Bats, Backpacks, & Best Friends
There were several things I was expecting for Christmas: long overdue time with my parents and siblings, a shakedown hike with fellow future thru-hikers Kimmy and Panda, and with Kimmy’s husband Chuck, and the opportunity to announce my thru-hike to my dad. Things that did not make the list were hobo fishing, 60+ minutes working on a fire that refused to start, and bats.
A shakedown. Before I started researching thru-hiking and chatting with fellow hikers I had no idea what it was. Sounded like something airport security would do. However, I learned two things fairly quickly:
- Shakedowns are your chance to try out your gear before the big hike (nothing like ending your first 8-10 mile day discovering that your dog really liked your sleeping bag too and has given you easier access to your footbox, which is a real possibility in my home).
- While they are meant to be learning experiences they are also meant to be fun.
Cheaha State Park
I was born and raised in South Alabama, but somehow didn’t learn until this Christmas that there was/is Cheaha State Resort Park, the highest point in Alabama. It is 2,407 feet above sea level on top of Cheaha Mountain and absolutely beautiful.
Our first campsite was simple, a fire ring and a flat spot for a tent. It rained off and on from the time we arrived so everything was absolutely soaked and we arrived at dusk. Headlamps? CHECK! After a 60-min futile attempt at building a fire (even with multiple fire starters and various tactics) we wandered to the closest stream to fill up water bottles and let Chuck do a little crawdad fishing. There’s nothing quite like cold, clear water rushing down the side of a mountain after a rain. It made the foggy, rainy, no-fire, stove-dinner night pretty wonderful.
Our second night was even better, up above the Chinabee falls. A hike across the falls and up a quarter mile incline produced a well-maintained shelter with a view that made me want to drive to Springer Mountain right away.
The wanderlust in my soul continued to grow as we made a roaring fire at camp and Chuck made us fishing poles. There’s something incredibly freeing about bare feet on rock, pants rolled up, fishing with a stick you found in the woods and no bait, and nothing to think about except that moment. It evoked a nostalgic, somewhat innocent feeling inside of me, one I thought was long dead and gone. I was taken back to dirt roads, creek beds, and carefree summers as a little girl.
Chuck and I were fairly successful fishing in the pool under the falls. We used his first catch as bait and proceeded to catch 4 more that turned into dinner (one of which he accidently dropped in the fire). The latter event was made more interesting to me from having watched guys gut and cook fish outside before, but never an entire fish over an open campfire. They were quite good I must add.
The night got even better when we started spreading out our gear and discovered several bats in a corner of the shelter. I can’t recall having ever seen a bat outside of captivity so I thought it was pretty neat. They were so ugly they were almost cute.
I admit I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed and it took me until about the time we found the bats to make the conscious realization that any before-trip expectations for my thru-hike are useless. Subconsciously I knew that, but it became quite clear that I need to remind myself frequently as I continue my planning. Things aren’t going to happen simply because I expect them to, and not expecting something to happen doesn’t deter or stop it in the least (didn’t see that one coming did ya?). The only thing I can expect with any hint of accuracy is to be surprised throughout the journey, which also means rolling with anything that comes up no matter how off-the-wall or off-schedule it is (though quite frankly that part doesn’t sound scary to me because I’m pretty sure the phrase “I’m just going to wing it” was invented after watching my life).
Our shakedown had its less-than-stellar moments, but many more that were amazing. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplished and we have some great stories to go with it. My gear list has been modified and re-organized according to what worked and what didn’t, Panda’s gear list has been modified based on what worked and what didn’t, and we are mentally prepared for our departure for Springer in 61 days.
That 61-day countdown seems to be getting faster and faster and I alternate frequently between “chill, you’ve still got time” and “time to panic!” Fortunately, God’s got this and it will all work out in His time.
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