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Birmingham April 27, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama.
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I spent quite some time in Birmingham, staying with Anu (who lived next door to us when I was a little girl) and her husband and beautiful daughter, and also with Coco and Jerry Hyman, some friends who used to live close to us in Georgia. I also got to visit Vern and Phoebe Smathers (also used to live in Georgia) and met a few new people. There’s a lot of pictures, especially of Ruthie (Anu and Martin’s daughter who just turned one), and I uploaded them to Shuttefly for easy download.

Birmingham Visit on Shutterfly

I left Birmingham on Tuesday the 24th. Coco and Jerry gave me a lift to the Tuscaloosa area and I continued on my journey.

Survival and Tampons April 18, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Survival.
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In my month of walking the Silver Comet trail, I’ve been fortunate not to encounter any survival situations. But since I was a kid, I’ve loved to read and imagine about surviving in the wilderness. Not practice, mind you. Eating bugs or killing small animals is just a bit much for me, unless I’m really, truly about to die. But there’s still an old copy of “The SAS Survival Handbook” somewhere at my parent’s house, and some of the stuff I carry around is survival gear I’ve had since I was a kid. (I don’t really have much survival gear though, other than Adventure Medical Kit’s Pocket Survival Pak – not the best survival kit but better than nothing.)

I subscribe to a few survival blogs, my favorite is Willowhaven Outdoor. They e-mail a newsletter every other week or so. A few weeks ago, they sent me the BEST e-mail I think I’ve ever gotten: using a tampon as an emergency survival tool. Being female, of course I have one other very important survival use for a tampon, but this article is so brilliantly thought out and many of the ideas I could realistically use, it just made my day. Mr. Creek Stewart, who writes the blog and runs Willowhaven Outdoor, is full of these brilliant (and sometimes fun) ideas.

Another great post I found on Willowhaven Outdoor (this might be how I found the site to begin with) is plans to build a camp chair. I’d found some great plans on Instructables for a Multi-Function Walking Stick that converts to a chair, but the seat looked really uncomfortable and I wanted something leather. I’m still planning to make something like this… someday.

One last survival item that I think is really cool is the Personal Survival Shelter by Wilderness Innovation. From the pictures and videos they have on the website, I’d describe it as a high quality poncho that can convert into a shelter in a pinch, and converts into a hammock when you want to relax. I’d be devastated if my camera got destroyed by rain or water. There’s no way I could replace it, and without my camera I’ve lost who I am: a photographer. I’d only be upset if my computer was destroyed, it’s not a good computer and starting to fail, but devastated if I lost all my photos saved on it. The poncho I have currently is a cheap $7 poncho from the drug store. It covers my pack… barely. I haven’t been caught in a really bad downpour yet, just mild ones, and it seems the cheap poncho will do an okay job… but a Personal Survival Shelter would not only be much more durable, it converts into a hammock.

A Series of Hilarious Events (Part Two) April 17, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama.
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(continued) Thursday, April 12, I found Scott gathering firewood at the trestle like he said. The riverbank was located down a steep embankment. I had to slide on my butt down a dirt slide to get there – the smoothness of the path told me many butts had been there before mine. The riverbank, stream, and trestle were beautiful. We got a fire going and talked about camping while I snapped a few pictures and had a bit to drink. A bit too much to drink, and on an empty stomach at that. (Not a great idea!)

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Later in the evening Scott went to the grocery store for a few things. When he got back, I was passed out on the rocks of the riverbed from drinking without eating any food! I managed to crawl into my sleeping bag, and there I slept beside the river, shivering through the 35° night in my 40° rated sleeping bag. Scott went to his truck where he could run the heater, but returned in the morning and built another fire. The morning sunrise streamed through the smoke and leaves, making beautiful light on the water.

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Later that day I stopped by the post office in the small town of Weaver to pick up a package my sister sent me, which included a much-needed new pack! Many, many thanks to my sister Naomi Rice for her recommendation – my new pack is fantastic!
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I also got a cool Cloak Camera Bag to carry my camera in and the geeky F-Stop Watch to tell the time, as I leave my cell phone off most of the time to save the battery. I stayed at the trestle again that night, but in my tent this time.

April 14th I walked the last few miles of the trail. The end of the trail just has a simple sign announcing the 100+ mile accomplishment:
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There’s a park at the end of the trail, so I sat and rested a while, reflecting over the past month. I started walking the Silver Comet Trail on March 14th. Finally on April 14th, one month and many exciting adventures later, I reached the end. As I sat lost in my thoughts, an older gentleman who must have passed me earlier saw me and said, “so you finally made it to the end!” I smiled and replied that indeed I had. He asked where I was going now, and I said I would probably camp in the park for the night. He left, and I went back to my thoughts about my hike (and also how much I hate fire ants, in case I haven’t mentioned that already). But not much later he returned with his wife, and they invited me to stay at their house for the night! I was very surprised by their generous offer and at their insistence I accepted.

Helga and Rolf were full of interesting stories and had traveled all over the world. They told me stories of the many places they’d been and the many adventures they’d had. Rolf has done some beautiful wood carvings and they both enjoyed collecting art from all the different countries they visited. They had been married over fifty years and still held hands when they walked together in public.

After looking at a map, they decided to drive me towards Birmingham the next day. Since I lived in Hoover for ten years growing up, I thought some place near there might be cool, so they decided to visit the Galleria. I put a message on Facebook that I’d be in the Birmingham/Hoover area if any of my friends from there wanted to hang out, and got a couple of replies. Finally, I made plans to stay with my former next-door neighbor when I lived in Hoover as a kid, who had just moved back to Birmingham one week before.

April 15th Rolf and Helga drove me to the Galleria. We had a lovely lunch, walked around the mall a little bit, then my friend Anu came to pick me up. She and her husband have a CUTE daughter who’s just about to turn one, so I got to meet Ruth for the first time.

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Helga and Rolf

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Helga enjoys an ice cream cone at the Galleria

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Ruth is ALWAYS smiling!

I also got to see a few other people I knew who used to live in Atlanta, so my stay in Birmingham has been pretty awesome. I’m still not sure when I’ll hit the road again… but I’m sure more Hilarious and Wonderful Events will ensue.

A Series of Hilarious Events (Part One) April 17, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama.
3 comments

The past week has pretty much been a series of hilarious and wonderful events. On Monday a week ago, a shirtless biker rode past me while I was taking pictures of a rather boring bridge (my sister requested I take pictures of EVERY bridge, because they are supposed to be interesting, but after photographing more than four or five they’re really not interesting anymore).

“Wow,” I thought to myself as he rode past and I stood there like an idiot with my camera in my hand but not thinking to snap a picture, “that guy looks just like some actor on a TV show I watch all the time!” The shirtless biker smiled and said “hey” when he passed, and I thought, “wow, his voice sounds just like the guy on TV too!” It took me a long time to think of the TV show – actually I had to get some help by calling my family – but I finally figured out it was Adam Scott, who plays Ben Wyatt on the show Parks and Recreation. I lived in the L.A. area for EIGHT YEARS and never saw a celebrity I could recognize, and now I see one in Alabama of all places?

But just as importantly I met this charming family the same day, so forget about Adam Scott who I didn’t get a picture of.
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On the 10th I walked onto Jacksonville State University. I couldn’t get onto internet because I didn’t have student log-on information, so I spent some time in the student center editing photos from the week before. Then I headed to a laundry mat to wash my clothes. There I met Rebecca and Cooper. After hearing of my adventures, they gave me a blanket (there had been an unusual cold snap and my 40° sleeping bag wasn’t quite warm enough), a few flannel shirts, some food, and some soaps. We then went to eat at a restaurant next door called Effina’s, which was delicious.
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When we left the restaurant it was already dark. It’s not easy to find a good place to set up a tent in the dark, especially not in town (which I haven’t had to do yet). So Rebecca and Cooper suggested I just camp out in the laundry room at their apartment – only one person in the whole apartment complex ever used the laundry room, so no one would bother me, and there was a heater inside that would get things nice and toasty. I thought this sounded reasonable although a bit strange. So they took me to the laundry room, fired up the heater, and I wished them a good night. I laid down my tarp and therm-a-rest pad, curled up in the blanket they gave me, and fell dead asleep.

About an hour later, the only person who ever used the laundry room came down to do a load of laundry!!! He was VERY freaked out to find a strange hobo asleep on the floor. And I was so confused from having just woken up, I couldn’t even form a complete sentence. Well, he went to get his laundry and meanwhile I woke up a little bit more, enough that when he returned I could explain the situation a little better. He was really nice about it and didn’t kick me out of the laundry room. When he finally finished the laundry he pulled the clothes out of the dryer and hung them up right away so they wouldn’t wrinkle and I saw he’d been washing two deputy’s uniforms! He could have REALLY been a jerk if he wanted to, but instead he was super nice. However I think that’s the last time I’ll ever accept an offer to sleep in someone’s laundry room.
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I would have been weirded out to find someone sleeping here too!

The next day I continued on my way down the Chief Ladiga trail. I stopped at the Jacksonville Train Depot, a halfway restored Depot from around 1868. I stopped at the Jacksonville Community Center where I was able to take a shower. I then set up my tent in the clearing that the power lines run through right behind the Community Center, where I figured I wouldn’t bother anyone.
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But the next day, an airplane flew so low over my tent it must have nearly grazed the power lines. I suppose someone wanted to let me know they spotted my tent, in case I was causing some kind of trouble.

I continued down the trail. Later that day a man passed me who was also wearing a backpack and carrying camping gear. “Looks like you’re on a long walk too,” I commented to him. He eyed me suspiciously a bit before explaining that he was on his way to a trestle not too far ahead to camp on the shore of the stream. I had read about the bridge he was referring to – it was built by hand over a hundred and fifty years ago, and was supposed to be very picturesque. In fact I’d made notes to look for it. I told him I might join him. He said he’d be happy for some company, that his name was Scott, and continued on his way.

Portraits April 17, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama.
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On Saturday and Sunday, April 7th and 8th, I camped at a beautiful spot by the Piedmont Sports Complex. The 8th was Easter Sunday and several families came by to take pictures. I offered to snap a few pictues as well, and post them on my blog so they could download them later, and finally here they are!

(Just click on the thumbnail and it will take you to my flickr page where you can download the image)

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The Chief Ladiga Welcome April 16, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama.
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On April 6th I continued my journey down the trail. It’s called “Alabama the Beautiful” for a reason – it’s really beautiful out here. As I walked down the trail, I’d pass patches of crickets that would all start jumping, sounding like giant raindrops plopping against the grass. Bicyclists would roll by with smiles spread so wide you’d think their faces might crack. Birds are always singing, mosquitos are always ready to nibble. Walking through Alabama has brought back memories of my childhood, running around in the woods behind our house. Alabama was a great place to grow up.

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(I finally saw a horse!)

I walked quite a distance to get to the Eubanks Welcome Center, which is located just before the 14 mile mark on the trail. The center was closed, but a biker who lived just off the trail checked with one of the workers earlier and said I could camp right there on the property.

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My tent on the porch of the welcome center.

The next morning I took the tour of the welcome center. It’s actually an old house, filled with amazing antiques significant to the Piedmont area. Many of the volunteers who work in the welcome center can remember the history surrounding the area, the house, and the furnishings.
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A volunteer demonstrates a hand-crank record player.

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The welcome center also had a lot of useful information, including this blurry printout about fire ants. My younger brother and I had some bad experiences with fire ants when we first moved to Alabama, memories which returned at the sight of their huge anthills with footprints in the middle.
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(Shiver of fright!)

 

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Not far down the trail is the Solid Rock Cafe. I stopped here for lunch, found the food to be delicious and the atmosphere lovely. I highly recommend you stop here if you’re ever in the Piedmont area.
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The owner has a friendly smile and warm heart.
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The building was originally a general goods store that was open in 1869! The pictures on the wall on the left are from the store in 1869.
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The brick that’s exposed isn’t just a fancy decoration – it’s the original brick from 1869.
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The other half of the cafe – an original window was uncovered from beneath the stucco.
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There’s an awesome spiral staircase in the back of the cafe.

I traveled on a short distance and camped out near a lovely stream and bridge near the Piedmont Sports Complex, where I ended up staying for two nights.

Crossing Over April 16, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama, Georgia.
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(Note: I’m VERY behind on my blog postings, today has been my first time with internet access since I got into Alabama, so I’ll be working on catching up for the next day or so.)

Just before the Georgia/Alabama border is a tiny little town called Esom Hill. Though the town is small, it carries a big reputation… I’d been warned to be very, very careful if I got anywhere near the place. I was hot and exhausted and almost out of water when I saw a sign for a grocery store – food, drinks, and happy meal! – just a few hundred yards off the trail. Relieved, I turned down the road to refill my water and buy some beef jerky.

The entire town’s dog population crowded around to greet me. It was not a friendly greeting however. They barked and snarled, following me as I wearily stumbled down the short road. At the end of the road was a tiny empty post office, small empty fire station, and a building with a sign that said “Esom Hill Trading Post.” Ah, the grocery store! I went to the front of the Trading Post to find it was boarded up, and guarded by a rusty, dented suit of armor, wrapped in chains and padlocked in place. My heart sank. Was the grocery store sign a hoax, and this Esom Hill place was deserted?
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But then I noticed cars parked around the corner. There was a store that said “Lucky 777 Grocery” or something similar. So I pulled my baggage to the door and opened it to find… a VERY crowded casino. The gamblers inside didn’t appreciate the sunlight streaming in through the open door, so I quickly asked the first person where the grocery store was. She pointed down the street and I was on my way.

Sure enough, there was a small grocery store down the street and around the corner. It was the size of a small gas station convenience store, and in fact there was even a gas pump in front – disconnected and knocked over, however. But they had water and beef jerky, everything I needed. A lady named Susie was working there, she was very friendly to me. I talked with her a while about my adventure, and she told me to keep her posted on my progress.

As I was leaving Esom Hill, I stopped for some pictures of the cool Trading Post and suit of armor.
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While I was snapping these pictures, a work truck pulled up and the driver rolled down his window.

“You commin’ through this town?” the driver asked with a heavy southern accent. I explained I was walking on the trail and had just stopped at the grocery store. He shook his head in disapproval. “You’d best not be here after dark,” he warned. “Don’t you be in this town after dark. We got some ruffians around here!” I assured him I was on my way out, and I hurried on my way. The dogs escorted me out of town, even more menacing than when I arrived (one even bit my suitcase several times, and when he snapped at my face I gave him a quick dose of pepper spray – many thanks to Steve and Sarah Boshear who gave it to me a year ago).

A few hundred yards down the trail from Esom Hill is the Alabama border. I could feel excitement growing as I got closer and closer. Finally, crossing my first state border! I stepped onto Alabama soil on April 4th, around 6:30 (which is 5:30 Alabama time).
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The Georgia portion of the trail is called the Silver Comet Trail, but the Alabama side is called the Chief Ladiga trail.
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As I was walking down the Chief Ladiga trail that evening, an attractive girl about my age came onto the trail from between the trees to walk her dogs. Laurie looked me over, with my rolling suitcase and overabundance of baggage weighing me down – I am rather a sight to see. “Where are you headed?” she asked. “Are you in some kind of trouble? Do you need help?” I explained about being on an adventure walking across the country, photographing and writing along the way. We connected instantly – we had the same creative spark and keen sense of adventure. Laurie had also done some photography, and she told me about the tiny robots she builds (see some of her work on facebook and flickr). We walked and talked for a long time, and before we knew it we were far from the “Esom Hill danger zone” (which was why she was concerned to walk with me in the first place) and at her friend Teddy’s place.
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(Laurie and Teddy – unfortunately I didn’t get the best picture with the two of them)

Teddy was fun to hang out with. He had strong opinions about a lot of things – he thought the government was always watching, he hated the internet and wouldn’t use it, and he would protect the people he cared about without question. He talked SO MUCH like Billy Bob Thornton’s character in “Slingblade” it was uncanny.
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Teddy doesn’t really like to be photographed.

I stayed at Teddy’s place for two nights. I walked a long time to make it over the Alabama border on the 4th, and was exhausted the day after. Teddy was cool to hang out with and a lot of his friends stopped by on the 5th, who were all interesting to talk to. On the 6th I was on my way again, very thankful for the comfortable couch and pleasant company I enjoyed my first few days in Alabama.

The Rock! April 6, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Campgrounds, Georgia.
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The Rock Campground is 1000 feet off the Silver Comet Trail at mile 34.5. I only intended to stay one day, rest a bit and shower, but ended up staying three nights because it was such an amazing place. If anyone is looking for a great vacation spot – either for tent camping or RV camping – this place is excellent.

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Along with the great scenery, clean bathrooms, electricity and hot water, the owner loves vintage farm stuff. Before you even enter the park you see this cool old truck:
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As you explore around outside, you’ll find all kinds of awesome stuff set up, creating picturesque scenes everywhere.
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And on top of all this, John (the owner) has this huge building right in the middle of the property. He hosts several bluegrass music festivals every year in this building. And it is filled with all kinds of cool vintage farm implements, enough that it is a small museum. Although the museum wasn’t open for a festival, John brought two other guests (whom I made fast friends with during my stay) and myself through the building, explaining the significance of many of the pieces. Here’s a few pictures from inside, but know that my photographs don’t do the place justice – you’ve really got to see it for yourself!
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Here’s the stage area used in the bluegrass festivals:
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Even the stage is a museum display!

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Barb, a guest at the campground, and John. This is the audience seating area.

You can even rent out a small cabin on the campgrounds – there are 2 or 3 of them.
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This is Barb and her son Jay. I spent a lot of time with them during my three days at The Rock. They are one of the reasons my stay there was so enjoyable. The campground seems to attract friendly people – everyone I met there was really nice.

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This is Jo. She’s one of the many long-term campers. She and her husband stay at The Rock about eight months of the year, and go south when it gets colder. They have this awesome vintage bus they keep there, a nice touch to the other equipment on display:
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So there’s a short rundown of The Rock campground. I loved it there and highly recommend it. I would have LOVED to be there during one of John’s Bluegrass Festivals, so if anyone is lucky enough to be out there during that time let me know how it is!

In Alabama!!! April 6, 2012

Posted by marzwaggener in Alabama.
1 comment so far

Just wanted to quickly say, I’m in Alabama! I crossed the state line on Wednesday, April 4th around 6:20 PM, and today I’m in Piedmont. I’ll finish up my Georgia posts before I start about my adventures so far in Alabama, but it’s been great so far!

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