My First AOC Hikes

As you know, I joined the Atlanta Outdoor Club (AOC) as a way to meet other people and have some fun outings. My last post (2013-02-26 Learning to Mingle) told about my experience attending my first AOC Social event in February …. which was either one of the more unsettling things I have done post-divorce or, one of the most interesting things I have done. (Being a positive person, I will choose to go with one of the most interesting.)

I had also signed up for 2 hikes that were to take place the weekend after the Social …. One was a Saturday afternoon hike where we would walk upstream near the Chattahoochee River to Morgan Falls Dam. It was to be a 5 mile hike and last about 2 ½ hours.

The second hike was an Urban Hike on Sunday afternoon in downtown Atlanta where we were going to (and I quote) “stroll though some of the scenic areas of Atlanta. The hike is about 5 miles long and we will pass The Fox, Hard Rock Café, The Varsity, The Aquarium, The World of Coca-Cola and other sites.”  For those that wanted to stay, the group would be having dinner at the Landmark Diner after the hike.

Disclaimer: This is a very long post. My family and friends know I can make an adventure out of going to the store to buy a loaf of bread so you can only imagine what lies ahead. If you are pressed for time, come back later.

Saturday Afternoon Hike: Chattahoochee River and Johnson Ferry North: approximately 15 to 18 hearty souls showed up. I say hearty souls as it had poured the day before and the ground was muddy; it was chilly and the skies overcast. Our AOC Trip Leader, Richard, has been a part of 440+ AOC Events and is a pro.

Not only does he lead hikes around the greater Atlanta area but he is also a world traveler (China, India, Europe) and is a Trip Leader for overseas trips such as a group hike that will include crossing the Alps from Switzerland to Italy (June) and another trip hiking the Inca Trail (July). So, I was in good hands.

We started off and I was really excited… this being my very first hike. I had my old hiking pants and boots from my days as a Kennesaw Mountain Trail Ambassador but I had a new shirt… sort of like a first day of school.

I had my water bottle and granola bar in my backpack and Walter was hanging from the backpack. (Note to any first time readers: Walter is a small stuffed dog that goes hiking with me. See 2013-02-17 The Joys of Nature….. and the Opportunity for New Experiences. I know it sounds weird but just go with it…. )

Every Hike Leader has his/her own style—as to pace (leisurely-moderate- fast) or how they interact and so forth. I soon picked up that Richard’s style was more of a divide and conquer… sort of along the lines of the Little Engine that Could… he just took off and went…. and went quickly with no looking back. They had advertised that the pace of this event was “moderate”. I learned that if this is moderate, then I better never ever attempt fast.

I also soon realized that I would most likely not use my camera on this hike—if I stopped to take a picture, this “moderate” paced group would be leaving me behind in the woods. Let’s just say there were no photo ops… this is, after all, a “hiking” group. I thought it would not be a good idea to get lost on my very first hike so I quit trying to look all around me at the river and so forth but instead focused on keeping up with the group while at the same time trying to avoid the large puddles/swampy places that were all around us. As I mentioned, it had poured the day before and we were obviously walking in some low ground areas as water and small puddles/ponds were everywhere.

After about 30 minutes we came to our first challenge. I was in the middle of the pack and I heard murmurings from the more experienced hikers ahead of me (more experienced hikers being, of course, everybody else.)

I caught up and realized they were looking at a small creek we had to cross—no big deal except the way to cross it was by walking on a tree (as in being a tightrope walker) that had fallen over the creek.

I will confess that my heart went to my throat and I did look behind me to see if perhaps I could just turn around and go back but we were really deep in the woods and I was not sure I could find my way back. My concern about the tree crossing is that I do not have the best sense of balance and I have trouble sometimes just walking down a sidewalk without tripping. Also, I get dizzy on a two foot step stool so tightrope walking on a tree, even though it was not very high above the creek, seemed a bit challenging to me. There were two other women who were also muttering that they could not walk across the creek on a tree. (Say Amen Sister… Amen!!)

Fortunately, there was an area to the left of the tree that you could crawl/stumble down and then you could hop/skip/jump from one rock or muddy patch of ground to the other.  So, they headed in that direction and I followed. However, when I got to the hop/skip/jump part, I started freezing up.

One of the hikers, a kind gentleman, had a metal pole with him (and to those that have read the “Learning to Mingle” Post—please note per my comment in that post—this hiker had a METAL pole—not a wooden hiking stick). Anyway, Mr. Metal Pole Person was on the other side of the creek area and he reached the end of his metal pole out to me and told me to grab it and he would pull me over when I hopped.

You know how in the action movies with Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise there are often scenes where someone is hanging off the bridge or off a cliff and Bruce/Tom is going “Give me your hand, man, give me your hand” and the person grabs the hand and thwap—they pull them up to safety.

It was just like that!!!!! I grabbed the pole and hopped and he pulled me over and I did it.

TOTALLY AWESOME!!!

We kept trudging through the woods and around creeks and so forth. It was an interesting group of people…. Ages ranged from 36 to 69. Some had only attended a few events as in 4 or 5 and some were pros having attended 40-80 or more events…. the AOC website lets you see that kind of information about your fellow hikers.

I shared that this was my first hike and many of them gave me some valuable tips in between avoiding brambles and branches and water puddles.

After about an hour, Richard stopped. I became concerned that something happened to him as we had not stopped one time on the hike. But it turned out that he needed to discuss an issue with us.

Now, I do not know if this they have this issue on all the hikes at this location or if this issue arose due to the rain and wet terrain and higher than usual creeks. The conversation went like this:

R: “Now I need you to listen up. We need to make a decision. We have to decide how to continue from here. We have three choices. One: we can go back the way we came.”

Me: (to myself thinking about my Bruce Willis/Tom Cruise adventure and other challenges I had just faced) ……….hmmm. Not so good. What are options 2 and 3?

R: “We can go up this path here (and Richard points to a nice clear cut path that does not look too challenging.) But, some of it goes on private property. We would have to be very quiet. We do not want to alert the dogs. Can you do that…could you be quiet?”

Me: (thoughts jumbling very quickly through my mind) ….alert the dogs? ALERT THE DOGS? … what kind of dogs.. big dogs? Little dogs?  how MANY dogs……and what happens when they are alerted?  Do they bark?  Do they bite? Chase you? Are guns involved?? This is a large group.. we have a lot of people and we have two dogs with us…. What are the odds of us not alerting dogs?  Richard, have you ever done this before and not alerted the dogs?  Aughghghghg….

I had in my mind a visual that was a cross between a Road Runner—Bugs Bunny—Elmer Fudd (Kill the Wabbit) cartoon where I could see a large group of hikers holding two dogs scurrying quickly and quietly (ha) as a group across the back of someone’s property while trying to not alert the dogs. 

It was not a pretty picture.

R: “Our 3rd choice is to go up this path. But there are a lot of trees down and we will have to go over and/or under some trees.”

Me: and he points, I swear, to just some brambles in the woods—I did not see path….perhaps a small opening in-between the underbrush. Once again, thoughts start jumbling in my mind…Trees? What kind of trees? Big trees? Little trees? How many trees? And are creeks involved?

Several of us start muttering to each other –some are in favor of the dogs and some in favor of the trees and then all of a sudden, Richard just takes off and starts going through the brambles. It looks like we voted (we just did not realize it) and we are taking our chances with the trees. But we were, once again, on our way to Morgan Falls.

After hiking a bit more, we came to another creek crossing but this time we would have to walk across a big sewer pipe. It was higher off the ground than the tree (still not all that high but it looked like the Grand Canyon to me.) Once again I was going to need to hop/skip/jump but this time Mr. Pole Person was not around…and there was this small teeny tiny twig above me so as I did my hop/skip/jump maneuver, I reached up to hold the twig.

One of the other Trail Leaders was crossing the pipe at the same time next to me (showoff) said to me “Now you know that would not help you if you started to fall”. I informed him that I knew that and it was totally psychological but I had to touch something!! The good news is that I made it—there was nothing graceful about my crossing but I made it!

We finally arrived at Morgan Falls… I felt like the pioneers must have felt as they traveled out west…. My joy at seeing Morgan Falls probably rivaled their seeing the Pacific Ocean!!  Richard allowed us to stop long enough to have some water and eat a granola bar (I was not sure I was ever going to get the chance to do either) and then we headed back.

Once again, we hiked up and down hills—over water puddles and in water puddles and swampy areas (it turns out my REI boots that I bought a year ago are 100% water proof. I did not get a drop of water in them and trust me, there was plenty of opportunities for that to happen.)

Near the end of the hike, we came to my final challenge—a sewer pipe crossing the river but this time, there was no going around it as in there was no ground around it to hop/skip/jump on …. walking across the pipe was the only way to cross the creek. I looked up and down the creek and no land crossing in site. Now, it was a short crossing and a big pipe but once again, I felt my apprehension level rising and rising quickly.

There were 3 of us that had some concerns about this crossing. One of the women sat on the pipe and inched her way across it like you were riding a horse.  I just could not see myself doing that in front of a group of strangers—this being my first hike and my being one of the elders on the hike. The other woman went very slowly. I was the last to cross. The other hikers told me to keep my eyes on the pipe and go slowly.

Now, I am not Catholic but I have seen enough movies to know you can say something like “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee” and ask for help. I also stand on the scripture for this site (“I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me”). I figured saying those statements to myself along with a verse or two of Kum Ba Ya would get me across.

I stared at the pipe and slowly inched my way across and was so incredibly proud that I did it!  I made it across without falling off the pipe into the water.

I was so proud, in fact, that when I got across I stopped and took a picture of the pipe. That is the only picture I took on the entire hike! One of my fellow hikers asked if I wanted to get back on the pipe and he would take a picture of me standing on the pipe.

Now, my mother did not raise a fool—I know that in the Bible it says “you should not tempt the Lord Your God” and I figured I should leave well enough alone… so when you see the picture at the end, just visualize me and Walter crossing it.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and I made it back without falling into any puddles or creeks.  Richard was a good trail leader…I met a lot of really interesting people and I found myself laughing at myself throughout the entire hike.

The event was a roaring success and a great 1st hike!! I promptly went home and washed all the mud off my boots; threw my muddy hiking pants in the washer; took a hot shower and started getting ready for Sunday’s urban hike in Atlanta.

I truly know very little about downtown Atlanta and I began reading and printing maps and getting ready for the hike. Now, I do have a GPS system in my car but sometimes GPS takes you places you do not want to go.

Plus I had to decide what to wear. The attire for an Urban Hike could be more fashionably fun than the attire for a hike tromping through mud and brush in the woods. Once I had all these issues resolved, I watched a movie on my Blue-Ray DVD Player that my fabulous son and wife gave me for Christmas and then I went to bed.

Sunday was bright and beautiful day…blue skies and not a cloud in sight. We were to meet at the Rialto Center at 3:45 PM and as I always give myself time to get lost, I left at 2:15. I got about 10 minutes down the road and I realized that I left on the desk all the maps I had printed. I was going to have to trust the GPS Chick and my memory.

Scary thought.

Plus, I do not drive I-75 all that often and I get a bit nervous doing so—therefore I decided to take some back roads until I got to West Paces Ferry and get on I-75 at that point… which I did. I was really doing very well and made it to Atlanta but then I got stuck in the wrong lane and had to exit at Williams Street and not Courtland…which is the exit that the GPS Chick and printed maps had wanted me to use.

I was determined to not let that upset me and I listened carefully to GPS Chick who got me to the Rialto Center. I knew that the parking lot the Trip Leaders had suggested we use was 1 block north of the Rialto Center and I drove directly there without any incidents and entered the parking lot only to find out that it was full.

Augghghghghghgh.

So, I spent the next 15 minutes driving around in circles on one way streets trying to find a place to park and finally settled on a parking garage near the Rialto. Now, I will have to say that parking garages such as that make me nervous (a woman traveling solo downtown) but I figured I would just make certain someone walked me back to my car. The very good news is that when I got out of my car I saw two other people getting out of a car and they were the Trip Leaders so I felt even safer.

Chad was the Trip Leader for this hike and we also had Trip-Leader-in-Training, India (Indy.) Chad has hiked most of the Appalachian Trail and is also a musician. Indy functioned as a Sweeper on the hike—keeping an eye on the slower hikers (sometimes that was me) and making sure they did not lose any of the group.

Now, I will have to confess that I should have realized there was a potential issue when I read the trip information as there were conflicting statements. As you may recall from above, the description read: “stroll though some of the scenic areas of Atlanta.”

Please note the use of the word “stroll” which brought a certain image to my mind… a nice pace and chatting and picture taking. However, the pace of the event was listed as “moderate”. I learned something for future hike evaluations…. The pace description trumps any other verbiage in the trip description.  We did not STROLL.

The first indication of this was when Chad said something about getting our heart rates up and keeping them up (eh? why? we are going to stroll…aren’t we?) …followed by a statement that he tries to never lose more than 10% of the group. (He said this with a smile…. I could not decide if he was serious or not!!)  

Hmmmm… as there were only 12 hikers (counting 2 leaders) I did a quick math calculation and figured he could lose Walter and me and still not lose more than 10%.  I realized I needed to stay alert.

And off we went….quickly. I think we did pass the all the places they mentioned but I am not truly sure…they were such a blur….. look –there’s the Capitol…..oh.…. was that the Georgia Aquarium?…….. now we are at Georgia Tech (I think)….. and Chad would hold his arm straight up in the air and aim his camera at landmark places and take multiple pictures while still walking!!  He never stopped. They did take pity on us and let us spend 10-15 minutes roaming Centennial Park—thus  I had a picture taken there to prove I was on the hike. 

We left at 4 PM and returned to the Landmark Diner at 6:30 PM… it was a whirlwind hike but incredibly fun. Nine of us stayed for dinner and this is another one of the great aspects of this group… getting to talk to folks of various ages (ranging from age 31 to 67). Some of the hikers lived in the Emory area…some in Atlanta….some in Cobb.  One of the hikers works for the CDC and some are retired. It is fascinating to chat with so many different people who all have one thing in common—enjoying outdoor activities.

I once again picked up some good tips…I have thought about trying kayaking but had some doubts. However after chatting with one hiker who kayaks often, I think I will give it a try. We even chatted about camping and back packing. (Although until they invent a really good battery powered blow dryer for my hair, I have doubts about this happening.)

The dinner was a lot of fun and the group headed back to their cars around 7:30. Chad and Indy made sure I got to my car safely. Now, the only thing I had to do was make it back to Cobb County.

When I left the parking garage, I remembered in my mind that I was to go up the street and take the first right and get on Spring Street and that would take me to Williams and then I should be able to get on I-75.

BUT…GPS Chick wanted me to take a LEFT and my brain said no (although my brain has no historical knowledge to base that on) and so I ignored GPS Chick and went right.

Well, that did not sit well with her and she kept trying to turn me around and it was dark and I did not know where I was and all I knew was that if I kept going straight (or what I thought was to be straight) I would eventually cross the Chattahoochee River and get back to Cobb County.

So, she kept telling me to turn left or right and I kept going straight as those side roads SHE wanted me to go on looked dark and scary and then I guess I got really close to I-75 and she thought I had followed her advice and was on I-75 and she kept saying “Drive 6 miles on I-75” and I am yelling at her that I am NOT on I-75 and she kept telling me to “stay on I-75” and I am yelling at her and etc.

It is moments like these that I think having a boring and dull life would just be fine and I need to get over this faith-courage-joy concept that drives many of my decisions.  

Finally, I saw an old-fashioned sign that had an arrow on it indicating I should turn left at the light to get to I-75N…which I promptly did. The interstate gods were with me as I was able to get on I-75; avoid the millions of cars and headlights coming at me; get in the correct lane and with a slight death grip on the steering wheel, I made it back to Cobb County and safely home.

In retrospect, I cannot begin to truly tell you what an awesome two days they were and how great the hikes were. I have signed up for a photo hike in March to Gibbs Gardens to photograph the Daffodils (http://www.gibbsgardens.com/index.php )

. The pace of this hike is listed as leisurely so I think I can actually take some pictures. I hope to be able to sign up for a morning hike involving the trails of the Serenbe Community in the heart of Chattahoochee Hill County (http://www.serenbecommunity.com/home.html).

The Atlanta Outdoor Club welcomes members that are married, single, all ages (as long as you are 21 or older) and is truly a fabulous way to learn more about outdoor opportunities. I encourage you to spread the word. (http://www.atlantaoutdoorclub.com/)

And on a final note, there are limited pictures at the end due to the moderate (i.e., fast) pace on each hike. I do have a picture, as noted above, from the first hike of the pipe I walked on when crossing the creek. (I am sure there will be more in the future.) And regarding the 2nd hike, we did not have many chances to STOP and take a photo (had to keep that heart rate up!!)

However, Chad did take one group picture—we stopped for 1 minute—I do not even remember where we were…. I think the picture is a real hoot…it looks like a picture of a group of homeless people standing on a street somewhere. Chad may be a great Trail Leader but he needs to work on his photography skills!

Enjoy!

jfh

2013-02-16 01 Pipe.jpg (Large)2013-02-16 02 Pipe (Large)2013-02-17 01 Hiking.jpg (Large)2013-02-17 02 Hiking.jpg (Large)2013-02-17 03 Hiking.jpg

The Pipe Crossing—The Pipe Crossing—Outside the Rialto—At Centennial Olympic Park—Hikers or Homeless People (You Decide)