Date- March 14, 2020
Distance Traveled Today- 8.4 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 348.3 miles
Weather/Temp- Rain, fog, 60s
Injuries- Rolled ankle, scratches, bumps
Pain level- Pain is irrelevant
Spirits/Morale- MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Wildlife encounters- Zero
Days without shower- 4
Days without laundry- 4
Whoa! Today was just nuts in every way! Easily the hardest day of this hike, but also the cherry on top of the entire adventure. If there was ever a day where you could say the trail provides, or works in mysterious ways, or takes on a life of its own… today was that day.Against all conventional wisdom, it actually didn’t get that cold last night – or at least I didn’t feel it. The humidity has stayed pretty consistent over the past week or so despite (or in spite) of the weather.Surprisingly, it was a nice morning, and wasn’t raining when we got up and packed around 9am. This wasn’t to last, as it began to rain within the first hour of hiking, and rain hard.
Everything just sort of deteriorated after the rain began, and I’m not talking only about the weather. The trail began wholeheartedly working against us in every way. The mud became a sucking, slippery muck. Gnarly blow-downs became a staple. There were branches, bushes, and rhododendrons scattered everywhere – hanging over and onto the trail. There were more than a dozen flooded creek and stream crossings of varying difficulties. It was one thing… after another… after another.
I hit my head on another blow-down and ripped off the scab from yesterday, which hurt even more (and longer) than the original injury. I was constantly slipping in the mud, taking several hard falls that luckily didn’t result in further injury to myself or Katana (flipping off my shoulders). It was mostly me, coming down hard on a knee or on my ass. Vines and sticks were constantly getting caught up in my legs and tripping me even more. Every time I tried to push a branch out of the way or side step some obstacle, I would get painfully slapped (or raked) in the face by something else.
I kid you not, it didn’t feel real. So much was going wrong and hindering our progress, I was beginning to get very superstitious and somewhat worried. It was almost like the trail didn’t want us to finish. My pace was ridiculously hampered by all the mishaps and extra obstacles. What should have been an early noon finish, stretched on until nearly 3pm. It was insane! Adding to my stress, when I finally got service and called my friend Charlie around 1 pm, to see if he had begun the 7.5 hour drive to pick me up… he hadn’t even left yet! He had a reason. However, this meant I would be waiting on some “middle of nowhere road” until close to 9 pm in the pouring rain. After the day I’d been enduring, this thought was not pleasant. Alas, beggars can’t be choosers…
Elusive Silver Lining
On multiple occasions, I felt my morale and level of annoyance begin to spiral out of control (after a slip, a bump, or a slap in the face from a branch). Consequently, I found myself speaking and calling aloud to myself and Katana, in the pouring rain. Nothing crazy – just verbal affirmations to calm down; that this would all get better, and it would all be worth it in the end. I reassured myself that this was the last day, and nothing was going to bring us down. The silver lining was hiding in all of this somewhere, even if it was simply acknowledging “the harder the struggle, the sweeter the victory.”
On top of everything else, I rolled my ankle on the final creek crossing less than a quarter mile from the finish line – a first! I’ve never rolled an ankle on a water crossing, let alone a water crossing like this one. It was all sand. But, as I reached the other side of the 30 ft or so wide creek, the sand became a sucking mud-pit. Suddenly, as I took one of my final steps, my right foot sunk straight through what looked to be sand. It caught the edge of something hard, buried within the mucky depths, causing my ankle to painfully roll. I stumbled – but didn’t fall. I could do nothing but laugh at this final faux pas, while so close to the end.
Aside from the creek crossing, Katana hiked the last mile to the northern terminus under her own power, at her own pace, and in her own fashion. It was a great finish! She looked at me confusedly when I began to cheer her on and congratulate her. I continued cheering, as she ambled to a point parallel with the sign denoting the northern terminus, which dead ended into a section of the famous “Benton Mackay Trail” (BMT). I wasn’t standing anywhere near the sign. Nevertheless, she went straight to its location (slightly off trail) and began sniffing the base of the post. I really wanted her to pee on it (mark it) in a show of – “I own this trail.” But alas, I was treated to no such comedy gold.
That’s a Wrap
Since there was nobody to snap a finish picture of us, I had to prop my phone up on my pack. Then, I took a video recording of us going through several different finish poses. The plan was to take a freeze-frame screen shot of whatever turned out good enough on the video. We did one run of poses. As I was going through the video, I was unhappy with how grainy it looked. So, I set the phone up differently and did it again. This time I was more or less pleased with the results. Now, I was ready to hike out to where we would eventually meet Charlie – a remote service road on the edge of what seemed to be a small mountain community.
The rain stopped for the last hour of hiking. However, the forest was still dripping wet while a heavy mist hung in the air. As I was preparing to move out, Katana alerted me to someone approaching from behind. I looked in the direction where her attention was focused, and saw two men coming through the misty forest, making their way south on the BMT. I was dumbfounded to see other human beings on the trail in this weather, in such a random spot, and at such a random time.They approached us and introduced themselves as Brian and “Iam,” (pronounced like “Ian,” but obviously with an “m”). Iam was getting ready to hike over 300 miles of the BMT. Brian was just dropping him off and hiking a couple of the first miles with him. Both were in their upper middle age.As we spoke for several minutes, Brian eventually offered to give me a ride to the nearest large town of “Blue Ridge.” I could wait there for Charlie in relative comfort out of the weather, while simultaneously making his drive shorter. This was unbelievably fortuitous! Suddenly, the events of the entire day made sense…
Had I not encountered every single little setback and hiccup today (and trust me, they were innumerable) – I would not have crossed paths with these two gentlemen in the tiny window of space and time that I did. One could even argue that the universe/the trail/fate had a plan, and that plan was to set me on a path and collision course most in line with what I desired. That desire being: the easiest, fastest way off the trail and out of this weather, at the conclusion of the hike. Had anything today happened any differently… all the way down to the point where I took a second video of finishing poses, I would have left the terminus, back-tracking down the Pinhoti and missed Iam and Brian as they passed by on the BMT. The timing and events of everything couldn’t have been more synchronistic. Let’s be honest, these were only the third serious hikers I’d seen on trail in a month of hiking.I graciously accepted the ride offer and promptly began a new route to a different service road to meet Brian. After he trail ran back to his vehicle (a couple miles away), he met me at a point called “Watson Gap.” This route was shorter than me following Brian directly back to his vehicle. It also allowed him to do his trail running while I moved a little slower, over a shorter distance, to our rendezvous point.
In the end, Brian picked Katana and I up at Watson Gap and drove us an hour and a half south to his home in Cummings, Georgia (a little north of Atlanta). Here, I met his wife – Jane. They welcomed the pup and I into their home, and even fed me a delicious dinner of meatball stew! Their kindness and hospitality was incredible. It was the last thing I ever expected when this day began with its downward spiral.
Brian is a Risk Assessment Specialist. He works with big name companies and corporations – assessing their risks. He helps implement or eliminate certain policies and practices that fall into a “risk vs reward” category (pertaining to profits and liabilities). Even more interesting than that, Brian is an ultra runner who frequently partakes in various trail/road runs spanning multiple days and hundreds of miles! The guy is impressive, as well as a picture of perfect health in his fifties!
I spent a couple hours at their home before meeting Charlie and our mutual friend, Anthony (who drove with Charlie). We met about 20 miles down the Interstate in order to save them from driving back into the countryside and losing even more time. Since it was a Saturday evening, I didn’t want to impose on Brian and Jane anymore than I already had – even though they insisted it was no trouble.
After goodbyes, I hopped in Charlie’s truck with Katana. I took the wheel and drove us the three hours south to Sylacauga, Alabama – to the Pinhoti Outdoor Center, where my van was parked. But… not before we stopped off in Heflin, Alabama (which was enroute), to have some good wings at “Damn Yankees.”
Thank you Charlie!
It was 11pm when we finally pulled into Pinhoti Outdoor Center, where Charlie and Anthony dropped us off. They decided to continue back to Florida rather than sleep in the truck or crowd up the van. This meant another four hours of driving. Even though everything worked out perfectly in the end, I took the opportunity to rib Charlie a little bit about the importance of an early start when undertaking long drives (this was his first ever).
So, the Pinhoti Trail is in the books and Katana and I are safe and sound, back in our mobile command center. While this wasn’t our biggest undertaking, the feeling of glorious accomplishment is no less sweet than at the conclusion of any other trail. There wasn’t a ton of strife and heartache, or enormous investment of time on this trail. The struggle and effort put forth by all parties throughout this adventure was there; it was real, and real amazing – any way you slice it. Katana smashed this trail with gusto! I’ve never seen her as happy as she is when she’s anywhere outdoors with the ones she loves. Especially when lost somewhere on the long trails of North America with no plan and no aim; other than a simple direction, and a lighthearted optimism for whatever comes our way…