Thursday, April 3, 2008

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!


Anonymous said...

Hey, Ryan! Glad you are enjoying some good trail magic.

Yesterday I took the kids letterboxing through a particularly muddy trail--the kind that sucks the boots off your feet--and we pretended we were Ryan hiking through the Swamp Tromp!

Have you ever thought of making up a Trivia Contest about your hike? Things like "What is Ryan's favorite thing to sleep on when stealth camping?" or "What is the largest number of ferocious dogs to chase Ryan at the same time?"

Good job on the April Fool's gag, too. I was unsure enough to have to wait and see. --Laughing Gravy, Centralia WA

Anonymous said...

Whew! I hold my breath everytime I open a post from your time in Alabama. I fear that one of my fellow residents will have done something vile to make us all look bad! Glad you ran into some friendly folks before heading into GA! Sadly, people are often eager to lump every one who lives in a certain state or city together based on the bad behavior of a few. Hopefully you had enough positive encounters to make up for those first few rough days!!


Peas on Earth said...

"Alabama seems like a friendly place the further north I go."

Whew! That's a relief, as I am originally from Huntsville - just about as far north as you can go! :-)

Keep on keeping on!