Trains and Smoke Closures
Day 10 (14 mi)
Walking Back Out of Heflin
Waking up in the middle of the night to walk two miles didn’t exactly help my circadian rhythm. With the cold lately I have to sleep with my head completely under my sleeping bag so I can’t be woken by the sun, which doesn’t help.
These factors combined to make me not wake up until 9. I really need to start getting a better sunrise to sunset schedule going again. If I keep going much longer waking up late then my sunrise wake pattern is going to be broken.
Drinking the pickle brine yesterday made me incredibly thirsty this morning, and I had two full liters of water at the first spot I could filter. I added some sour patch kids and peach rings to my water as some flavoring, which works surprisingly well but takes at least an hour for the flavor to properly get soaked up. I’ll probably start doing this regularly to incentivize me to drink more water, because I’ve been struggling a bit with getting enough so far. Or just give up my pointless resistance to carrying flavoring packets.
Making Up for Rain Yesterday
On the way back up the Heflin spur, I visited the waterfall which I skipped yesterday. It’s a nice area and worth the short (~0.25 mile) detour.
I also saw an Amtrak come down the train tracks. Or more accurately, heard it. Its horn gave me a good jump.
Back On the Pinhoti
The day started peacefully walking through some longleaf pines. I’m starting to grow a fondness for these pines after being in their forests for so long. I saw some kind of beetle trudging along. It seemed to be struggling with all the bumps in the ground and would shamble along a few steps, stumble, and start it over again, like a beetle version of Sisyphus. There was also a small brown moth hiding out hoping its leaf color camouflage would prevent me from detecting it.
I had a break for lunch at a camp spot which had a full unobstructed view of what I suspect is Cheaha and some of the ridges I’ve crossed so far to get here, but I could be wrong on that. My lunch consisted of crackers drizzled with olive oil with cheese, avocado, and sausage. It tasted like ambrosia, which I believe confirms I’m now in full hiker hunger mode.
Early Forest Succession Stages
One of my favorite aspects of longleaf pine forests is when there are pine saplings everywhere in various stages of growth. It’s fascinating seeing different stages of a small pinecone as it develops into a mighty and towering tree. I can’t help but wonder how many saplings will actually make it to fully grown status. Maybe one in 50? One in 100? One in 200? It can’t be very good odds. All of life is odds defying.
The trail wound along a very wide, rather deep river for a mile or two building anticipation for the inevitable crossing and whether it would be possible to rock hop. Thankfully it was, but the tension was palpable as the evening is falling and temperatures are dropping. If I needed to I could wade, but I would really prefer not to. I like having dry feet.
I saw another big patch of rue anemone along the side of the trail. I think at this point quaker ladies, rue anemone, and bashful trilliums are the most common wildflowers. They’re all over, and I welcome them and like to see how similar yet different the various patches are to each other. There’s great diversity to wildflowers even among the same species. Today was a landmark day for new wildflowers, and I believe may be second highest number of new ones after day 1. I think my plan on wildflowers is that once I get through Alabama, I’ll make a large post showing all the species I found.
Day 11 (16mi)
I Was Born for Warm Weather
The cold is my greatest bane. It was 25 when I woke up at 8 and I couldn’t bring myself to get out of my sleeping bag until 11, when it was still only 35 out. Today is forecast as the coldest of the whole cold snap, reaching a high of a meager 44 and plunging to 20 overnight. I would like to be in a shelter if I could be because I feel like I’m generally warmer sleeping in shelters than in my hammock. Conveniently, there’s Choccolocco shelter 15 miles away, which is the perfect distance for me to cover in a day at present.
My day got off to a rocky start when a log I went to sit on to filter water collapsed into itself under me, but quickly improved as Pine Glen campground is a nice place.
Chickweed and Wood Anemone
Lots of chickweed lined the trail to start the day, with some not yet blossomed wood anemone as well. While crossing a stream I noticed some tadpoles. Hopefully they grow into frogs soon. Nights have been very quiet and I would welcome spring peepers.
The trail passed through a golden wild oat field before emerging into sight of Sweetwater Lake in a series that may be the best view all trail so far. The trail gently meanders around the edge of the lake, which is lined with wooden bird boxes. There was a faint smell of smoke on the wind, almost like a campfire.
The Circle of Life
In an apt metaphor for the circle of life, I noticed a plant growing out of a hole in a downed log. I find it incredible the log can still be almost entirely intact but the inside of that hole is already decomposed enough to support life.
I’m Not Completely Alone Out Here! (Supposedly)
I was surprised to see four thru hikers had signed the Laurel shelter logbook yesterday. I’ve only met two thru hikers so far, and both were within the first 25 miles. I’ve had almost total solitude for the last 100 miles. Save for approaching Cheaha and ephemeral meetings at trailheads or road crossings. Hopefully I can catch up to some of the thru hikers ahead of me in the coming days. I’m starting to get my trail legs and go further each day, but of course so will any other thru hikers around this point.
The Shoal Creek historical wooden church came up soon after.
Next up was a Loblolly Pine test growth site held by the forest service. For being started only 30 years ago, the pines are already massive. It’s weird seeing neatly lined up trees after being in haphazard and more natural forests for so long. This area is home to numerous forest service projects, and also has a red cockared woodpecker rehabilitation site and the start of an attempt to grow old growth longleaf pine forest.
Trail Smoke Closure
The whiff of smoke was present for a few miles beforehand and was gradually getting thicker and thicker all day, so I wasn’t particularly surprised to see a trail closure due to smoke when I reached the forest service road 540 closing.
I roadwalked around the closure using forest service roads 540, 532, and 532C. During the roadwalk I got a glimpse of the smoke rising from the burn. From how square and mellow it is, it appears to be a prescribed burn.
Controlled burns are inarguably a good thing for the environment so I’m not miffed at the unexpected road walk. The side of the road being covered in woodland phlox for a mile made it fairly pleasant even. It was minimally used dirt roads, so not all that different from trail all things considered. I just wish the closure sign would indicate whether it’s a controlled or wild fire and how far the closure extends.
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