Hiking Plans; When Everything Changes
This post is a continuation of my hike back in March. Life has since made a bit of a turn, so it has taken me a while to “get back to it”.
Missing Hiker Returns
If necessity is the mother of invention, then Murphy and his infernal laws are the father of well-laid hiking plans.
Day two on the Pinhoti started before sunrise. My tent sat pitched along a creek around mile 12 NOBO, and I sat within it, one door open to the sun.
The route out of camp was a solid mile up Terrapin Hill, and most of it was completely hidden under several inches of pine needles. If it weren’t for the light blue blazes and Guthooks, you would never know there was a trail, at least not this early in the season.
I soon discovered there was the occasional fist-sized rock under said needles, and rolling my ankles became a theme for the day.
PINHOTI TRAIL 411
The trail drops off the ridge around mile 14 and you descend into what would be a green tunnel were it later in the year. In March The Pinhoti is still a dormant forest, and the sun can be relentless.
Mostly, the terrain was dry and looked barren, save for the occasional patch of bamboo or rhododendrons on north-facing slopes. Aside from the pine trees, they were the only green I would see on this journey.
Eventually, I found myself at County Road 56, which is a short stroll to Highway 21, where I took a breather and waited for Old Gregg. It was his job to shuttle me across town to the next trailhead, which I’m certain some people will consider cheating. The thing is, I hadn’t planned to be in Alabama, never mind hiking the Pinhoti.
Alabama is where I ended up after plans to spend the winter with family in Florida required a sudden change one month in.
NAKED FAMILIES CAN CREATE OPPORTUNITIES
Sometimes family can be a blessing, other times a challenge. Like when said family relishes a lifestyle involving heavy drinking and nudity. Strolling through their small town to get a burger at 2 a.m. buck naked was completely acceptable. I was unaware; consider me enlightened.
To each their own.
After putting off the A.T. another year and deciding to find a new place to winter over, the Gulf Coast beckoned, and we willingly answered. It was heaven, but we could only stay at the RV park until March 1st since that’s the availability they had.
Welcome to full-time RV living.
However, northern Wyoming is still an arctic popsicle in March, so I decided to burn a month hiking in northern Alabama on the Pinhoti. I was able to find an RV park with space for a month and Old Gregg (O.G.) was game, though we still had to be out west the first part of April for his job. This would be a hike with a timeline and no wiggle room.
This is where the phrase “Hike your own hike” comes in. I had a limited number of days in which to hike, plus I would have to hop off a few times to watch the doggos while O.G. dealt with work. I wasn’t certain I could cover the entire distance, so we agreed that O.G. would shuttle me across the long stretches of road.
It wasn’t perfect, but spontaneity seldom is.
BACK ON TRAIL. NO NUDITY. EF-3 TORNADOES.
The Trammel Trailhead sits at mile 29. I bid adieu to O.G. and the dogs there. Not long after I ran into a gentleman clearing the trail of blowdowns, and he informed me there was extreme weather quickly moving in.
This was news to me. He then inquired whether I had an emergency exit strategy.
“Yes,” I replied matter-of-factly. “Run.”
He gave me a long, assessing look. “Consider a Plan B. See these downed trees?” He asked.
I nodded. I had been scrambling over them most of the day.
“The same sort of storms that did this will be here in about thirty-two hours. Find your Plan B.” He then resumed hacking away at one of the many trees laying across the path with an axe.
An axe. This trail is going to be a challenge for a while, folks. FYI.
I did eventually make it to camp, where an almost unbelievable sunset entertained me while I ate dinner.
By early evening the next day, I had taken a tumble after climbing over yet another tree snarl, and upon righting myself and untangling my pack I stepped on a pine-needle-covered rock. Things rolled.
Allow me to clarify “rolled”. It wasn’t broken. There was no snapping sound followed by falling to the ground and writhing in pain, but the loud pop and inability to walk fully upright assured me I needed to rethink my strategy.
Two hours later, I had hobbled one mile to a dirt road intersecting the trail between Bull’s Gap and Porter’s Gap. I was near mile 50, and there were a lot of miles yet to go before I reached Porters.
The Difference Between Risk-Taking and Reckless
At times like this, you need to be realistic. Though I’ve taken chances whilst hiking before, I’m not reckless. My ankle was a mess, and I wasn’t making the mileage I needed to.
I was also running out of water quickly, and the next source was many, many miles away. To my west, the sun sat low on the horizon.
I needed help.
I rarely had cell service on the Pinhoti, and at this junction, it was no better, but one thing I had was a Zoleo brand PLB with satellite texting abilities.
Always be prepared.
I sent out a “Not dead. Ankle roll. Not serious, need extraction – 4 wheel drive required” text with my coordinates, and settled in for O.G.’s arrival.
The short version of the events that unfolded after he finally found me are as follows.
By morning I was immobile because of my ankle, and the new RV park near Ohatchee, AL where we were staying gave notice we needed to clear out because of the imminent weather situation.
For anyone not aware of what happens in Alabama in March and April, one word. Tornadoes.
We left Alabama post-haste and drove northeast through Tennessee and into Kentucky that first day. The rain and wind were an issue with a 41’ rig, but we pressed on, eventually stopping in Mahomet, Illinois. It was there I learned what had happened to Ohatchee and several other nearby towns.
Being a natural disaster doesn’t lessen the shock, nor the heartbreak, and my heart aches for all the kind people we befriended. Unlike most of them, our home was mobile.
Note to self; count your blessings.
Back to the task at hand.
We needed to go northwest, but there was a blizzard moving in from that direction. To our south was the storm system spewing tornadoes across the entire southeast.
Mahomet isn’t exactly a hiker’s paradise, but as I was lame, (for several months it turns out) and our location essentially pinned us between weather systems, that was where we spent the next week hunkered down. We had power, thankfully, but not a lick of Wi-Fi.
In the End, Wyoming, and Wonderland
We did eventually make it up through Iowa and into South Dakota despite the lingering snow and finally pulled into Wyoming in late March, where we’ve been since.
At this point I was becoming very ill, which occasionally happens when your kidneys stage an uprising; there is no one reason, it just happens sometimes. And WOW did they do a number on me.
Which is why I have been AWOL. Ok, that, the ankle, and then the smoke that caused a few issues. It’s been an adventure.
At the moment about the only thing I’ve been able to accomplish in the months since is becoming horribly out of shape and well-soaked in the “Unexpectedly Off Trail Blues”.
I have scored a couple of hiking passes for The Wonderland Trail this fall. After we got smoked out last year, I held little hope for acquiring permits two years in a row, but here we are. This time my hope is we beat the snow, because even if it’s smoky.. we’re going! We have masks. We’ll live.
Here’s to putting the last year behind us and hiking on!
Have any of your plans been derailed this year? How have you handled it? (Tell me I’m not the only person to become really depressed when my hike gets turned upside down…)
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