Monday, April 16, 2012

Unaka Mountain, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     The forests of the Southern Appalachians thus far have been a very unique experience for me. Having never hiked in some of these states previously, I was pleasantly surprised at how new and exciting the little things would be to me.
     In Georgia, the ground was not the Earth I am used to in the Northeast. Nor is it similar to that of the West. No, here the soil itself was a clay. A dark red clay that managed to stand out in contrast vividly to the greens and brownish-greys of the forest.
      Georgia also gave an affect of a jungle setting at times. With thick vines, vines that often outnumbered the trees; and waxy green leaves, thick and dominant.
     Since breaking into North Carolina, the vines and jungle characteristics gave way to thick forest of poplar trees and many small flowers and brush.
     An interesting feature once north of the Smokies is the American history lost to the woods... These forests are dotted with old grave stones, foundations, and many old fences just hanging precariously amongst young regrowth.
     What I have noticed thus far in Tennessee alone is an abundance of water. Falls, cascades, rivers and large streams have been a constant since walking through this fine state.
     There was a different feeling one day, a unique moment in these southern forests.
     I began climbing up Unaka mountain. A typical day, one where I sweat and push myself steadily uphill, reminding myself there will be a less exhausting yet joint-punishing downhill in the near future.
     As I close in on the top, a change begins to take place. The bare trees begin to form needles. The crunching leaves below begin to fade, along with the small brush plants and flowers; in their wake, a brown floor of needles take their place.
     I have walked into a red spruce forest. This is not a place typical of the south, it is instead a sky island of a forest more at home in the Northeast. A place more like what I have called home in recent years.
     The trail grows darker under the cover of branches thick with needles. The air grows moist. The air chills, and an icey breeze follows. Moss, thick and deep green, becomes dominant around tree roots and anywhere the brown needles on the ground give space. The birds sing different tunes.
     I have this to myself; nobody in front or behind me. I slow down, to take this experience in.
     I breathe deep, letting the cool, moist air caress my lungs. The scent of pine sap in the air.
     I close my eyes.
     I am walking an autumn afternoon, breathing deep the cool crisp air. I enjoy the act of hiking, the steady pace and constant changing scenery. The sound of the soft ground beneath my feet, a bed of needles and moss.
     I am in Maine, in the Maine woods. It is a beautiful afternoon, spent hiking as I often would. I am sore, and naturally tired; it has been a long day of hiking.
     But I am just here for the weekend, and my weekend is coming to a close. I will soon hop in my truck, my faithful little Chevy I have babied. I will have a pleasant drive, through the town of Monson and down winding scenic back roads. I will play my music I love.
     The dog will be so excited to see me, jumping and wagging her tale. I will crack open an ice cold drink, and put some meat on the grill.
     Checking on my vegetables, darn squash beetles on my cucumbers again. I will have to do something about them. I pick some lettuce, mustard, and some ripe tomatoes for a salad.
     I stop to grab any eggs out of the coop.
     Tomorrow is work. I dread the alarm, the monotony; but I do look forward to talking to friends and being productive.
     A warm bed tonight. A warm fire. A good book. Riding bicycles with friends after work, then laughing over some drinks downtown.
     I open my eyes.
     As I begin to descend Unaka, the branches grow increasingly bare, the sun beginning to warm the air. The soft ground slithers away, and I hear the crunch of dead leaves once again.
     The moss gives way to small stemmed plants. The moisture in the air leaves, and so does the cool breeze.
     I am in a typical forest of the Southern Appalachians once again.
     I walk, walking everyday. Every day. I wake in my tent, eat my oatmeal, brush my teeth, and proceed North. There is no truck, no dog. These woods are where I rest my eyes, and where I spend my days.
     I have many miles to go, and many experiences ahead.
     Both physically, and also within.

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