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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Lake Russell Lady Slipper Trail (ish) Hike

Lake Russell Recreational Area in Mt. Airy, Georgia is a hidden gem, especially in the off season. The trails are quiet and isolated. And even during the months when the park is fully open, the beach area and campgrounds might be crowded, but the trails typically remain little traveled.

One of our favorite trails is the Lake Loop that, you guessed it, circles around the lake. This past weekend, however, we went on one of the other trails – the Lady Slipper Trail.

The Lady Slipper Trail starts off with a steady uphill climb for about a mile. Once you hit the top of the ridge, you merge into an old forest road. The official trail turns left, heading northeast. Greg and I eyed each other, and turned right, heading down the road going southwest into an area of the park we haven’t explored. We did about 3/4 of a mile, reaching the end of the road and going a bit further (a smaller trail continued beyond the end of the road) along the ridge through a pine forest. We would have kept going deeper into the woods, except we came across a hunter and didn’t want to disturb him or his dogs. So, we turned around and headed back.

Wanting to at least go for 5 miles, we hiked beyond where the trail enters the road and continued northeast and veered off onto the Lady Slipper Trail once more, where it departs the road and heads down a hillside. Instead of doing the loop though, we went for distance and then turned around to head back to where we parked.

On our way back, we actually met up with the hunter that we saw at a distance in the woods and exchanged apologies and pleasantries. He had two small hunting dogs with him that were adorable and friendly. Scotch and Beans behaved themselves and everyone had a good sniff. We also met a couple groups of mountain bikers on the return journey – making this the busiest we have ever seen this trail before.

The Lady Slipper Trail is a multipurpose trail. You can hike, bike, or horseback ride on it, so I’m really surprised we haven’t seen a lot more folks on it before.

The day was beautiful and the dogs enjoyed getting to stretch their stubby little legs. It’s been great getting out and hiking more again. I can feel my heart recovering from my last mystery illness flair up, and with each hike, I can feel my body getting stronger and more resilient. Being outside again makes my soul happy.

I am grateful for the abundant outdoor beauty that exists so close to where I live.

Smithgall Hike: Tower Road

On Saturday, Greg and I returned to one of our favorite local destinations – The Smithgall Woods Center for a hike.

Smithgall is awesome because most of the time, the entire park is pedestrian only. So even just getting around in the park is a hike in itself, and there’s several hiking trails off of the main road. It’s a peaceful, less populated state park.

I am happy to say, that the park has fully reopened. Last time we went, most of it was closed because the main road had been washed away, leaving behind a ravine.

This time
Last time

Instead of hitting up one of the normal hiking trails, we decided to take a graveled side road up to a cell tower. The road is aptly named Tower Road. We’d never explored this part of the park before, and I can say for certain that this is definitely the steepest part of Smithgall.

We took the Scotch and Beans and had some fun. After not going hiking or leaving the house much at all these past few weekends, it felt awesome to get out in nature again and really reset myself for the week at hand. Nothing makes me more content than a jaunt through the woods amongst the happy tree pheromones ion thingies (no really – look up “Forest Bathing”)

 

A Little Bit of Grief

I don’t often interject my opinion on social media threads, but earlier this week, a topic caught my attention. You see, a lady lost her 6 year old dog a earlier in 2018. She grieved. But towards the end of 2018, she and her family decided it was time to get another puppy. Fast forward to last week, and the day before the new puppy’s pick up date – that’s when the guilt ferrets invaded.

She posted her feelings in a group we both share membership in. She spoke how she felt guilty about getting a new puppy, feeling like she was replacing the late pet, and she wasn’t sure she could give this new puppy the love she deserved.

I responded, because I found out a truth myself this past year. A new puppy is an amazing salve. We lost our Waffles back in July and got a new puppy, Beans, in September. I had similar thoughts. I still miss Waffles like crazy, but Beans’s puppy joy has helped a lot.

Grief like this leaves a hole in your heart. And while getting a new puppy doesn’t heal that hole, it makes your heart grow even bigger, so that hole becomes less noticeable and painful. I still grieve for Waffles. Because I posted so many pictures of her, they show up in my social media flashback timelines all the time. Most of the time, they make me smile. Other times, they make me sad with the remembrance of how awesome a dog Waffles was.

What doesn’t happen is I ignore them and say to myself “Well she doesn’t matter any more. I have a new puppy now!” – because I’m not a heartless asshat.

The Late, Great
Awful Waffles Loebick

But back to the story at hand.

Soon after, the thread was filled with the exact same sentiments. Over thirty other folks replied to this lady and helped her over her guilt bump, enforcing the fact that she was ready to love this new puppy. And the next day, she posted happy pictures of the new puppy.

Grief sucks because it isn’t something that you can just get over with a deep breath and a mental reset. It has to run its course and afterwards, it’s always with you. I titled this post a Little Bit of Grief because the loss of a pet is, to me, a little grief in comparison to losing a spouse or child. Pets’ lives are fleeting. I love my pups, but I know that they live short lives in comparison to humans. Your children and your spouse are supposed to be forever. Their loss cuts so much deeper.

I’ve lost all my grandparents, and I’ve even lost a cousin whom I damn near grew up with. I still mourn them. I still find myself crying at their individual tragedies and absences, but I’ve found things and experiences to grow my heart over the years, and it’s helped make the holes they left more bearable.

 

Fall Hike: Or “Let’s go this way”

Sometimes you have to stare at Google maps and try to find a new and interesting place to go hiking. Follow the Appalachian trail north of your normal treks and you may discover a new section that has a road and approach trail that leads right to it.

That’s how we discovered the Appalachian Trail at Addis Gap. The plan was to head to the trail head at the end of Wild Cat Road and hike up to the A.T. and then go for distance.

The drive there was bordering on magical. Peak color, an undisturbed dirt road covered in yellow leaves, and even a water fall along the way. It took a solid 30 minutes to drive down the long, narrow gravel road known as West Wild Cat Rd, and it was certainly a beautiful adventure.

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After being on approach trail (the old end portion of Wild Cat Road) for about 15 minutes, we were met by a couple of cyclists, which meant we had to scramble and get the pups out of the way (we had Scotch and Beans with us). The second dude who road by let us know that more folks on bikes were coming down the mountain.

There was a race going on.

Our secluded hike was going to be interrupted by a lot of people in tight shorts, and our nerves were going to be shot by trying not to have a corgi vs. bike accident.

But we trudged on, luckily being able to see a relatively good distance along the path.

But behold! a fork in the trail. To the left, the continuation of Wild Cat Road/approach trail. To the right, though, was another old forest road, showing up on Google Maps as “Deep Gap Road.”

When we got to the fork, our decision was basically made for us. A large group of cyclists were speedily coming down the mountain from the approach trail. We took the road less traveled, and honey, that made all the difference.

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The rest of the hike was peaceful, and while we were constantly climbing the mountain, the grade was easy. So while we didn’t exactly get to the A.T. this time, we found a place where we can come back to later.

In total, we hiked five miles (2.5 in, 2.5 out). We enjoyed it immensely, and the pups did as well.

A Jaunt Through the Woods

The North Georgia Mountains typically experiences one weekend of perfect Autumn weather a year. This weekend was that weekend. It’s that weekend where, no matter how bad or weak I’m feeling, you can bet I’m going to be outside in one form or fashion. Yesterday, I spent most of the day helping Greg to landscape work where I could (more on that tomorrow), but today we partook in some much needed hiking therapy.

Our reasons were multiple. Both Greg and I wanted to get out and enjoy the day. We also took all three dogs to the vet on Friday for their checkups and vaccines. Twinkie, Scotch, and Beans had all gained a significant amount of weight, and while that’s good news for Beans, the growing puppy, it wasn’t so much for Twinkie and Scotch. Especially Twinkie, who had gained almost 15 pounds since her last vet visit. I knew she had put on some matronly weight in her old age, but I never realized how much!

It was eye-opening to say the least.

So we’ve made a promise to ourselves to give the older pups more activity, so that hopefully they can slim back down to a healthier corgi weight.

So we harnessed up all three pups, which is an epic task within itself, and schlepped them over to Unicoi State Park where we walked the lake trail. It’s the perfect trail for the old fart corgis who don’t do well on long or hilly hikes, and for Beans’s first ever hike. It’s also great for me, who has a finite amount of energy to spend while experiencing a flair up of the mystery illness (I’ll post an update on that later this week).

Half of the fun is constantly untangling the leashes of this bunch

It was actually a bit misty when we first started, but quickly cleared up. I think the short, 2-mile hike did everyone some good. The pups were super happy to be out, and even Twinkie, who is quite lazy, kept pace and seemed to enjoy it. Greg and I got to actively participate in the one perfect autumn weekend, for which I am most grateful.

So now we sit back and wait for winter to arrive next weekend. Autumn in the mountains is an elusive and fickle thing.