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 49, 50, 51 and 52 – Victory 

I have been slow to post my last four hikes.  I went to some pretty special places during my 52 hike challenge.  On to the hikes.


Hike 49 was at Amicalola Falls.  The lodge just up from the falls is the start of the Appalachian Trail “Approach Trail”.  The hike here is paved and somewhat steep, but only 1 mile, culminating in several flights of stairs to the bottom of the falls.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the Dehlonega, Georgia area.  


Hike 50 was a short distance away to Springer Mountain, the official start/end of the Appalachian Trail depending on direction.  I couldn’t see finishing this challenge without a little time on the AT. This trail is a steep 2.5 mile trail from the parking area to the top of Springer Mountain and back.  You can also see where the Approach Trail enters the official AT.  Such history and beauty here.  


Hike 51 move about 200 miles North to the Smoky Mountain National Park.  First up was Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park.  The Appalachian Trail also exits the woods and joins this neat place.  Unfortunately, the observation tower was fogged in on this day, so no views were to be had.  It is hard to believe that you could have hiked from Springer Mountain to here if you were so inclined.


Hike 52, where do you go last?  My choice was the Abram’s Falls trail in Cade’s Cove.  It was recommended by a friend.  This 5 mile trail had some long inclines as you worked over a ridge to a beautiful set of falls.  The color of the foliage and the beauty of the falls made this a perfect final hike in my challenge.  

I would like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement during my challenge.  I would not have finished without you.


Hike #42 & #43 (29G & 25G) – Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls

A much needed Labor Day Weekend gave us the chance to head out of town to the “Alpine” town of Helen, Georgia.  The town is a cute if not cheesy tourist trap.  They are famous for their Octoberfest.  We were a week too early to participate in the festivities.  That said, it is beautifully located in the North Georgia mountains.  Quite a few of the best hikes in Georgia are located in this area.  Enough trails to justify another trip soon.  We decided to hike Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls.  


Anna Ruby Falls is only .8 miles of paved trail from the gift shop area to the falls and back.  The trail is uphill to the falls and downhill back to the parking.  This trail is doable by most being short and paved.  The falls are a spectacular set of multilevel falls from the mountain peak to the valley below.  


The stream below the falls is as interesting as the falls themselves.  The stream is lined with moss covered fallen trees, stone outcroppings and ferns.  It is a great short hike for a family outing.


Second up, and a little more challenging, was Dukes Creek Falls.  It was a 2.2 mile hike into a deep gorge.  I was impressed how easy this trail was being so deep.  The park service did a fantastic job keeping this trail accessible.  The trail used long hair pin turns, boardwalks and stairs to make the steep decent very manageable.


We all agreed that this was the nicer trail.  The creek area flowed with some visible (and audible) whitewater.  The trail was wide and clear as in my above picture.  At the bottom, boardwalks and decks got you into perfect viewing positions.  A great deal of attention went into this trail.



This was another high falls while the lower section was visually better than Anna Ruby.  We could have stayed all day.  


Take time to stop and smell the roses when in this area.  There is a ton of shopping, wineries, antique stores and German food.  Enjoy the boiled peanuts- a true Southern delicacy.

Hike #41 (45G) – Dowdell Knob Loop


The Dowdell Knob Loop Trail was a great trail.  It was among my favorites.  It had a little bit of everything, history, water and mountain views.  It was also more suited to my fitness level.  Most could handle this hike.  The loop itself is around the peak that FDR used for his BBQ picnics.  You can see why.  The view from this spot is amazing.


The trail starts at the top, drops about a hundred yards down and circles the mountain.  One finger of the hike climbs the neighboring mountain after visiting a small waterfall in the valley.  



The climbs here are relatively gentle, at least compared to the Wolfden Trail that neighbors this trail.  The Pine Mountain Trail Association has maintained this trail nicely as well.  This trail didn’t need the infrastructure that was required on the Wolfden Trail.  Regardless, the trail was clear and well marked.


The trail was rocky.  You would be well advised to wear boots to protect your ankles.


In addition to the views, there is a bit of history here as well.  A B-25 on its way to Andrews AFB from Eglin AFB crashed on this mountain.  Only one member of the crew survived.  A bronze plaque marks the crash site.


I intend to walk the entire Pine Mountain Trail, but will likely move on to other areas for now.  My goal is to see as much as I can see during this year.  


This area didn’t have a lot of lunch choices.  I did what Gorden Ramsey would do, follow the crowd.  I found Eddie Mae’s Kountry Kitchen.  They had the kind of fried chicken that only a grandmother can make. It didn’t look like much but the food was great.  Give it a try.


I would definitely recommend the Dowdell Knob Loop over the Wolfden trail unless you’re specifically looking for waterfalls.  Otherwise, this is your trail in Pine Mountain.

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 #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 #31 (58G) – Kennesaw Mountain NMP


Kennesaw Mountain NMP was the location of a major battle in the taking of Atlanta during the Civil War.  The high ground was owned by the confederate army.  The full hike is 5.0 miles up the main mountain and the neighboring Little Kennesaw Mountain.  There are shorter or longer options available.  There is also a shuttle to the top if you don’t hike.  The park is free to the public and was very busy on this Memorial Day.


The hike starts at the gift shop and proceeds up the mountain at a challenging incline.  It is roughly a mile to the top.  Being Memorial Day, cannons were being fired at the base of the mountain as I made my way to the top.   Once there, you can see the position of four cannons and a scenic view of downtown Atlanta.  It made me wonder what the view would have been during the Civil War.  Past the Atlanta skyline, you can also see the distant Stone Mountain.


The confederate soldiers were at a disadvantage even holding the high ground.  The Southern cannons were inaccurate smooth bores while the Northern troops had highly accurate rifled cannons.  The entire mountain was covered in trenches built by Southern soldiers for protection.  Troop positions were noted on signs throughout the park.


The mountain itself was covered in large boulders that no doubt played a role in protecting Northern troops as they took the mountain.


The top of the mountain was covered in bluming cacti which are unusual to the area.


This is a lovely mountain hike that can be added to an Atlanta visit.  Still, the constant trench lines remind you of what happened at this place.  Many of the wounded from this battle and those that followed were transported by rail to a small, inadequate hospital beside Auburn University, my alma mater and current town.  Most to never recover.

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.