Date- February 22, 2020
Location- Blue Mountain Shelter
Elevation- 1,824 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 13.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 87.2 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 40s, 50s
Pain level- Zero
Wildlife encounters- Zero
Days without shower- 9
Days without laundry- 3
I awoke to a gorgeous morning and was hiking by 8 am. Within a mile I crossed a road and trailhead on the border of the Cheaha Wilderness. This is where I ran into the first hikers I’ve seen on trail in nine days. It was a troop of about eight Boy Scouts in the 12-13 year age range, and their two adult chaperones.
They passed me while I was having breakfast at the top of a short climb, just above the trailhead. Then, I passed them 15 minutes later while they were getting water from a creek. At the time of my approach, I had Katana on my pack. As I got closer, I heard one of the kids exclaim incredulously (and somewhat condescendingly), “Why’s he carrying that dog!?” He said it as if I was doing something utterly ridiculous and everyone within earshot needed to know.
Use Your Inside Voice
For the life of me, I’ll never understand the tendency of some people to ask questions (or make exclamations) about me and Katana – but not direct them to me. Especially when their volume is more than loud enough for me to hear. It prompts a reaction to state the obvious – “Hello, I’m right here. Please direct any questions or comments about me – to me.” This happens frequently when I carry Katana. People will talk amongst themselves and ask questions in a hushed roar you could hear across a house. I equate it somewhat to a movie where everyone is gossiping just loud enough for the target of the gossip to hear every word. I’m sorry, but it just comes across as tactless and inconsiderate to me. Albeit… these were just kids.
Another kid immediately picked up on the awkwardness of his peer’s loud lack of decorum. He quickly answered with an annoyed and chastising tone, “Because it’s blind!” Now there was a Scout with some situational awareness. I bade them all a good morning, and nobody engaged me any further. A nice wholesome interaction.
Overall, today was the toughest day yet. I encountered these challenges thus far: the steepest climbs, rockiest trail, the most blow-downs, and various on-trail obstacles. That being said, I was also treated to some of the best and most expansive views of the trail – thus far.
The miles came slow. I was mentally exhausted from having to focus on nearly every single step along the rocky boulder-strewn trail. As a result of the difficult trail and slow progress, Katana may have racked up a little over a mile today. We took a lot of breaks where she was able to wander around and do her thing for 15 to 30 minutes at a time. There were no continuous hiking stretches for her.
Got a Tissue?
Further in the afternoon (after passing the Boy Scouts), we ran into about a dozen different day hikers as we crossed closer to, and into Cheaha State Park. A few people stopped to talk, but most just kept to themselves. One middle aged man asked about our story. He began to tear up and almost cry as I gave him a brief overview of mine and Katana’s history together. This almost became contagious, so I was glad our interaction ended… before we were both standing there in the woods trying to wipe away each other’s tears. I don’t often think about mine and Katana’s story as a whole. However, when sharing our brief history, I’m reminded of the dichotomy of tragedy and triumph that abounds throughout our journeys. I find myself losing my composure at times like this – when I start to reflect on the past. Normally, I try to downplay our whole situation, but good God have we been through the ringer together – more times than I can rightly recall. We continue to adapt.
The trail obstacles put a major dent in our pace today. As evening set in, it looked like we might be finishing a relatively short day in the dark. My plan is to reach a shelter at the State Park, come hell or high water.
Darkness began to fall, but I resisted donning my headlamp. As a result, I missed a turn in the trail and lost 5 minutes on a side path next to a tiny cascading waterfall.
Surprise – Surprise!
In the end, we made it to the two story wooden shelter called “Blue Mountain Shelter” a little after 6 pm (without the use of a headlamp). At first glance it looked empty because I couldn’t see the second story loft. I gave a whistle, and a voice responded inquisitively – “Hello?”
The voice came from a thru-hiker who introduced himself as Chris. He is 46 years old, from the Bay Area in California. Chris had been living in Raleigh, NC for the past few years. This is his first attempted thru-hike, and the first fellow thru-hiker I’ve met out here.
I set up camp on the first floor while Chris occupied the loft. We chit chatted for more than an hour, comparing dog encounter stories and other experiences from the trail thus far. It’s been welcome company and conversation.
Tomorrow is the last fair weather day (according to the forecast), before everything deteriorates for another few days. My game-plan tomorrow is to get as close to 24 miles as possible. Then, I’ll have a short day into the town of Heflin after tomorrow. I think Chris has the same plan, but he’s dealing with some serious heel blisters at the moment.
Katana is snuggled under the sleeping bag with me. I’ll probably end up carrying her a lot tomorrow for the sake of making miles, but we’ll see…