Well, this trip was not an unqualified success. I had three real goals for this trip, and I met two. I had intended (primarily) to through-hike the Foothills Trail in upstate South Carolina, to get a chance to see the vistas from those mountains, and to find out if I had a thirty-mile day in the mountains in me. I managed the last two, but not the first one.
The original intention was for FireInMyBones and I to complete the Foothills Trail in NC over the course of three to four days. Unfortunately, my current state of fitness was not quite up to the task. Fortunately, FireInMyBones is a wonderful host and hiking partner who is very forgiving of others' weakness and willing to change plans when circumstances change.
I left Gainesville early on Saturday night, around 11:00 PM--fortunately, my manager at work was magnanimous enough to let me go early. This, combined with light traffic on the road, allowed me to reach Greenville fairly early on Sunday morning, around 6:00 AM.
We sat for a bit and reviewed our plans for the day, soon heading out into the gathering heat of the day. Mrs. FireInMyBones was nice enough to drive us out to the Oconee State Park trail head after dropping FireInMyBones's car off at Table Rock State Park.
By about 9:30, we were on the trail and headed northeast. I felt good, the trail being only mildly strenuous through that section, and we made good time--somewhere in the vicinity of two and three-quarters of a mile per hour. As the day's heat mounted, I began sweating quite a bit. At first, that wasn't a problem; it's normal for me to sweat, often profusely, when temperatures are above seventy or so.
We broke for a snack probably around 11:00, and estimated that we were on track for our planned twenty-three miles for the day. Gathering our packs back up, we continued on into the mounting heat. It was already up into the mid-nineties, and was to reach the high-nineties by the end of the day.
"Go up the hill; go down the hill," was the mantra for the day--I mean, it does say that the trail runs through the hills right in the name. Florida is flat: the largest local hills are perhaps thirty feet tall in Gainesville, maybe as much as forty. When you start at a thousand feet above sea level and are going to climb up into the two to three thousand range, it makes a difference. I had thought that my hour to two spent over at the local sports stadium walking and running the stairs there would be enough to get me into shape for this trip. Not so much. I started to feel a little fatigued just before lunch, though I felt as if I could keep going for quite a while before I had to rest.
We came to the Chattooga River and swam for a bit to cool off in the brisk mountain waters before settling into lunch. Here, I rinsed out my shirt and laid it on a rock to dry while I swam. I also discovered a bit of an equipment failure with my right sandal; the heel was pulling loose from the sole. I glued it back together, but that wasn't to hold.
Coming out of lunch, we entered the strenuous portion of the Burrell's Ford Road to Cheohee Road section of the trail, and I began to fade fast. My energy reserves were down in the red, I was definitely feeling the heat, and I was having trouble getting enough water into me. After several miles of what seemed like endless uphills, FireInMyBones was kind enough to not only put up with my whining and slow pace but to take my food bag and carry it for me, relieving me of perhaps a fifth of my pack weight.
Still, even with his kindness and patience, it was a struggle to reach Burrell's Ford Road and the campground there. Less than a mile from there, my heat exhaustion symptoms--for there was no mistaking that this was part of my problem--had gotten bad enough that FireInMyBones made the call that we were not going to spend the night out there. We'd only covered seventeen of our planned twenty-three miles for the day, and the next two or three days were going to be much more strenuous compared to the first one. Plus there was going to be nowhere to bail out if things got bad enough past the first half of the next day.
I think that this was the right decision, even if I feel disappointed in myself for not being able to carry through. I'm used to being able to estimate the physical cost of long-duration exercise, and it's disheartening to realize that I didn't have as good of an idea of how fit I am as I thought I did.
Still, considering the possibility of serious heat injuries, and the fact that my judgement was probably compromised by my heat exhaustion, I feel that FireInMyBones made the right call.
He managed to get a family to place a call for him once they had cell reception down the road in order to call his family and arrange a ride for us back to Table Rock to get his car. Then, there was a young man who was nice enough to give us a ride in his pickup up to the local gas station where I could get cell service, and that cut perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes off of the total ride back to FireInMyBones's car. Very. very nice of that young man, and I can't say how grateful I am for that.
Suffering from heat cramps and slowly drinking water, I waited with FireInMyBones for his father to come pick us up. FireInMyBones brushed aside my (probably too voluminous) apologies, and was very gracious about the whole thing. I know it had to be at least as disappointing to him as it was to me, but he was able to bring my mood up and around despite my propensity for self-flagellation when I feel that I've not lived up to my own expectations.
We recovered his car and drove home through one of the worst thunderstorms I've had the (dubious) pleasure of driving through. Hail was coming down badly enough that we were worried about the windshield and speculated on the use of FireInMyBones's cuben tarp as a makeshift windshield if things got to that point. Fortunately, they didn't.
As we reached his home, the storm began to taper off. We entered, showered, and ate dinner. I immediately turned in, and I don't remember anything between when I closed the door to the guest room and when I woke in the morning: I was sodden with fatigue.
With plans A and B out the window due to my lack of physical preparedness, FireInMyBones came up with the idea of summiting Table Rock as a day hike in order for me to get a chance to see some of the beautiful vistas in the area--one of my goals for this trip. Again, he was very gracious about waiting for my slow behind, and we inched our way up the side of the mountain. We ate lunch at the top, just off of the summit, on the side of the mountain. I've never, in my entire life, beheld a vista that pretty in person.
FireInMyBones set up his DIY Nano-7 clone and we took some video while munching on summer sausage and cheddar with hot sauce on flatbread. Amazingly tasty, and the sweating of the cheese actually eliminated my main problem with sharp cheddar--its dry consistency.
Headed back down the mountain, we made good time. Taking FireInMyBones's advice, I gave trail running a try to go down some of the more...stable...sections, and I found that it definitely didn't hurt my knee as much as walking down those sections would have. Unfortunately, my cardio fitness wasn't quite enough to keep up with FireInMyBones; he's a mountain goat crossed with a marathoner.
Still, we reached the bottom in time to leave and head to Lake Jocassee, where we'd planned to swim towards the end of the day on our hike on Monday in the original plan. Even with that plan being out the window, it was worth going for a swim in the lake; it's absolutely beautiful.
Jocassee is a man-made lake, one that allowed for the creation of the Foothills Trail. One of the power companies in the area decided to dam the confluence of four rivers, and that flooded a small town in the valley along their banks. At its deepest, the lake runs about three hundred and fifty feet, and there is a very active local diving community that explores the few abandoned buildings that were left in place along with the submerged forest there. There are a lot of in-jokes, like the fake graveyard and skeletons in the shallows near the dive ramp. If FireInMyBones hadn't warned me, it would have taken me a couple of minutes to figure out that the bones weren't real.
Again, I had fatigue cramps from the exertion of the last two days, so I didn't do quite as much swimming as I might have liked. Still, it was a beautiful day out on the lake--not as hot as the day before and mildly overcast to cut the UV some.
We left the lake and headed back to FireInMyBones's house once again to shower and change before heading out to dinner. We went over to the (absolutely beautiful) downtown area in Greenville to eat at a new restaurant that had quite the beer selection, amazing fries and onion rings, and very good barbeque. I was impressed.
After eating dinner and chatting for a while, it was time for me to head back out on the road down to Gainesville. I loaded everything into the car and found my way back on down to I-85. Seven rather boring hours later (minus a trio of murderous semis meandering in a pack), I reached home.
After eight hours' sleep and a little food, I feel good. Disappointed that I didn't meet my primary goal of the trip, but still good. I had wanted to finish the trail, but I think that is going to have to wait until next year. My training regimen (which I definitely asked FireInMyBones about and intend to take his suggestions to heart) will need to increase in intensity over the next year to make it possible, for I have no intention of letting the trail be out of reach forever.
Pics and video will follow.