops being grown. The article asserts that the destruction of fences was one of the factors that accelerated the south's defeat.

The part that amused me most, however, was that it mentioned a Confederate soldier in Dalton, Georgia, had used a fence post as an improvised bat for a game of baseball. What are the chances of that? I'd never heard of Dalton before, and now I read about it in a national magazine while at the main library in Dalton itself! Bizarre coincidence, but otherwise not really noteworthy.

In any case, I had a grand time, reading for hours on end and relaxing. I then walked to Walnut Square Mall where I hoped to see a movie, but alas, it didn't open until 6:30. Then it was back to the hotel.

That evening, Mortis and I headed to Cracker Barrel for dinner where we planned to meet with a few letterboxers including Ghopper, 4 Little Piggies, one-half of Two Wild Sisters, and Isabeau.

Mortis, not actually being a letterboxer, seemed to fit in surprisingly well and got a quick lesson in cooties, exchanges, and the usual stuff. I warned everyone not to leave any cooties on me since I would NOT carry them on the trail.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I've Been Slimed!

After the knee-deep creek crossing, I was ready to quit for the day. Except for two things: One, I didn't have anymore reading material to entertain me for the next four hours, and two, a couple of miles of hiking would help dry out my shoes and feet from the creek crossing.

So on I hiked, and a couple of miles futher along, there was ANOTHER knee-deep creek crossing, which annoyed me even more. Haven't they heard of bridges in Georgia?

I hiked a few more miles, mostly drying out my shoes in the process, and finally decided to set up camp alongside a remote forest road I'd been following.

I walked off trail up a ridge to a level area to check out, when I noticed a tarp set up on the other side of the ridge. Although I couldn't see the person in it, I knew it could only be one person.


He looked down towards the trail, a natural assumption, but I was above him on the ridge having already started looking for a place to camp. Great minds think alike, as they say. =)

I set up camp near Mortis, where we traded war stories from our days on the Appalachian Trail. I had figured Mortis was probably a good five miles ahead of me, so it was a nice surprise to see him right where I was looking for a place to camp. =)

In another news, the padding in my Sears shoes has started deteriorating at a remarkably fast rate. Even by Payless standards, these shoes are falling apart faster than anticipated, but I'm going to try pushing them the 150 or so miles I have left to Springer Mountain.

I've started stuffing my shoes with leaves to create more padding. So far, it seems to be working, though each day I've had to add a bit more stuffing as the leaves grow more compact after a long day of hiking. It seems a bit absurd to be stuffing my shoes with leaves--Mortis joked, "What next? Making your shoes out of bark?" But it's results that count, and if the normal padding with the shoe is coming apart, by golly, I'll replace it with squished up leaves.

The next morning, Mortis was packed and on the trail before I even had time to roll over and wave goodbye. Very early riser, he is!

I didn't realize it at the time, but rolling over wasn't the best thing for me to do. When I finally rubbed my eyes and started to get ready for the day, I noticed a bunch of slime all over my hat and a snail that seemed to be resting in the middle of it. Very gross.

I shook out the snail and set the hat aside--I wasn't going to wear it until it had a thorough cleaning!

Then I saw it--a crushed snail, directly under me. It must have cozied up to me during the night, and at some point, I rolled over in my sleep and crushed the poor thing to death.

I did not morn over the loss the snail, accidental and untimely though it may have been, but it was a BIG snail and made quite the mess when it got squashed.

I tried scraping off the remains with leaves, but oh it was gross.

Later searches found additional snails, some large, some small, hiding out in various pieces of gear. One small tree snail crawled to the top of one of my water bottles, and I vowed never to drink out of that one again. It even left a snail turd on the bottle, which surprised me because I don't think I've ever seen a snail turd before.

This area, at least, appeared to have a bad snail infestation!

After putting on my socks, I felt an unnatural lump at the bottom of one foot and immediately freaked out, yanking off the sock. It was a false alarm, though. Just an ugly looking caterpiller--not another snail.

The wildlife, I have to say, was not impressing me.

The day started dreary and foggy, and I hiked out to Johns Mountain Lookout, where I looked out and took a pretty hazy photo of fog. Then I hiked down to Keown Falls, a nice little waterfall that people can actually hike behind--but I didn't bother. I've hiked behind lots of waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, but it was the most impressive waterfall I'd seen on my hike to date, so don't misunderstand me. It was nice. *nodding*

The trail meandered over a couple of mountains, and I ended up putting in about 20 miles for the day, camping for the night on Hurricane Mountain.

I only need to average about 15 miles per day to reach Springer Mountain on time, but I figured to hike into the town of Dalton the next morning and spend the day there. It didn't matter how many miles I did today since I'd still end up in Dalton at the end of the next day regardless.

And without any reading material, I really had nothing better to do than spend the whole day hiking. I took many breaks, chatted with numerous folks--on foot, bike, and horseback--who were out enjoying the afternoon. Which cleared up quite nicely once the morning fog burned off, I might add.

In camp for the night, I took care of my feet--rubbing them down and clipping my toenails (important to clip them often if you don't want them to fall off during wet weather). I made dinner (mashed potatoes with a mix of peanut and almond M&Ms for desert). Then I stitched a small section of my pack where a seam is starting to unravel. The seam was still holding together, but I didn't trust it to last much longer and felt the preventative measure was necessary. I just need to string my pack along for just ten more days.

I also added more leaves as padding to my shoes. =)

I got a lot done.

It's now 8:30 at night. The sun set a half hour ago, and there's a glow on the horizon where it went down. I can hear traffic towards the east, which isn't surprising since I-75 is down there somewhere. Funny to be running into this road again--it was the first Interstate I had crossed on my trip, in the south of Florida known as Alligator Alley. I crossed it a second time while nearing the panhandle of Florida. And now, over 1500 miles later, we will meet again in Dalton.

I have high hopes for Dalton. It sounds like a fairly large town, at least as far as trail towns go, and I find myself wishing and hoping there's a huge bookstore I can lose myself in all day. Maybe go see a movie tomorrow night if I can find a theater as well. Spoil myself. =)

We'll find out... tomorrow.....

Oh, as for my hat--I did wash it very thoroughly in the first water source I came along. The snail slime is gone, but you can still see some slime on my sleeping bag where I rolled over that other snail. I need to keep the bag dry, alas, so the snail slime there will have to stay for the time being. At least it wasn't as bad as the slime on my hat, though!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Memoirs of the Florida Trail

I continued following Highway 100 north, eventually intersecting the Simms Mountain Trail, a rails to trail program that also happened to be used by the Pinhoti Trail.

I cut off of the highway and back onto the official Pinhoti Trail. My little road walk, I'm happy to report, cut out about 20 miles of needless road walk. I did good. =)

I camped a bit further up, about a mile before the small town of Holland, tucked well into the woods since, technically speaking, it was private property and illegal to camp. So I definitely intended to be stealthy!

The night passed well enough, and the next morning I got up early and hit the trail. I stopped briefly at a convenience store in Holland where I picked up a package of Skittles and a bottle of orange juice before continuing my rails-to-trail hike.

The day was overcast and looking ugly, as well it should since the last weather report I checked in Cave Spring predicted rain for most of the day and night. The rain hadn't started yet, and I hoped it would hold off until later in the day--maybe even after I set up camp, if I were really lucky.

Regardless, I did not intend to hike a long day. I knew rain was in the forecast, and I hate rain. And at this point, I only needed to average a measily 15 to 16 miles per day to reach Springer Mountain on time. I could easily quit early, and even had the latest Reader's Digest to occupy my time once camp was set up.

I planned to wait out the storm, assuming I could set up camp before it started. The next few days were expected to be nice--just today and tonight were expected to be wet. Very wet.

The trail cut off the rail-to-trail and back onto Highway 100 a short ways before entering the mountains, wonderful mountains, once again. The road walk was over.

There's not much to report except that the rain started at around 3:00 in the afternoon, and at that point I started looking for a place to set up camp. Ideally, I wanted to camp near a stream so I'd have essentially all the water I wanted, but the next water source I *knew* was on the trail was more than nine miles away, so I stopped at a nice flat area with lots of leaves.

The rain paused long enough for me to set up my tarp, not that I wasn't already soaking wet, but it's nice to set up camp without it actively raining at the same time.

I pitched my tarp alongside a fallen tree, using it as a wind (and rain!) break for one side, and I set up the tarp relatively low knowing a heavy rain would be starting soon. The forecast I saw suggested that three or more inches of rain were possible, and that's a heck of a lot of rain.

It didn't take long before the steady patter of rain hit the tarp and lightning roared across the mountain, deafning thunder shaking the tarp. Oh, the fun!

I had changed into my dry clothes, and was somewhat giddy about the idea of not hiking in the rain. I still had more than four hours until sunset! It felt like I took off work early.

Around 4:30, I heard footsteps coming, and there was Mortis hiking down the trail, soaked to the bone. Poor guy. We talked for a few minutes, but he pushed on wanting to camp at a water source another mile or two down the trail--at least according to his trail notes.

With so much time to kill, I decided to cook a more elaborate dinner of bean, rice, and cheese burritos. My worry, however, was about running out of water. That meal tended to be a rather messy one to clean up and usually required large amounts of water (relatively speaking) to do well.

But I had a brilliant thought--what if I just cleaned the dishes with rain water? I put an empty 2 liter bottle at the edge of my tarp to catch some of the water running off it and was absolutely astounded when it filled up completely after a little more than an hour.

I had all the water I needed, for dinner, cleaning dishes, and brushing my teeth. I filled up the rest of my water bottles, then put the 2 liter bottle back at the edge of the tarp to catch more water.

I figured the bottle was probably catching about about 5 to 10 percent of all the water striking my tarp--certainly not most of it--but that meant my tarp was shedding between 20 to 40 liters of water PER HOUR while I was tucked safe and dry under it. I had no idea such huge volumes of water were hitting me! That's a heck of a lot of water.

In any case, any worries I had about running out of water went out the window. I had all the water I could possibly need readily available.

I finished the Reader's Digest shortly after sunset, and went to sleep soon after.

The rain continued all night and into the morning. I was really grumpy about the rain in the morning, complaining to myself that the weather forecast showed only a 10% chance of rain for the day, and it was still pouring buckets (or at least liters) of water.

I decided to wait it out, at least for as long as I could. Having run out of reading material the night before, I tried going back to sleep. Which worked to a degree, but I'd wake up again every half hour or so as my body kept wanting to get up with the sun.

Around 9:30, I finally started getting ready for the day. Near 10:00, the rain started to slacken, and it had nearly stopped completely by the time I hit the trail at 10:30.

It was an incredibly late start for me, but I did manage to miss most of the rain! Hooray!

I mosied along the trail, up and down. I didn't stop for water at the next water source a mile or two down the trail since I had already filled up with rain water.

The weather stayed drizzly all day. I call it fat fog. Not really a rain, per se, but still wet enough where you feel soaked through if you spend more than a few minutes in it.

Much of the time, I followed a single, solitary set of footprints along the trail. I knew they belonged to Mortis, and I guessed when my late start, he was probably at least a good five miles ahead of me.

At one point, the trail comes out of the woods to follow a dirt road which then crosses an unbridged creek.

I stood at the edge of the creek, extremely disappointed. With the rains from the night before, the creek was flowing pretty well, deep and cloudy with sediment. I thought my days of walking through knee-deep water had ended in Florida, but alas, the Pinhoti decided I needed it again.

I braced myself with my trekking pole and forded across, feeling the ground with my feet and prodding ahead with my trekking pole since I wasn't able to see the bottom of the creek. I waded across, up to my knees in water, exiting the other side grumbling about the lack of bridges.

I was, frankly, ready to quit for the day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cave Spring and Beyond!

I woke later than normal the next morning, but only because I was now in the Eastern time zone and the sun didn't rise until an hour later than it did in Alabama. =) But I was still on the trail by 8:30 with, what I thought, was five to seven miles of hiking into Cave Spring, Georgia.

The trail, after a couple of miles, I realized had been changed since the cliff notes I carried were created. It described turning left and right on various dirt roads and the lack of blazing since the trail was on private property and negotiations were going.

I guess the negotiations paid off, because the trail generally crossed each road it came to, and the trail was well blazed. The blue blazes stopped at one point, replaced exclusively with the white diamond with a turkey print on it, but they were easy enough to follow.

When the trail reached Highway 100, I noticed the first serious discrepency between my trail notes and the blazes. My notes said to turn left (north) on 100 and head about four miles directly into Cave Spring. The blazes, however, went right (south) on Highway 100, completely 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Hmmm.... What to do?

I decided to follow the blazes, which only went south on 100 a very short ways before turning onto a dirt road called Santa Claus.

I suspected the trail was rerouted through country roads to avoid the busy traffic on 100, but would eventually lead to Cave Spring. The 'scenic route' as one would say.

The problem I have with those country roads, of course, are those uncontrolled dogs. The busier a road is, the less likely that dogs are allowed to run loose.

Not knowing with any certainty about where the blazes went, I figured it was safer to follow them than to follow 100 directly into town and try to pick up the blazes again there.

The trail meandered on several roads, and multitudes of dogs chased after me as I knew would happen by following that course, and eventually the blazes led me into downtown Cave Spring, right by the library.

I stopped to use the phone at a convenience store and the Internet at the library, which generously allowed me to use the computer for as long as I wanted so long as nobody was waiting for one, and I spent a couple of hours catching up with all the posts related to the April Fool's joke on Atlas Quest. Over a thousand in all, and the day was only half over!

When walking into town, I wasn't sure if I'd stop there for the night or not, but I figured I probably walked an extra five miles more following those blazes into town and after two or three hours catching up on the computer, I figured a hotel was necessary.

I really needed one, frankly. My last one was ten days earlier at Wetumpka, and I had several errands to get done. I got my clothes washed and dried at the hotel--the first time they'd been washed since Andalusia over 300 miles back.

The nice lady at the front desk of the hotel let me borrow a needle and thread which I used to stitch, restitch, and restitch again the tear in my pack. I think it's a pretty good sewing job, but I'll be happy as long as it holds up for just two more weeks I expected it to take to reach Springer Mountain.

I walked to the grocery store where I filled up with all sorts of food items, and ate dinner at a restaurant ordering a pizza with nearly every available topping on it. I ate most of it, and took the three slices left in a doggie box which went into the microfridge in my hotel room, figuring to eat it for lunch the next day.

I got a lot of work done, and it was nice to rest and relax in a clean hotel room. This had been my longest trek yet between showers, and I needed a day off, or at least a short day after averaging more than 20 miles per day every day I was in Alabama.

One problem, however, I was unable to solve was exactly where the trail went. I followed the blazes into town, and at the main intersection in town, I looked in all three available directions and found additional blazes both to the left AND to the right. Which was the correct direction?

Oddly enough, the direction I really wanted to go (north, which would have been straight) had no blazes at all.

And the only map I had left in my arsenal was an underpowered AAA map of Georgia.

So the next morning, I returned to the library to do a bit of sluething on the Pinhoti Trail.

Surpringly, the library didn't seem to have squat for local maps, so I resorted to some Internet searches and found a couple of routes the Pinhoti Trail followed after Cave Spring.

My notes took me all the way into Rome, then back east towards Holland. An alternate route I found seemed to take me about halfway to Rome then northeast towards Holland.

And frankly, neither of those routes made sense nor appealed to me. They were all road walks, and by heading west then back east, it added an extra ten to twenty miles (MILES!!!) of road walk (ROAD WALK??!).

And I thought, "Screw that. I'm making up my own road walk."

I decided to continue following Highway 100 straight to Holland. It was a straight shot, through and through.

I knew this route would have a lot more traffic, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing in my opinion since it meant fewer uncontrolled dogs to worry about. Additionally, a particiularly nice benefit, it would cut a full 20 miles of road walk off my hike. My hiking notes led me in circles on country roads that would have required 40 miles to reach Holland, while by following Highway 100 instead, it was only about 20 miles away.

So I blew off the Pinhoti and went with my own road walk. I just hoped I could pick up the trail easily when I reached Holland.

The highway, naturally, had a lot of fast moving traffic, but it wasn't terribly bad. Perhaps one car every few minutes, on average, and during the entire day, only one dog tried to go after me and nearly got hit by a car as a result. After that, he just barked at me from the other side of the road, afraid to come any closer.

The one sketchy part of the hike involved a bridge crossing a substantial river. The bridge had absolutely no shoulder at all, built decades before, and was too long to cross between breaks in the traffic.

I did wait for a break in the traffic anyhow then started across. I saw a car pull onto 100 coming towards me, so I moved into the opposite lane of traffic. When he passed, a second car was coming up behind, so I crossed back into my original lane of traffic. I criss-crossed the road five times, literally dodging the vehicles in both directions like a wild game of chicken.

And it hit me--this dangerous bridge was probably the reason they routed the official Pinhoti Trail so far west--to cross a safer bridge across the river.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Georgia On My Mind....

I should mention a correction to one of my previous posts. I mentioned that the Pinhoti Trail used prints of a chicken's foot to mark the trail. I later found out they are prints of a turkey's foot. *slapping self* I have no excuse for the mistake except that I'm not an expert on reading animal tracks. =)

Now back to our adventuring hero, who hid out in the Oakley Shelter with two other thru-hikers (though neither of them started as far south as Key West!)

The morning brought rain and lots of it, and we huddled in our sleeping bags with no particular enthusiam for leaving the shelter.

The rain did start to slacken, and having written off reaching Cave Spring today, took my time getting ready to leave. While stuffing the last of the contents into my pack, I heard a terrific ripping sound, and stood agast at a one foot long tear along a seam of the extension collar of my pack.

Well, crap. I didn't have any sewing materials on me, and neither did Warren. Mortis had already left the shelter (though I later learned he had no needle or thread either).

My pack was practically empty since I had almost no food left, so I shoved most everything in my pack below the rip and rested my clothes bag on top to be held in place with the pack's top flap. I'd have to be VERY careful with my pack until I could get to Cave Spring to sew up the tear.

I wasn't on the trail until 10:00. I did get a few brief moments to use Warren's cell phone to surf Atlas Quest and read a couple of the comments about the April Fool's joke on Atlas Quest.

I was telling my shelter mates about the joke, and it was just killing me being out in the woods unable to see what was going on with this joke that had been months in the making, so it was enormously gratifying to read a small portion of the message board chatter right there from the shelter! I didn't want to run his batteries down or run up his cell phone bill, however, so I only scanned a handful of entries. Looks like it was quite a hit, though! =)

The rain had stopped by the time I hit the trail at 10:00, and there's not much to report. More of the same. Up hills, down hills. The weather warmed considerably, and climbing uphill would cause my shirt to be completely saturated with sweat. I literally would wring out the sweat and leave a wet spot on the trail that I can only imagine hikers behind me thought was pee. =) (But you know, in a way, knowing it's pure sweat is almost even more gross.)

Even in Florida I was never able to wring sweat out of my shirt.

I think the Pinhoti Trail has been spoiling me. When I crossed Highway 278, the trail--for the first time in about 100 miles--entered an area harvested for lumber. Dirt roads criss-crossed the trail, piles of branches and debris lay in clear cuts, and the blazes mysteriously stopped and were replaced with orange ribbons that I never quite trusted.

In a nutshell, I was finding myself hating the trail. But then I realized, "Hey, wait a minute. At least it's not a ROAD WALK through Crenshaw County!" After that thought, the trail seemed like paradise again. =)

Not to mention that the clouds blew off and it turned into a remarkably beautiful (if warm) sunny day.

Despite my late start, I still reached the Georgia state line near 6:00 in the afternoon (7:00 eastern, which is the time zone I just walked into as well). I took a few pictures of me at the sign marking the state line and the two flags for each of the two states that are separated at the line.

It was a more somber occasion than the Florida-Alabama state line. This one represented the final state. My time on the trail is almost done, and it will be done in just two more weeks. A time of happiness, but one of sorrow. An adventure at an end.

I set up camp about a half mile beyond the state line, cooking up the last of my dinners. I'll reach Cave Springs in the morning, and not a moment too soon as I figure the only food I'll have left when I arrive is some powdered milk and bean flakes. My food supply had never run so bare, but I'm not complaining. It just means that I carried absolutely nothing more than I absolutely had to.

In other news, as I type this now (9:30 eastern time), I hear something ruffling through the leaves just north of me. I can't see what it is, and when I call out to it, it seems to ignore me. Usually if it's a deer, it'll run like hunters are after it since often enough, hunters ARE after it. But whatever this creature is, it doesn't seemed concerned by me. I don't much like animals that don't have a healthy respect for people. =)

At least if it's a bear, I don't have any food left for it to eat. Well, there is one bowl of cereal left for the morning breakfast and a bag of M&Ms (peanuts with dark chocolate, if you must know) as a snack for the hike into Cave Springs, but a bear wouldn't know that! =)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Geocaching, Blowdowns, and Bob Saget

It did not rain all night, but when trying to go to sleep, random sharp pains shot through my foot. Like that time I hiked 31.5 miles in a day, but I only did about 23 miles this day and am in much better shape, so I'm not sure why my feet started giving me such trouble. I tried iburprofen, but it did not help, and I spend six hours unable to sleep due to the sharp pains in my foot. It felt like someone stabbing a needle into my foot every five minutes or so, and since I was alone, I'd often yell out in frustration. It was a long night.

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)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Anatomy of an M&M

One of the benefits of hiking 20 miles every day is that you can eat whatever you want, as much as you want, whenever you want... and you won't gain weight or worry about those flabby parts on your body. In fact, you'll often go out of your way to select the most calorie-laden foods you can find so you don't end up absolutely skelital like most thru-hikers end up anyhow.

On the AT, I lost about 30 pounds, and you'd have had a tough time finding so much as an ounce of fat on me. On this thru-hike, the transformation hasn't been nearly so dramatic. I think I've lost weight, but nowhere near the 30 pounds I lost on my last thru-hike.

There are probably several reasons for this, but a big one has been the relative abundance of convenience stores and towns along the way. I'm able to eat much more stuff than I could on the AT. And the trail, until recently, being more-or-less flat meant less energy required to go the same distance. That's at least partially negated by the fact that I hike more miles each day than when I was on the AT.

None of this really has a point, except that I try out all sorts of junk foods I'd never eat in 'real life.'

This hike, I've been fascinated by M&Ms. I've always known there were the regular milk chocolate ones and peanut M&Ms. They've been around for ages. Not being a big fan of peanuts, I always got the milk chocolate.

On the trail, however, I figured a peanut would give the candy at least *some* nutritional value, so I got a bag of peanut M&Ms and was shocked to discover that they're coated in milk chocolate as well! There's definitely a peanut in each one--I checked--and one lucky M&M actually had TWO peanuts (two of them!) in a single bite sized candy.

With all that cholocate that surrounds it, I can't say I can taste the peanut. Which is just as well since I'm not a big fan of peanuts anyhow.

So nowdays I like to buy the peanut variety of M&Ms. Tastes good, and I can pretend it's actually healthy.

But walking through the aisles, I'm astounded at the sheer variety of M&Ms that previously, I had no idea existed. I must try them all....

There's the almond M&M, designed much like the peanut M&M except with an almond instead of a peanut, and I figure almonds must have some nutritional content so I give them two thumbs up.

Then there's dark chocolate M&Ms. I heard recently that dark chocolate has antioxidents or something that, at least in moderation, could have beneficial health effects. And it tastes really good to boot.

But I had to give the dark chocolate M&Ms the thumbs down when I later learned there was a dark chocolate peanut M&M. Yes, dark chocolate AND a peanut. It's practically a meal in itself packed full of health.

Then there's the peanutbutter M&Ms, not to be confused with the peanut M&M. It doesn't pack as well as the hard core M&Ms, however. Many of them got crushed in my pack, but they do taste good. *nodding*

You'd think it would end there, but you'd be so wrong. For Valentines, they had bags of green M&Ms. (Regular and peanut, and I tried them both. Not convinced they're particularly effective, however.) They also had shades of reds and pinks, the more traditional Valentines Day colors.

St. Paddy's Day brought out more green M&Ms.

And more recently, I had chocolate covered cherry M&Ms, though I was sadly disappointed by that result. You'd think chocolate and cherries would have been a sure thing.

And did you know, that every bag of M&Ms has an even number of them? I like to eat mine two at a time, and I swear it NEVER comes out with an odd number, which is good, because then I'd be stuck eating just one lonely M&M.

I've become quite the M&M expert on this hike.

But back to your regularly scheduled programming....

During the night, the rain finally stopped. The morning was still wet, but at least the precipitation had stopped.

One of the worst things a hiker has to do in the morning is put on the cold, wet hiking clothes from the day before. It's a miserable thing to do, akin to pulling off the fingernails, but it must be done. Camp clothes must stay dry if they're to keep you alive on a cold night.

So off go the dry, warm clothes, deep into my pack, and on go the wet, cold hiking clothes. Yuck.

Then I hiked. I hiked and I hiked, but there's not much to report. (Thus, all that fluff about M&Ms.) I passed a shelter--and oh how I wished I could have used THAT the night before--which was adorably cute in front of a stream with a small waterfall. The registry in it told of woes of snow and cold. It was cold, but I did not have the problem of snow. Not yet, at least. It's still early enough in the season that I could get it in these mountains.

The trail was fairly easy with no serious inclines or rocks to deal with, and I pulled a relatively long day to reach the Laurel Hill shelter for the night.

I never saw the sun, hidden in all those clouds (I hope!), so worried the rain might return. It hasn't, but I'm happy to be under a shelter where if the rain starts during the night, I have a lot of room to stretch out in.

Here Comes the Rain Again....

Once again, I defied the odds and it didn't rain on me during the night. I knew scattered thunderstorms were in the weather forecast for the day, however, and the morning started off appropriately gloomy for a rain storm to sweep through.

I hiked a mile or two to a paved road, following it uphill a half mile to Cheaha State Park and the highest point in Alabama.

My main reason for the detour was to call Amanda and my mom and let them know my whereabouts (and the fact that the dreaded road walk was, at long last, over).

I also needed to resupply some snacks for the next few days, though I could have made do with the meals in my pack in a pinch.

I left my pack outside the camp store, not really expecting anyone to steal it (the thing reeks and there's nothing of particular value in it), but I'm always a bit leery of leaving it unattended anyhow and this time was no different.

So while walking through the camp store looking at their selection, I'd peek out the window on the door whenever I passed it to make sure my pack was still there which is when I first noticed a man who seemed to be checking it out. A little TOO closely.

He saw me through the window, and I nodded briefly, and assumed he was wondering if the pack had been abandoned. I let him know it hadn't, and I was still keeping an eye on it with the nod.

He came into the store almost immediately and asked if the pack was mine and who I was, explaining that he was T-back and thru-hiking the Eastern Continental Divide Trail from Key West to Newfoundland.

I knew exactly who he was, because I'd been following his registry entries for the last 1,500 miles! He's the thru-hiker I mentioned earlier in my blog entries that was a week ahead of me (as of the Florida/Alabama state line) and I wanted to catch up to but figured I never would since he was so far ahead of me.

Well, I caught up to him, though I hadn't wished on these particular circumstances. He explained he got caught in a rockslide nearby and was recooperating from it. He had called a taxi and was waiting for it when he noticed my pack.

He'll be getting off the trail for a couple of weeks to see if his back improves, but seems certain he'll no longer reach Canada. At least not this year, which if he has to take a couple of weeks off the trail, would definitely have been a challenge to pull off.

T-back went outside to wait for his cab, and I finished buying snacks, a replacement bottle of mouthwash, and a pack of quart-sized freezer ZipLocks.

While restocking my pack, T-back and I continued swapping war stories, and I was amused to learn that he had also followed the false orange blazes shortly before White Springs that I had.

He hadn't been bothered by the police on his walk, except for in the keys when trying to camp illegally. (I guess I was better at being stealthy than he was, but it did help that I'd set up camp in the dark.)

He theorized that perhaps my problems with the police were because I had a scruffy beard while he kept himself clean-shaven, and it's not a bad theory. People didn't think him as suspicious as myself and didn't call out the police on him. Maybe. We'll never know for sure, except that he hasn't had the problems I have with them.

His taxi arrived and whisked him away, and I put on the pack and hiked back down to the trail. I still planned to reach Springer Mountain in 18 days.

I didn't even consider going the extra bit to climb to THE highest peak in Alabama. I had miles to do, and as far as high points go, Alabama isn't really something I'd go bragging about being only about 2,400 feet above sea level.

The trail went downhill, not a big surprise considering most trails do that when you start at the highest point in the state.

It was, however, much more gradual going down than the steep climbs from the day before and I was making excellent time.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, however, I heard the first rumble of thunder. Rain, I knew, was close at hand. I dropped my pack and pigged out on snacks--may as well eat while I could because eating in the rain later would have been much more challenging--and drank down all the water I could.

Within the hour, I was walking through sheets of rain. It would start and stop, then start up again with varying intensities. At least I had most of the day in dry weather.

More pleasing was that the trail largely stayed off the ridges and tended to keep towards valleys and gaps where I felt less exposed to the lightning. That ridge line from the day before would have been absolutely hair raising had I been up there in this weather!

Despite the rain and my detour to Cheaha SP, I made it about 22 miles for the day, stopping just before the trail crossed I-20. I stopped relatively early at 5:30 for a couple of reasons.

One, I was sick of hiking in the rain. Two, I wanted to find a place to camp that was near water, in a valley, and at least a mile away from pesky roads. And when I saw the perfect location, I had to stop.

I set up my tarp in a drenching rain, and I can't think of any other time I had ever done that. I've taken down a tarp in the pouring rain, I've been under my tarp in a pouring rain, and I've set up the tarp on the wet ground immediately after a pouring rain, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember an instance where I set up the tarp while the rain came down in buckets. Always something new, I guess. =)

Normally I don't cook in the rain--it's usually a hassle--but I had a heck of a lot of dinners in my pack and wanted to lighten that load by one.

I picked the simplest dinner of them all--mashed potatoes. Quick and easy to make, and by far the easiest to clean up. I let the two cups of water boil just out from under my tarp since I didn't much care if my pot got wet in the rain (I'd have to clean it afterwards anyhow!)

I switched into my dry camp clothes, and enjoyed my nice, hot dinner--having some M&Ms for desert.

It's quite dark now. I type this now from under my tarp with the time approaching 8:00. The rain is coming down in buckets, though it had slowed down for much of the last hour. It's coming down HARD at the moment, though, with flashes from lightning lighting up the sky and thunder echoing through the valley.

I'm happy, though. I'm full, I'm dry, and as Eddie Rabit once said--I Love a Rainy Night, I love to hear the thunder and watch the lightning light up the sky....

But I do hope it stops by morning. *fingers crossed*

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It was a Tough Day

The rain stayed away all night, but I think the ants tried to short-sheet my sleeping bag.

The morning started surprisingly warm--perfect for thunderstorms, I assume--and the trail seemed it had something to prove. It wasn't a clear morning--the sun was nowhere to be seen, even by the time I got on the trail at 8:00.

Within minutes, the trail climbed steeply to a ridge line. It was an agonizing climb, seeming to gain more elevation than the last three months of hiking combined. I knew I'd be going into mountains over 2,000 feet high, but I had hoped for a gradual assent to break me in. I was now using muscles I hadn't used since my AT thru-hike of 2003.

Even the descents were demanding, over loose rocks covered with leaves. I had to walk carefully to insure I didn't sprain an ankle or loose my footing and plummet too fast downhill.

I finished drinking a liter of water within the first hour, and wondered if 5.5 liters would be enough. I probably could have gotten by, but fortunately, there were multiple springs along the way and I was able to fill up at a couple of them. They weren't gushers, to be sure, and some of them would have required serious work and patience to get a useable amount of water, but the complete darth of water over the next 30 miles turned out to be an exaggeration. Perhaps the springs dried out in the summer, but they were there now, for me, and that's what counted. =)

The trail rose and dropped multiple times, down to Clairmont Gap then Adams Gap.

In the Cheaha Wilderness, the trail climbed and climbed, seemingly without end, and I'd throw myself out on a rock, exhausted and sopping wet from sweat, cussing out the trail maintainers who chose such a strenuous route.

The views from the top, however, were magnificent! I could see for what seemed like a hundred miles in every direction.

But the pain. On the road walks, I had grown used to hiking speeds of as much as 3.5 MPH. On the Pinhoti, I'd often average half that amount. I had wanted to do 25 miles to the first shelter on the Pinhoti Trail, but I soon realized I wouldn't make it. It would be dark by the time I arrived. At best, I shouldn't expect more than 20 miles with this terrain.

The Cheaha Wilderness I had some concerns about, since my data book warned that the USFS had decided that a true wilderness experience meant no blazes or signage of any kind, but they must have had a change of heart (or perhaps too many lost hikers?) because the trail was well blazed and signs marked trail intersections the entire route.

Near the end of the day, I was torn. Should I walk into Cheaha State Park and try to find lodging? A restaurant and shower would have felt good after such a long day. But what if the lodging was full or more expensive than I wanted to pay?

Even with less than two hours of daylight remaining, I kept flip-flopping. Yes, I'd go. No, I wouldn't. Yes. No.

A mile or two before the park, however, I passed a small spring and a primitive campsite with a view that extended seemingly forever, and that settled it for me. Even if there was a room available, even if it was cheap, it would never have a view anywhere near as nice as this campsite.

I set up the tarp--it never did rain during the day, and the sun even made a brief appearance--but scattered thunderstorms were still in the forecast for the next day and I didn't want to take any chances.

I ultimately settled on a spot very close to a new plaque that had been installed proclaiming that the Pinhoti Trail, linking to the Appalachian Trail via the Benton McKaye Trail was officially done in 2008.

Which really got my attention. It was completed THIS year? I looked at the date of the dedication cermony--March 16, 2008. Amanda's birthday, and the day before I crossed the state line into Alabama. This plaque was only two weeks old!

Which was good, and bad. Good, that I knew there was an official FOOTpath between here and Springer Mountain, the whole distance.

Bad, because my data book was years out of date, and there had obviously been some reroutes and changes on the trail that I wouldn't know about until I got there. I don't like surprises, and I knew there would be some ahead.

I've started a countdown of my days left on the trail. As I type this, from my wonderful camp overlooking miles of countryside (and now that it's getting dark, I can see a city off in the distance towards the west, but I have no idea what the town is), I have 19 days left to April 16th. Just 19 more nights on the trail, and 19 more days of hiking.

Which means I must hike about 18 miles per day to make my date with Springer on time. It's doable, but I hope the terrain becomes easier because 18 miles like today will be VERY tough to do. I still need to go into town to resupply occasionally. Today I pulled off 21 miles, but it was completely exhausting and left no time for sightseeing.

But then, I am camped just a couple of miles from the highest point in Alabama, so hopefully today was the toughest section I'll have to face. (At least in Alabama.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Latest Progress Update

Hello, folks!

I am now making myself comfortable in the bustling little town of Dalton, GA.

I'm trying to slow down. Not sure how it happened, but I somehow ended up at a point where I need to average less than 15 miles of hiking per day to reach Springer Mountain on time, and I'm finding it VERY difficult to slow down! It's like my legs are programmed for 20 miles per day and they simply will not accept anything less.

Thus, I have decided to take a zero day here in Dalton. Oh, the fun I will have. The gluttony in restaurants, the libraries, and bookstores. A whole zero day to do anything I please.

I'm checked into a motel right off the I-75. I can see traffic running on it from my room at this very minute. Exciting, let me tell you! =)

And I have it under good authority that this is the same Interstate that runs direct to downtown Altanta (and way down to Alligator Alley in Florida where I first crossed the road so many months ago) which doesn't look terribly far away.

So, for anyone who'd rather meet and exchange with me in Dalton instead of Springer Mountain, THIS IS YOUR CHANCE!

Yes, folks, for anyone who's up for the drive to Dalton, I'll be happy to meet up with you. =) I'm thinking tomorrow night (Tuesday) would probably be better than tonight (more time to plan the drive out to here).

There's a Cracker Barrel right off the Interstate here (among many other choices), so I'm wondering--would anyone be up for a quick mini gathering at the Cracker Barrel at 7:00 tomorrow night? I'd make the time earlier, but I figured some of you Atlanta area folks probably work until 5:00 and would need time to drive out.

If so, let me know, and I'll station myself outside the restaurant by 7:00 Tuesday night. Just look for the homeless looking guy with the scruffy beard. =)

-- Ryan, with about 117 miles left to hike....

Attack of the Ants!

Before I arrived at the convenience store, I had decided to replace my busted 2 liter bottle with two 1.5 liter bottles. It would give me an extra liter for long, waterless stretches, and I rather like the 1.5 liter sizes.

But the convenience store didn't have 1.5 liter water bottles, so I ended up getting two 1 liter water bottles and a 1 liter bottle of Coke which I'd use for water just as soon as I finished drinking the Coke. I'd have bottles coming out of my ears, but ultimately, I'd be able to carry 5.5 liters of liquid if needed.

I got the ride back to the trail, touching the stop sign I had touched before walking down to the convenience store. Even when I leave the trail on foot and expect to return on foot, I like to touch an object JUST in case I end up scoring a ride back. Usually, I walk back and don't even bother touching it again. After all, I never stopped walking since I touched it the first time.

This time, however, since I got a ride back to the trail, I touched the stop sign and continued north on Hwy 77 to the Porter Gap trailhead and, as far as I'm concerned, the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail.

My road walk was finally over.

There was one water source 3.5 miles up the trail, supposedly the last one for 30 miles, so I figured I'd try to camp near it, use it for breakfast, and stock up with 5.5 liters of water.

The trail was wonderful, even if it was odd. The Pinhoti Trail, my data book warned, used five different types of blazes along its length. Or six if you include the wilderness section not blazed at all because the USFS thought blazes would spoil the 'wilderness experience.' Which makes you wonder, why even provide a trail at all? Not exactly natural either, but it seems absurd to create a trail then not mark or blaze it encouraging hikers to get lost--especially at confusing trail intersections.

The trail, it was decided a few years back, would eventually be blue blazed the whole way since most of the trail already had blue blazes. Which in itself is a strange choice of color since everywhere else a blue blazed trail is ususally short (like less than a mile) that leads to a water source, shelter, or is a shortcut.

It's a strange trail, and the bizarre blazing system is proof of the fact.

The Porter Gap trailhead was marked with blue blazes and diamond shaped markers, painted white with a black chicken print on it. Why chicken footprints? I don't know. Just to prove how bizarre the trail really is, I suppose.

But it was a trail, and a wonderful trail at that. It climbed high on a mountain top, with a view of a beautiful sunset in the making, and I yelled, "Now THIS is what I'm talking about!" into the air. I was positively exubberant.

I reached Chandler Springs, a small community of houses and roads and not at all where I wanted to camp.

While filling up all of my water bottles from a stream passing by, a truck stopped on the bridge over it. The driver got out, unzipped his pants, and urinated into the water.

At least I was filling up with water upstream from the bridge. *shaking head*

He then threw a bottle off the bridge and drove off. The litter angered me more than the peeing did, and I decided to hike at least a couple of more miles until just before sunset.

Which I did, and set up camp on a soft layer of pine needles.

The last couple of nights, ants have become a quite annoying. I check basic things when setting up a tarp such as not to set one up on an anthill, but if you look closely at the ground, you can see thousands of them absolutely everywhere. Without a safe place for the, I set up camp where it's most convenient, but I flick dozens of them off my gear every 15 minutes or so.

I know it probably doesn't do any good since dozens more come to take their place, and another several dozen seem to come by to pick up the carcasses of ants I killed. I'm not sure what they do when I go to sleep at night, but I imagine them crawling over my face or through my hair and, well, I tend to scratch a lot. Probably nothing more than an overactive imagination, but the next morning, I'll wake up and spend the first ten minutes flicking what seems like hundreds of ants of my gear.

Quite the problem they've become, and I'm not sure there's anything I can do to protect myself against their onslaught except carry a fully enclosed tent.

I set up the tarp particularly steady this night. The last weather report I heard predicted isolated thunderstorms the next day, and if it started raining overnight, I wanted to be prepared.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

An Update on My Progess....

As most of you realize, due to my limited access to pay phones, my blog entries are rarely posted immediately after I type them. Sometimes a couple of days have elapsed, and sometimes as much as a week has elapsed.

But I rarely post my current position since it would require editing an entry from possibily days ago which then causes my blog posts to show up out of order on my PocketMail device. So to keep things simple (for me), I don't edit old entries.

However, I know there are a number of you wanting to drive out to Springer Mountain for my grand finale, and those folks are probably wondering--is he really going to make it on April 16th?

Late yesterday afternoon, I crossed the Georgia state line and figure I have roughly 250 miles left to hike and 14 days to do it. Can it be done? Absolutely! Can I miss my date with Springer?

It's... possible. If I have to take a zero day due to bad weather (snow, for instance) or a twisted ankle slows me down, it is possible I could miss that date. The next week or so I'm going to try to bank a lot of long days to get the average number of miles per day I have to do down to 15--without even including summit day. I figure I can summit early in the morning if I have no need to use my banked miles, or late in the day if I need the extra time.

I'm posting this message from Cave Springs, Georgia. I hope to camp very near Springer Mountain on the night of April 15th--or maybe even on it--then hike down to Amicalola Falls on the 16th.

I can't make any guarantees at this point, but it's very doable--I figure the likihood of making it well above 90% at this point--and that's my goal.

So that's the current state of my hike, and because I'm posting this as a new message, it isn't messing up the order of the blog posts I already have lined up to go. ;o)

To the Pinhoti!

I hadn't realized it when I set up camp, but less than quarter mile further up the road, the forest is gone and houses and grazing land spread out before me. Oh, I could have stealth camped if necessary, but for the next 20 or so miles, I wouldn't have found a campsite anywhere near as wonderful as up in the mountains near Flagg Mountain. I had stopped not a moment too soon!

Alabama seems like a friendly place the further north I go, and even some dogs started becoming friendly! One house I passed, at the intersection with CR 55, I think it was, and two dogs came running out at me. The strange thing was--neither of them were barking. Instead, they were wagging their tails in apparent excitement. They sniffed around me and must have decided I was a pretty fine fellow because then they started following me down the road.

Alas, I wasn't looking to adopt two dogs--especially since they already had owners. (Not very good ones, however, letting them run loose like they were.) The one dog stopped after less than a quarter mile, not wanting to get too far away from home.

The other dog kept following me for quite a ways and I started growing concerned it was getting too far away from home to find its way back. I tried shooing it way and waving my trekking pole around, and it just stared at me like I was crazy.

Finally I threw a few rocks at it--not hard, and I wasn't aiming for the dog itself. I just wanted to scare it back into going home.

I'm not sure where the dog went after that--the last I saw of him he was watching me walk down the road. He wasn't headed back home, but he wasn't following me anymore either. I hoped he went back home after I left his field of view.

And then an older fellow stopped to ask if I needed a ride--again, no strings attached!--and Alabama was well on its way towards redeeming itself.

And just before I reached Stewartville, a police officer drove by and didn't even stop to question me! He waved as he drove by, and I happily waved back. =)

The road was, however, was still a road walk and not particularly enjoyable. I couldn't wait for the road walking to end, and the end was ever so close.....

In the town of Stewartville, a couple of locals quizzed me about my hike, amazed I had walked in from Key West. It was a good place for me to pig out for lunch and resupply snacks before I continued the hike.

The trail continued to follow roads, through the town of Hollins, and finally followed a dirt road into the Hollins WMA. Although, technically speaking, I was still on a road, I felt enormous relief at being on a little used dirt road. It's the next best thing to an actual trail.

Just as the trail passed a Christmas tree farm, I felt a wetness seeping onto my back and butt. Uh-oh.

I dropped the pack and pulled out the 2 liter bottle of Coke, now filled (partially) with water. It was leaking. Apparently, it had undergone too many compressions and expansions over the last four days, and now the bottle had a small hole in it near the top.

The bottle was about half full with water, and I guzzled some of it down. Better to drink it than to lose it forever! Then I carried the bottle a couple more miles until I set up camp near the side of the road. I figured I'd use up the water that was left in it to make dinner (Hamburger Helper).

A couple of cars did drive by during the night, but it was a relatively good night of sleeping. Not as cushy as the night before, but good.

My goal for the day was to reach the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail and end my road walking days for good. An honest-to-goodness trail! Finally! I was looking forward to it.

My data book, however, warned that the first 30 miles or so of the Pinhoti Trail didn't have water sources available, and I had just lost nearly half my water carrying capacity when my 2 liter bottle sprung a leak. I needed a convenience store.

There was one, about a mile before the junction with the Pinhoti Trail, but unfortunately, it was 1.4 miles off the trail. I hadn't planned to stop there--nearly three miles of off-trail hiking for a convenience store wasn't something I liked to do.

But I needed more water carrying capacity, so it had to be done.

I followed the trail about five miles--first getting back onto a busy paved road, then on an even busier paved road, before veering north onto a dirt road largely following the ridgeline over Rebecca Mountain.

And it wasn't just any dirt road--this was a high-clearance, 4WD dirt road that hadn't looked used for at least a week. I'd get a lot of solitude on this particular road, and I was finally in the mountains where I belonged.

Immediately, I started noticing blue blazes in the area. I saw a double blaze on a pole immediately after the turn for my dirt road, and as I ascended Rebecca Mountain, I noticed it often seemingly to parallel the road.

My data book said they planned to extend the Pinhoti Trail south to this point (and eventually beyond), which was to be marked with blue blazes, and I assumed this was the route.

But none of the data I had suggested the route was complete or open, so I stuck to the road.

The weather was warm, but I thoroughly enjoyed following the ridge top. Occasional views would peek through the largely leafless trees. Large bolders could be around laying around--the first serious rocks I'd seen in eons that were natural. It felt like the Appalachians!

I spotted a fire tower a couple of miles away and decided I'd hike the 0.2 miles off trail to go to it and enjoy the view from the top. Oh, how disappointed I was to hike off trail to it only to see a chainlink fence with barbwire on top surrounding it. No hike for the top for me. And that was the only reason I had gone off trail.

Even had I been able to scale the fence, the first 15 feet or so of the staircase was gone and inaccessible. Foiled at every turn.

I hiked back to the trail, sad with my results at the fire tower.

I finished my hike along Rebecca Mountain, and followed Hwy 77 south 1.4 miles to a convenience store.

Since I was already there, of course, I picked up all sorts of wonderful junk such as ice cream and powdered donuts. I also bought a ham and cheese sandwich, figuring I'd make a dinner out of it. With my long detour to the convenience store, I wouldn't have nearly the time to cook a dinner like I originally wanted to.

I chatted with the two ladies tending the store, one of whom was absolutely fascinated with my hike, and without even yogying, she offered me a ride back to the trailhead.

WOW! Not just someone offering me a ride, but this time, it was an offer I could accept! I wouldn't have to walk the 1.4 miles back to the trail!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Flight to Flagg Mountain

Flagg Mountain, according to my sources, is the first 1000' peak I'd reach. In Florida, I never even reached half that height, but I was looking forward to Flagg Mountain.

For one, I knew it was legal to camp up there. I called Pete, listed on my Alabama Trail directions, who was very annoyed with hikers calling him for permission to camp on Flagg Mountain. He didn't know how the hiker community got his number or why they felt they had to call him for permission. I apologized about that, and told him I'd contact the Alabama Hiking Society and ask them to take his contact information off.

Try to do the right thing and look what happens. =) He did explain that anyone who camped up there had to have a multi-million dollar insurance policy or something in case something went wrong, but that the Alabama Hiking Society already had that which applied to all of their members so anyone who was a member of the Alabama Hiking Society could camp up there without any additional permission.

He seemed to imply that what he didn't know didn't hurt him, and if I weren't a member, he'd rather not know. =)

Which was good to know, because technically speaking, I never signed up to become a member. While it was legal to camp on Flagg Mountain, as it turned out, it was not legal for ME to camp on Flagg Mountain.

No problem, though, I'd hide in the woods and nobody would be none the wiser.

So I was looking forward to Flagg Mountain. A genuine mountain. Not a hill or a speedbump, but a real mountain. Where cypress swamps do not exist, and it's still too cold for mosquitoes to thrive. Darned near paradise.

North of Kelly's Crossroads, I met up with my scariest dog encounter yet. A pack of nine dogs (NINE of them!) came at me from a home. The sheer number of them would have scared any sensible person.

I scrambled up an embankment on the opposite side of the road. The road cut through a small hill, leaving a small cliff of sorts on the one side, and I intended to make use of the extra height and steep cliff to protect myself.

One dog tried to follow me up, but I yelled at it to get down while waving my trekking pole menicling, and he backed down.

From the top, I could hold my ground. The dogs barked and sat down in the street, waiting for me to come back down. We had reached a draw.

It was during this time I could pause long enough to count the number of dogs I had after me. I had known at a glance there were a lot of them, but in the scramble up the cliff, I didn't have time to count. I also took pictures of them, though I was only able to get, at most, seven of the dogs in any one photo.

I thrashed through thorn bushes along the edge of the cliff, hoping to reach the other side of the house without having to get back down to street level.

And it worked, to an extent. I got scraped up in thorns, but better than mauled by a pack of dogs.

The cliff went down as the hill reached street level, and a few of the dogs started to approach me again. When I finally reached the street, one dog continued to close the gap between us, and I grabbed a hefty rock off the ground.

Then I hurled it, as hard as I could, directly at the dog. As soon as the dog realized I was about to throw the rock, he immediately started running back towards his house and I knew I'd probably miss. I didn't care, though, I wanted that dog to feel the pain of getting too close to strangers.

The dog had probably gotten about 20 feet away from me by the time the rock was hurled, and I missed the bugger by perhaps five inches. Very close, but damn, it felt good watching that dog run AWAY from me as if his life depended on it.

None of the other dogs tried to approach me after that, and the one that ran from me kept on running. I was safe. I picked up another rock, though. Just in case it would come in handy....

I continued following the directions to Flagg Mountain. Turned left on CR 16.

But then I missed a turn. I should have turned right on a dirt road named CCC Camp Road or something like that. Totally missed it and didn't realize my mistake until a half hour later. I assumed I was looking for a paved road and had completely missed the dirt road.

Shoot! Now what? Backtrack? Continue on a different dirt road and bypass Flagg Mountain, catching up with the trail on the other side?

I decided to go forward. Heck, I knew it was illegal for me to camp at Flagg Mountain, so I'd find a place on the county road paralleling just to the west of the CCC Camp road.

The county road became dirt, crossing over the ridge that included Flagg Mountain. In fact, I could see the top of Flagg Mountain perhaps a mile to the east. But I missed it.

I had another two hours of daylight left, but decided to camp for the night near the top of the ridge. It was a wonderful place to camp. The dirt road appeared to rarely be used, and I found a cozy flat spot on a bed of pine needles. I figured once the road went back down the other side of the ridge, there would be civilization. More people, more cars, and harder to stealth camp.

Nope, I was having none of that. I wanted my solitude up in the mountains, and that's where I camped.

Quitting so early in the day, I made an elaborate dinner of burritos and inventoried every last item in my pack for those of you wanting to know what I carried.

And I was in the mountains! I could see miles from my vantage point, and I loved it. For the first time, I felt like I was in the Appalachians.

I even spotted a shooting star while going to sleep. Wonderful. Just wonderful. It was my favorite campsite (so far!) in Alabama. I never made it to Flagg Mountain, but I felt like I did pretty well for myself.