Hike: Ash Loop Trail at Smithgall Woods State Park

GPS map of Ash loop Trail

Greg and I are on day 3 of a week-long vacation. Keeping to a typical Sunday ritual, we left out early this morning to hike at Smithgall Woods State Park outside of Helen, GA. There are several options to choose from, but today, we decided to go on the Ash Loop Trail.

Covered Bridge at Smithgall Woods
I love the covered bridge at Smithgall Woods State Park

Scotch was the lucky corgi who got to go on the hike with us today. He’s getting older, and arthritis is starting to affect him. However, he’s been doing really good with his meds and it’s been a long time since he’s gotten to go hiking. We chose the Ash Loop Trail because it isn’t too strenuous (only a 615 ft elevation change). Clocking in at just a hair under 4 miles (3.96), it is long enough for the humans to feel like we accomplished something and short enough to where our buddy boy Scotch could make the journey without injury.

Purple flowers with blurred background
Purple flowers along Tsalaki trail near the wetland area.

From the visitor’s center, we hiked down Tsalaki Trail (the paved road that runs through Smithgall) to the southern trailhead for the Ash Creek Loop. We prefer hitting the south end first because you do have to wade through the creek at one point on the trail, near the northern end of the trail, so we like to keep it for later in the trip.

It’s rained here a little bit the past couple of days. Enough to settle the dust a bit, but not much else. It hasn’t been helpful with the heat or the humidity. This morning, while not miserable, was sticky. I’m glad we were on the trail by 8am and finished by 10am. Much later and it would have been uncomfortable, even in the woods.

Clearing on top of a hill. A corgi runs in the bottom left corner
One of the clearings on the trail.

Oddly enough, we didn’t see a single other (human) soul during our time at the state park this morning. Only one other car was parked in the parking lot as we were leaving. Smithgall is usually a more hopping place, especially with Octoberfest activities going on in Nearby Helen.

While we met no humans, we did see and come face-to-face (literally) with several spiders and a couple rafters of turkey.  (Yup, a group of turkeys is called a “rafter.” I totally had to Google that one.)

A Corgi in a creek, lapping up water
Scotch taking a quick dip and drink in the Creek

One of the things about the trails at Smithgall that make these hikes interesting is that on several of them, you have to ford one or more creeks. On Ash Creek Loop, you have to go through two. The first one (if you start from the south) is tiny and if your boots are water-proofed, you can just splash through it no problem. The second one, though, it deeper than it looks. The first time Greg and I did this trail, we were unprepared. We hiked up our pants, took off our boots, and waded across barefoot with two corgis swimming beside us (Twinkie and Scotch). This time, we were better prepared.

Greg sitting by the creek, putting his boots back on
Greg sitting by the creek, putting his boots back on.

Zip off pants – Check.

Watershoes to change into – Check.

Folding tripod trail chairs to make changing shoes easier – Check.

Soon after wading through the creek, we returned to the paved part of Smithgall Woods and made our way back to the visitor’s center parking lot.

A fun way to start our Sunday. Afterwards? Nachos and vegging on the couch. Sundays afternoons are made for relaxing and re-energizing.

More Pictures from the trail:

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Hike: Slaughter Gap – AT – Jarrard Gap Loop

Map showing the Slaughter Gap to AT to Jarrard Gap Loop at Lake Winfield Scott

Today, Greg and I took Beans the Hiking Corgi up to Lake Winfield Scott to hike the Slaughter Gap to Appalachian Trail to Jarrard Gap Loop. Just shy of 6 miles, this hike is a goody.

At the trail head for the Slaughter Gap Trail

We pack up our gear last night so that we could get an early start this morning. We were out of the house by 7:10am and on the trail by 8:10. It was 54 Degrees when we got out of the truck. The chill felt so good, a welcome tease of fall, but the day warmed up quickly. It took us a smidgen over 3 hours to do the 6-mile loop, stopping for a 15 minute break near the half-way point.

This was only the third time we’ve done this hike, but it was the first time for Beans. It was also the first time that we’ve done it without getting lost — the first time was going the opposite way, the trail head for the Jarrard Gap end is kinda hidden… and the sun was in our eyes… and… you know. Stuff. The second time was also starting from the Jarrard Gap end. There is a spot about 1.5 miles in where the trail seemingly forks. Word to the wise – Take the right fork. The left fork will get you there, but it’s a bit more of a climb and a longer trek up a gravel road.

Blood Mountain Wilderness sign on the AT

We had no hiccups this time and Beans enjoyed herself, she even got to play in several of the streams we had to cross.

And even though it was an amazing day, we hardly met any other people on the trail. Early on, we passed a group of very polite young men (possibly scouts), with a couple of chaperones, and then didn’t see anyone else for a couple of hours. Eventually, we came across a few other people (4 in total), and three other pups.

Beans the Hiking corgi playing in a mountain creek.
Beans cooled herself off by taking quick dips in the various creeks.

I love this area, and I love how there are so many trails that interweave with the Appalachian Trail around Blood Mountain.

There were several points on the trail where I just stopped and took a deep breath, letting the fresh mountain air rejuvenate me. There’s nothing quite like hiking through a hilly forest on a cool, low humidity day. I’m ready to tackle this upcoming week.

As the weather cools, we will be hitting the trails more and more around North Georgia.

Gif of Greg and beans the Corgi on a fallen tree
Beans and Greg taking a quick sit-down break on a fallen tree

More pictures from the trail:

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Flow vs. Deliberate Practice

Flow is nice. Flow feels good. Your body is doing something, but your mind is free to wonder or focus on other things. Some people run to feel a flow. It’s calming, it’s soothing, it gives you a since of mastery and accomplishment. This action has become so routine, that I don’t even have to think about it.

Flow certainly has its place. But it isn’t growth or progress. The state of flow doesn’t lead to improvement.

In order to truly improve yourself, you must be deliberate in your practice.

I have anecdotal evidence that supports this hypothesis. For years, I’ve used my recumbent bike for exercising. It’s an easy way to burn calories.  I hope on, set my resistance program and start peddling. My body is working and burning calories,  but my mind is elsewhere.  I’m reading, playing a video game, or watching tv. I get into a mindless flow. My biking doesn’t improve.  I don’t burn more and more calories. I don’t go faster or further. I’ve maintained a similar rpm the entire 10 years I’ve been using that bike.

Onward! I think.

On the other hand, when I run, my entire focus is on running. I’m deliberate when I run because I want to improve my speed, stamina, and my overall cardiovascular fitness.  I don’t listen to music. I don’t listen to audiobooks. The only thing I pay  attention to is me and what my body is doing.  I constantly remind myself that I am growing and growing hurts. Improvement comes from stress and being focused and deliberate.

And I am improving.

I started only running for 30 seconds and then walking for 1 minute. As of this posting, I’m running for 1:25 while still only recovering by walking for 1 minute. My goal is to consistently be running 10-12 minute miles by the end of the year. Right now, I am hitting around 12:55, my fastest being 12:05 so far.

I’m killing it.

So when you set a performance goal for yourself, whether it be physical, creative, mental, or whatever, be deliberate in your practice.

And always be moving…

ONWARD.

 

Out of Whack

Sometimes you get out of whack. Your stars misalign, and everyday tasks and the world in general seem to get bigger. Less air exists.

You tread, tiptoeing to rise above the water line, each teeny shuffled step bringing you closer to the safety of the shore, but the tide is still rising. The undertors constantly pulls at you, sweeping away the sands beneath your feet.

Yet you move onward.

Onward.

I’m not sure if I’m out of the ocean of uncertainty, yet, but I can take full breaths again.

Nothing bad or tragic happened. I didn’t have a flare up of my mystery illness, I simply lost focus and direction. Things got fuzzy.

This summer has been pretty good l, actually. Greg and I have done several kayaking trips and have gone on a decent number of hikes. Getting outdoors is great for resetting one’s mindset and focus. We even got a hottub this summer, which has been amazing after those longs days of hiking, kayaking, gardening, or just sitting around.

A couple of big events have happened. We passed the one year anniversary of Waffles’s passing, both Beans’s birthday and gotcha day, and my own birthday (oh, hello 34).

I’ve started running, well, sorta running. I’m interval training, slowly building up my endurance and speed. I started earlier this summer doing intervals of 30 seconds of running and then one minute of walking. I’m up to 1 minute and 20 second runs. My starting pace was around 15 minutes per mile. Today, I ran my fastest so far, hitting 12:05. My goal is to consistently be in the 10-12 minute range by the end of the year.

To help motivate myself and kick my training up a notch, I have signed up for my first 5k in October.

So here I am, hitting the reset button once again.

Focus.

Breathe.

You got this.

ONWARD