Vince: The Foothills Trail and Evil Genius.
If you were evil you might schedule a thru hike the week of Thanksgiving. Knowing the kid's love for turkey with all the cousins, you might throw in, with a dash of genius, a bit of a carrot. And when they say, "Why do we have to miss Thanksgiving?", you might say, "You don't, you just have to walk over 16 miles a day."
I am not an evil genius, but it really did turn out, just that way.
We arrived at Table Rock State Park on Saturday around 4am having driven through the night Friday. The gate was locked. Monica had some vague sense that she had arranged a shuttle with Mike and he would meet us in the park somewhere around 8, but it was a little early in the day to confirm. Fortunately, Mike did come and deliver us to the trail-head at Oconee State Park by 9:30am. Not before however, he said, "I hope you brought good rain gear."
The kids said, "Are we going to be home in time to have Thanksgiving?"
"Yes, if we walk at least 16 miles a day."
The Foothills trail is a 76.2 mile thru hike that's part Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. And this time of year it is the sound of leaves underfoot. The trail was well marked and maintained enough that the kids could walk out well ahead of us or lag behind a bit without concern. We passed no more than a couple of hikers each day. We could see that the trail was marked by great waterfalls and views. We could see that if we stopped to see all there was to see, we would be there past Thanksgiving. So to be fair to the Foothills Trail, we were pretty unfair to the Foothills Trail, as we sped by the good stuff. This was firstly a PCT prep hike for us, and a good one at that.
The furthest we had gone to date was this summer in the Smokies where we touched the 50 mile mark in 6 days and had a few days over 10 miles.
One of the consistent comments from the PCT thru hikers seems to be that you wake up, walk, eat, walk, and sleep. I wanted to emulate this a bit and see how we fared. I wanted to test some of the gear we have gathered for July. I wanted to see if this long trek was the dumbest idea I have ever had. So we woke up, and walked, and ate, and walked.
Day 1 we walked 15 miles. Georgie's 2 final hours were mopey and grumbly in exhaustion, but when we were settled in the tent, she said, "Dad, we did good today."
"Yes, we did well today."
Day 2 we walked 15 miles.
Day 3 we walked over 18 miles. The last hour in the dark.
Day 4 we walked nearly 18 miles. At 4pm I asked June (who was struggling the most) if she wanted to stop and camp or go another 5 miles, she said, "Dad, I want to see the cousins."
Day 5 we walked 10 miles. June woke up and said, "Today, we only have ten miles." Georgie said, "It's 9!"
"9.7 is ten."
"I don't count the points."
It was an amazing trip. I was surprised at their capability to walk and walk. I was amazed by their [mostly] great attitudes. I am grateful for the experience, and for the benefit of a Thanksgiving as carrot.
On the gear front we learned some things. I was convinced a 3 man tent + 3 ground mats + 4 children would = a winning formula. Unfortunately, it was decided not. So, Outdoor Allen, I will be back for another ground pad (Big thanks to Allen @ Andy Thornal in Winter Haven for coming through in the 11th hour with some great ground mats from Sea to Summit), and tenting solutions. The footprint of the tent was way too big, and these 4 kids have begun to adopt sizes more consistent with adulthood. Consequently, if anyone is in the market for a 3 man tent that weighs only 2 pounds 9 ounces, its available for a limited time on Ebay.
When asked, "What are three things you'd leave at home next time?" the first answer from all four kids was, "Chocolate Chip Cliff Bars."