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 #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 #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 #29 (n/a) – Natural Bridge


Natural Bridge is found in the town of the same name just North of Jasper, Alabama.  It is a short 1.0 mile hike to one of Alabama’s neatest geographical features.  In fact, the hike is optional.  The bridge itself is only about 100 yards from the ticketing area.


The natural bridge was made by a plume of iron ore stretching over sandstone beneath the ocean that once covered Alabama.  When the ocean receded, the sandstone washed away leaving the iron ore bridge.


The hike passes the natural bridge and continues on a short loop through an equally impressive canyon.  The high, jagged rocks are also worth the visit.


I’ve never really explored this part of Alabama.  The entire area felt more like a rain forest than is typical of Alabama.  Don’t forget the bug repellent as the shady, moist conditions were perfect for mosquitoes.


For dinner, get off the main roads and go into downtown Jasper.  The old part of town was charming and filled with nice places to eat.  We ate at Warehouse 3 Nineteen.  Everyone enjoyed the meal as well as the warehouse charm.  You don’t want to miss it.

Hike #20 (n/a) – Mijas Urban Hike

  
So sad, our last day in Spain.  We made a quick trip over to Mijas, another small coastal village.  We went to the old part of town for some quick shopping.  Our first sight was the donkey taxi system.  

   

Mijas was a charming village.  We had our best homemade chocolate con churros here.

  

  

 We mostly shopped for our last items.  We visited a small bull ring also.  It stood in sharp contrast to the large bull ring in Madrid.  It reminded me of the small gladiator rings in the movie “Gladiators” prior to going to Rome.

   
 
We returned to Malaga for our final evening.  We decided to return to the beach for one last visit.  We had, in my opinion, our finest meal.  We enjoyed tapas at a beach view restaurant for a couple of hours.  We had sangria, grilled sardines, garlic shrimp and chicken skewers before some final shopping.  Tomorrow, we hiked an additional 2.5 miles, through Paris, on our return home.  

   
    
    
    
    
   
Until next time.    

Hike #19 (n/a) – Granada Urban Hike

  

  
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. 

Hike #18 (n/a) – Malaga Urban Hike

   

   

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.

   
 

Hike #17 (n/a) – Toledo Urban Hike

  
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.

Hike #16 (n/a) – El Escorial/Segovia Urban Hike

  
My second urban hike was in El Escorial and Segovia for 6.38 miles.  Palm Sunday added some special flair to the atmosphere today as we toured the monastery at El Escorial.  In fact, I found Holy Week in Spain to be very interesting.  We happened upon a Palm Sunday procession as we left the monastery.

  
  
The area was a large complex that held a monastery, palace and Basilica.  A very special part of today’s tour was a visit to a unique crypt that has the remains of the deceased kings and queens of Spain along with other family members.  The kings and queens crypt was ornately decorated and segregated from the other family members.  There was also a large stone ossuary that resembled a birthday cake for the royal children.  Pictures were not allowed, but I found some on the Internet.

   
   

Afterwords, we traveled to Segovia for lunch and a tour.  I had suckling pig in the shadow of a Roman aqueduct.

   
 
After lunch, we took a walk through the old town to both a castle and cathedral.  The castle was situated high upon a hill making it virtually impervious to attack.  The castle contained many examples of medieval armor and weapons.  From the high windows, you could see a Knights Templar church.  I want to search for the Holy Grail, but not enough time for today.

   
    
 
On the way back to our bus, we hiked along a stream that served as a moat for the castle.  It was a lovely hike.

   
   
After a full day, we went back to Madrid for dinner to close out our day.  The restaurant walls were filled with bull ring victims.  Each victim had a picture from their day in the ring beneath.  

The bed will feel good tonight.