07 / 15 / 04 ~ A day in the life of...
Where did I put that hammer? Jeez, it is easier to just let the alarm clock go on. OK, OK, I am up! Let’s see, I need to take a shower, load up the pack for an overnighter, load the weed eater in the truck and drive to Porter's Gap, which is only 13 miles away, by 9:00. No problem. Well, it is raining but that's not a problem because I am not a fair weather friend, I am the real deal. When I went through the drive thru at the Ashland McDonald's the nice young lady gave me a big smile and told me to have a nice day... hmmm... smiles can mean many things grasshoppa...
Great. I made it to the trailhead by 8:30 and Rehab is not here yet, so I climb in the back of the truck under the camper to eat. I have only met Rehab once. The ATCA had set up a base camp at Turnipseed Campground last year and we were working on a section of trail north of Cheaha. I was on my way to the pump for coffee water one morning when I met him. He was doing the Pinhoti-Chinnabee-Skyway loop and had hurt his knee, so we gave him a shuttle up to his car on our way out to the trail. Six months later, he sends me an email and says he wants to work on some trails. Today is his first day.
The trailhead is in pretty good shape. While I am waiting, I manage to fill up a garbage bag with beer bottles and KFC boxes, lopper off some overhanging limbs around the perimeter, open up the trail entrance a little bit and work up the trail about a hundred yards. Well, its 9:30 and Rehab is a no-show. No problem, - - it happens.
Today I am working on Section 4, the new 18 mile southern extension of the Pinhoti below Porter's Gap. None of the trail has been cut out yet but the USFS has laid the flag line already, so I have a general idea of what is up. The trail is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The new southern terminus of the PT will be the Bull Gap Trailhead, which is 10.5 miles east of Sylacauga on AL 148. The trail will run north along the Horn Mountain Ridge for about 12 miles. At the microwave tower it will drop off on the west side of the ridge down into the valley, go around Scott Lake and then on up to the Porter's Gap Trailhead on AL 77, 8.9 miles east of Talladega.
There is a 3 mile Forest Service road that goes to Scott Lake, where I plan to put 1 of the 2 designated campsites for Section 9. There are 2 gates on the road and the first one is about a half mile in, it is locked. No problem, - - it happens.
So I load up a full pack, 16 pound weed eater and a gallon of gas and start walking. Along the way I see a mud puddle surrounded by Deer, Turkey and Raccoon tracks, lots of Black Eyed Susans, Seven Bark blooming and plenty of Pines ~ on this side of the ridge you will not have any trouble remembering that the USFS is trying to resurrect the natural state of the southern forests: Long Leaf Pine, Hickory Oak and grasses.
Ah, here is the lake. Well, not exactly. The first time I came here was last winter when I bushwhacked down the flag line south from Porter's Gap. This time, coming down the road and with the summer foliage and all, I walk right past it. No problem, - - it happens.
So, I spend a lovely day weed eating and loppering, taking lots breaks in the cascades below the dam and finally laying out my bivy sack at what has to be the best campsite on the planet. There is a "V" between the two mountains that hold the lake and looking through it, you can see the Horn Mountain Ridge just a couple of miles away. Life is good.
A maintainer’s life is pretty tough. I will not kid you and do not kid yourself. This is a major commitment. Maybe if we had about 50 more volunteers it would not be as hard, but the simple truth is that we do not and there are a lot of miles to cover.
This is my fourth year on the trail with close to a thousand volunteer hours and my two teachers at the ATCA (Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama) have 10 and 15 years on the Pinhoti under their hip belts. All of the maintainers I know at the different clubs are totally committed, so we just do whatever it takes to get the job done.
It is lovely, dirty, hot, sweaty, windy, freezing cold, wet and about as physically demanding as any job around, but you will not find a job anywhere with better people and scenery!
Got what it takes??
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* revised numbering system: s1 = section number and 1.1 = section mileage. example: s1 ~ 1.1 *