Atlanta, GA to Guntersville, AL
Wow! Eight days since my last blog update? What the heck? That was way back in Atlanta and now I’m days into Alabama! Last I updated I was preparing to leave the wonderful home of Helen and Cesar Tovar and jump on the Silver Comet Trail! OK. Let’s get this updated!
I’ve been waiting for this trail since I re-routed my journey through the south. I left the Tovar residence in the truck of my friend Steve Milby whose house I stayed at a few nights earlier. We were going to backtrack a few miles to start the trail more towards the beginning (so i didn’t take any forward momentum!!). Steve had his hiking buddy Phil with him and they wanted to do my first 10 miles with me to Dallas, GA and then Uber back to their car.
The Silver Comet Trail is an old railroad line that has been converted to a paved cycling/hiking/walking trail that goes from downtown Atlanta all the way to the Alabama border where it turns into the Chief Ladiga Trail. Let me tell you, this trail was awesome!! It was a Saturday morning and there were barely any people on it at all. It was a bit chilly but we quickly warmed up. The SCT is about 10 feet wide and, in this part of Georgia, was surrounded by lush woods, carved out rock faces, older homes both abandoned and not and quite a few newer developments that were built up on the trail heading out of the city. We could walk pretty quickly and effortlessly and I loved it. No cars, a few cyclists and it was pretty much flat all the way.
I parted ways with the guys in Dallas and was on my own. In just a few more miles we celebrated the crossing of 500 miles and the trail was a perfect place for it. That was a pretty big marker and I was really excited about it. My goal that day was a town called Rockmart where I was going to camp out on the property of Carla and Kenny Stephens and their son Kenny, Jr. They met me out at the road and we walked on to their property that had a big cabin that served as their house and a great big lake. We sat around and chatted about life, my journey, Carla’s battle with breast cancer and food. Kenny and Carla loved to cook and they had a big meal planned. Kenny had smokers out back and he had gone into Marietta and bought steaks and Cheddarwurst and he was smoking them and then searing them in a Big Green Egg. Dinner was amazing! One of the best steaks I’ve ever had. It was about time to pitch my tent and they offered to let me sleep in the house on their sofa and I was sooooo happy! It was going to get down in the low 30s and this was a huge reward. After dinner we were joking about how delicious some chocolate chip cookies would be and then Carla whipped up a batch from scratch! Boom!! We had some good beers with dinner and I really enjoyed my time at their house. The sofa was super comfy and I slept like a rock.
The next morning Kenny suggested we have chorizo and egg burritos. I assumed they had the ingredients but, no, Carla ran out and bought everything and came home and made breakfast. How awesome is that! Oh, and then there’s the Bee Gee’s story. There is this painting in their living room that I was looking at and I swore it was Barry Gib. I eventually asked them why they had a painting of one of the Bee Gee’s in their living room and Carla about spit her drink out laughing and said it was Jesus. Wow. It was not like any Jesus painting I’d ever seen. It looked like Barry Gib. You be the judge!
It was time to go. Kenny and Carla walked me back to the trail and we took some pics along the way. It was hard to say good bye. They were great hosts. Back on the trail and headed to Cedartown where I had a room booked at the Quality Inn. And it wasn’t a Quality Inn. There was nothing quality about it. It was an easy walk day, only about 16 miles but it was a town and I had a hotel so I took a slower day. My previous day to the Stephen’s was 28.2 so I deserved a break, right?
I bailed early and was excited for my day. Two major milestones were going to happen that day – we were going to cross into Alabama AND we were transferring to the Central Time Zone. Boom!! At the Alabama border we would also say good bye to the Silver Comet Trail and start on the Chief Ladiga Trail. About a mile before the border a small dog joined our walk and wouldn’t leave us alone. She was very playful and friendly but she really smelled horrible!! And she clearly just had puppies because her nipples were swollen and red. After some time I grabbed her collar and called the owner. He said she had just had puppies and snuck out of the yard so I tied her up and waited at the border for him to arrive. It was perfect timing because we were starting our live FB feed and I wanted to get over that line!
Live feed done we walked to our campsite called the Chief Ladiga Campground. Great spot. Right on a river and there weren’t that many people there. It was super cold that night and pretty windy but we picked a good spot down an embankment that shielded us from the wind. My neighbors had a fire burning all night and the smell was great. I’m a little sketchy about building fires just because I don’t have enough experience and I don’t want to burn down a forest. So I lived vicariously through them.
My next day was going to be short because I had three big days coming up next and there weren’t many options for sleeping. On the trail and, because we had a lot of time that day, we decided to sit by a lake for quite a while and enjoy our last moments of trail life before getting back on the highways. I set my camera up and took some shots with remote and they’re some of my favorites. We took the trail to Piedmont, AL and headed into town. We booked a room at the City Hearts Inn and Suites but we were early and had to kill time. We stopped at Elevated Grounds Christian Coffee Shop and chatted with the people there and I ate the BEST blueberry scone I’ve ever had. I make really good scones but this one was off the charts. If you’re ever in Piedmont, Alabama you MUST get one of these scones.
We made it to the motel or whatever it was. I’m not sure. Part paper mache hut, part hookerville, part crack house…I don’t know. It was not good. It was one of those places where you’re afraid to get under the sheets. The shower had a hole in the floor that was big enough for my foot to slip through. GROSS!! No clue what lurked in that decayed hole but I showered anyway because I smelled disgusting. I gathered up all my dirty clothes and Wink and I walked to the laundromat. My clothes smelled like campfire, sweat and dog. YUM! The laundromat was awesome and only pics can tell the story so here are a few. Oh well, clothes clean (I guess). We ordered some food on the way back to the motel, ate and crashed. I wasn’t really looking forward to the next day back on the highway. I set my alarm for 5 am and turned out the light at 8. But we didn’t fall asleep until after midnight because the “tenants” next door had a strange night’s mixture of fighting about their son who was a “worthless piece of crap with a wh*re of a girlfriend” who “should have been knocked up by now”. Yeah, I could have been in the room with them the walls were so thin. So, they fight then laugh and tell jokes then fight. Then they had sex and then they watched TV. Loudly. I had my headphones and I was trying to let the sounds of the rainforest drown out the winners next door but it didn’t work. I had to call the front desk twice but that didn’t work. Not happy.
So, we woke up at 5 am and it was 30 degrees outside but I needed to bolt. The room was just making me unhappy. We got ready quickly and we were out the door by 5:30. We had a KILLER day ahead of us. We had 28 miles with some very severe uphills the last few miles. It was definitely my worst walking day thus far. From my beautiful resting spot the night before to Gadsden wasn’t so bad but then it turned to crap. Gadsden is a pretty good sized town but it was NOT set up for ANY type of walking or cycling. Zero sidewalks, zero shoulders, overgrown weeds on the road edges…it was just horrible. And I had that for almost 3 miles to the base of Noccalula drive. After battling that city for a few hours we hit the hill. Oh, man. It was steep. Super steep. And curvy. And my ONLY option. And no shoulders and NOWHERE on the left to bail out if I needed to. It was one of those “screw it, just do it” moments. My only option would have been to ask someone to take me to the top but i was NOT going to do that. So up we went. It was slow go and sketchy but I knew that, at the top, was Noccalula Falls Campground and I had been told that it was spectacular. And it was and that walk was worth it. We made it to the top after about an hour of playing dodge-car and taking water breaks. This park was big and the campgrounds were immaculate with hot shower rooms, WiFi and nice people. We saw the falls from the top that night but had no energy to hike down. We planned to do that the next morning so we just grabbed some food, chatted with the nice people camping next to us and got to bed early.
At sunrise we left everything at camp and hiked about 1/2 mile down a gorge to the falls and we went all the way behind. It was really incredible! We were soaked from the mist of the falls but we loved it. We took tons of photos and videos and slowly made our way to the top.
Now, I have to say in hindsight, that hiking to the bottom and back up that gorge was not a good idea given what we were into that day. The walk from Noccalula Falls to Boaz was the hardest walk for our bodies that we have had. I say “we” all the time and people ask me who “we” is. I hope by now you know that “we” means me and Wink. He’s on my team. He’s a me and I’m a him. So we are a “we”. No other people. OK, clarification complete. The walk out of the park almost instantly hits the longest, steepest hill I’ve ever climbed. Lindsay had warned me about today but I wasn’t prepared. I was excited to start the day with the falls and knowing we were going to hit 600 miles that day but I was NOT prepared for what we encountered. That first hill nearly killed us. It was up and up and up and curvy and I could never see where the crest was going to be. I would think we’re at the top and we’d curve around a bend and it was up more and that just kept happening over and over again. Turns out it was about a mile and a half but if felt like we had walked 10 miles. We were hurting and I knew it was only 1 of 4 that I would encounter.
Lindsay had told me that anytime I turned or crossed a road with the word Gap in it that that meant I was heading up a hill again. I now hate that word Gap. I will never shop at The Gap again. (I never really shop there anyway but now I’m definitely never shopping there. Guilt by association.) The uphill, of course, continues with a downhill which you might think is easier. In some ways it is. I don’t have to push 140 pounds down a hill – it will do that on it’s own. But I have to control it and hold it back and the breaks that are on my cart are only so good and certainly not designed for this endeavor. I have rigged up a system on my cart where I clip the cart handle bars to a very lightweight carribeaner that is clipped to my belt. It’s strong enough to hold the cart close to me but, should I need to bail out, the carribeaner will release because it’s pretty cheap and the spring sucks. It’s actually a very ingenious set up if I do say so myself. So down the hill we go. Very steep downhill with lots of curves. It wasn’t too bad till I hit Leeth Gap road. Gap. Dammit!! It was in front of a church and I took a pic. Most of you know that I’m not a religious man but, at that moment, I prayed that there was a spelling error. That maybe they meant to say Leeth Cap. But my prayers were not answered. I had hill #2 in front of me. #2 and #3 were good sized hills but nothing compared to #1. We got up and down both of them and we were pretty beat up but still breathing. It was pretty flat for a little while. I got to the end of a road and I knew I was turning right and there were signs for a “Wills Creek Winery and something called “Tigers for Tomorrow” to the right and “who cares at that point” to the left. (OK, to be fair, it was “Big Wills Kayak/Canoe” to the left but, again, who cares when I can get tigers and wine, right?) I was actually pretty excited. I knew I had many miles left in the day and one more big hill but I was getting me some wine and tigers. But, sadly, I didn’t. Shortly after that right turn I had to turn left onto another GAP road! Triple downer! No wine, no tigers and another Gap! Hill #4 was about as bad as #1. I was so tired and sore that it took me forever to get up. I would take a few steps and stop. Then do it again. Then again. It was grueling. My lower back was on fire and pain was shooting down my leg from years of sciatica issues. And, because of the inclines, my ankle was hurting again.
Sidebar – what’s incredibly relevant to understand about this journey is that there is no possibility to say no, I’m stopping. Not if you have a specific destination for that day. If you’re stealth camping you can do that. But if you need to be at a certain place just so you know you can eat and sleep, you can’t just decide not to go forward. No matter how bad the pain is, you have to keep going. Somehow I have managed to teach myself how to truly accept one step at a time. Yes this step hurts and so will the next but just get through this step for now and deal with that one later. When you’re moving so slowly you can do that. I wasn’t on a time table. I was headed to Guntersville where I had a campsite that I could arrive at whenever I wanted. So you just go slow and one step at a time. It actually works!
OK – back to the hill. Obviously we made it to the top and then back down and we were now on pretty flat grounds with about 10 miles to go. My 600 mark was coming up in about 6 miles and I think it took me almost 3 hours to walk only 6 miles. I was a wreck. I almost decided to scrap the FB live for 600 but, whatever, let’s do it. About 1/4 mile from where we would cross 600 we were literally taken over by 4 very big dogs. There were dogs everywhere in this area but these three came barreling out of this yard and were all over us. Wink was a mess. They weren’t trying to bite us but they were aggressive and caused Wink to retaliate in aggression. So this is when it actually got funny. This lady and 2 guys come running down the road after the dogs and I, for some reason, am apologizing for getting them all irate just for walking down the street and the people were apologizing and that was all fine. Then the lady yelled there names, “Crimson, Clover, Bama!! Get over here!” And she kept yelling their names. Crimson was obvious – we’re in Alabama and they worship the Crimson Tide. Clover – very clever. Crimson and Clover…over and over! But with her very strong accent I heard Bomma, not Bama. So I asked her, “Are your dogs names really Crimson, Clover and O’bama?” I was serious! That’s exactly what it sounded like when she was yelling at them! She looked at me as if I just slapped her mother. She said, “Bama! Alabama! Not O’bama!” And she said O’bama with such disgust it was pretty funny. I seriously didn’t mean to offend her but I’m pretty sure I did. Oh well. Chain your dogs up.
We barely celebrated 600. I was exhausted and I still had miles to go and we were attacked by nice dogs named after football and a Joan Jett song and definitely not our former President. Our goal that day was a town called Boaz. Lindsay said she wanted to get me a motel room for the night but it had to be the same piece of horrible ick that she had stayed at when she passed through. OK. I’m in. A bed and no camping. How bad could it be. So, remember the City Hearts place I described in Piedmont? WORSE than that! LOL. I think it was a joke for her and something we could share and I’m glad I stayed there even though there was enough mildew and mold on the walls to warrant a complete health department shutdown of the whole place. OK, enough of Boaz. There is nothing worth discussing about that town.
The next day we did a relatively easy 21.5 miles to Guntersville and I was so happy. With the exception of a really cool mailbox sculpture thing pictured below, there wasn’t a ton to take pics of or talk about until we came into town and I saw the water. I did experience my first major road closure that added a few miles via a detour but it wasnt’ too bad. Guntersville is a beautiful town that is surrounded on all sides by a massive lake and we got there right about an hour before sundown. I met my contact Philip Castillo who had to help us across a few causeways that were not pedestrian friendly. I wasn’t too thrilled about taking forward help so I walked around the lake an extra mile and a half to make up for the help over the bridges. I knew then I could sleep well at night knowing I actually walked the distance. Silly, I know. The rule is only for me but it is what it is.
Philip treated me to an amazing dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in town and I had a few beers and I was ready to crash. My back was still hurting and all I wanted was my bed back home but my tent was home for the next two nights. Before we got completely ready for bed we were met by a reporter for the local newspaper that Philip had contacted. I did a quick interview and photo shoot and that was really cool! We got set up at the North Alabama Sailing Club right down next to the boats in the harbor but sleep did not come easily. I was in quite a bit of pain and couldn’t get comfortable so I went out to my cart to get an emergency type of ice pack that you pop open and it gets cold. I use a lot of these. Dumb me does the popping in my tent and the damn thing exploded chemical ice liquid stuff everywhere. UGHHHHH!! It was already midnight and I had had the hardest walking day and now I was probably exposing me and Wink to nuclear waste inside the tent. I got it cleaned up, treated myself to a snickers bar (my new crutch) and eventually fell asleep.
I took the next day off. We slept in and woke to the sound of a billion birds and it was pretty cool. We lingered around that morning, drank coffee, took a very hot shower and I did some repairs to Alexa. Philip came to meet me and brought his dog Lucky. Lucky is about 10 pounds heavier than Wink and that didn’t go well. Wink was all up in Lucky’s business as he always is when he wants to play with new dogs. Lucky wasn’t taking to Wink and I was a little nervous but it seemed generally under control. A few seconds later I heard Wink yelp like I had never heard him yelp before and looked over to see Lucky’s mouth around Wink’s ear. Philip wrestled Lucky to the ground and that’s when I saw blood. My heart sank. Lucky had bitten straight through Wink’s ear. He basically pierced his ear and there were a few minor bite marks inside. Philip felt horrible and I felt badly for him. Please understand that this was just a dog thing and Philip did nothing wrong at all. Dogs get territorial sometimes for reasons we sometimes don’t understand and that’s what this was. Wink has certainly had moments where he could have been the “Lucky” in this same situation. We both thought the dogs had come around to each other but something bad obviously happened. The bleeding wasn’t bad and I was able to get some anti-biotic ointment in the bite. Wink was not the same for a few hours and I can’t blame him. He was scared and sad and in pain but, after a few hours, he seemed to be back to normal. I felt horrible all day for everyone. He protects me every day and I felt like I let him down. Philip took his dog home and came back to pick me up and take me into town. Earlier that morning I received a call from a TV reporter named Kelly Kennedy from WZDX news out of Huntsville. She had seen me the day before walking through Guntersville and so had her mom and she wanted to do a story on us. She showed up and we had a fun, long interview with cameras and a mic and all and it is going to air on tonight’s 9pm broadcast. Here’s a link if you’d like to watch!
Kelly gave me the contact for a chiropractor who was a friend of her family that was willing to meet me later that day even though she was closed. So Philip drove me all the way back to Albertville to get an adjustment and it was exactly what I needed. And she didn’t charge me anything!! So cool! We spent the rest of the day driving around the lake and we went to another place called High Falls Park and hiked down to the waterfalls which were really cool! Then we headed to a brewery, grabbed a growler and some BBQ and headed back to the marina where we ate some seriously good food. Philip and I said good bye and I thanked him for everything he had done for me. My day off, minus Wink getting into that fight and getting bitten, my day off was really good. I had an amazing two days in Guntersville and I owe that to Philip and his hospitality. Great guy and great new friend!
I’m sitting in the marina writing this entry and he is crashed out. We played a lot and he knows I love him. Tomorrow we head out towards a town called Florette. I’ll be stealth camping for the next few nights till I get to Decatur, AL. I love you all and will update again when I am able.