This Christmas I came back to Alabama from Colorado for the first time in nearly five years. I stayed for a whole month and I brought all of my gear. One of the hikes I always wanted to do when I was growing up was from Cheaha Mountain to my home in White Plains. Back then, in high school, I thought this was a ridiculous plan. It was over 30 miles away! And Cheaha Mountain is no joke. At 2400 feet high and a 1300 foot prominence, there was no way that my friends and I had the resources and stamina to tackle such a feat (that was sarcasm, but in all fairness, we did have that mindset). Fast forward to the present and I was really looking forward to knocking out my Cheaha to Home hike.
I got into Alabama on December the 15th. The next week was a whirlwind of visiting relatives, catching up with my immediate family, and seeing old friends. On the Thursday before Christmas I was finally free to enjoy this simple, moderate, but very important hike.
After I hit the trail I boogied as fast as I could go to cover as much ground as possible. I really wanted to make it home on Christmas Eve around noon. That night I covered over 7 miles, stopped by the Blue Mountain shelter, and made it to the bottom of Cheaha Mountain where I camped in a small holler next to a creek. It was chilly and felt colder than Colorado, but I chalked that up to the higher humidity of the South.
After 17 miles, I decided it was high time I set up my tent and called it a night! I quickly pitched my tent, threw out my bag, and made a meal of mac and cheese ( a trail staple!) before falling asleep around 6. In the night coyotes woke me up continuously. At one point I heard one sniffing and walking around my campsite. I told him to leave me alone and I went back to sleep. In the morning I was awoken by a group of trail runners. It was the Pinhoti Trail Runners group training for some upcoming marathons. I talked briefly to a few of them as I packed up camp.
Soon after, I was on the trail again. I only had about seven miles to go today so I wasn’t hoofing it as intensely as the day before.Shortly after starting the trail I crossed a buried pipeline and entered into a tornado scar from about 2008. It was neat to see how the land had recovered. It was an excellent example of secondary succession in action. The scar was filled with brambles and bushes with a lot of shrubby long leaf pine trying to grow in. Eventually, through fire and competition, the long leaf will slowly take over and grow into a more mature stand, and perhaps, one day the stand will be replaced with hardwoods.
The rest of the day was a casual hike through the mountains where I grew up. Eventually, the trail turned from a familiar old acquaintance to a friend I have known for years. Sections of the trail were familiar- there was the old campsite my dad took me on my first ever camping trip, there was the old dead stump where I carved my name (now illegible by moss and time), and eventually I came across a little stream that lead all they way to my home.That little stream flows right under the railroad tracks and feeds the pond where I grew up. I paused for a minute. I haven’t seen my home, the very epicenter from which all my love for the outdoors sprang up, in 6 years. It was sold after my parents divorce. I could have followed the stream to the tracks and looked at my home from afar, but I pondered a moment longer. I will always cherish the nurturing growth my home had on my lifestyle and appreciation for the outdoors and conservation. Every adventure I have ever had or ever will could be linked, in all honesty, to the adventures I had every day growing up on that little 80 acre plot of land. I have been fortunate. Life is a narrow, undulating ribbon in the wind. It flits and flutters so quickly that half the time I don’t think anyone knows exactly where we’re going. Time is so fleeting, though, that we need to embrace the change. There is no time to fight it. We need to feel and welcome the visceral touch of pain, laughter, bonds, and all of the other infinite attachments that come with life. We need to be okay with everything that life throws at us and we need to keep moving forward.So that is what I did. I turned my back to that little stream and trekked on to a Forest Service road crossing about three miles up the trail. I called my mom and she picked me up. Scratch another off the bucket list.