Covering Ground to Heflin
Day 8 (14 mi)
Got a bit of a late start today, not getting up until 8. Went through deciduous woods lined with lots of rue anemone for the first couple miles before entering a conifer forest for a while. It’s incredible how many pinecones a longleaf pine can produce. It must be almost 20 pounds of pinecones a year for the largest trees, the vast majority of which will never develop. There must be literal tons of pinecones every year that develop and fall, never getting an opportunity to develop.
There was a large variety of wildflowers today, with an especially high amount of red trilliums. Also a large amount of bashful trilliums, which are a new kind of trillium for me. I’ve found 4 species so far. There are over 30 native to the US in total, so plenty more kinds of trillium to spot with an open eye!
Multiple large patches of not yet in bloom mayapples will be a treat for anyone coming through in May, and a hillside full of buckeyes was a welcome sight for me now.
Spring: Coming Soon™️
The day brought lots of water crossings, and many of the creeks are starting to show signs of tadpoles. Only one of the crossings today was not possible to rockhop. Not long before the air is full of the sounds of spring peepers. I’ve come to appreciate the pattern of mostly hoppable but sometimes not crossings because it gives a good motivation to soak your feet and ease a bit of the soreness.
More and more wildlife is beginning to show, with a dragonfly, multiple lizards, and some large clusters of moths. Especially nice was a large group of moths and a butterfly sunning themselves in an ash pit.
I, on the other hand, have been getting a bit too much sun lately and am getting a bit burnt. I forewent sunscreen because of hearing the Pinhoti is a green tunnel, but neglected to account for leaves not yet budding. My sunburns give away my objective. My right hand, which typically faces east while walking generally northward, is noticeably more burnt than my left. Not having rain for 4 days and having constant sun has its downsides.
The remainder of the day was mostly uneventful through gentle terrain, with the now familiar mix of deciduous woods and longleaf pine glades. There were also two waterfalls.
I finished the day in a swamp, around a mile before the US 431 road crossing. As I write this journal entry some fireflies are congregating to the light of my screen, clinging to the underside of my rain fly. The long dry spell is coming to an end overnight. The forecast is calling for a 1.3 inch drencher coming down pretty steadily starting overnight and not letting up until evening.
Day 9 (12 mi)
Rain turned out to be less than forecast, but still a solid 2/3 inch. Since today is the only day with rain before another stretch of clear skies, I’m making today a shorter one and am only going 10 or 11 miles to reach Heflin. I was slow to rise from the get go and didn’t get up until 9. The twist to deflate my sleeping pad always seems like a Herculean effort on a cold or rainy morning.
The first hour or two of hiking I was graced with only a light drizzle, but that changed around noon and for the rest of the day I was soaked. Thankfully the rain jacket I got for this thru is keeping me warm. I switched to a non-breathable one on suggestion from someone I met last year, and it’s been working much better for me.
It was a rather uneventful day going through primarily longleaf pine forest. Due to the rain I was mostly keeping my head down and focused on walking and not much else. The only particularly eventful part of getting to Heflin was crossing the I-20 overpass. It was a bit of a culture shock after a week barely seeing any cars. The noise of all the semis alone was deafening, and everything was moving much faster than my legs can manage.
Heflin is one of the more prominent trail towns on the Pinhoti. It used to be a roadwalk (or, more practically and safely, a hitch) along the busy and narrow shoulder US 78. After residents of the town wrote to the Forest Service about it being unsafe and requesting a connector trail into town, an old then abandoned forest service road was cleared of brush, blazed, signed, and coronated the Pinhoti NRT Heflin Spur. It’s not the most glamorous of trails and has some brutally steep grades seeing as it was never intended to be used as a trail when originally built, but it’s certainly a lot better than a roadwalk and is worth visiting.
The Forest Service wrote in their decision report on designating the spur trail that if funding becomes available they’ll reroute the spur trail to gentler, more walking minded grades, but I’m not exactly holding my breath for that to happen with how little use the Pinhoti gets. There’s a busy train tracks running adjacent to the spur at the start, before winding through some forest and eventually across a disc golf course located alongside a lake. During the forested section there’s a turnoff to see a waterfall, which I hear is pretty nice but I would rather wait to tomorrow when the rain is through.
At the end of the spur trail is Cahulga Park, which has bathrooms available for public use, multiple power outlets, and a place to set up hammocks. Like I said, Heflin is one of the premier trail towns of the Pinhoti and brings their A-game. They also keep a stock of brochures at the Pinhoti end of the spur trail which list various grocer’s for restock supplies and tells a little bit about the town.
All Your Concrete Needs, Covered
I was heartily amused by Webb Concrete and Building Materials being the only non-grocery store on the list and was cracking jokes to myself the entire spur trail about how badly I need some concrete. (I’m assuming it’s listed because they have camp stove fuel, but sadly I got into town 15 minutes after they closed. My cement needs shall remain unmet.)
My resupply was fairly standard thru hiker type foods. Which is to say 4 bags of potato chips, a family size peanut butter oreo pack, a bag of sour patch kids and peach rings, fruit snacks, a small bottle of olive oil, some crackers, sharp cheddar cheese, tuna, avocados, and sausage sticks. For tonight I also got a pint of Snickers ice cream, a large brownie, and one of the to go pickle pouches which is just an entire cucumber in a bag of brine. I sometimes wonder what cashiers think of thru hikers. I was terrible smelling, sunburnt (amusingly noticeably worse on my right hand side than left hand side), slightly wet from rain, and with disheveled hair buying as much junk food as my pack could hold.
One of the Heflin residents seemed curious about me as I was standing outside the grocery store jamming everything in my pack, and asked if I could use a ride to where I was staying for the night. I graciously accepted as even though it was less than a mile back to Cahulga Park, it was still drizzling a bit and there was a trademark angry Alabama dog at one of the houses I would need to walk past. The woman who kindly offered me a ride said she moved to Heflin around 3 years ago and has been loving it here. Her daughter, who seemed to be around 7, was giving better driving instructions than I could to the park. I could remember how to walk back without needing a map, but I couldn’t remember at the pace of a car.
Once I was at the park, I plugged my power brick in to charge and walked around a mile to the national forest boundary on the spur trail to set up for the night. I considered staying by the bathrooms, but the area was too brightly lit for me to be able to sleep well. I went to bed and around 2am woke up and went back to the Cahulga bathrooms for my now fully charged brick. Walking at night through the disc golf course was very nice because it’s an open area that you navigate through with only the moon and no headlamp. Things always seem to have a slight magical air to them when you walk by moonlight and immerse yourself in the night.
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