Week 11: Slowing down on the Pinhoti

Dennis Mill Viewpoint > Friday Road

Days 71-77

Week 11 miles: 98.2

Total EAT miles: 1241.4

I should have more than enough time to hike the Pinhoti Trail before my flight to San Diego for the PCT, so my goal is to slow down a bit to spread out the hiking and not end up with a lot of time to fill between trails.

The big unresolved question is how much of the road walking I’ll do. The Pinhoti Trail is notorious for several long road walks made even more unpleasant by irresponsible dog owners who allow aggressive dogs to roam off their properties.

On the one hand, I’ve maintained a continuous footpath all the way from Harpers Ferry, so it would be a bummer to start skipping sections now. On the other hand, it seems more reasonable and enjoyable to hike the parts of the trail that currently exist and get rides along the road sections that connect them.

In the past my body has not done well with long stretches of pavement (looking at you, Logroño). Since I definitely don’t want to jeopardize my ability to hike the PCT next, I plan to prioritize remaining injury-free over maintaining a continuous footpath. I’m hoping that reducing my daily mileage on road walks and slackpacking when possible will make things easier on my feet and joints.

So far, my experience of the Pinhoti has been that whenever it annoys or frustrates me with lots of blowdowns or a long road walk, it very soon wins me back with a truly beautiful stretch of trail.

View of burnt forest

Even this burn area was a pleasure to hike through after the long road walk

Day 71: Dennis Mill Viewpoint > Spring Place

March 12

10.1 Pinhoti miles (446 ft up, 395 ft down)

Today marked the start of the northernmost of the Pinhoti’s infamous long road walks. I had reserved three night’s accommodation in Dalton, the large town (city?) at the far end of the nearly 28 paved miles, and was considering adding a fourth. So, in addition to not being sure whether I’d walk all those miles, I also wasn’t sure how I’d schedule the four days I planned to be in the area.

The first stretch was pleasant, on a quiet road with plenty of room to step aside when the rare vehicle passed. Then the “trail” turned onto a much busier road with no shoulder and a very steep grass verge. Hopping off the road surface and trying not to fall down the hill every time a vehicle came toward me was exhausting, and with a full backpack on, the risk of injury seemed too high for comfort.

I decided to walk as far as the Mexican restaurant and call it a day. I could slackpack the rest tomorrow, making me a bit more nimble as I dodged traffic.

After a nice lunch, I got a ride to my motel in Dalton, stopping along the way at the post office to finally pick up my long lost package. The owner of the Green Dragon Hostel, who got stuck in this saga with me even though I hadn’t ended up staying there, very kindly received the package and then forwarded it to me in Dalton. How wonderful to no longer wear my winter hiking clothes in summer temperatures!

House with a bright red roof

Fun red roof along my first Pinhoti road walk (apparently the only photo I took that day)

Day 72: Spring Place > Dalton

March 13

15 Pinhoti miles (1060 ft up, 899 ft down)

Today was my popsicle tour of the greater Dalton area. The first step was getting a ride share driver to drop me back at the Mexican restaurant where I’d stopped yesterday. This whole road walking thing already seemed pretty ridiculous, but let me tell you, explaining it to someone who’d never heard of the Pinhoti or thru-hiking really highlighted the absurdity.

“So after I drop you off at the restaurant you’re going to walk back to where I picked you up?”

I figure he’ll at least have an entertaining anecdote for the dinner table tonight.

Thankfully most of the roads today either had a shoulder or were quieter than yesterday, and once I entered Dalton, there were wonderful sidewalks (or possibly ordinary sidewalks made wonderful by my gratitude). Wearing my lightweight hiking clothes was also wonderful, and my road walking spirits were further buoyed by purchasing a popsicle at each gas station I passed. Within Dalton I even passed two paleterías (Mexican popsicle shops), and I spent the next couple of miles reminiscing about the New Year’s Eve my closest college friend and I spent strolling up and down the main street in Puerto Escondido eating paleta after paleta.

My route today deviated quite a bit from the official Pinhoti. I shortcut one particularly indirect section and devised my own path through Dalton that enabled me to do some errands and see some sights. I stopped by Aldi to resupply for the next stretch of trail and at Walmart for some headphones. I generally enjoy the silence on trail and hadn’t listened to anything while I hiked the southern half of the AT. These long road walks, however, were a different beast and I thought podcasts and audiobooks might make them more bearable.

I also incorporated a stop at the post office to mail home my winter stuff and a lap around the historic business district centered on South Hamilton Street, since the Pinhoti mostly passed through the newer strip mall section of town. My last stop was the very welcoming Dalton Brewing Company, where they posted about my hike on their Instagram and gifted me a cool sticker that now lives on my bear canister.

Street lined with historic shops

South Hamilton Street in Dalton, GA, an essential Pinhoti blue blaze

Days 73 & 74: Double zero in Dalton

March 14 & 15

Having not zeroed since Hot Springs three weeks ago, I decided to make it a double. I figured my body could use the rest and I wasn’t eager to hike out into the severe thunderstorms that were forecast for the morning of Day 74.

I mostly did a whole lot of nothing, but when I made a brief excursion for coffee, the man who made my Americano recognized me from the Dalton Brewing Company’s Instagram — definitely the closest to celebrity status I ever hope to get!

View of parking lot in pouring rain

Confirmation that the second zero was a good call, complete with thunder, lightening, and high winds (taken during daylight hours)

Day 75: Dalton > Gentry Gap

March 16

22.3 Pinhoti miles (3675 ft up, 3488 ft down)

So… apparently two zeros are not twice as good as one zero.

I was feeling pretty bad all day — weak, tired, and a bit wobbly, with sore feet and legs, especially ankles. I’d noticed yesterday afternoon and this morning that the mild swelling in my feet had completely disappeared and they looked as skinny and bony as they do when I’m not thru-hiking. I think that low level inflammation in my feet and joints must provide helpful cushioning and stabilization because I definitely noticed its absence.

I was very surprised at the end of the day to discover that I’d hiked 22 miles, since it felt so slow and hard that I was expecting a number in the mid to upper teens. During the last couple of miles I entertained alternating fantasies of lying by the trail for a nap or quitting the hike altogether.

Fortunately, only about half my brain was preoccupied with being a pobrecita and the other half could appreciate a beautifully routed trail. There were two more miles of road walking out of Dalton and then a beautiful trail that followed a series of ridges. I even met two mountain bikers on their way back from doing trail maintenance and then hiked past the blowdown they’d cleared. A few trees were blooming or in bud, and a few patches of spring ephemerals decorated the trail.

View of valley from ridge

View from the ridge leaving Dalton

Day 76: Gentry Gap > Creekside Campsite

March 17

26.2 Pinhoti miles (3734 ft up, 3773 ft down)

I had to cross the wide East Armuchee Creek around midday. Since some of the FarOut comments mentioned waist-deep water and I couldn’t really judge the depth from the bank, I decided to take my pants off along with my boots for the crossing. As I was taking my first steps into the water, three horses and riders came trotting up behind me, the first people I’d seen on trail since yesterday morning. Of course, the water only reached my knees at the deepest point.

Hilariously, this is not the first time I’ve been caught in my undies by horseback riders. This time they were women, but last time they were two men. A friend and I had just crossed a deep stream feeding the Mongolian lake we were hiking around and had our pants draped across our laps throughout the conversation. All of us just pretended nothing was amiss. The situation was made even more unusual by the fact that both herdsman were wearing magenta lipstick, likely for sun protection.

On a short road walk in the afternoon, a couple in a red minivan pulled up beside me to chat. Having established that I wasn’t from around here, the driver told me to “prepare to be mesmerized by what’s on your left up ahead.” It was great to meet someone who was so excited about their local natural treasures. The creek was indeed lovely, and there were lots of local folks along the banks taking advantage of a warm Sunday afternoon.

After that I passed through a long burn area and was glad to be back in unburnt forest by the time I was ready to camp.

View of trees reflected in pond

Pilchers Pond

Day 77: Creekside Campsite > Friday Road

March 18

24.6 Pinhoti miles (2411 ft up, 2631 ft down)

This morning was my slowest departure yet (or at least that I can recall off the top of my head). I enjoyed yesterday’s post breakfast nap so much that I had another and didn’t start hiking until 9:30am. I drank a lot of water before I left and set off with two liters because I’d have 14 miles up on the ridge before reaching the next water source.

Or more than 14 miles, it turns out, because I took a wrong turn, or rather missed a turn. Looking at the FarOut comments once I realized I was off trail, I saw that MANY southbounders had missed this turn. I didn’t get a look at the turn itself because I got back on trail with a combination of backtracking then bushwacking. Backtracking the whole way probably wouldn’t have been any slower, but the bushwack was more fun and better for morale.

Even without the accidental detour, today’s mileage is definitely an underestimate — the trail has been rerouted off a dirt road since the map/guide was last updated and is now significantly longer. People with tracking watches have been telling me that the FarOut mileage and elevation totals are almost always short, sometimes by up to several miles per day, so I’ve been thinking of each day’s totals as the minimum possible distance I traveled.

I’ve been spoiled with trail infrastructure since leaving Dalton and have passed vault toilets and trashcans at least once a day. Not having to dig any catholes or carry my trash for more than a few hours has been lovely.

The last part of the day was along a flat old rail bed paralleling the road, although not at all the smooth rail trail I was picturing when I read that description last night. It was flat in the sense of no elevation gain or loss but in fact very lumpy with quite a few blowdowns. I was thrilled, however, that the aggressive pack of dogs mentioned on FarOut did not make an appearance. I could hear them in the distance, where it sounded like they were eagerly barking for their supper.

Tonight was, I think, only the second time so far on this hike that I’ve stealth camped. Stealth camping is when you prioritize not being detected in choosing when and where to camp, usually setting up at dusk and packing up by dawn. (Perhaps because the AT is so popular with new backpackers, this term is often misused on that trail to refer to any unmarked campsite.) In this case, I stealth camped because I was in an area where I’m pretty sure camping wasn’t permitted, and because I didn’t want my site to be visible to future hikers and thereby become an unwelcome established site.

View from ridge

Morning ridge walk

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Comments 1

  • Julia Child : May 12th

    Wowee, a double post weekend, complete with a mountain-top photo of Gwen, paleta tour, brewery stardom and funny underwear story…your fans will be so thrilled! And indeed, all the trail recounts, tending to your body, and finally receiving your package, all great too! Abrazos from Philly.


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