52 Hike Challenge Memoirs 

So what did I learn on my 52 Hike Challenge?  After all, I had a lot of time to think.  Surely something worthwhile came from this effort.  I finished 52 hikes, 178 miles in total, in 10 1/2 months.  I hiked Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Spain.  I must have learned something, and I did indeed.


First, I learned Alabama, my part of the world is as pretty as any other, you are just familiar with it.  You have to leave the car to find the prettiest spots.

Not only did I hike and confirm my love of the outdoors, I also stopped to smell the roses.  I explored the small towns.


I learned you can still be physically and mentally strong at 50 (ok 48).

I learned there are no cellphone signals at the best hikes.  Hike prepared and be safe.

Spider webs across trails mean you are the first one hiking today.  Watch for snakes and bears.  While on the subject, big lizards sound like snakes when you’re alone.

Climbing hills in life sucks, but the top has the best view.  Stay strong my friends, and never quit.

Mental toughness and work ethic will carry you as far as your education.


I would love to have shown you everything but you can’t live broadcast waterfalls, they are always in a hole. You’ll have to visit yourself.


Anytime you catch a break going down, you’ll eventually have to walk back up, just like life.

I don’t hate snakes as much, they are fascinating at a safe distance.

I learned how to offset my pictures so my Facebook profile picture doesn’t mess it up.

I love and miss my family when they’re not with me.


I had 72 degrees temperature variances in hike temperature, plan for it.

Proper equipment makes things easier.

To my daughter, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, lift those weights, jump those horses, get off the couch and find your life passion.


Sometimes planes fly into mountains, what legacy are you leaving?


Keep toenails short for downhill walking, just sayin.

Shortcuts always, always end poorly!  Stay on the trail.

Lastly, please keep Gatlinburg in your prayers.  We left town Sunday morning before the fires made it to town.  I’m hearing that our cabin on Sunday was burned down on Monday.  We drove past the fire as we were leaving but I never thought it would make it to town.

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Hike 46, 47 & 48 (n/a) – Rickwood Caverns, Fossil Mountain and Vulcan Trail

I took advantage of a three day weekend to rest up before our annual audit starts.  This gave me a little time to explore and camp along the way.  I decided to go to Rickwood Caverns State Park.  I had never been here or even heard of the place.  It is about 30 miles North of Birmingham just off I-65.  The cave here was worth exploring.  The cave was eroded from the ancient sea bed.  Some points of the cavern were actually through coral.  You could see fossils and some shells on the ceiling in some areas.


The cavern trail was closer to 1.5 miles with some significant stair climbing.  Most of the front of the cave was inactive either from time or our current drought conditions.  The last part of the cave was more damp with cave structures still forming.


I was able to squeeze into a tight corner to see a shark tooth fossil on the ceiling.


After the cavern trail, I hiked the 1.5 mile Fossil Mountain trail.  This trail was a loop off the parking area with some rock gardens but no major feature otherwise.  I attempted to find fossils, but really didn’t see anything definitive.  The couple of things I found could have been fossilization or normal weathering.  It was hard to tell.


I quickly set up for the night in time for a great hammock nap.  Sometimes there is nothing better than a hammock.


On Saturday, I decided to get in one more trail on the way home.  The Vulcan trail is located at the base of the Vulcan Statue in Birmingham.  It was more of an urban exercise area than hiking trail.  The first (and last) mile is on a old paved access road with the middle .5 being off road for a total of 3 miles.  Red iron ore is all along the path.  The path does have nice views of downtown Birmingham.


Lastly, how can you come this close and not visit the  Vulcan?  The elevator was broken, no doubt to insufficient funding, making about a 10 story stair climb the only way up.  Again the views were fantastic.  You could even see the old Sloss Furnace from my previous hikes.


I have four hikes left in my challenge which I plan to complete over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I’m working on some special plans to finish up appropriately.  Until then . . .

Hike #39 & #40 (G44 & n/a) – Pine Mountain Trail & Beaver Pond Trail


Let’s just say it’s too hot to hike Georgia in August.  Yet, I’ll never finish my 52 hike challenge if I don’t.  I was able to get in two trails today, the first 5 miles of the 23 mile Pine Mountain Trail plus the roughly 2 mile Beaver Pond Trail.  Together, the two trails form the 7 mile Wolfden Trail.  I plan to continue my progress down the Pine Mountain Trail until I’ve completed it all.


I was very impressed with the condition of the trail.  The Pine Mountain Trail Association should be very proud of their work.  The trails were clear and well marked.  There were also very nice bridges and boardwalks in all the wet areas.  I don’t believe I’ve seen a trail better cared for during my journey.  


The first 5 miles works its way down to a nice creek with several waterfalls along the way. Ferns were the main foliage in this moist area.  After a long hike down the stream, the long, relentless hike back to the top begins.  I confess that I still struggle on the hills especially in this heat.  The trail had decent traffic today as I passed several groups.  I took a minute to broadcast my first “Facebook Live” about 3/4 of the way to the top.  I’m sure I was a hot mess, but it gave me a minute to rest.

I really wanted a swim at this waterfall.  The cool, clear pool looked great in today’s heat.  


I also took time today for a history lesson.  My daughter, Megan, recently read a book about slavery.  One point in the book was that escaped slaves followed the moss on the trees to head North.  I couldn’t  help but text her this picture proving it was doable.


 

The last two miles, The Beaver Pond Trail, although less scenic (and less cared for) offered the only mountain views on this trail.  It was also required to make the loop back to the parking area.  Pine Mountain, arguably, has the best views your likely to find this far South.  Another interesting part of this trail was that it passed through a tornado damaged area.


The stripped area was full of seedlings.  Life always finds a way.

Hike #38 (n/a) – Flagg Mountain Fire Tower


I picked this hike based on location. I’m on my way to Sylacauga for a business trip.  This hike was just West of Sylacauga giving me the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a hike.


This hike was difficult, both to find and hike.  I basically drove around Flagg Mountain looking for the trail head.  I found it after several miles down the worst dirt roads I’ve seen for some time.  I’m not sure which bridge I trusted more,  the “new” bridge in front of me or the “old” bridge to the left.  The old bridge was basically an old WWII temporary bridge.

The trail itself was roughly 5 miles and 118 flights.  Every time I start feeling that my conditioning has improved, a hike like this comes along.  The 118 flight were very difficult in the Alabama heat.

This trail is the Southernmost point of the Pinhoti Trail.  The Pinhoti continues to the Appalachian Trail.  There has been some effort made to extend the AT to this point.  The trail itself was narrow but well blazed.  I followed the blue blazes of the Pinhoti until I reached the white blazes that head to some old cabins and the fire tower itself.  There were a few trees across the trail but also a great deal of evidence that the trail is being kept up.


Unfortunately, the fire tower is currently closed to the public.  I understand that a conservation project is underway.


I feel like this area is a missed opportunity.  This land is protected as a wildlife habitat but would make a nice state park with a little effort.  A few rustic cabins and some road work would reveal the full potential of this special place.  The views were fantastic.  I only wished I could have seen the view from the tower.


Definitely not for couch potatoes, but with some effort great views are for the taking.

Hike #33 (n/a) – Cherokee Trail, Stone Mountain, GA

I’ve been here several times, Stone Mountain, Georgia.  I’ve walked up the mountain, rode the sky lift up and down and played in the mountain’s shadow.  The one thing I’ve not done will happen today, hike around the mountain.  The Cherokee Trail around Stone Mountain was very well marked, in granite no less, and easy to navigate.  The trail only had one steep climb that could be avoided by taking a connecting trail at the end.  The trail was roughly 5.5 miles.


Stone Mountain is known for its large relief carving of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis.  The carving has been somewhat controversial as of late.  Regardless of the political implications, I can’t help feel that this mountain has been damaged by the sculpture, not to mention the sky lift and laser show.  You can see in my first two pictures that the back side is very beautiful.  I feel we could all benefit long term if we just left nature alone.


The Cherokee Trail begins at the base on the hike to the top trail.  The trail proceeds through the forest until reaching the laser show event lawn allowing for a closeup view of the carving.      Once across the lawn, you enter the forest and work your way to a large lake.  Along the way, you pass many of the park’s sites, a gristmill, covered bridge and old stone quarry.  As I’ve said, this side of the mountain has had about as much damage as can be done.


From here, the real beauty emerges. The trail continues around the lake to the untouched side of the mountain allowing for some great views.  As you round the lake, you must decide to climb up the Cherokee Trail or take the flat trail extension back to the parking area.  This was really a nice trail.


Since we stayed the night, we had time for a couple of nice meals in Atlanta.  First up was the Bone Garden Cantina.  This place is hard to find but worth the effort.  They specialize in authentic Mexican food.


Second up was my single most favorite restaurant, bar none.  Barcelona Inman Park was my choice for Father’s Day.  They specialize in tapas and other Spanish dishes.  I’ve never had anything here that wasn’t perfect.  I highly recommend you give them a visit.  You can thank me later.

Hike #32 (n/a) – Pigeon Hill Loop Trail


This 5.0 mile trail was also at Kennesaw Mountain Georgia.  I hiked this trail back to back with the Mountain trail making for a 10 mile and 94 flight day.  My feet reminded me that I’m still working my way up.  The trail itself had rolling hills but was notably more flat than the Mountain trail.


I noticed the complete lack of water on Kennesaw Mountain.  It made me wonder how so many men could be supported here.  This trail gave some of the answers.  The troop lines were closer together here, but it was clear to me that the Southern troop line extended off the mountain and past a significant stream.  This must have been to protect a water source for the men.

The number of people reduced steadily as you leave the main mountain area.  Still, the park was being heavily used for hiking, trail running and dog walking.  There were many alternate parking areas were you could have easy access to one trail or another.  It would take a little time to explore all this park has to offer.

Hike #30 (n/a) – Dismals Canyon


Dismals Canyon, about a hour north of Jasper, was one of my favorite hikes yet.  It is near the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama and continues the same rain forest feel as Natural Bridge.  I can’t imagine why this hike didn’t make the top 50 other than being short and on private property.


The location was nicely developed with a soda counter for lunch and a covered deck for resting.  The hike itself proceeds down about 5 stories into the canyon and continues 1.5 miles though spectacular scenery with a creek crossing or two along the way.

On this hike, do make a reservation one week in advance for the day/night combo.  The canyon is known for what they call “dismalites”, a type of glow worm if you will.  These are only found in a few places in the world.  My understanding is that this larvae lives about six months.  They weave a small silky web around themselves and glow to attract food sources into their webs.  It was explained that the larvae were the main reason for the notably fewer mosquitos in the canyon.  Still, bug spray and a red lens flashlight would be recommended.  On the .5 mile guided night tour, they take you to several darker areas were you can view the glowing larvae.  I was unable to capture this on my camera but borrowed a photo from their website.  We were told that Jessie James used this area as a hide out and was one of the first to write about the Dismalites.


I can only compare the view to looking at the night sky.  It was a very interesting treat.

We had some time to kill between our day hike and night tour.  We explored the nearby Bankhead National Forest and the Houston County Jail.  The jail is the only surviving log jail in Alabama.  It was very small and had convenient urination holes through the logs to the outside.  I guess they didn’t plan on holding many female prisoners back in the day.

Hike #28 (65G) – Providence Canyon 


Today, I slipped across the border and had my first hike from my new book “Hiking Georgia”.  Providence Canyon was a state park but is now listed as an outdoor recreational area.  Regardless, the facilities and trails were in great shape.  
Providence Canyon has two trails.  We took the 6.7 mile back country red trail.  They also have a 3 mile white trail that skips the back country but gets you to the canyon itself.  Wear appropriate footwear for this hike.  The first mile of this trail was literally down a stream.  The water was just over the surface and the footing was firm but it was a little odd walking through running water.

The red trail eventually leaves the creek and circles through a spectacular forest.  The trail is wide and clear.  The towering hardwoods provided nice shade for the entire hike.  Most of this trail is flat either at the top or bottom of the canyon.  There are a couple of very step inclines in or out of the canyon, just enough to keep the hike interesting.  We were credited with 28 flights of stairs on this hike.  The back country portion of this trail also had several nice camping areas for those looking to get away.

The best views and photo opportunities came in the last mile of the hike.  Ironically, this mile is close to the entry road making it possible to see the canyon without hiking.


I was impressed with the traffic on the trail.  It was a beautiful day and a lot of people were on the trail.  The picnic areas were also being used by groups.  I would rate this hike in the top quartile of my hikes.  Providence Canyon is worth a stop.

For dinner, we circled back through Columbus, Georgia and stopped at the Cannon Brew Pub.  This restaurant was in a restored brick building downtown.  The food here was a mix of American fare and British pub food.  We all enjoyed our meals.  Give them a try when in town.  

A nice side trip in Columbus would be to the National Infantry Museum just inside Fort Benning.  We didn’t have time today, but the museum is very nice and worth your time to visit.

Hike #25 (26) – Chinnabee Silent Trail


Today’s hike was a 5.4 mile and 53 flight return to the Talladega National Forest on the Chinnabee Silent Trail.  The trail was named after Chief Chinnabee of the Upper Creeks.  It is said that he is buried at the base of Mt. Cheaha.  I have not been able to determine if this is fact or legend, but it seems reasonable for a chief.  The trail was built by a Boy Scout troop from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, hence “Silent Trail”.


I found the trail today to be anything but silent.  Many hikers were out taking advantage our our wonderful weather.  I was rarely out of site from another group along the trail.  I missed the solitude of being alone, but enjoyed seeing so many outside today.


This trail begins at the Chinnabee Lake Recreation Area.  The first mile is flat to gently rolling along Cheaha Creek called the Devil’s Den.  You take a short boardwalk high above the creek which has great views of the rapids below.  The hike continues to be flat as you return and follow the creek.


The remainder of the trail diverts from the creek and goes up and down several peaks and valleys.  I found the ecology here to be interesting.  One valley would be covered in newly sprouting Oak Leaf Hydrangeas while the next would have ferns.  Each valley seemed to have a slightly different look.


Around the 2.5 mile point, you will find the Cheaha Falls Shelter designed for overnight stays.  It is only a short walk further to this hike’s focal point – Cheaha Falls.  From here you can return to the parking area or cross the creek and continue.  It will be my turnaround point for today.


I found this trail to be slightly more interesting than the Nubbin Trail which is  in the same general area.  This trail had more continuous views.  It did come with 53 flights of elevation, not too bad with a day pack but would have been challenging with a full pack.


My next hike will be the 2016 March for Babies next weekend.  We have not counted everything yet, but should be close to our $15,000 goal.  I am touched by your support!

Hike #21, 22, 23 (28, 29, 30) – Maggie’s Glen Loop, Treetop Trail, Peavine Falls Loop


 We decided to take this week as an opportunity to get in several hikes that were close together and not too far from home.  Since my inside girls were along for the hike, we camped at Embassy Suites in Birmingham.  Today brings three trails in Oak Mountain State Park.


The first, Maggie’s Glen, is a nice loop along a stream to a nice clearing.  The clearing was full of hikers, in their Enos, having a picnic or otherwise enjoying nature.  Half of this trail was flat and easy and half fairly steep.  All of it was beautiful.  We hiked 2.3 miles here.  This would be a great starter hike.


 The Treetop Trail is a short 1.1 mile trail that starts at the Alabama Wildlife Rehab Center and follows a seasonal stream through the forest.  This trail would also be a great starter trail.  You can also view certain raptors here that have been injured and are unable to return to the wild.  While most of the cages seemed empty, we did see five red tailed hawks.  It’s probably a good thing that the cages were empty.


 The final trail was the most spectacular.  The Peavine Falls Loop is the trail to Oak Mountain State Park’s signature feature, a large, cascading waterfall.  There are two routes here.  The first was a trip to the upper falls.  The second was to the lower falls.  The lower fall trail had caution signs so we picked the upper falls route.  We hiked an additional 2.0 miles on this loop.

All together, we hiked 5.4 miles today through some very nice forests.  Oak Mountain will stay on the list for a return trip.  They also had some much longer trails that would be nice to try.  They had horse boarding, a nice lake, an archery range and some athletic fields.  The park was filled with locals enjoying the nice weather.


 Our side trip today was to drop off sixteen huge bags of pop tabs at the Ronald McDonald house.  The tabs were mostly collected by families at Trinity Presbyterian School, where Lucy teaches. Other tabs came from the Opelika Fire Department and East Alabama Medical Center.


  

Dinner tonight brought something truly special.  We decided to try a pizza place that was new to us.  Slice was located just East of downtown Birmingham on 29th Street.  They were crazy busy, always a good sign.  I truly thought I had found the best pizza in the state at a Montgomery restaurant but Slice was far better.  My pizza had house made Italian Sausage and homemade Mozzarella.  Lucy had something more adventurous with flank steak and horseradish sauce.  Desert was a s’mores calzone that was very inventive.  I was also impressed that all beers on tap were produced in Alabama.  You really should give Slice a try when in Birmingham.