Pinhoti Reflections

In writing the posts for the sections I’ve completed for the Pinhoti I realized I need to do a summary of some things first, so that my actual day 1, day 2 section this section that, posts don’t get too cluttered with my big mouth running in all directions. So I’m doing a reflections/summary/points of interest first then will be posting shortly about the sections individually after this.

Day 1 of my attempted “thru” hike of the Pinhoti set the tone for the rest of the trip I’m afraid- a little short on mileage lol. I should say up front that I didn’t make it to the GA line during my vacation time, even though technically if you just took the number of miles and divided it by days I had available it seemed doable. Maybe a longer day here makes up for a shorter day there… but it seemed plausible.

Sometimes attempts to mark the trail succeeded. I became real attached the old school turkey mark of white on bark, which was my favorite type of Pinhoti trail mark.

But on the first day we didn’t hit the trail until a little before 11 and though we packed in a decent amount of miles before calling it quits at 4:30 we didn’t make it as far as I needed to to keep up with that miles/days ratio I had going on. I figured I’d make it up later. But I didn’t. I hit some snags later in my hike (an hour or two lost here and there when blazes thinned out or multiple trails branched out at an intersection that wasn’t marked… road crossings that were hard to find… taking a zero day to arrange water drops for the next few days, etc) that stole even more time.

This was worth it though because of a few factors. I had Brooke with me on day 1 and she needed to be picked up the following morning so the company was ABSOLUTELY worth the late start and shorter mileage day because with her she helped me be brave enough to start my journey.  Brooke and her husband also did me a HUGE favor the next day by setting up a water drop and that gets them gold stars in my book. I seriously needed a teddy bear on my first night on my trip and Brooke agreeing to go with me was a major comfort. Without her I wonder, would I have been brave enough to go on? I’ve never hiked solo like that in the woods before. There’s no one there… I mean…no one. Each road crossing felt a little like Russian Roulette. Each time I was getting ready to camp I had safety to take into consideration- I didn’t want to camp right by a road crossing… and my mileage kept playing out where I’d either have to have a reeeeally long day or a “regular” day. I ran into a few off road vehicles and each encounter had the potential of being dangerous… But short of one near encounter with some crazy drunk cursing rednecks everything went fine. I was totally safe and began to trust my instincts and talk to the people I met at road crossings. This hike has been a real growth opportunity for me as a long distance hiker. I can’t wait to finish out the rest of this trail!

Brooke and I found a place off of the trail to camp the first night. We found old blue blazes and realized our stealth camp was actually on part of the old Pinhoti. Interesting! Her presence on the first night was just the bolster I needed to continue on alone over the next several days. Thanks Brooke!

So in retrospect here’s what I would have done differently:

  • Arranged water drops ahead of time (logistically I’d never done this and had no idea how) I’ll cover the best way to do this on the Pinhoti further in the future blog posts.
  • Planned my mileage much more carefully before leaving- I was way too “oh, whatever happens happens” and was a bit shocked I think at falling short of my goal.
  • Had arranged a backup ride home (my ride ended up having to pick me up two days earlier than originally planned because of work scheduling conflicts).
  • Taken bug spray! (most of my zero day was spent tending to serious wounds received from bugs like I’d never experienced!). I’ve never had to take bug spray.. I’d never needed it..but lots of different types of bugs ate me on this trail. One even ate most of the skin OUT OF my belly button. It looked like it was infected and got round the clock attention on my zero day as did my feet which were almost the worst shape they’ve ever been in. I can’t explain that either… just one of those things…
  • Left the set of Pinhoti maps at home. I felt they were worthless bunches of paper. Instead I would take the two other things I did have and DID use and ditch those map sets. I did have the Talladega National Forest Map. Mine was dated 2008. I do not know if there is a newer one. It is weather resistant and has everything you need on it. I also did something a bit time consuming but incredibly worth the time. I went to the Pinhoti Trail Alliance (PTA) website and took the “snail trail” descriptions of each section. They were far too long to just print out. I copied and pasted them into word then altered the font size down, put some stuff into columns, got rid of the unnecessary stuff (“you’ll see this type of flower in April…etc etc.), got rid of all those annoying spaces between lines, but kept everything else. I had to do a lot of formatting to make the sections small enough to print. I left the back of the pages blank for journaling or writing notes about the trail and put my second half in my resupply box my mom was bringing to Cheaha on Wednesday. This guide was sometimes wrong. Sometimes misleading (his account that a road crossing path back into the woods would be ten yards down when it was only teen FEET etc.) but it definitely got referenced to the point of nearly disintegrating in my hands and was a wonderful tool. It will take a long time and will be a headache to reformat to make it small enough to carry but I cannot reiterate enough how useful this is. Do it! I also used my compass more than once, even though I have a barely working knowledge of how to do that lol. But the PTA print out I made would reference a direction and low and behold I could use that compass to see if I was going that way. I felt like such an awesome hiker LOL. I really need to learn about compasses and reading maps, and about using a gps.
  • I would have begged someone else to go with me for even part of the trip. I usually hike alone during the day but enjoy the camaraderie of camping near other people more than I can say. Plus that tree falling on my campsite really was a downer (details to follow in future posts) and definitely got me thinking about how long it would have taken for me to be found (no phone signal where I was) or even be reported missing if it had hit me. What are the odds you say? Apparently for me, pretty damned good.

    Sometimes the attempts to mark the Pinhoti trail…failed.

    Things I wouldn’t have changed:

  • I took my MP3 player despite debating whether to do so. The loneliness was so palpable. Don’t worry, I still had lots of that crazy “alone in your head time” that you get on long distance hikes but sometimes that mp3 player was all that kept me going
  • I still would have brought a book. I usually consider it unnecessary weight but again, at the end of the day, reading a few pages took the edge off of the sense of aloneness the forest engulfed me in. As a person prone to anxiety and fear and worry- well, these two items really helped me stay strong.
  • I still would have taken the zero day because my feet needed a day of rest (they’ve never gotten so bad so quickly!) and some of my bug bites also needed some serious healing.
  • I still would have NOT taken my dog. I don’t feel my dog is physically able to go here. It was rough on me and I think, sadly, I’m in better shape than he is, the lazy woofer. It is still too hot, the trail is far too overgrown, and he’s not allowed or trusted off leash. For some people bringing their dog might work but I know without a doubt that his paws would have been shredded the first day and he would not have been able to carry his own food or water for such a long trip. Even with boots some of the areas were so entrenched with blow downs he would not have been able to pass without serious backtracking and rerouting of your hiking path, hoping you’d meet up with the trail on the other side. Not my style. I’d rather just climb over them, belly to the tree and pack to the sky- sliding if need be to get over. And I had to do some seriously fancy footwork on some of those tangles of blowdowns.. Not to mention the nearly 2 miles of rock fields!

    this went on in varying forms of torture for nearly 2 miles. Sometimes there were stacked layers of small twisty stones, sometimes large stones you think would never move, shifting beneath your feet. A crazy ride through the rock fields left me glad for flat solid ground!

    The rock fields were too complicated for him to cross. I fell 4 times on the rock fields. They were seriously seriously challenging. And to make it worse by that point I was in a hurry to meet a ride picking me up for a zero day so I went faster on the rock fields than you should. I wouldn’t want to put my dog through that. He’s safe and happier (this time) at home.

Overall- if you’re looking for a secluded trail to hike on, that presents a nice mix of flat gaps to speed through as well as some challenging and fun climbs then the Pinhoti is your gal. She’s not marked as well as she could be in some places. And in others the trail is nearly, okay, entirely lost and you go on gut instinct or you glance up and far off in the distance is a faint blue blaze and you just tromp towards it- hoping when you get to it you can glance up and finally see another. I only got entirely lost once. I got partway lost twice -once on a way up a mountain that wasn’t marked until you were coming down the other side and the other time at a road crossing (okay, maybe more than one road crossing but one in particular I remember distinctly cursing at the guys use of the word X “YARDS” when he clearly meant X “FEET.”  X yards away there was a trail. It was not the pinhoti trail. I was not happy and it took me quite a while to figure it out. Your biggest problems will be- road crossings, water scarcity, and if you hike while their are leaves on the ground you may lose the trail *completely* as it’s not always visible and/or marked.

But would I say do it? ABSOLUTELY!

I look back to my left to see the way I just came up. Over those rocks. Yeah. that’s pretty awesome.

I promise to work hard this weekend to get the sections I completed up and detailed on the blog! Hope everyone has a happy hiking weekend and gets out there with (or without if you have to) your dog and enjoy the nice fall weather!

I look over the Appalachian Mountain Range, some of which I have hiked. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the mountains and peaks I saw I’ve already conquered.

But, lest you think I’m some sort of hiking god- I met this fellow on the trail and he gave me a good run for my money up the Stairway to Heaven section. I beat him up it only by a second. See- that’s why he looks so mad! Because I beat him.

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5 Responses to Pinhoti Reflections

  1. Pingback: Weekend Roundup: 11-2 to 11-4 | Geek Alabama

  2. Pingback: A (somewhat) wordless Wednesday- Pictures of Section 3 Pinhoti | Whiskey on the Rocks

  3. Joan says:

    Appreciate your impressions of the Pinhoti. Been thinking I might give the Alabama section a try, and this is helpful info.

    • Gina V says:

      Glad it was helpful! I’ve got tons more sections to blog about, but have had difficulty making the time to do it. Check back. Eventually I actually *will* get around to it lol. I’ve done all of the AL section till about…hmm…the last 30 or so miles I think. Lost count. Happy hiking to you! -g

      • Joan says:

        Super! I’ll definitely check back and look forward to any other info you put up on the Pinhoti- really awesome that you’ve completed that much of the trail. Enjoying your posts and your perspective. I know what you mean about catching up on blog posts. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worthwhile putting them up when they are so old, but then I regret not having them if I don’t…

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