This week’s hike is both unusual and special to my family. The 2016 March for Babies takes place each year in the Opelika Municipal Park and surrounding neighborhoods. In fact, the walk is in the neighborhood where I grew up making it oddly familiar. We walked 4 miles in memory of our lost daughter, Olivia and in celebration of our healthy daughter, Megan.
The park was full of music and cheerleaders today as the walkers gathered. Each family has their own reason to attend each year. The stories are very touching.
My main reason to blog today is to thank everyone that took the time to donate to our cause. We love and appreciate you all. We sold 4,560 candy bars, 1,000 Chic-Fil-A biscuits, 200 tee shirts along with countless donations. With your generosity, we raised $16,800 for the March of Dimes. This is a team record. I also understand that it is a regional record as well. We are thrilled and can’t thank you enough for your support. We’ll be back next year!
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!
Sunday brought perfect weather and a great opportunity to get in one more hike before returning home. We had several choices from “Hiking Alabama”. We decided to go with the one that truly represents The Birmingham area, the Tannehill Ironworks just West of Birmingham.
The site has a grouping of three large furnaces that were built with slave labor to produce iron for the Confederacy. The furnaces and Slaves quarters were destroyed by the Eighth Iowa Cavalry towards the end of the Civil War. The site was rebuilt in the 1970’s.
The trails here passed the furnace and slave quarters before turning into the forest for a 5.0 mile hike. This trail had one steep rise at the start but used the land very efficiently to get you up and around the hill peaks. The trail was covered in red stones showing the iron ore in the area.
The park also had a nice albeit small museum about the history of iron. The also had a general store, a sweet shop, and various craft shops to browse.
Time to get home and ready for another week.
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.
Today, after a spectacular sunrise, we traveled to Granada for a tour of the Alhambra. The Alhambra is one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen. It is impressive in both its physical structure but also its unique blend of Muslim/Christian history. Spain was occupied by Muslim forces for over 800 years. Once retaken by the Christians, the fortress had Christian elements added. While I’ve been here before, I never grow tired of special places. This place is indeed special to me. The last time I was here, Lucy was about 5 months pregnant with Megan. We took a special picture here in front of one of the entrances. We were able to reproduce that picture today. We also had a young expecting couple with us on our tour. They took their picture in the same spot as well as a group photo with us. What a special moment. We managed 5.6 miles today.
After our tour of the grounds, we had more time to shop. Granada is known for inlaid wooden items (and Spanish Guitars). We picked up a few items for ourselves and some friends. We had time to continue our shopping once we returned to Malaga attempting to remember everyone.
We decided to have dinner in Malaga instead of our prepaid dinner since we were nearing the end of our journey. We opted for a dinner at an Irish pub tonight. I had fish and chips with mushy peas.
Tomorrow is our last day. I’m starting to want to move permanently to Spain. I’m in love with their way of life. One odd but special thing I’ve noticed here. I was never given a restaurant bill before asking for it. The Spanish appreciate their customers are are willing for you to stay until you are ready to leave, no table flipping here.
Today we’re moving our home base from Madrid to the coastal town of Malaga by way of high speed train. We had a long way to go, but still managed to get in 6.07 miles before bed. We checked out early in the morning and made our way to the train station. Sadly, this station was the site of the fairly recent Madrid terrorist attack. These high speed train rides are really an event in and of themselves. I wish we had these in the states. Our ride today was three hours through beautiful countryside at 186 mph, at least once outside the cities.
Once in Malaga, we checked into our new hotel. We lucked into an ocean view room. I could have slept on the balcony. At lunch, we had a slightly difficult time ordering due to the language barrier. The waiter worked hard to help us understand our options. Lucy and I both ordered what he called Chorizo. What I hoped would be sausage ended up being a bowl of spicy broth with various pig parts. While I skipped the organs, I did try tripe for the first time. I found it to be mostly flavorless and tasted mostly of the rich broth. Oh well, when in Spain.
We had a large amount of shopping time today around a central plaza. We explored the shops and streets with euros hot in our pockets. Lucy and Megan had to try a unique luxury, the fish foot spa. You have to take care of both your feet and purple pedicures while hiking, so they jumped at this opportunity. I was the cameraman for this operation.
We ended our day by finding our way to the beach. Finally the elusive Mediterranean stretched in front of me. It was all I hoped it would be. Beautiful water and grayish volcanic sand as far as you could see.
Our guide surprised me a dinner with a wrapped present. She had found the red wine Torrijas that seemed absent in Madrid. We enjoyed it in our room as we got ready for bed. It was better to me than the milk version. Maybe it was the baker, but more likely the thoughtfulness of our guide that made this great. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Another fun filled day in Spain. Today brought another 5.4 miles in hiking. We had nice variety today. We spent the morning in Madrid, the afternoon in Toledo, and the evening back in Madrid.
We started today with a formal Madrid city tour. We made stops today at the Madrid bullring, Real Madrid soccer stadium, an Egyptian temple given to Spain, and the Royal palace. Spain’s monarchy is a figurehead much as it is in Britain. The palace is no longer lived in but rather a meeting place and occasional formal state dinner location. I couldn’t help but think the palace is opulent but completely impractical as a home.
The afternoon brought a trip to Toledo. Toledo was possibly my favorite stop on this trip. I’ve always enjoyed the smaller, older towns over the big cities. Toledo had it all. The town was an invincible fortress in its day. It was built on a steep hill that was surrounded on three sides by a river. Only a small percentage of the population could swim at the time, but certainly not in armor. The forth side was protected by a wall. The topography of the land would allow half a day to see an approaching army. Toledo was in a sweet location.
Once at Toledo, we walked the old city, visited the Toledo Cathedral, the Church of Santo Tome, and St Mary’s Synagogue. Some interesting points about these locations. The cathedral had shackles hanging on the outside to represent the reconquest of Spain from Muslim control. St Mary’s synagogue was actually built by Muslims for the Jewish population in the city. Such an interesting mix of culture. Toledo was a place you could easily spend a month. After a visit to a sword factory for some Spanish steel, we returned to Madrid.
Tonight brought a tapas dinner followed by a flamenco show. I had my first paella today. In fact, I had it twice. Seafood paella for lunch and chicken paella for dinner. No doubt today was a full day.
Hola from Espana! The day that never ended. The first day of a tour this far away tends to be tough. We flew through the night to Madrid by way of Amsterdam. Once landed, we immediately met our tour guide, dropped off our luggage, had lunch on our own and then hit the city. We hiked 7.68 miles.
While most found lunch in a shopping area, we ventured across the street to try something more local. I was able to try my first Iberico Jamon carved from the hoof. I didn’t try this on my last visit and had it on my mind. It was served with over easy eggs and potatoes. It met my expectations.
After lunch, we walked through Bien Retiro Park. This park is Madrid’s version of Central Park in New York. The park was bustling with both locals and tour groups.
We visited the Crystal Palace located in the park. The Crystal Palace is a copy of a similar structure from England that housed Winter gardens for the royals.
At the edge of the park is the Prado museum. We had about an hour to explore the building and monumental works of art by the old masters. I’m not well educated on this subject, but the art was mostly of darker subject matter.
Afterwords, we walked to Puerto del Sol to explore and have dinner. This plaza is Madrid’s version of Time Square. We had a little time before dinner so our guide took us to a famous pastry shop for Torrijas. My understanding is that Torrijas are only available around Easter. There are two versions, one made with milk and one with red wine. We had the milk version today. I would describe it as a French toast, egg custard, bread pudding type of desert. It was wonderfully different than anything I’ve had before.
We finished our marathon first day having dinner, getting to know each other better and walking back to the hotel. I did slip out briefly to explore the block around the hotel before falling into a coma like sleep.