Days 28 & 29: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest – Conasauga Ranger District

Road Miles: 0

Total: 3705.8

Trail Miles: 5.2

Total: 101.1

Sites: Bear Creek Trail Campground & Pinhoti Trail, Conasauga RD of the Chattahoochee-Oconee NF

Locals: Stay Active Ellijay

I now live at the Bear Creek Campground, in the parking lot. There’s no phone service here, so I decided to hike to a high spot to see if I could catch a dot of signal. This being the Saturday of Easter weekend, the trail was busy, mostly with mountain bikers, all of whom were friendly and polite. I was happily surprised to intersect briefly with the Pinhoti Trail. It felt great to be on a long trail, and it was difficult to resist the urge to just turn left, stroll on down to Alabama. 

Finally, after around 2.5 miles, I popped out on a ridge and almost immediately heard the telltale “ding!” of connectivity. Yay! I’d enjoyed the walk up, but health-wise, I still really had no business hiking yet. I let people know I was ok, and scooted on back to the van, where Leon the Superchicken was waiting, looking impatient. Oh, yeah… Now I have a damn rooster.

I woke up that first morning, not gently, but to the cacophonous crowing of Leon. He was standing right beneath the only open window, alerting me to his desire to have breakfast. Leon is no dummy. And now he’s back, scratching the ground with his big, scary-looking rooster claws, squinting at me defiantly. Leon is hungry. Leon would like to be fed, an hour ago. In fact, Leon is kind of a pushy little shit, which is probably how he’s managed to not die in this campground for however long he’s been here. Leon’s tastes have also gone a bit more upscale since we first became acquainted; he definitely prefers truffle popcorn over Triscuits. I throw him some more popcorn, and try to squeeze in a nap between his self-designated feeding times. I think maybe I don’t have a rooster. This rooster has me.

I’ve also been adopted by a delegation from Stay Active Ellijay, a local outdoors adventure group that’s camped here for the weekend. They know when I’m in by the sound of thick, gross coughing or loud, long nose blows into my third box of tissues. They ply me, mercilessly, with delicious hot meals and adult beverages. With awesome activities like knife-throwing, which I get to try for the first time and am terrible at. I’m sick and weary, unable to resist, so give myself over to being spoiled by these amazing people: fajitas and wine, burgers and beer, and… are you kidding me? Mimosas with Sunday brunch. And did I mention, KNIFE-THROWING? All in the company of fantastic people, fellow lovers of the outdoors.

A dark-of-night reconnaissance mission was carried out, after the consumption of some of the aforementioned adult beverages, to investigate a tent that had been uninhabited since my arrival. We learn that it belongs to a man who appears to have multiple felony charges and outstanding warrants for his arrest. He’s written a long note about it all that ends with, “BTW, I’m White. LOL.” It is tucked into his Bible. I’m shown his picture so if he shows back up after they’ve left, I’ll know to “LOL” myself right outta there.

After brunch Sunday morning, and a sweet heartfelt Easter talk by Robert, my new friends began making ready to go: they have things to do, families to return to, lives. I helped them pack up, thinking about how ironic it was that I’d come here hoping to hole up alone and recuperate, and now I was going to miss people I had never even known existed two days ago. Soon, the campground was deserted again, just me and the abandoned tent of some alleged felon. It was so quiet, almost unsettling.

Then, as dusk approached, the thunderous racket of one loud-ass rooster, who in a dramatic display of flapping Spanish plumage, alit on the van, crowing the whole time, freaking me right out. “Well,” I thought wryly, as I threw him his truffle popcorn dinner, “at least I’ve always got Leon.”