Twenty years ago this June, I was selected to be a part of a special high mountain group called Earthcorps, organized by Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI). The class, second year in the running, was comprised of about a half-dozen outdoorsy college students from around the country whose mission, in cooperation with the Forest Service, was to restore hiking trails on Colorado’s Fourteener mountains (i.e., mountain peaks above 14,000 ft.). This was a stipend-paid, college-accredited internship and involved much hard work, sometimes schlepping scree- and talus-filled buckets and pickaxes over a 13,000-foot saddle. Mark Hesse, the founder and visionary behind RMFI, was himself a world-renowned rock climber and had been featured in numerous rock climbing magazines and publications. As a wilderness advocate, Mark conducted evening teaching sessions at our base camp. The camp was set up near South Colony Lakes Basin near Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where we had been assigned to work. In one instance, I recall Mark pointedly telling me about how I should pursue the outdoors with everything I’ve got and never give up. That stuck with me. Mark was an encouragement to me, and I knew there was so much ahead to see and explore. One day I’d get the chance to do something truly extraordinary in the outdoors. Some years later, while perusing the morning local newspaper, I was saddened to learn that Mark had tragically died in a fall while at a rock gym, of all places, in Boulder where he was living at the time. Mark, to whom I looked up and considered a figure of inspiration, friend, and mentor, was gone. Just like that!
All this is to serve as a poignant reminder that life is so devastatingly brief, and each day should be viewed as a miracle. Life will eventually wither away and crumble like a dried autumn leaf. In the broad scheme, I find it astonishing how some human beings choose to live out their lives when their days are so scarcely numbered. “Live not one’s life,” reminds Marcus Aurelius, “as though one had a thousand years, but live each day as the last.”
Reality is not an option on the menu; and alternate universes at computer screens will, to the dismay of some, fall woefully short. Whether aboard or not, the train is moving. What then, in the final analysis, will be our legacy and impression upon this world?
The 348-mile Pinhoti Trail running through Alabama and Georgia originated as part of Benton MacKaye’s 1921 vision of extending a trail that would cover the length of the Appalachian Mountain chain. The word Pinhoti, interestingly enough, is a Native American word meaning “turkey home.” And yes, I encountered numerous gobblers running up the mountainsides! Departing Flagg Mountain, it was evident that I had reached the southern beginnings of the Appalachians. I fell in love instantly with the Alabama Pinhoti! The trail has a rhythm to it, and one moves gracefully upon its geographic undulations. The mountains of Alabama deserve far more credit than they receive, and the trail is beautifully maintained.
The trail town of Heflin provided much rejuvenation. Adam, the school principal in Heflin, picked me up in his Jeep at the trailhead by the railroad tracks. The town itself is about four miles off trail; but there is a blue blaze to get there, a route that I later used to get back on trail. Adam ran me around town for about an hour to complete hiker chores. We stopped at Papa’s Pizza where I ordered an extra-large meatlovers. Next, I picked up a few sacks of resupply items from WM Grocery. Finally, Adam took my picture, a town tradition, in front of City Hall. Since he had to get to Birmingham that evening, he dropped me off at a gazebo outside of town, which chopped a mile off the blue blaze. The gazebo was powered, so I was able to recharge my electronics there. With a lakeside view, I consumed half a pizza (packing out the other half!), organized my food bag, and repacked for the next stretch of trail. Crossing a small dam, I then proceeded up the blue blaze for a couple miles, whereupon I rejoined the Pinhoti to continue my northbound walk.
On the Pinhoti, there are numerous three-sided shelters, all of which are sturdily built and include a picnic table and fire ring. Coming to the Alabama-Georgia border, I snapped a picture in front of a small monument marked with the the two state flags. This trail has been so rewarding, and I am very pleased with the Pinhoti Trail and the wonderful people of Alabama. The Georgia side will certainly have special moments of its own.
After that first night on the Pinhoti, Tank and I separated; and I’ve been hiking this trail solo. It was a pleasure to hike with Tank and have a partner nearby, especially in the Florida swamps and the Alabama Roadwalk. Tank plans on taking an alternate path to the Smokies and ending his hike at Clingmans Dome. Perhaps we may cross paths again further north.
As for me, after completing the 171-mile “Georgia-side Pinhoti,” I’ll be dropping south on the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) for 72 miles and connecting to Springer. From there I plan on taking a few days off to meet up with a dear friend of mine who will be staying at Amicalola Falls Campground. Together we will be hiking up the famous eight-mile Approach Trail to Springer.
There are so many people back home, on trail, and in towns, including hikers, trail angels, and even perfect strangers, who have been so kind to me. They have supported me in ways I do not deserve. They will never know how much encouragement they have provided.
Leaving our mark may come in unsuspecting ways, taking an unthought-of path with precarious bends and turns. “It all might,” as sung in a country ballad by George Strait, “come together and it all might come unraveled on the road less traveled.” There is something deep inside the human interior of which not even a stethoscope can detect. A match is struck in the heart—only this light is inextinguishable. Grab ahold of yourself and see life afresh. Ignore not those whispers in your ear to do something bold. Today is the dawning of the rest of your life!