justpassinthruOne of the mini-collections I’ve started for my home library are books related to the Appalachian Trail. Right now I’d say I have about a dozen or so books on the subject, mainly personal accounts from people who have hiked the trail. The first book I ever purchased about the AT, and the one that sparked my interest in the trail is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a funny and informative book about his attempt to thru-hike from Georgia to Maine.

One of the books I purchased last year on my limited gift card was Just Passin’ Thru by Winton Porter. Porter is the owner of Mountain Crossings, a outfitting store and hostel smack dab on the AT – a pass-through between their store and living quarters is actually part of the trail – about 30 miles north of its beginning at Springer Mountain, Georgia. In his book, he shares stories of the people who have spent time at the store, whether they have worked there for years, make it a second home, or just spend a brief few moments before continuing on the trail or returning to civilization. As you would probably expect from a book about people and the AT, the cast of characters is an eclectic bunch, from retired police chiefs to aging hippies, surfer dudes and juvenile deliquents. Besides the AT, there’s one thing they have in common: none of them are dull.

Besides writing about his encounters with others, Porter also shares his more personal observances, why he loves the trail and what compelled him to leave the city and move his family to the north Georgia woods, and his own personal day-to-day experiences working and living in such an environment. One such example is his quest to run 2.2 miles to the top of nearby Blood Mountain in less than 35 minutes, and I found his description of his body as he started running particularly funny – and apt:

“To me, the hardest part of running is the first 1/4 mile, when you have to pull down the rebellion of your legs, ankles, knees, feet, head, heart and lungs. The part of the body are happy in their natural state, disconnected from one another, going through their automatic motions. Hard running forces them into communication, and the pain of that first quarter mile is like the pain of an awkward conversation. Brain tried to set Heart up with Lungs, but they don’t hit it off. Joints get drunk and make inappropriate noises. Muscle sits alone in the corner and cries.”

Someday soon I hope to pay a visit to Porter’s store – preferably by foot.

Despite the ice storm and freezing temperatures of January, there were a couple of weekends when the weather gods seemed to remember that we were living in the south, and smiled upon us with some temperate, sunny days. My husband and I took the opportunity to fit in a couple of day hikes, despite us both suffering from head colds – him on the first hike and then when we ventured out a week later, by which time I’d caught his cold.

On our first hike, we drove a couple hours’ south to Providence Canyon, a state-run recreation area. Bad farming practices by pioneers in the 1800s led to massive soil erosion, which created this amazing network of deep gorges. It’s fitting nickname is the Little Grand Canyon, because truly, that’s what it’s like. You walk about a 1/4 mile or so down to the canyon floor, and then through the various paths leading to the individual canyons. The ground was sandy and wet, with shallow streams flowing throughout the area. I kept seeing oil slicks, like gasoline on puddles, which puzzled me. How was oil getting this far away from vehicles or roads? Was there some kind of underground runoff? When we got back to the information center, I got my answer. Turns out those slicks are from naturally occuring plant oils!

For an unnatural cause, the canyons themselves are a natural beauty. The soft soil was an array of colors, due to the varying mineral content, ranging from bone white to deep red and even shades of purple. Here’s a shot looking up at one canyon wall. My husband commented at the time that the colors reminded him of Neopolitan ice cream:

providence

After exploring the canyons, we hiked back up to the ridge and walked around the canyon perimeter, through wooded areas and past evidence of the abandoned settlements, such as the hollowed shells of old cars, left there since the park service considered it more ecologically disruptive to remove them. Here’s another photo, this is a view from the top near where we had a picnic lunch:

providence2

The second hike was a little closer to home, and at another of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. After enjoying an Indian buffet lunch, we headed to Stone Mountain with a couple of friends. Although we’ve been there a few times, and have hiked the 1.3 mile trek to the summit, this time we opted to hike around the base of the mountain, a distance of about 7 miles. The trailhead was a little ways in on the summit path, but the park guide we spoke to was a little unclear as to how far and the map didn’t indicate it either. So we inadvertently walked further up that we needed to, until we came across an access road and walked back down the mountain until the road intersected with the trail we were looking for. From there it was a well-marked and fairly easy hike around the mountain. We walked through wooded areas, alongside lakes and even passed by a covered bridge, with the mountain as a perennial backdrop. The only steep parts where you were actually walking on the mountain were near the beginning and the end, back by the trailhead. Here’s a photo of us after just having walked down what you see in the background:

stonemtn

Two great hikes to start off 2011 and we’re looking forward to plenty more in the coming year!