Hawk Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Kicking off a third day of hiking in Georgia, my friend and I were coming down Springer Mountain heading toward our destination of Hawk Mountain on the A.T. The first mile on the trail was a soft downward descent. Clearing the mountain, we had encountered a few different creek crossings until reaching another wooden shelter. This shelter was open faced with two floors, a picnic table and two wood window doors opening on the second level in the rear. It had appeared the last occupants left in a rush. They had left a tarp, toilet paper, a t-shirt and few other pieces of trash. Needing to take “nature’s break,” the outhouse was thankfully not too far away. While at the outhouse, I had read a posting on the wall regarding the methodology regarding composting of human waste. Apparently, the process had included a two year breakdown with some general upkeep.

After our interlude, we had continued our trek coming to a medium sized bridge going over a creek appearing more like a river. From the horizon, the water had rolled through the greenery at a slight incline with the vestiges of snow fall on the ground. The rumble of water passing underneath had provided a serenity similar to listening to the cadence of waves on a beach. After collecting filtered water, we had moved back onto the trail. Walking only a few hundred feet, in the corner of my eye, I had got a glimpse of a small open air campsite down the slope. As curiosity took over, I had decided to scale down to take a closer look. Appearing in my vision, a series of rocks had wrapped around some cold grey ash. Just past the ash was a downed log where a person could easily sit gazing into this water way. I had wanted to stay longer but, our goal lay further up the mountain ridge. Rejoining my friend, we had proceeded up the side of mountain for a mile or so until bumping into another set of hikers making their way toward Springer Mountain. We had swapped information about the Hawk Mountain shelter and details of building a fire atop Springer. At this point in the day, the sun had raised the temperature a considerable amount. My buddy and I had shed most of our upper layers of clothing to avoid overheating. The bright sunny day was a welcome contrast to the gusty cold overcast previous one. During the last two miles of the trail toward Hawk Mountain, we had seen a few military helicopters conducting maneuvers. At first, I had thought maybe a rescue operation but, according to my friend’s guidebook, standard training fare.

Arriving mid-afternoon at the Hawk Mountain shelter, we had run into another group of travelers from earlier in the morning. While getting settled, we had snacked and refilled our water. Later in the afternoon, we were joined by an older gentleman. He had inquired about the general direction of the water. After some instruction, he had hiked on. Returning later, he had managed to go five miles over the next ridge top looking for water versus just down an opposing slope. After some casual conversation, one of our fellow shelter guests had started collecting wood to build a fire. This day, I had opted to cough up my bag of Doritos as kindling. I had seen YouTube video demonstrating their flammability. After trying the wet wood, the dry Doritos had proved the means to start the fire. Though, one of the other travelers had mocked the idea of carrying the Doritos, saying “Why pay for something, when you can get something for free.”

With the onset of dusk, I had opted to sequester myself socially allowing my buddy the autonomy to talk it up with our visitors. I was looking forward to get good night’s rest after the previous evening on Springer Mountain. With the evening in full swing, the sound of military helicopters had filled the night air a few times. This sound was a bit of a buzz-kill wanting to get away from “civilization.” Laying on my back, I had listened to the fire and fellow hikers for a bit slipping into unconsciousness. It was the best rest on the trip up to that point just for the dreaming. These unconsciousness dreams I had not remembered. For dreams becoming a reality, my dreams, I had believed that’s a different thought altogether.

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Springer Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Measuring life in metrics, getting to the top of Springer Mountain was 8.3 miles from starting at Amicalola Falls State Park for travelers unfamiliar with the journeying to the Appalachian Trail; however, I had traveled so much further beyond maps or miles. I had carved out a mental image from films, a friend’s listing of favorite books, and a mutual wanderlust. The objective of the day was reaching the southern terminus, aka tip, of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on this mountain top.

At the start of this Sunday, the view atop Amicolola Falls had gave way to the Blue Ridge mountain range below a clear baby blue sky. The mind’s eye aside, climbing Amicalola Falls’ steps a second day in a row had become a welcome break from hiking in the cold damp darkness of the night before. After soaking in this gaze for a few moments, we had quickly retraced about two miles of progress from the previous evening. We had reflected on the decision to turn back momentarily being the “right choice” and “smart choice.”  With that in mind, the next revelation of the day had come in the discovery of a clearing for an open air camping area. It was just past the previous night’s turnaround point. Any second guessing our decision had quickly washed away with daylight illuminating a clear sight of stout mountains and leaf less trees. The day’s hike had continued from there in a rhythmic manner; ”up”, “then down,” “up,” and “up again.”

During our first major mountain ascent, this pattern was interrupted by a descending party of about ten people. Out of common courtesy and easy passage, we had pulled to the side of the trail. While eating a snack of pop tarts, a little blonde girl stepping down the path had wished us a Merry Christmas. This innocent act had colored our physical activity in a different range of emotions. A common bond of community had asserted itself beyond our solitary activity. Before starting up again, an elderly gentlemen had asked about the trail below. In his response, my travel companion had described the steep decline and his preference for stark inclines instead. The gentleman’s response was, “You’re going to get plenty of that shortly.” So we had begun our hiking rhythm again. Until late afternoon, we had marched taking impromptu breaks for water, food, bathroom, and of course photographic evidence!

Approaching the final three miles of our trek, we had started to experience cold gusts and snow flurries. At first, I had thought the snow some form of fungus or tree decay. Not seeing snowflakes since the age of 18, it had provided a degree of personal wonderment and euphoria. In contrast, the brooding grey clouds had sparked some personal concerns. Having lived in tropical zones most of my life from Florida, the Bahamas and Singapore, I had wanted to limit my exposure to the elements with the onset of dusk. The elevation and chill were one set of tenable question marks. I had thought, “What of water in its various forms; sleet, rain, snow?” Water had offered the greatest potential for transforming this rocky landscape into something seductively dangerous. Regardless of the answer, I had not wanted to find out in the dark of night.

Fortunately, we were close to reaching one of two trail shelters and our final destination. The first landmark denoting our proximity to this first shelter was a wooden blue sign pointing down to water. Navigating down the slope to a tiny creek, my friend had graciously volunteered for water extraction duty. At the creek, he had used a manual filter pump for collecting water. While waiting for his return, my mind had drifted into mischief. Up to this point, I was channeling a certain degree of seriousness, unwieldy for such an adventure. The idea of mooning him from a downed log had popped in my brain; however, the biting cold wind gusts had wiped that idea clear into oblivion.

With my buddy topside, we had walked about another half mile to signs pointing to the first wooden shelter. Scouting out the shelter for a few minutes, another pair of hikers had converged on our location. We had exchanged information relating to portions of the trail. After deciding to press forward, my friend had leveraged this opportunity for maxing out our water supply near this shelter. With the three of us remaining, we had stopped any physical activity while chatting. The immediate impact, we had all begun getting painfully cold in our hands and feet. During my wait, I had started moving about in circle compensating for walking on the trail. With my friend’s return, we had headed out on the last two miles of journey.

After picking up our walking tempo, we had arrived in short order at the demarcation for the southern terminus of the AT. In this clearing, two metal plaques had adorned rock along with a log book and statue. The only disappointment were the clouds obstructing the mountain top overlook. After breaking from photo ops, we had pushed on to the final destination for the day, a mountain top shelter. At this multi-level wooden shelter, we had encountered several other travelers. They had placed a tarp over the front opening to reduce the wind gusts. They had also attempted building a fire; however, the cold wet wood  had kept the fire from being viable. As far as sleeping for the night, the other travelers had conceded the elevated loft area for my friend and me. After eating some food, we had prepped our sleeping bags and clothes for slumber. During the night, I had focused on trying to keep my fingers and toes warm. I was bit paranoid with the rating on my Coleman sleeping bag. Before sundown, the temperature was around 30 degree F. What I hadn’t known, according to someone else’s gauge, the temperature dipping into the 20s.

Eventually, daylight had returned to the mountain top with warmer temperatures. Also returning, was our desire to move on from Springer Mountain. Our next destination, Hawk Mountain, was already brewing an image in our mind’s eye. Measuring life in moments, this was a start to another great day of wanderlust on the AT.

Read More:
Springer Mountain (Wikipedia)
Springer Mountain (GeorgiaTrails.com)
Review: Appalachian Impressions (GarzaFX)
Review: National Geographics’s America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail (2009) (GarzaFX)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia

On the morning of Saturday, December 14th 2013, I had embarked on 8 hour plus drive to Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. What had made this destination so alluring after a prolonged business trip? An unrepentant desire had filled my head with a need for physical adventure serving as counterpoint to the mundane nature of work in IT. Why now? For some of the road trips earlier in the year, sometimes the amount of “time off” hadn’t allowed the proper conclusion for random excursions. This go around, I had requested a whole week off. Earlier in the year, I had visited Vogel State Park, Georgia and some of the surrounding hiking trails. It was one of the best times outdoors ever because of precarious descent of up-tempo mountain side hiking despite, tempting fate with one wrong slip at dusk. Yet, beyond the scope of that hike was the untapped desire for convergence onto the Appalachian Trail by way of Blood Mountain. This idea had sat dormant after the last road trip into Georgia. As with any good master plan, the seed for a return was planted long ago in my friend’s mind. All that was required, a response to the question,”Wanna do anything this weekend?” Of course, I had formed the answer to the question well in advance. Free will was a beautiful thing. Now, the specific details for this hiking trip, I hadn’t mastered at all but, enter my buddy’s advance preparation. Even without that consideration, I had probably signed up in my current mental state for anything outdoors sans nuclear war.

After a supply stop in a Cumming’s Georgia Walmart, we had pushed for the final portion of our drive. Arriving in the state park off-hours, we had registered with park’s log book for hiking the A.T. Around 8 PM Eastern, we had headed out to the park trail going toward Amicalola Falls. With light from my friend’s head lamp, we had forged toward the sound of falling water. At the base of ascent, we had seen a sign cautioning strenuous activity of 175 steps. I had figured,”Not too bad.” Though, in my haste to get moving, I had left the top portion of hiking bag chest strap undone. This oversight had doubled the amount of effort on the ascent. At the beginning, I had enjoyed the exertion on my body; however, at the end of the night, it had caused some cramping in my right calf. In contrast, it had still beat sitting in car or airplane for hours on end. After clearing the 175 steps, we had both worked up good amount of perspiration. Completing the 175 steps and a walk across a wooden bridge, we had seen another sign for strenuous activity a few moments later. That sign had outlined a step count of 425. I had thought, ”You got to be kidding?” With some angst, we had eventually cleared those steps as well. About 2 miles later into the hike, we had started the approach trail toward our final destination of the A.T. With the cold wet dark night, we had let common sense prevail agreeing to double back to beginning of the park until daylight. Staying on premises, we had camped out in the first shelter to make way for the next day.

The good news the following morning, the views of the falls were astounding on ascent. The great news for you, there was road side access at the base and top of the falls for those with less of an inclination to cover the 600 combined steps. Amongst the four waterfalls in Georgia and Florida I had seen, Amicalola Falls, claims a special place in my memory with backdrop of the surrounding mountain range. That view had kicked off the 2nd of 5 days in Georgia. If you had decided to travel the Southeast, strongly recommend taking a trip out to Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia.

Amicalola Falls State Park
Address: 240 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
Phone: (706) 344-1500

Read more:
Appalachian Trail (National Park Service)
Amicalola Falls State Park (Georgia State Parks)

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Perfect Day @ 42

On Friday, December 13th, 2013, I had awoke two hours into a red eye flight back to Orlando, Florida. Being in a plane crash when twelve years old, sleeping in-flight had become a foreign concept until now. After an exhausting 80 hour work week in California, I had fell asleep with earphones on listening to the all too familiar, Tron Legacy Soundtrack. The big bonus of the early morning was discovering the flight time being four hours versus, the initial westbound trip of five. At 3 am Eastern, I had already thought, “Good way to start the day.”

Getting home from the airport around 5:30 am, I had wanted to generate a self-induced insulin spike for another round of sleep. Scarfing down a banana, a big spoon of peanut butter, a magnesium pill and cup of orange juice, I had set course for slumber on my Spartan two inch mattress pad on the bedroom floor. For those unfamiliar with this Spartan affair, it was physical and mental conditioning for various road trips for the back of my ’96 Ford Explorer or some hiking shelter. Plus, I had experienced feline fluids once too often on a decent mattress but, urine that’s another story for another day. Fading quickly into unconsciousness, I had received the best sleep in two weeks in two hours. Waking up a few hours later, I had begun unpacking my luggage before heading to 10 am doctor appointment. Before leaving my place, I had received some impromptu affection from my cat Patch. Stroking Patch’s soft orange white ears, I had reflected, “Great to be home again!”

After a quick interlude reviewing blood work with my family doctor of 13 years, I had started driving to Altamonte Springs AMC Movie Theater for a noon showing of “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.” En route, I had fielded a call from a good friend. Taking a moment from his workday, he had sung “happy birthday to you” in his low masculine southern inflection. With his father’s passing about a year ago, I was moved. Think the act had meant a lot two both of us. After all, only my mom had called to wish such tidings that way. Wrapping up the call, I had thought, ”The Hobbit can suck, it’ll still be a good day!”

Arriving at the AMC Movie Theater with another friend, I had purchased my ticket going straight to the overpriced concession stand.  There, I had mentioned receiving a free big soda on your birthday; however, the line employee had wanted an actual print out of the email offer. With some managerial escalation, I had coaxed them into scanning the barcode directly from my iPhone. With the elation of victory, I had clinched my fist with arm halfcocked blurting out the phrase, “Money!”

Returning from the movie, I had wanted to finally watch, BBC’s 50th Anniversary episode of Dr. Who, “Day of the Doctor.” Though during the morning, I had accumulated quite a few well-wishing messages from Facebook, email, texts, and voice mail. Some people, I hadn’t heard from in a few weeks to a quite a few years. I had concluded time better spent exchanging responses before becoming self-indulgent. Dr. Who being a “Time Lord”, I had thought in Yoda speak, “He understands changes to space time continuum, yes!”

With personal affairs in order, I had turned on my Apple TV and LCD television to watch Dr. Who. Needless to say, I hadn’t kept up with the last two seasons of Matt Smith as “the Doctor.” The anticipation for this episode had come from fellow fan feedback and John Hurt as special guest star. Without providing any spoilers, I had completed the episode with joyful smile and even a semblance of a tear. As the late Lou Reid had sung, “Oh, what a perfect day!”

With the theme of Dr. Who fresh in my mind, I had headed out to pick up another friend for Karaoke. Arriving at the bar around 10 PM Eastern, we had discovered the facility closing without an ounce of entertainment. Improvising, my friend and I had gone around the corner to another restaurant with live music. With a ginger ale and margarita in tow, we had hatched a gestating idea. That idea was going back to Georgia the next day to hike part of Appalachian Trail. With excitement of the idea keeping exhaustion at bay, I had figured,”Why not?”

I had started the day with just wanting to be home and get to a doctor’s appointment. The irony, I had experienced so much more in moments than any wrapped gifts can contain. Think a lot of people had characterized me in my 20s and 30s as being stoic, inward and dark. Trolling around in my early 40s, I had hoped to be a catalyst for illumination. To my blog’s refrain of “What is inside you?”, on 12/13/13, on this day, it was a “Perfect Day @ 42.”

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Read More:
Lou Reed, Perfect Day (Wikipedia)
Appalachian Trail Conservancy (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

Review: Appalachian Impressions

Rating: Worth a spin for anyone considering a lengthy hike.

Wrapping up a Appalachian Trail Conservancy membership drive, the documentary, Appalachian Impressions (2005) had painted a pragmatic picture of hiking the A.T. It had started in Georgia showing the crowds starting in early Spring. Then the film had progressed through all 14 states. It had earnestly detailed some of the hardships from wear and tear on feet through overpacking gear. It had also highlighted the mental toll on hikers moving through different physical landmarks. It had detailed the charity of various individuals and organizations providing “trail magic.” “Trail magic” had simply meant food or drink for free for hikers. The film had offered witness to the community between hikers. If you had considered a protracted hike on the AT, check this film out.

Read more:
Appalachian Impressions (IMDB)

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