Friday, May 14, 2010

Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run: Day Zero: A Long Walk to the Gallows

Today marks exactly two weeks since I began the long drive down to the start of the my Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run; and a week since I finished.  To commemorate my experience I'm going to be publishing my day to day run reports; one each day over the next week.  Enjoy!


In the final days before the PTAR I was truly not a fun person to be around (I want to apologize right now to my wife Kathy).  I was full of nervous apprehension about the hugeness (for me) of the quest ahead.  The reality that I was about to embark on a Three Hundred Thirty Five mile journey on foot was finally hitting me.  What began as a pipe dream over ten years ago when I first moved to Alabama (circa late 1998) was now coming to fruition.  It was going to happen and there was no turning back now!  My fascination with the Pinhoti trail began when I was living in Birmingham and first heard about the trail through other people’s stories and experiences.  Back then there wasn’t as much information on the Web and all one could really do is order what maps were available (yes, by mailing a check in an envelope to somebody! Imagine such primitive means!).  I ordered those maps and I was shocked by what I received.  Multiple, HUGE trail maps split into several trail segments (five in all).  End to end (matching up the trailheads marked on the maps) the series of maps stretched some fifteen feet across my living room floor!  I actually glued all the maps to poster boards and I still have this huge roll somewhere if anybody would like to see it, perhaps I’ll post a photo sometime!  Anyhow, back in 1999 these were the only maps available and the Pinhoti trail started at Porter’s Gap and terminated at (I believe) Maxwell Gap so it was “only” some 100 miles of trail.  So being a veteran 100 mile runner (even back then) the wheels started turning in my head about attempting to run the Pinhoti trail, end-to-end.  That’s how the idea about PTAR was born. 
Later that year, September 25th, 1999 to be exact, Kathy and I began scouting out the Pinhoti trail by running an out-and-back training run from Porters Gap to Adams Gap and back.  I remember it being blistering hot and the trail was very difficult to follow and totally overgrown in many places.  It took us over 8 hours to complete the 30 mile+ route and I was deeply humbled.  If the whole 100 mile+ trail was this wild, boy it would be a surreal challenge!  Well, then life got in the way.  We moved back to Huntsville, get interested in other events and the Pinhoti thru-run dream got put on the back burner.  In retrospect I’m glad I waited, for though the dream was on hold, I continued to monitor the status of the Pinhoti trail over the years.  Even back in 1999 there were rumors that new sections were planned to be built, were being built and then I learned that the Georgia folks where beginning to add sections of trail themselves with the hope of connecting the Pinhoti to the Appalachian Trail (AT) via the Benton MacKaye Trail.  So the Pinhoti was growing, developing, changing and I was preoccupied with other things so I decided to wait until this newest AT feeder trail would be open. 
Then in 2005, April 2nd to be exact, myself, Dink Taylor, Tom Possert and John Dove plan and attempt the first PTAR.  At this time the southern terminus of the Pinhoti was still Porters gap, but new trail had been flagged/cut southward over Horn Mountain.  To the north, the Pinhoti now extended to the Alabama/Georgia state line bringing the total trail length to nearly 120 miles (officially).  Since not much was known about the new Horn Mountain section, we decided to start at Porters Gap and run, fully supported, to the state line on the Pinhoti.  Again, at this time not much was known about the state of the Pinhoti trail in Georgia, so an Alabama Pinhoti Trail run was the goal.  Unfortunately for me, I just didn’t have it in me to spend the night in the woods and so Dink and I stopped at the I-20 crossing some 48.7 miles (11h 41m) later while John and Tom continued through the night and made it to CR-94 just off the Chief Ladiga trail for a solid 100 mile run.  Nobody made it through the planned PTAR.  Although I failed, through this experience I resolved that one day when I did decide to take on the Pinhoti trail again, I’d do it as a fast hiker, that is, try to keep the night running to a minimum with the goal of seeing the entire route in the day time (day to day). 
Now we fast forward to 2008, the Pinhoti Trail is officially opened as a AT connector and the trail is in as stable a condition as it’s probably going to be for a long time to come.  On the Alabama side, the Pinhoti now stretches the entire length of the Talladega National Forest, southward adding Horn Mountain and Rebecca Mountain and finally terminating (after a 22 mile road walk) on top of Flagg Mountain which earns it’s distinction as the last of the 1000’+ peaks in the Appalachian chain (just outside of Weogufka, Alabama). To the north, Davis Mountain and Flag Pole Mountain were added that stretches all the way and into Georgia.  On the Georgia side, the trail starts with a long road walk into Rome where it picks up trails again to the West of Rome into the Chattahoochee National Forest and snakes its way through there, briefly passing through the Johns Mountain Wildlife Management Area and into Dalton.  Another road walk across the valley to Ramhurst where it again enters the Chattahoochee National Forest and finally crosses into the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area to finish at its northern terminus at the Benton MacKaye Trail (approximately 70 miles from Springer Mountain and the beginning of the AT).  So, in a nutshell, the Pinhoti trail is set and the time is right to give it a go.
It’s now late summer of 2009 and a group of us are on a long training run in the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.  With Eric Charette and Josh Kennedy among the group, eventually the conversation turns to the Pinhoti trail.  I mention that it’s been my dream to one day do the entire trail.  That leads to more discussion and soon we’re hashing out ideas to run the Alabama Pinhoti trail to the state line.  Well I got to thinking that if we’re going to do the Pinhoti, we need to do it all.  For me it was all or nothing.  So after that brain storming session on the run things began to happen quickly and before I knew it here I was sitting in my office with just a couple of hours to go before I’d leave to drive south to Sylacauga to begin my long trail journey the next morning!
So with a deep sense of foreboding I met Eric at my house and we crammed my vehicle full of our gear and headed south.  The weather forecast didn’t look to promising with threats of 2-4” of rain all weekend long and expected temperatures to soar into the upper 80s to low 90s throughout the weekend and into the following week!  Wonderful!

    To be continued…