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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 90: Saturday August 2, 2008

Our adventuring hero has anything but a pleasant start on the 200 miles of road walking known simply as the Alabama Trail.

March 19

The Alabama Trail runs exclusively along roads, mostly through rural areas, passing many farms along the way

Walking from one state to another, you usually won't see any obvious changes. The forest on one side of the state line looks the same on the other side.

But it didn't take more than a few days until I started thinking I had it good in Florida.

I should warn you—there is some disturbing stuff coming up. Kids, stop reading now. Really.

It started last night. I walked to a nearby convenience store to give my mom a call and update her on my progress. Amanda's cell phone didn't work in Andalusia and neither did the phone in our hotel room, so I walked off to use a nearby pay phone.

While talking to my mom, a car pulled up nearby and I asked the guy driving it if he needed to use the phone as well, but he shook his cell phone and said he'd try using that first. No problem, and I continued talking to my mom.

I saw the guy talking on his cell phone, so I figured he wouldn't need the pay phone and didn't cut the conversation with my mom short.

After we said our goodbyes, I told the guy he could use the pay phone, just in case he decided he needed it after all, but he seemed rather chatty asking where I was from.

The man looked about 30 years old, clean-shaven, but his car was filled with boxes and junk which made me think he lived out of it. He seemed short, though he was sitting down so it's hard to be sure, and significantly overweight. Nothing particularly scary-looking about the guy, though, so I humored him and told him about my hike.

Then he pointed down to his leg saying he what he really needed was a bathroom because he had wet himself, and sure enough, there was a puddle of liquid by his foot. Eeeewwww!

"Ah, well...." I said. "I guess you didn't quite make it in time, huh?"

Eeeeewwwww! Why did he have to tell me this?

Oh, if only it stopped there....

Then he said, "Hey, your kind of cute. You want to have sex?"


"No!" and I immediately turned around and left.

He drove out of the parking lot, telling me out his window that that was a shame, because I was really cute then drove off into Andalusia.

Ewwww! I went back to the hotel and told Amanda what happened, and she was as grossed out as I was.

The next morning, Amanda was gone and I was on my own again. The rain had started up, so I lingered and delayed leaving as long as possible, seriously wanting to take the whole day off and stay dry in the room. But I needed to get miles on, so I packed up and headed out into the rain.

My directions took me through downtown Andalusia, and by the hiker headquarters for the area, but the building looked vacant and had no signage. I tried the door anyhow, hoping to get out of the rain for a bit and perhaps get more information about the trail ahead, but the door was locked. I continued on. (I would later realize that my hiker notes were woefully out of date and the headquarters moved to Montgomery years before.)

The storm eventually passed through and the sun started peeking out and I started drying out. After a couple of hours, though, the bottom of my pack and my butt seemed surprisingly wet—the rest of my pack and myself had completely dried, but my pack was positively dripping with water. Even worse, the water dripping onto my butt made it look like I wet MY pants! Eeewwww!

I took off my pack and pulled out my Platypus—the only source of water in my pack—and found it leaking. Drats. I emptied what water was left in it to my empty water bottles.

I finished the day camped under the Conecuh River Bridge. I got there early enough so I could find an alternative place to camp if I didn't like the conditions under the bridge—I learned THAT lesson!—but it looked quite acceptable and I set up camp just short of the town of Dozier.

March 20

I always wondered where Old MacDonald's Farm was located.....

The next day was clear and sunny, and I was making good progress on the road walks. A bit after noon, a man in an SUV pulled up asking what I was doing. Not THAT unusual, and the man didn't seem threatening. Probably 50 or so. So I told him about my hike.

"You want to...."

I didn't quite catch what he said, kind of mumbling.

"What?" I asked.

"Do you want a blow job?"

What the hell is wrong with this state?!

"I'd rather choke on my own vomit."

And without even saying goodbye, continued walking up the road. He drove off to destinations unknown.

I was stunned—propositioned TWICE in three days.

An hour or so before sunset, a police car stopped behind me and two officers got out. They looked like high school students in costumes, really, and one had a terrible acne problem. Were they even old enough to drink?

They asked the usual questions—what was I doing, did I have ID, blah, blah. They went back in their car to run my ID while I waited outside for the 'clear to go' verdict.

I was rather surprised at the result, though. They asked if they could drive me to the county line! They said they couldn't MAKE me go since I wasn't wanted for anything and wasn't doing anything illegal, but people who saw me walking down the road kept calling the police and they wanted to get me out of the county to get the calls to stop.

TWF?! What ever happened to Southern Hospitality? I've never felt so unwelcomed in my life. I told the officers I'd rather not—the point was to WALK from Key West to Springer Mountain, and they finally left to let me continue my walk.

I could not get out of Crenshaw County fast enough.

I camped in some woods just off the road near Centenary. Fearing creepy people and police alike, I did not set up a tarp so there would be less to see of me from the road, and refused to use my headlamp so as not to draw attention from passing cars with the light. I was absolutely determined to get out of the county the next day if it killed me.

And I spent the night just thinking, "I'm really, really beginning to hate Alabama." And what about those home-cooked Alabama dinners that the welcome kiosk at the state line suggested? No, I'm hiding out, scared to set up a tarp or use my headlamp in fear of attracting too much attention to myself. *shaking head*

I slept surprisingly well despite the ever threat of perverts, police officers, and cars driving by. I woke up at daybreak and started hiking particularly early, determined to reach the Crenshaw county line on my own two feet.

March 21

The first couple hundred miles of Alabama are not what one call beautiful or fun. It's pure road walking, which is undoubtably the most dangerous hiking there is.

The part that scares me more than anything, however, isn't the cars or perverts or axe murderers or muggers (I haven't even seen those last two, but I'm sure they're out there). It's dogs.

Especially on country roads where owners feel their dogs don't need to be kept on leashes or enclosed in a fenced yard. Most days, there are probably anywhere from five to ten dogs that rush out into the street, barking and looking dangerous.

It's so bad, I often consider where I might run for protection before I even see any dogs. I'll see a good, solid fence and think, "Hey, that would make a good place to climb up to escape any dogs that might think about attacking me."

I look for places that give me a height advantage, figuring dogs would have a tougher time getting me when I'm several feet off the ground. I also look for places that have a single entrance or exist—usually a fence with the door wide open—thinking it would be harder for a pack of dogs to surround me.

When I pass by houses on these rural country roads, I often carry my trekking pole instead of walking with it like intended so it won't make that 'click click click' sound every time the tip hits the ground. If I do use it, I'll make sure the tips hit the dirt or grass on the shoulder of the road where it won't make as much noise.

Basically, I try to sneak through neighborhoods so dogs don't hear me.

It's not usually effective—usually dogs will see or hear me when I get close enough—but it gives me more time to look for terrain to defend myself and sometimes I've heard dogs rushing into the street barking at me after I already walked a quarter-mile past them.

Little dogs generally don't worry me since I figure I can fend them off fairly easily. Big dogs with large teeth worry me the most. They look like they could snap my neck like a twig.

Gangs of large dogs scare me the most. When you're surrounded by four very large dogs that are close enough to see the color of their teeth, it really gets the adrenaline pumping.

The trekking pole is wonderful for at least giving me a sense of having something to protect myself with. I'll point it at dogs, yelling at them to stay back, and they seem to understand that the trekking pole can be used as a weapon because they'll back up a bit whenever I swing it in their direction.

Fortunately, no dogs have yet tried to attack me. Just a lot of scary moments where I wondered if this would be the time they finally attacked. I figure if one does attack, the trekking pole should be used as a lance rather than a club.

My natural tendency is to want to club them, using both hands to whack them hard with the trekking pole, but the poles are lightweight and hollow inside so I figure they'll likely snap if I used them as a club. Anyhow, it would spread out the point of impact along the length of the pole.

No, I figure using it as a lance would be more effective. I've worn the tip down so it's rounded, but it's still a small rounded point that I have little doubt could pierce quite deeply into the dog. The poles are designed to take weight lengthwise, so I could put a lot of power into the thrust without breaking it.

I'd probably try to pierce the body since it would be a big target. An eye or something would probably be very effective in getting the dog to retreat, but those are pretty small to hit. I figure trying to nail it hard in the body would be my best bet.

More than once, I wish I took a page out of Snap's playbook and carried mace. Don't mess with Snap. He does carry bear mace, but he carries it specifically to protect himself from dogs. If I ever had to thru-hike this trail again, I'd carry mace—and I recommend that everyone who hikes this trail do the same. People rarely are out to attack or kill you, but there will be dogs you'll want it for.

It's kind of sad, plotting how best to protect myself from loose dogs and plotting how best to hurt or kill one that tries to attack. It's not something I ever spent much time thinking about before, but it's a vital survival tool on road walks.

And every time one of those dogs runs out into the street after me, a small part of me wishes a car would come by and hit them. It would serve the owner of the dog right for not keeping their dog under control, and perhaps in the future they'll be more responsible.

So I hiked, wishing the road walk would end and wondering why I wanted to hike to Springer Mountain in the first place. If I had stopped at Pensacola, I thought, I'd already be home.

Not much happened to report this particular day. No police or perverts stopped to talk to me, and I pushed through to somewhere near the county line another 20+ miles up the trail, a mile or so before the town of Bethlehem.

I stopped, I think, just barely short of the county line. The trail went onto a dirt road—one of the few places where the trail became dirt—which seemed rarely traveled and largely unpopulated. I figured it would make an ideal location to stop for the night.

I found an overgrown road leading off the main road, and followed it optimistically. If other cars weren't even using this road anymore, I would certainly have the place to myself.

It led to an abandoned house, mostly collapsed, and I set up camp on the far side of it. I didn't want to be too close to the house—the remains are probably home to rats, snakes, and all sorts of vermin I'd rather avoid—so I camped a good hundred or more feet away.

It was a wonderful location, padded with pine needles. I was so far off the main road, I didn't even worry about my headlamp giving my location away—assuming anyone drove down the road in the first place.

For the first time since leaving Andalusia, I felt like I could relax and not worry about the 'human problems' that plague road walks.

I read Daddy's Girl for the rest of the night, happy to engross myself in a novel for the first time in months. I finished the book near 10:00 in the evening before finally going to sleep. The campsite was a much needed break for me.

March 22

The orange signs warn cars that a bridge is out ahead and therefore the road cannot be passed. Unfortunately for me, this is the Alabama Trail, and it meant I would not be able to cross either. (It was a very large river crossing.) So I pulled out my trusty maps and figured out a detour.

I woke up, refreshed and ready to go. I figured to reach Montgomery this day, which I was excited about. A large city meant busy roads, and busy roads meant owners tended to be more responsible with their dogs and kept them on leashes or enclosed. It meant more people would likely be walking, and less likely I'd be stopped by the cops for acting suspiciously. How sad is it when just *walking* down a street is thought to be 'suspicious' activity?

Frankly, I wanted out of the country. I was sick of it.

But I did have a good 20 miles into town, along those dreaded country roads. I didn't go more than a mile before I passed the first dogs that jumped up and ran towards me barking. Not under their owner's control, and I shouted at the dogs to stay back as I waved my trekking pole around.

This time, the owner was there, telling their dogs to come back, but the dogs didn't listen. They kept coming towards me, and I found myself annoyed that the owner didn't even have the engery to go after their dogs—just shouting from their porch to come back as if that's all that was expected of them.

Dumbass. The stresses from the day before returned in full swing.

The trail entered Montgomery on Norman Bridge Road, but when I went to follow it, big orange signs warned that the road was closed 1000 feet ahead.

I found this array of 'helpful' signs rather amusing, figuring most people who used it probably drove past before they had time to find the particular route they were interested in! (I turned right, in case you were wondering.)

Which led me to wonder—is it closed to car traffic, or ALL traffic? I didn't know. I did know, however, that the road was supposed to cross a large river on a long bridge, and if it was the bridge that was out, then walking across would not work.

So I decided to follow the main road into town then follow a bypass road east back to the trail and the Diplomat Inn.

Sounds nice, don't you think? I knew it was cheap—the prices listed in my directions were cheap, and that's what I was looking for. Cheap.

I check into the motel, room 109, and relaxed in my own private sanctuary.

I did venture out once that night, across the street to Rite Aid, where I picked up snacks for dinner, a 2 liter bottle of Coke, and milk for the next morning. (The room had a mini fridge.)

The 2 liter bottle of Coke—no, I wasn't THAT thirsty. But rather, I was looking to replace my Platypus. Not knowing where I could replace it, or even if I could since Easter Sunday was the next morning, I jumped into plan B.

While thru-hiking the AT, I met a hiker who used 2 liter bottles for water swearing the end fit the grooves on the Platypus. He didn't want to pay for the Platypus bladder, so he used 2 liter bottles of soda instead.

Without access to a bladder, I would try the 2 liter bottle trick myself.

So I spent the night trying to drink two liters of Coke. I failed miserably, only finishing half the bottle before the end of the night.

March 23

This is the first White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis lived for his first few months as president.

The next morning, I poured the rest of its contents down the sink and rinsed it out with water a couple of times before filling it completely with water.

Now was the time of truth. How well would it connect to the Platypus's hose?

I screwed it on, seemingly securely, then squeezed the bottle and water oozed out between the threads.

That didn't work. I was disappointed—screwing in the bottle seemed like such a good fit. I examined the fit, jiggling the connection around trying to figure out the problem, but to no avail. It seemed like a good fit, until you squeezed the bottle.

Finally, mostly in frustration, I screwed the bottle in as tightly as I possibly could, until my hands ached, then squeezed the bottle. And nothing happened. No water leaked! Wooo-who!

I packed everything into my pack, carefully waterproofing everything in bags in case the seal didn't hold up the whole day, and hit the streets of Montgomery.

I picked a particularly lousy day to walk through Montgomery. I didn't plan for it to happen, but it was Easter Sunday. Darned near everything would be closed—except churches, of course.

This area isn't called the Bible Belt for nothing, either. I can't count the number of churches I passed along the way and half felt like I'd already read an entire sermon reading those witty comments welcoming church members.

The First Capitol of the Confederacy, and the current statehouse for Alabama.

And it always amused me that every church, no matter how small, always includes who the pastor is. It's not like I recognize any of their names. They aren't celebrities or anything, so why does the pastor's name need to be out there?

Not that it's hurting anything, but I just think it's odd. It's such a universal thing, you'd think there was a law requiring it.

In any case, for me, it meant nothing would be open. The trail was to pass by an outfitters—where I could replace the Platypus and my pack, but it was closed. I wanted to buy topo maps of the trail ahead, but that didn't work out.

I wanted to buy new shoes. The ones I wore had traveled about 450 miles and were reaching their life expectancy, but shoe stores were closed.

Flowers outside of the capitol building in the shape of a star

I also wanted to explore the city of Montgomery. I read that guided tours were available for the capital, where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederate States of America. Montgomery was the first capitol of the confederates, and the house Jeff Davis lived in was there as well.

But they were all closed. It was Sunday, and not just any Sunday, but Easter Sunday. Some stores seemed to put up two closed signs to emphasis this point.

I did stop at the capital to take pictures, and photographed the exterior of Jeff Davis's old home. I read plaques throughout the city, and not once did a dog try to attack. All-in-all, it was a nice hike through downtown Montgomery.

I stopped at a Sonics for lunch—praise corporate America for making a buck, even on Easter Sunday—and tried getting into the Eastdale Mall hoping the shopping mall might be open, but it was not.

An anchor store, however, was open. A saw a bunch of cars parked outside of Sears and knowing they did have a shoe department, went in with my fingers crossed.

It was a long shot, I knew. Sears isn't known for their wide selection of shoes, and those that they have probably aren't as cheap as I'd like. But I was desperate and figured I may as well check, so in I went.

The selection was awful and the prices outrageous, but then I found a clearance shelf with reasonably priced shoes (but even more awful selections).

But shock of shocks, there was a pair with my size on it. Even more surprising, they were sneakers!

I tried them on, liked the fit, and bought them for $25 plus tax. Woo-who!

I rather liked this display of flags, one from each of the 50 states in the Union, and at their base was rock from the state carved with the state name. It seemed like a strangely unifying (but good!) display for a city that was the first capitol of the Confederacy and where the civil rights movement started.

I dumped my old shoes in a trash can and wore the new ones out of the store before continuing on the trail towards Wetumpka.

For the night, I planned to stay in another motel. It avoids the whole issue of trying to find a place to stealth camp in such a populated location, though I certainly could have done so if I wanted.

But I wanted a cheap hotel, so I planned to hoof it to the Wetumpka Inn in, where else?, the town of Wetumpka just north of Montgomery.

I also made my plans known to the locals in Birmingham since it would likely be the easiest and closest location for them to meet me for those who were interested.

But so far, I hadn't heard back definitively from anyone. But I did let it be known that I planned to stay at the Wetumpka Inn and planned to arrive at some point before sunset.

The trail follows the main highway between Montgomery and Wetumpka, with all sorts of gas stations and convenience stores along the way. And I stopped at one to check my e-mail, which included a short message from Galaxy 4 saying they were on their way!

I called Mona, the one who left me the message, to let her know exactly where on the trail I was at and my expected arrival time for the motel, assuming she didn't kidnap me off the trail before then. I figured to arrive at the motel near sunset without any intervention, and if she couldn't find me on the trail, she'd wait for me there.

I was rather excited about the prospect of meeting real Alabamians who weren't perverts (presumably) or policemen. People to talk to!

About an hour later, a mini van full of people and two dogs honked, pulled a U-turn, and introduced themselves as the Galaxy 4.

I touch a nearby mailbox to mark my location, then jumped in the van for a ride to my motel. I planned to check in, drop off a bunch of weight from my pack, then slackpack the rest of the way to the motel.

It was on the way to the motel I learned another family had come out to meet me—Wild Dreams—and they were already at the motel. According to Mona, they could see the cockroaches already. =) I hoped that was a joke about the cheapness of the hotel rather than it really being infested with bugs.

At the motel, I checked in—alas, there were no non-smoking rooms in the motel. I asked for the room that smelled the least like smoke, and ended up with room #2.

I emptied my pack of most of the heavy stuff, then headed back to the parking lot with Galaxy 4 and Wild Dreams.

Being Easter, the only restaurants that we knew would be open were fast food, so we headed to McDonalds for dinner. There we did exchanges and entertained each other with stories.

My hotel had a view of this woman's prison across the street. =)

I thought it most amusing that Galaxy 4 called up Wild Dreams at the last minute, "Hey, you want to go to Wetumpka?"

There's nothing in Wetumpka. There's no reason to go to Wetumpka. Unless you're a female convict on death row, apparently, as Galaxy 4 told me the prison holding them was within view of my motel. =)

So being invited to go to Wetumpka would leave you scratching your head, "And WHY would I want to do that?"

But they came anyhow, and I had all sorts of nice people to talk to. =) At least for a couple of hours.

Near the end of dinner, the men decided it would be fun to walk with me from where I was picked up to the motel—about five miles. I was absolutely thrilled at the idea of having company for five miles of my hike. I thought they were nuts—it was a boring old road walk, and at this point, it would be quite dark by the time we finished.

But they liked the idea and I had no intention of talking them out of it. We all went to the point where I got off the trail. I touched the black mailbox to continue my journey while the girls took both vehicles and left. One van would be left at the motel for the men to pick up and drive home while the women drove back with the second van.

And the three of us walked five miles back to the motel. Oh, it was fun, and the time passed very quickly. Easter turned out to be a pretty good day. At one point, we saw a police car pull out near us and we thought maybe he would stop to check us all out—wouldn't that be fun to explain!—but he ignored us and we made it to the motel without any new or harrowing experiences.

They really seemed to enjoy the hike as well, even if it were just a boring old road walk. It was sad to see them go, and I couldn't help but think, "Now THAT'S what I call Southern Hospitality!"

March 24

From this angle, you can see a guard tower for the prison.

The next morning, I woke up and hit the trail, passing directly by the women's prison. Didn't see any inmates, but it did leave me wondering if the powers that be deliberately routed this trail through the worst places they could find.

The trail turned off the busy four lane highway onto a county road after several miles, and within five minutes, the first of the dogs jumped out and started going after me. *ugh*

Not much happened the rest of the day. More dogs chased after me, and in the mid-afternoon, a couple stopped to ask if I needed a ride anywhere. I was gratified at the offer, even if I couldn't accept it. It was the first time someone stopped to offer me a ride (without strings attached!) since arriving in Florida. It was nice to be meeting some nice people for a change.

At the end of the day, I camped in some woods a couple of miles south of Kellys Crossroads. The location turned out to be perfect, off a rarely used road a quarter mile from the nearest house. A small berm completely hid my camp from the road, and I rested well.

March 25

There were occasionally interesting things to see along the hike....

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 menacingly, 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.

I scrambled up an embankment to avoid these dogs running loose. There were nine of them in total (but was only able to fit these six into a single photo—the other three were trying to find a way to get up to me), and they were anything but friendly. While out of reach on my perch, they left me alone, but getting away safely.... I had concerns....

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, six 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'd never heard of an indoor yard sale before, and wondered if it was a trick to lure unsuspecting thru-hikers to their dooms....

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.

A number of people have asked about what I carry on this hike. I planned, after my hike was over, to weigh every single item I had, photograph them, and post a very detailed summary.

As it stands right now, it is 5:00 in the afternoon. A full two hours before sunset, and I've already cooked an elaborate rice and bean and cheese burritos for dinner and cleaned up the resulting mess.

And I've finished all my reading material.

So I'm kind of bored. So right now, I will itemize everything I am carrying, minus food and water since those change dramatically from day to day anyhow.

First, my cooking stuff:

I should point out—I usually don't carry two bottles of denatured alcohol, but I hate wasting stuff and the last time I bought denatured alcohol, it wouldn't all fit into a single bottle. So I have it in two. I hope to finish off one of the bottles soon and be back down to just one bottle.

My pot, frankly, is way bigger than it needs to be, mostly because I'm cheap. I bought it before I started the AT and I didn't know any better. It originally came with another pot that could fit inside this one and a frying pan, but I wised up and ditched those. I have been eyeing a 0.9 liter titanium pot for future use, however, weighing in at less than 5 ounces and taking up about half the space.

Shelter details:

My tarp already has rope tied to each corner and edge, but I like to carry a bit extra rope in case I need to extend one of the pre-tied ropes. The trekking pole, obviously, serves several purposes, and one of them is to hold up one end of my tarp. I usually find a tree to hold up the other end.

I rarely use more than five stakes at any one time, and the most I've ever used on this trip is seven, so I really am carrying more than I really need. But they don't weigh much. *shrug*

The directions for tying knots—I already know the important knots which I use on an almost daily basis for my tarp. I bought these directions when I didn't know any knots at all. Nowadays I like to keep the directions around to goof around with knots I don't know (and probably will never need to know). It's cheap entertainment, and pretty light as well. =)

Hygienic Stuff:

All these are in trial or travel sized stuff. Small is good. The laundry soap is actually meant for washing clothes in the sink.

Miscellaneous Stuff:

I have some iodine tablets for purifying water, but it's a backup in case my usual SteriPen doesn't work (dead batteries) or the water seems REALLY bad and I want to be doubly safe.

I have a small bit of duct tape, a pocket watch, an unbrella, a camera, sunscreen, headlamp, spare batteries (this varies over time, but at a minimum, I always keep at least two AA batteries as spares), DEET(!!!!), this PocketMail device, sunglasses, notebook, mosquito head net, pens (2), toilet paper (in its own bright red bag), Leatherman, and a wallet with money, driver's license, credit cards, and the usual stuff.

Letterboxing Gear:

Navigation Equipment:

I should point out—I throw away the maps and pages as I finish with them, so those continue to get lighter the further I go.

First Aid:


For the most part, I carry two of everything. One to hike in, and one to wear around camp and sleep in. Even two different hats. The day hat has a wide brim to keep the sun or rain off my face while the night hat is made of fleece for warmth.

I do, however, have three pairs of socks—the third pair I use whenever the other two need a day off. Even shoes—I have hiking shoes (sneakers) and camp shoes (Waldies—like Crocs, but without the strap behind the heel).

I also carry an extra layer for sleeping in on cold nights. Body huggers, both top and bottom.

And a fleece jacket, for whenever I'm cold. Usually worn at night in camp, but on rare occasions on cold days while hiking. Same goes for gloves, which I also wear if mosquitoes are bad.

Recently, I picked up a "Don't shoot me—I'm a hiker!" vest, which I haven't worn yet but should be very useful if I pass through hunting areas. Amanda gave it to me as a gift. =)

I have a nice, goose down 20 degree bag.

Everything, of course, gets put into various bags. I have several silicon impregnated nylon stuff sacks, and everything else gets put into ZipLock bags. (I only use the freezer bags—they're thicker and tougher than standard bags.)

I always have lots of spare ZipLocks, though exact numbers vary on a near daily basis.

I keep stuff I want access to without taking off my pack in my fanny pack.

To store water, I have a Nalgene bottle (with Spanish-English translations on the side—hey! It could have been useful in Florida!), a 1.5 liter water bottle, and a 2 liter Coke bottle. That last one is an improvision. My Platypus failed, and unable to acquire a new bladder for it, I'm using the 2 liter Coke bottle instead. The cap actually fits with the Platypus hose.

And.... I think that's everything. Everything is accounted for, large and small alike. It sure sounds like a lot, huh?

Without food or water, I think my gear weighs about 15 pounds. Maybe 20 pounds, but probably closer to 15. With about five days of food and a full day of water, it weights in at about 30 pounds. When I really load up with food or several days of water, it might reach 40 pounds, but that's my maximum weight, and I don't stay at that weight long! =)

March 26

Mountains! I could finally see real, honest-to-goodness mountains! That's Rebecca Ridge in the background.

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.

I wanted to climb to the top of this fire tower for a genuine view, but alas, it was fenced off. =(

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.

March 27

To the Pinhoti! The Pinhoti Trail is often marked with turkey prints such as this one.

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.

Oh, the horror—I finally reach the Pinhoti and the trailhead is closed! Well, that wasn't going to stop me....

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 chain-link 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.

At long last, the Alabama Trail and endless miles of road walking have come to an end. I have reached the Pinhoti.

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!

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.

The thing I like about this sign is that you can immediately see two different trail markers for the Pinhoti—the turkey foot on the sign and the blue blaze on the tree in the background.

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 usually short (like less than a mile) that leads to a water source, shelter, or is a shortcut.

This photo manages to get three distinctly different markers for the trail into a single photo. The black turkey foot on the white diamond, the white turkey foot painted onto the tree, and in the background there's a blue blaze painted onto another tree. All three markers are used to identify the Pinhoti.

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 turkey print on it. Why turkey 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 exuberant.

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.

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

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