This last weekend was nice and warm. The mountains had been calling me, so off we went to do a little hiking Saturday morning. I did some online research on hikes and settled on fairly short loop trail called Bear Hair Gap loop starting at Vogel State Park. I had been to that park before several times. I remember going as a child, swimming in the lake and riding the paddle boats. I took a coupe of girlfriends there during high school days. I thought I would go back and see how perception changes how you look at a place.
The drive was about two hours. I like how as you drive up from the piedmont, you get glimpses of the mountains here and there before you make it there. The mountains in North Georgia are decent sized and have that old stately look typical of the southern Appalachians. The last part of the drive was especially fun — a windy mountain road with perfectly banked turns with two lanes on my side of the road and no other cars around. It was a good chance to test out the VW’s handling. I cut back and forth across the lanes, transforming the windy road into more of a banked straightaway. Roxy was standing up and bracing herself in between the front two seats, with a big grin on her face (she too thinks that windy mountain roads are great fun).
The Park had a decent amount of snow, likely from the same storm that crippled Atlanta last week, and the picturesque mountain lake was nearly frozen over. The lake itself was smaller than I remember (not a surprise), and there were tons of cabins that I did not remember. The Park is still in a lovely mountain setting, however. I imagined that it is very crowded when the weather is warmer. I picked up a parking pass and a trail map and off we went.We were taking Bear Mountain Loop trail, which heads out of the Park, and winds along the lower elevations of Blood Mountain (the highest peak along the Appalachian Trail in GA) through the Cherokee National Forest. The trailhead is accessed by walking along the road where the cabins are. Roxy was going fairly slow, and I was beginning to wonder how she would fare on this hike. The trail began in the worst possible way for her — some stair-like climbing up a moderate hill. She did pretty well though and wanted to continue; I was hoping that she would be okay once she got stretched out.
The trail initially was a comfortable trail lined with pinestraw, and then it turned to snow when we entered an area shaded by ridges on both sides. Roxy was stopping to sniff more than she used to, and I’m learning that this is something she seems to do when she’s not feeling well. I was loving everything except the pace (Roxy was going pretty slow even for her these days). I was performing a walking meditation, where I would keep the active part of my mind busy by counting from one to ten in time with my steps. This has a wonderful effect on me. I always have music and thoughts racing around my brain. This simple trick, adapted from a Buddhist meditation that I read about, calms all that is going on. First, the music fades away. When this happens I notice that I pay more attention to the sounds of the forest. After a while, the counting fades away and I am left with a calm, open mind. The only thoughts that occur are those associated with sensory input from the surroundings, the sights and sounds and feelings of nature.
We made it just barely into the National Forest portion of the hike when Roxy gave the me sign it was time to head back. She stopped for a moment, looked at me, looked back the way we had came, and then just stared at me. It was not quite one mile if we turned back and at least three if we kept going, so there was little choice. As soon as we turned back, she was pulling the way.
We ran into a family with two small children and a dog off-leash (of course there is an off-leash dog; there is always is). It came running up the trail, but stopped short of us. The father gave one of the two reasons almost always offered for having a dog off-leash: “We didn’t think anyone else would be up here.” I wondered, Why is that exactly? There were several cars at the parking lot and no one seems to be swimming in the frozen lake. Strange indeed that people would be found on the trails. Oh well. (By the way, the other thing people say is that their dog never runs up to someone. I always laugh at this one, because since they say this just after their dog runs up to me, I’m not sure that they really understand what the word “never” means. I was just glad that there was no doggie altercation – -Roxy clearly wasn’t in the mood for that.
As we went our different ways, I heard the mother telling one child, “If you don’t start listening to me we’re going to turn back and go home right now”. The child’s response was an emphatic , “Yay!” Gotta love kids’ honesty. They didn’t make it as far as the old lame dog and I.
We took our time on the way back, partly for Roxy’s sake, partly because the snow was slippery, and partly to stop and listen to the creeks on the way back. We also checked out the campground. You could see it through the woods. It looked nice enough, although the sites were pretty crowded. Perhaps it is not too bad with some leaves on the trees.
We had a water break at the lakeside and took off. Roxy had a lot of trouble getting into the car. She really seems to be hit or miss these days. I’m trying doggie aspirin and joint supplements. We’ll see how that goes.
The drive back was pleasant, although I didn’t feel like we got our money’s worth of hiking. I took a different route back that wound through Cherokee National Forest and I recognized several of the recreational areas from researching the area. We crossed over the Appalachian Trail, and that parking lot was more crowded than I would have expected for a day in February.
Roxy slept the whole way back. She sleeps pretty much all the time now. I guess her age is finally catching up with her. Hiking with her has been some of the best times I’ve had the last few years. All beings born in this world are subject to aging, sickness, and death, even wonderful little furry hiking buddy beings. I think both our lives have been better since we ran into each other.
May you have a good rebirth, little buddy. You’ve been a great friend and I think you’ve earned a promotion.
See all of the pictures here.