There will be lessons learned (Sections 1-3)
Let me begin by saying the following is a tell of both the successes and mistakes of our very first section hike. I want to share it all with you because I want people to see that
1. Anyone can do this
2: It is an adventure, and in an adventure you don’t know what will happen
Our first big mistake was my fault. I still feel bad about this. We did so much planning and packing before the big day. Nearly every night the week before we would unpack our packs, review what we had, discussing which pocket to keep the head lamp in , and which pocket to keep the poo shovel in. We were excited ok.
On the morning we headed out we had to drop Tilly, my daughter’s dog, off with her at college while we were away. I really wanted to be able to see her and give her a hug before heading out into the wilderness for 7 days. Doing this meant leaving earlier than we had discussed. If we didn’t get there before her first class I’d just leave Tilly with her room mates. I got up and rushed Michael to get ready and leave. In the rush he put on his normal shoes. These are Vibram toe shoes that he wears without socks. He left the new vibram hiking shoes which he’d been breaking in and bought socks for beside the bed. This will be a problem later.
We didn’t make it anyway. No hugs or kisses. On the upside, the ride we arranged through the Pinhoti Outdoor Center, to take us from Oxford, AL, where my dad lives, to the hostel close to trail head, called to ask if we’d be ready earlier. Yes we would.
The Pinhoti Outdoor Center is invaluable in planning either a through hike or section hike of this trail. I cannot expound enough on how much help they give. They arrange rides to and from trail heads, help plan for resupplies, have tips and advise for every section of the trail, and even give their cell numbers for emergencies. Nathan and Kim host a weekly Zoom meeting for up coming hikers. During our first zoom meeting Michael ran into a friend from high school who was going to be hiking the trail soon too! We could not have planned this trip with out them.
Michael did not realize he had the wrong shoes until well past the point of turning around. Considering he had run a half marathon and done long hikes in these shoes, with no socks before, neither of us though it would be a huge issue.
Nathan, from the Pinhoti Outdoor Center, picked us up and drove us to the hostel.
We were lucky enough to arrive at the hostel on first Friday. On the first Friday of the month locals get together on Flag Mountain. There is a potluck meal, music, and good people. Nathan and Kim invited us to go with them. We were able to meet up with Michael’s friend from high school, Tim (trail name:HeyNav) & meet a lot of great people and learn a bit about the history of Flag Mountain as well.
I had never stayed in a hostel before and was a little uncertain on what to expect. I know they are not all the same but I hope any future hostels we stay in are this nice and clean (I’m pretty sure everyone, like me, when hearing the word “hostel” is concerned about how clean they may be). There was everything that could be needed, even a washer and dryer for hikers to use, along with picnic tables and a fire pit outside. We were advised to take earplugs for our nights on the trail. More than one experienced hiker said “a squirrel will sound like a mountain lion at night” but also for nights in the hostel. This was good advise. There were 3 other people in the hostel that night and everyone was very considerate of how much noise was made during sleeping hours and in the morning. However, when you are sleeping in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people every little noise will wake you up. The guy who slept in the latest wore earplugs and said he didn’t hear anything while everyone was getting up and getting ready.
Flag Mountain is the “State Park That Never Was”. Back in the 1930’s the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps, formed by President Roosevelt durning the Great Depression to give young men jobs, came to Weogufka, AL and began building cabins and the fire tower on Flag Mountain. This mountain is the end, or beginning, of the Appalachians. Unfortunately due to funding a decision had to be made between Flag Mountain and Cheaha Mountain. Cheaha’s building was continued and Flag Mountain was left unfinished and turned over to the state forestry service, who later also abandoned the attraction. Several years ago the local community came together and in an impressive push have remade Flag Mountain into a great place to visit. Most impressive is that the care and keeping of this resource is done by community groups only. It does not receive support from the state or federal government. Now there are a couple cabins to say in, which are available on a first come first serve basis, and the fire tower is almost ready to be open again. If you are planning a visit the Pinhoti Trail Alliance can answer many questions. I suggest visiting the care taker first, both to find a cabin and pay the fee, but also to take advantage of the wealth of information offered about the mountain and local trails. I’m not sure of the exact donation amount required. It seems to vary between $50-$90 depending on the size of the cabin and if it has a full bathroom or not. All cabins have electricity.
Nathan drove us to the trail head the next day and surprise Tim (HeyNav) was there to hike the first few miles with us! It was such a great way to start our journey. If only things had stayed so bright and shiny…
One of our other big mistakes came from ego. See we had already done a marathon hike on the Pinhoti trail a few years ago where we did section 5+ 6 (Porter’s Gap to the CheaHa Trail Head) with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We were novice hikers and did not bring a filter or enough water. To this day this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is 24 miles in one day with elevation going from 971 to 1,946, ending at the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain.
After completing that we felt like the hardest part of the trail was behind us. Such ego! I honestly and truly set out thinking even with our heavier packs that it wouldn’t be REALLY hard until we climbed Cheaha again. It did not occur to me that I was starting out on another mountain. I felt really stupid about this until sharing it with Michael and he said he’d felt the same way. We were starting at Flag Mountain after all! It was a very long day with some serious climbs. Then late in the afternoon the rain began. Not a down pour but this was the beginning of us being wet for the next four days. As the sun began to set we had met our mileage goals I was very ready to set up camp. We had been advised that if we could make it just a few miles past our planned stop there was a very much better campsite. I couldn’t make it. It was getting dark, the rain was still on us and I was so tired and sore. This ended up being a good thing because if we had continued we would have had to negotiate through fallen trees and a very steep, wet, rocky slope in the dark. This comes to a very important lesson. Make your own judgments. The advice was correct, a better campsite was just ahead, but that person wasn’t on the trail that day. They didn’t know it would be after sunset and in the rain before getting there or that there were fallen trees on the trail.
The next day was all road walking. Walking on a highway with very little shoulder and very fast moving and very large trucks can be very scary. I did not enjoy this very much. Not all of the road walking portion was along the highway. Some of it was on smaller less traveled roads. Many people were out on their porches and waved to us as we moved along. It was like word had been passed along that hikers were in town and everyone wanted a look at the oddity. During these portions we were occasionally met by dogs. It is a bit nerve racking having one, or two, or three, dogs come at you barking. None of them ever lunged or really tried to hurt us though. Really they just wanted us to know this was their yard. They were even waging their tails and excited, like this was the best part of their day. “Finally something to do. I’m going to bark at these hikers”!
In this section we did pass a Dollar General. Stinky and wet we were so happy to go in and buy Oreos, frito chips and a soda! I also had to buy a t-shirt because the tank top I had on allowed my pack to rub my shoulders raw. Michael’s feet were also getting blisters from wet shoes and no socks.
On this second day we had some hard rain, though fortunately it was not cold. By the end of the day we were wet though, and our cloths from the previous day were still wet. When we set up camp Michael hooked up the tarp and a clothes line under it hoping we could dry out our clothes a little bit. This may have helped them smell a little better but there was still a constant drizzle and so much moisture in the air that it had no effect on drying them out.
Coffee is the best way to start any day!
In the morning we put on wet clothes, took down camp in the drizzling rain and set out. Later it rained harder off and on. If we were in the canopy it didn’t slow us down too much. Michaels feet were looking bad though.
As we set up camp that night I realized how bad his feet were. They were rubbed raw and the bottom of one foot was half covered with one large blister. It had to hurt so bad. Every night a camp we immediately took off our hiking boots to air out our feet but in this weather they were never getting dry. We bandaged up his toes and feet but wet weather doesn’t help bandages either. The only this we had going for us at this point was that it wasn’t cold. I don’t think I would have lasted past the first night if I’d been wet and cold. Despite the past days of wet, wet, wet weather. We had seen many beautiful landscapes our moral was holding up pretty well. We are not complainers and even though it’d been more of a trial than we foresaw Michael and I just laughed and then sighed at the lessons learned.
Another day of going to bed and waking up wet. That makes it sound like everything was soaked, but rather it was damp. Everything was damp. As we set out on this morning however, Michael was grouchy and noticeably struggling. Not to keep up but his normal “we can do this” attitude was gone. When I got a look at his feet it was easy to see why. How he was walking with a 30 lb pack on I don’t know. They looked so bad. Raw and blistered on the sides and bottom. We continued for 5-6 miles when a down pour came on us so strong that we had to string the tarp up between some trees and hunker down for while. During that time I decided we were done. About 3-4 miles further was the next trail head. I called my step-mother and asked if she would come get us. Like a hero on a white horse, but instead a white Dodge Ram 1500, she pulled up with towels, water, and snacks. The plan was to go back and stay with her and my dad for a day or two, let Michael’s feet dry out, buy him a cheap pair of shoes and try to get further down the trail. PLAN B. After checking the weather and seeing that there was no sign of the rain lifting for the next several days we called it. This is how you learn Things Will Not Always Go As You Planned. I do not regret going or deciding to call it. Spoiler…we went back and finished what we missed and also went back to do the next 100 mile section we’d planned 6 weeks later. This time with better shoes and lighter packs.
Shilo’s Pack List-27.3 (with water)
- *1-1qt water bottle
*1-23.7 oz water bottle
*1-ziplock with pantyhose footie x2
*2-16oz squeeze water bag
*1-pair keen sandals (traded for Crock sandals) *1-water proof pack cover
*1-frog togg rain jacket
*1-frog togg rain pant (too big & didn’t use)
- *1-UBeeze Remote phone tripod
*1-glasses + case
*1-hand sanitizer- 2 oz
*1-babypowder -1 oz
*1-benadryl anti inch stick-.47oz
- *1-tecnu poison ivy soap pack-.5oz *1-head lamp
*1-gerber multi tool
- *1-poo shovel
*4-baby wipe mini packs *1-large D ring
*1-medical pack: 1 Sawyer mini
- 6 Imodium
assorted bandages medical tape
- *1-personal hygien kit:
- 1 travel toothpaste 1 mini dental floss 1 contact case
1 earplug set
- *1-butt pad (4 sections)
- *1-long sleeve pull over *1-running shorts *2-sport bra
*2-pair socks *1-streach pants
- *1-t shirt *1-knit cap *2-underpants *1-hiking pants
18 espresso instant packs
18 tbsp coconut milk powder (heavy-traded for instant coffee
- packs w/cocount milk)
- 18 instant oat milk packs walnuts
freeze dried peaches freeze dried strawberries 1-truvia liquid sweetener
12 cliff bars
- 32 assorted granola bars
- 4 homemade meals
- 8 prepackaged trail meals (traded for homemade meals which are much lighter)
Michaels Pack – 29.7 (with water)
- 1-1qt water bottle
- 2 stanley cook pot (down to 1)
- 1-23.7oz water bottle
- 2-MSR fuel can 7.4oz (1 can)
- 1-waterproof pack cover
- 1-rain poncho
- 4-nite Ize cords
- 2 collapsable cups
- 1-pair crocks
- 1-Garmin In Reach Mini
- 1-large D ring
- 1-sawyer mini
- 1-sawyer 4oz insect repellent
- 1-battery bank
- 1-container 10 glucose tablets
- 2-battery operated “glow stick” nightlights
- 1-leatherman mini tool
- 2-AAA batteries
- 1-lighter with 2 arm lengths of duct tape
- 1-headlamp (clips on hat)
- 1-hand sanitizer 2oz
- 1-patch kit: 2 patches+glue
- *1-butt pad (4 sections)
- *1-tarp (5×7)
- *4-extra tent stakes
- *1-50ft 550 cord
* 1-food scrapper
* 2-E Tech City canister stove (down to 1)
- * 2-fuel base stand (down to 1)
- *1-mountain cattle 2 sleeper tent
- *2-40 degree ozark trail sleeping bag
- *2-sleeping bag stuff sack
*2-sleep in go inflatable mat
- *2-mylar lined bivvy bag (water proof
- sleeping bag cover)
- * 2-walking sticks
- * 1-knit cap
* 1-long sleeve zip jacket (light weight)
- * 2-T shirts
- * 2-shorts