Date- Feb 14, 2020
Location- Flagg Mountain
Elevation- 1,037 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 0.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 0.9 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 50s, 60s
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- zero
Days without shower- 1
Days without laundry- 1
First of all, Happy Valentine’s Day. At this point it’s a belated Valentine’s Day, but it’s the thought that counts!Second of all… SURPRISE! I’m doing a little 340ish mile thru-hike of the Pinhoti Trail from Alabama to Georgia with the Little Dog. It might end up being a 410ish mile hike if I get a wild hair and decide to link the end of the Pinhoti to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail via the Benton Mackaye Trail. We’ll see.I did have plans to hike the Pinhoti Trail this year with Katana, but not until March or so. I was back from Australia for about 2 weeks when I had the extreme itch to get back into the woods again – so here I am.To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to blog this hike (since it would be a short one); but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.
Although I spent almost 3 months hiking across Florida with Katana last year, I felt very guilty for spending a further 6 months away from her while hiking the CDT and then visiting family in Australia. So this is me making it up to the Little Dog by smothering her with attention on the trail for a few weeks.I drove up to the Pinhoti Outdoor Center in Sylacauga, Alabama this morning to meet the owners – Kimm and her husband Nathan. It’s only around 4 hours from where I live in Florida, so this was easily the most convenient journey (ever) to the start of a thru-hike. Kimm and Nathan allow hikers to leave their vehicle at the business property during their entire hike. In addition to that, they also run shuttles to the southern terminus start of the trail (on Flagg Mountain) for $15. This ended up being the most hassle free, and logistically carefree journey to a hiking terminus I’ll probably ever experience.
Today set another record as well. It was my shortest first day of a thru-hike. I didn’t even make it one mile, but I’m not complaining.After Kimm dropped me and the kiddo off at Flagg Mountain and snapped our starting photo, the journey began (at about 1:30 pm). Now – before I go into any other details, let me preface the rest of this journey with a disclaimer: I have done ZERO research on this trail. All I know is its name, the mileage, the two states where it resides, where it starts, and where it ends. That’s it! I don’t know the resupply points or the mileages between them. In fact – I know so little, I don’t even know what I don’t know (that makes zero sense and perfect sense at the same time). If 11,000+ trail miles has taught me anything at this point, it’s that everything works out exactly how it’s supposed to, and everything always falls into place.
No Hurry…No Worries
I’m in no rush out here and there’s plenty of time to figure it out as I go. I have the electronic maps and guide for this trail. All I have to do is not totally ignore them and miss important details as I move along. That’s it. I have no expectations other than to be mostly alone for the next few weeks, and to probably be fairly wet and cold for most of that time. Oh well – it builds character, and I can always use more of that.
First Trail Observation
Since I hiked less than a mile today, I really don’t have a lot to say about the trail itself. The one thing I can say… it looks uncannily like the AT in Georgia. Absolutely near indistinguishable. It’s marked by blue blazes and the climbs are not switch-backed, and are (on average) steeper than anything on the PCT, as well as much of what is on the CDT. Having said that, the climbs on this trail will be nowhere near as long or as high in elevation as what you encounter on the PCT, CDT, or the more extreme sections of the AT. I know this simply by virtue of where I am in the country, not through any type of research.From the get go, I let Katana hike on her own. I decided that no matter what, she is going to hike the first mile and the last mile of this trail; regardless of the conditions, and no matter what she accomplishes in-between-this is the goal. As a consequence, it took us over an hour to get our 0.9 miles today. Not because she was having any trouble, but because she wanted to smell absolutely everything… and I let her. My patience was a bottomless pit today.
Aside from all the sniffing, it was obvious she hasn’t been on trail in almost 11 months (last March). She did a fantastic job staying on the path and following my lead. However, she was deliberate in her steps and was obviously very aware of the many trail obstacles that weren’t as prevalent on the Florida Trail. She had to navigate more exposed roots, rocks, logs, branches, steep inclines and declines, etc. Once she gets her trail legs back, follows my voice commands, and finds her instincts for the quirks and moods of this trail, she’ll be zipping along like old times.
Around the 1 mile mark we came to the summit of Flagg Mountain, which just so happens to be the first mountain of the Appalachian Mountain Range in the south – a very special place indeed! There are also several cabins erected here for public use since the 1930s. It was here I met the individual who would be the architect of my sub 1 mile day – “Nimblewill Nomad.”Nimblewill is an 81 year old Triple Crowner with 60,000+ trail miles, as well as one of only two people to complete all 11 National Scenic Trails (that any of us know of). He’s a legend within the community. Although I’ve known of him for years, this was the first time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him.
Fire Side Chat
He’s the caretaker of these cabins and resides in one of the more rundown hovels throughout part of the winter and spring. This is his second year as a caretaker, and he is in love with this area. He invited me into his humble abode, which was wind and waterproofed with tarps and cardboard boxes in the section of the old cabin that housed the fireplace. He had a small fire going, and so there we sat chatting for the better part of the next 4+ hours. We did this in-between walks around the neighboring cabins and unloading a truck bed of firewood (brought up by a couple of locals) to replenish Nimblewill’s stock. We also chatted with some wilderness firefighters who were staying at one of the cabins while they did controlled burns over the next few days.
Words Less Spoken
I could write for hours about the content of our conversations, but I just don’t have the time or energy. But, I can tell you this… Nimblewill is one hell of a human being! He has the unique ability to communicate and convey more by what he doesn’t say, rather than what he does say. It’s a gift – as he’s able to say just enough that you catch the drift of his meaning, and more. The exchanges are often punctuated by long silences, but they are far from empty. After it got dark, I spent some time with the firefighters around their fire as they took turns petting Katana. Then Nimblewill surprised me. He put me up in the ranger cabin, which is complete with electricity, flushing toilet, and a gas heater. It’s my first night on trail and I might as well be staying in a 5 star hotel – another first. I don’t have solid plans for tomorrow, but I tentatively would like to hike 22 miles to the Pinhoti Outdoor Center. We’ll see if the trail agrees with my loose ambitions…