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Ryan's Great Adventures
Volume 91: Saturday March 5, 2008
Our hero, Ryan, barrels down the Pinhoti Trail into Georgia.
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 dearth 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 ceremony—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.)
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 recuparateing 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*
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 skeletal 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 chocolate 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 nowadays 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.
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 ibuprofen, 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 enjoyed 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.
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 enthusiasm 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 aghast 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! =)
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 discrepancy 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 sleuthing on the Pinhoti Trail.
Surprisingly, 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 particularly 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 cris-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.
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 measly 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, deafening 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.
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 caterpillar—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!
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