Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Winter's Trail

For my birthday, the philosopher and I went on a hike - a real hike, not a walk in the local park or a stroll around the city lake. It was a glorious day, about 62 degrees and sunny with a brilliant blue sky. Our original plan was to find the Pinhoti parking area near Coleman Lake. We had the directions from the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website, and off we went.

Well, first we packed a lunch - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, and trail mix - and collected our hiking sticks and backpacks and compass and small first aid kit and Pinhoti trail map and chap stick and .... did I ever tell you I'm married to a Boy Scout, by the way?

Anyway, once we got our gear together, we pulled out our trusty Alabama Atlas and Gazetteer and headed down the road. And over the mountain. And through the woods. And... well, we never saw grandma's house which is a good thing, since she lives in the other direction. We did, finally, find the last leg of the journey to the parking area. We made the turn, and immediately realized that "FS 500" meant "Forest Service Road 500." Which meant unpaved. Which meant muddy. And did I mention we own a Ford Focus? We were supposed to go 2 miles to the trail crossing. We went about a 1/2 mile, and saw up ahead deep ruts in the road, angling uphill. At that moment reality hit us. What the HECK were we doing on a Forest Service road the day after a big rain in a Ford Focus?? The philosopher put the car in reverse, and immediately realized that there wasn't enough room to turn around. So we reversed course, literally, and backed back to the paved road we were on. (Thank you God, for taking care of fools. I promise we will never be so foolish again!)

We consulted our map, and discovered that a bit farther down our lovely, paved county road was an acutal Talladega National Forest trailhead. ::doh:: So sheepishly we drove a couple of miles and parked in a nice, gravelled area. Burns Trailhead. Named for a log cabin built on the site almost 100 years ago by Pink E. Burns. (Yes. Pinky Burns. This is Alabama, remember.)

We also discovered that THIS trailhead was outside the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area, and since deer hunting season runs until the end of the month we'd be much less likely to be taken for wild game. Bonus!

After donning our boots and trussing up our packs, we headed onto the trail. Our path took us north into the Dugger Mountain Wilderness. It's a very different experience hiking in the winter. Things are quite brown and gray, with little color to brighten the woods. Fallen trees lay scattered like dinosaur bones, and there are graveyards of majestic pines lost to the pine beetle many years ago. Boulders lie partially buried in leaf debris as though hibernating, and you hear very few sounds of wildlife. It is desolate. But it is also beautiful - because the trees have lost their leaves you can see the ridges clearly, and follow the folds of earth that form the bones of the mountain. There are groves of ancient rhododendron, holding tight to their shiny leaves, which throw their splash of green into sharp relief against the barren landscape. You hear the merry sound of a running creek and waterfall in a valley below, and see the sun glint off the water through the tree trunks. Peaceful and quiet - the earth is waiting for spring's rebirth.

And there are signs of recent human activity. Many winter treefalls have blocked the trail, and recently someone has come along and cut and cleared the way for future hikers. Some cuts look so new that I keep expecting to come across a solitary hiker with a saw, working hard on a fallen branch.

We talk of theology and philosophy and Anglican history and liberal arts and the future and other such nonsense, and stop occasionally to marvel at something we spot along the way. Someone listening to our conversation would probably think us completely scattered, as we shift and jump from topic to topic followed by long spaces of comfortable silence as we each ponder our own thoughts.

After three miles we stop for lunch partway up a ridge on a convenient outcrop of rocks, where we are investigated closely by a lizard and a yellowjacket. Then we head home for a hot cup of tea and a hot bath, quite content with our day's adventures.

1 comment:

Blondie said...

It sounds like a great day!

I have to admit that my very first thought was of the SMK episode, Utopia Now, with Amanda and her Junior Trailblazer map and match (a good scout only needs one).

Of course, now I have to go watch that episode!