Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run: Day Four: Half Way Home And A New State
Maxwell Gap (CR-70) to Midpoint of Simms Mountain Trail, 50.5 miles, ~14 ¼ h
This morning I was awake before my alarm and ready to go. I think I was now “living the lifestyle” as DeWayne Satterfield described his various cross Tennessee running experiences. He told me that after a couple of days or so you begin to solidify, to harden to the task ahead, to live the lifestyle of a multi-day runner. That’s just what you do, your whole purpose and existence is to just keep moving forward until you’re done. His words rang very true to me; I could fully appreciate what he meant now. I had no concern about work, or school; not anything for applying myself to the task at hand.
On the way to Maxwell Gap I devoured two McDonalds Egg & Cheese biscuits and a sweet tea. Breakfast of Champions! All tanked up and firing to go I was off before 6 a.m. this morning; climbing on a full stomach to Augusta Mine Ridge. This was a very unique section as the route takes you in and around an old mine site; almost like walking through a maze. There was a light fog surrounding the area and with the sunlight trying to beam through gave the area a very Stonehenge like feel. I can’t really describe it that well. Supernatural perhaps? Anyhow I was soon through old mining area and descending to Lanie Gap and on down into Lanie Hollow and creek. I really didn’t want to get my feet wet this early in the day so at the Lanie Creek crossing I found, just a bit up stream, a nice log crossing. It was a bit sketchy as it was above the creek 4-5 feet and any miss step would send be plunging into the very creek I was trying to avoid! Piece of cake, across and I ran the remaining short way out of the Hollow to the High Point Trailhead. No Josh. Doh! He said he might be running a bit late as he had to coordinate with Eric’s crew to help shuttle vehicles around to make their life a bit easier in aiding him. All I’d heard was that Eric was planning on making it as far as the state line and then deciding on what to do after that; to continue or to stop. I sure hoped he would decide on the former, but I couldn’t blame if he chose to stop. I’d seen his feet the night before and they were pretty mangled! Apparently he’d ended up making it to the Burns Trailhead by early evening the night before, often not able to walk faster than 2 miles an hour the whole way. Humbling. I was proud that he kept going yesterday and that he was continuing on today. Good for him.
Anyhow, no Josh for about 5-6 minutes, not that I was too worried; finally he arrived out of the heavy ground fog. He apologized profusely but I didn’t really bother me; it’s all good. I’m extremely thankful to have such motivated crew for this adventure! I restocked and headed up the highway for the next half mile. This turned out to be one of the scariest and dangerous sections I’d end up traversing. This road had no shoulder and dropped steeply off either side; I was in a heavy fog, wearing white clothing and these huge tractor trailers were just flying down the road! I immediately realized that they could not see me! So I’d sort of turn my back and crouch as far off the road as I could as they swept past then I’d get up and sprint up the road until I had to repeat the process with the next oncoming semi. I made pretty good time; fight or flight right? Off the highway thankfully and on up the trail to Davis Mountain. This was a very interesting area; I could tell there had been a recent burn here as a lot of the undergrowth was gone and the trees much more sparse. Yet the grass was very high and in the morning dew I was soon soaked; feet and all; oh well! The trail was actually a bit more difficult to follow here since I was basically out in the open, wading through tall grass and with few trees around there were not many markers to follow up Davis Mountain. Conditions approved after I passed by the David Mountain Shelter. Beautiful structure and a wonderful panoramic view! Another place I need to come back and visit! Some of this route down the mountain was a bit aggravating in the tall grass; you’d cross this nice dirt road, back into the tall grass, run along parallel to the nice dirt road then have to cross it back just a few hundred feet later! No matter, I kept on going and now passed several signs now marking the Pinhoti Trail route; nice handmade signs! Eventually the trail dumped me out onto some sort of logging road as it was a bit wide and had some large tire tracks. Back into the woods one last bit and then I was at the next crew location at Salem Church road. But before I got there, there was Josh taking my picture crossing a very new pedestrian bridge across Hurricane Creek.
I quickly refilled my bottle, grabbed a second and headed out on the last of the Alabama Pinhoti! Woot! Just a quarter mile or so in, the trail descends a wooden ladder into Hawkins Hollow which is just a huge swimming hole! Yep, you guessed it, another place to come and visit again! No time for a dip now, I had many more miles to go this day! I continued on up the mountain, making my way along the ridgeline. After another couple of miles of nice ridgeline running I arrived at Flagpole Mountain. It was now only a mile to the state line! This is a nice scenic spot, there are some artist benches and chairs lying about, a fire ring; pretty nice place to camp. As I was leaving the little glen I noticed something I hadn’t seen in the past 170 miles of the Pinhoti; another human being besides my crew! The person turned out to be a fellow Pinhoti thru-hiker. We talked for a bit and then I wished him good luck on the rest of his journey, he wished me the same and I was off, heading down the mountain. I was charged and amped up as I flew down the trail. And just like that there is Josh ahead of me standing by the state line marker. The marker is adorned with an Alabama and Georgia state flag. I pause to reflect; I’m now over half way done and through with the Alabama section! Yeah! I turn on my phone and call Kathy. As I’m sitting on a rock talking to Kathy, the thru hiker sidles up! Perfect timing! He takes our picture and we take his and then I’m on my way again down the mountain. Josh is taking a bit more time, coordinating things with crew over the phone and is packing away some gear so I tell him I’m going to walk ahead. I get a pretty good ways away when I hear him coming down the trail. Now’s my chance! I duck off the trail and crouch behind a tree as best I can and wait. His footsteps get louder and louder and then his about to pass by. BOOO! I yell as I jump out from behind the tree. He jumps up and away as well as he yells! Ha! Got him! We both burst into laughter as we continue running down the trail. Never pass up the chance to scare someone in the woods I always say! We run the rest of the way down the mountain, chatting and laughing and then we’re at the Old Jackson Chapel Road trailhead.
It is starting to get quite warm now, so I take the liberty to soak in a creek close by. Nice! I was about to begin a 30 mile plus, mostly paved road run. Yuck! Still this is the way the Pinhoti Trail goes so it’s the way I must go to. Just as I’m putting my shoes back on after dunking in the creek, my friend Scott Brockmeier pulls up! He lives in Rome, Georgia (my destination for the day) and has volunteered to come out and run 20 miles with me! Cool! So I take off down the old road (gravel) as Josh and Scott figure out car shuttling logistics. I’m now wearing my full sun hat as the rest of the day is going to be very exposed to the sun. It’s pretty hot out, but I’m coping well. In the weeks prior to this trip I did followed a heat training regimen used by Badwater athletes. We’d installed a sauna in my basement several years ago for just such training circumstances. Kathy used the sauna very effectively for her successful Badwater 135 race last summer and so I was hoping I’d glean similar effects. Basically I built up to enduring several 45 minute plus sessions in the sauna at 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Once we’d set the May 1st start date I knew from past experience that it could get very hot this time of year so I knew I better be ready for it. Well I’m happy to say I think the sauna training really worked as the heat never really got to me all that bad compared to what it usually does (I typically hate running in hot weather). Anyhow, a few miles later as I’m about to emerge off of the old dirt road, Scott and Josh are waiting for me. I run by and continue on, Scott in tow. We enter the highway briefly and then turn off onto Santa Claus Road (I kid you not!). Old Santa must be spending too much time in the North Pole because this road is very beaten up and rough! It is gravel too, but of the large grain variety and tough to run on. Scott and I discuss all sorts of things along the way; our schooling, running, life, etc… It was a real pleasure to spend a few hours with him on a week day no less! Thanks for all your help Scott! Scott would even later take a big bag of stinky laundry and wash it for me. What a guy! He even brought back an egg salad sandwich sometime later that night that I believe Liz Walker had made. Unfortunately I think it got lost in the shuffle and I never got to try it! Damn, so sorry! Next time! Anyways, after a mile or two of Santa Claus Road we’d seen enough and were approaching another paved road, the beginning of a whole lot of pavement ahead! I took this opportunity to change into some road shoes (Nike Frees) and then we were on the move once more. Moving down the road. Step by step. This was actually not too bad of a road section into Cave Spring. The road was very Strolling Jim like; rolling hills, beautiful countryside and all together not too much traffic. I will say that, overall, Georgia drivers are much more courteous to pedestrians in the road than Alabama drivers. By far. Almost every driver we encountered attempted to get half a lane or often a full lane over when passing! When they couldn’t, because of oncoming traffic, they’d at least slow down and pass at a more reasonable speed. Thanks Georgia drivers! There were exceptions of course, but on the whole, much better than Alabama.
At last we strolled into the little town of Cave Spring. The Pinhoti is actually marked through a neat little shaded park and then sort of doubles back and heads through the little downtown area. I couldn’t believe how well the road section was marked. There were Pinhoti turkey markers on every other utility pole it seemed complete with double offset markers indicating all the turns. Great job, need more of this on the Alabama side. Entering the little Cave Spring park, Josh was waiting with an ice-cream sandwich! Boy that was good! We were into the real heat of the day now but I still felt pretty good. I stuffed some more ice into my hat and we were off again, through the park and then through the quaint little downtown before heading back out into the country on a lonely little road. Now I was making my push for Rome, I tried to keep running as much as I could, taking breaks every so often; typically on the uphills and soon Scott’s 20 miles were up. I was sad to see him go, but very thankful he’d take the time to come out and run with me and to do some laundry! So Josh left with Scott, returning him back to his car while I continued on. I’d grabbed a bunch of calories before Josh left so I spent the next half mile or so just walking, trying to let stuff digest. Soon I was back running again, the worst of the heat was past now as the sun was getting low in the West. I really tried to push now as the road was a bit gentler (not rolling) and I was all by myself for the next little while. I’d gotten a few more miles down the road when Josh suddenly appeared, boy that didn’t take long! We were just outside Rome now and the end of the day was rapidly approaching. The day really seemed to pass fairly quickly. I guess that’s a good thing. Getting close to Rome, there was a fair amount of traffic, especially after I turned onto the main five lane highway that passed in front of several factories. This was a long stretch I don’t mind saying. This was a pretty crappy area to run, no sidewalk and the shoulder was just high grass in front of a myriad of businesses. Lame. To make it worse, I was starting to tire and ache and was just ready to be done. Still, only a handful of miles left and I’d have 50 miles for the day. I just tucked my head and muscled through. Finally I made the turn off the busy highway onto Huffaker Road. Josh met me to give me my head lamp as it was getting dark. He said he was going to drive ahead to Simms Mountain Trail head and run back so he could run a bit with me. He actually ran some right then with me until running back to get his car to drive ahead. In this first short stretch with Josh we passed by a fire hydrant lying on its side, affixed to nothing. Just lying there. Odd! I told Josh that I wanted that fire hydrant as totem and that he should go back and get it. At first he thought I was serious and gave me this considering look. Then I started laughing and we kept on going. What would I do with a fire hydrant anyhow? Might make a pretty cool mailbox though I think the fire department might not like it!
Soon I was alone again, Josh was driving ahead and going to run back; this was a very peaceful time along the road. The low sunlight coming through the trees was just magical, this is my favorite time of day when the possibilities just seem endless! It is a very thoughtful time. Josh appeared from up the road and now we were just a half mile or so to the trail head. Now at the trailhead I had to decide what to do. It was still barely light and I’d accomplished my Day Four goal by making it to this location. Since I was finally off of the road (for a long time to come) and on a nice and easy gravel rail-to-trail, I decided to continue on a bit further. I was achy and tired so I didn’t want to do too much as I knew tomorrow was going to be another epic day much like the previous day; important to not overdo it tonight.
So I continued on the first part of Simms Mountain Trail crossing a pretty cool old rail-road trestle in the gathering gloom and shuffled onward. After a mile it got dark enough to turn on my headlamp and that’s when I decided to just do one more mile for a total of 50 for the day. Josh appeared out of the blackness ahead and told me he was about a mile out. Perfect. So we jogged along, often having to maneuver around the occasional puddle or muddy spot, until at last we were once again at the crew vehicle. I was done for the day! Phew! That was a long day in the sun and I was thankful to be finished with the roads for the time being. I quickly toweled off, grabbed a beverage for the road and we were off to the hotel for some much deserved food, ice bath and sleep!
To be continued… For more information about the Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run click here.