Sunday, March 8, 2009

A few miles through Porter's Gap

75 degree weather in early March made the chance at another afternoon on the woods took good to pass up, so my lily-white children and I went and walked a few miles through Porter's Gap in the Talladega National Forest.

It had been awhile--too long, really--since I had hiked the Pinhoti Trail. It runs a total of 140 miles, mostly in the national forest from the Alabama-Georgia line to near Sylacauga. I have walked most of that length over the years, most of which is quite physically challenging since it traverses mountains along most of its length. Along the way there lakes, creeks, springs, practically untouched wilderness and cuts through the heart of Cheaha State Park. So in addition to the things brochures for the Pinhoti tout--like hiking, camping, fishing and taking in the flora and fauna--I have also had a wide range of fun that can only be had in the middle of the woods where no one is a trespasser.
Saturday the kids and I were at Porter's Gap, a break in the moutains near the Talladega County/Clay County line. If you have ever hiked or want to hike the Pinhoti, Porter's Gap is notable because it is where the trail crosses Alabama Highway 77 and has parking--both of which are important for accessing it.
There was only one other car at the parking area when we got there after lunch. I had with me two faithful pieces of personal Pinhoti souvenirs: hiking boots that are 15 years old and a Kelty backpack that's 16. Although having brought them out reminded me how long it had been since I put them to good use, I was very glad that I spent good money for good stuff all those years ago because they served me liked they did new. I'd learned early on that a cheap pair of boots and a pack without modern waist and shoulder straps takes the fun out of toting your way through the woods, and fast.
Even though Saturday's load of camera, sandwiches, fruit and drinks was incredibly light (I have humped as much as 60 pounds up to 15 miles a day before) I'd only planned on doing a mile or so with Griffin and Carlie because I was not sure how much they's like it. That question got answered soon after we set out, when they asked for and were given permission to run down the well-worn open trail. A mile got gone quick, and they wanted more, so with the intention of stopping at the next spot that looked good for eating lunch, we pressed on.
The terrain changed from gentle slopes and smooth earth to increasing inclines and rocky ground just enough to remind me: a whole bunch of the Pinhoti is not for tender feet. About the time we had slowed down and there were no more requests to run, I spotted a nice collection of rocks with tabletop-like faces, free of undergrowth and well off the trail. So lunch--and rest--was had.
We worked our way back to the trail and backtracked slower, looking closer at what there was to see. Griffin did his best to make sure that no clump of moss went unkicked along trails edge and Carlie made sure I was made aware of muddy spots she needed to be carried over. It was about the time I could see the gleam of the Civic's windshield in the late-afternoon soon that I heard the first hints of whining from Griffin when he asked how much further was it back to the car. When I paused and pointed it out to him through the woodline, he threw on one last sprint to the parking area. And with that, a beautiful afternoon in the woods was done.