Road Miles: 111
Trail Miles: 0
Sites: Berry College WMA, Amicalola Falls SP, Chattahoochee-Oconee NF: Conasauga Ranger District
Travel Buddy: RaggedyCrow
When I woke up, RC was already milling about, having been awakened by a few trucks that had rolled through at around 530am. I’d slept right through that, and felt as though I could easily sleep another 10-12 hours. I was tired. I was invigorated soon enough, though, by RC’s excitement to get to Amicalola to meet his AT partner, and start his thru. We hit the road fairly quickly, stopping in Fairmount to top off on gas and hit the Dollar General to pick up his last-minute supplies and what I’d need to get through at least a few days of camping somewhere to rest off my cold. This was the Friday of Easter weekend, so I expected most campgrounds would be full. I didn’t want to pay to stay in a campground anyway, so the plan was to get RC dropped off then get myself to a dispersed site for the weekend.
As we started into the hills, Freya got cranky and threatened to overheat, so we stopped briefly in a turnout with some dreamy views of the southern Appalachians to let her cool off. Shortly before noon, we got to Amicalola Falls State Park. Success!! My stress level plummeted immediately, relieved to have successfully fulfilled my promise to deliver one hiker to the trail, and the knowledge that I was responsible for only myself again. No deadlines, no hurry, no worry.
Tony, RC’s partner, was already out back when we arrived. Introductions were made all around, and after a short chat with the rangers, we went back to the van to collect RC’s pack. Just as I unlocked the doors, the skies opened up and let forth prodigious amounts of thick, fat, plopping drops of rain. We watched the kids on the playground in front of us scatter and disappear. Which was awesome, because then we felt less weird and creepy about crouching on the floor and cracking one last beer to toast the beginning of RC’s 5 Million Steps for Sophia’s Fund. We downed our celebratory beers, then RC shouldered his pack to re-join his partner inside.
Thankfully there’s cell service at the park, because I had no idea where I was going. I’d briefly considered just staying that night at the park, but it was booked solid. It was still fairly early, so my best bet was to find a first-come, first-served spot somewhere on the nearest public lands site. The Chattahoochee-Oconee NF surrounds Amicalola on three sides, and offers free dispersed camping in several spots. It looked like Bear Creek on the Conasauga Ranger District offered the most privacy potential and was fairly close, so off I went.
After driving up a sometimes rocky Forest Service road with numerous blind corners and a creek crossing, I arrived at the site and learned that the definition of “dispersed camping” here is different from mine. This was a walk-in campground with a parking lot and toilets (what I would normally think of as a “primitive campground”) rather than a large designated area where people disperse with their vehicles to wherever they want to camp. Well, shit. I didn’t want to tent camp. I was sick and just wanted to park someplace relatively private, so I could blow my nose and cough my lungs out in peace. There is no cell service at this site, however, and the thought of driving back out to the closest town to catch signal was unappealing. I noticed that there was one spot in the parking lot that was relatively isolated, and the site itself was pretty amazing: Bear Creek was flowing clear and profusely so water wouldn’t be an issue, and there were toilets! As soon as the few visitors that were there when I arrived left, I moved the van to the loner spot, put the Reflectix up in the windows, and went to sleep for awhile.
When I next got out, I noticed a largish brightly-colored something in the bushes next to the bathroom. At first I thought it was a daypack.. until it started moving in my direction. The daypack was actually a Spanish rooster. Wtf is a Spanish rooster doing wandering around a primitive campground with nobody in it?? I have no idea, but it looked healthy, and soon was strutting the lot, watching me and occasionally pecking at the ground. So, I threw him some crumbled-up Triscuits and named him Superchicken. Superchicken loved the Triscuits, and strutted closer, back and forth in front of the barn doors of the van.
Soon, two big men in a very big truck rolled in, rocking the stars and bars where a front license plate would go. It was too late to shut myself back in the van without being seen, and I tensed, remembering the lack of cell service here where nobody knows I am, and thought to myself, “well, this could go badly.” The men jumped out of the truck, looked around, looked at the rooster, then looked at me. “Hey,” I waved, “how’s it going?”
“Alright,” one replied, then nodded at the rooster. “That your chicken?”
I burst out laughing, thinking about the ridiculousness of traveling with a rooster. “Um… no. Apparently that’s the camp chicken.”
There was a brief silence as they considered this, still looking back and forth between me and the rooster. Then they started laughing too, and I quietly exhaled a big sigh of relief. Hooray! I’m not gonna get raped and killed right this minute. “Oh! We thought that was your chicken.”
“Nope, definitely not my chicken.”
They chuckled again, and turned to investigate the creek a bit more. Then they hopped back into the truck and headed out, waving at me and the rooster as they left. I thanked Superchicken for being an inadvertent ice-breaker by throwing him some more Triscuits, and hoped more people would show up soon, just in case the men had only left to go pick up some more friends before coming back to rape and kill me later.
I went back to bed for awhile, but was soon awakened by the sounds of vehicles and human activity in the lot – there would be campers after all. I saw one man busily unpacking a Jeep that had a sign on it: “Stay Active Ellijay.” I introduced myself, and explained I’d been sick, so I’d come to rest for a few days. Robert told me that he and his wife Karleen run Stay Active Ellijay, a dues-based service that organizes and leads all kinds of outdoors adventures and activities for its members. They’d planned an Easter weekend campout here, and the dozen or so members who had signed up to participate would be arriving soon, so he was getting the main site ready.
My next trip to the bathroom, I was stopped by a woman with cotton-candy pink hair. “Are you in that van?” I said I was, and she continued, “Robert told us about you. We’re having dinner just up there soon if you’d like to join us.”
What? A hot meal?? No way! Usually I’d have to be hiking to happen upon this kind of trail magic, but the fact that I had driven here and hadn’t even popped my tent made this offer no less magical. I spent the rest of the evening getting to know this friendly group of locals, who plied me with some delicious fajitas and even some wine! I felt so grateful. It was the perfect end to what had been a long, exhausting, stressful week, and a timely reminder that the trail always provides.