Dan and Hannah Hike to the Walls of Jericho in northern Alabama

WJ map of huntsville 2

Sleeping in at Brenda’s home near Huntsville, Alabama, we wake to her bustling in the kitchen, preparing a down home southern country breakfast for her Yankee visitors.   Having seen the Facebook pictures of Hannah making biscuits with our grandson Owen in California, she asks Hannah to team up to bake these primo biscuits this morning.

Over breakfast, while we feast on her Sweet Home, Alabama scrambled eggs, biscuits, coffee, and hash brown casserole, I think back on the sequence of events that improbably brought us to Brenda’s place.

Bren BS with Han and biscuit making

Brenda and Hannah abiscuit making

Eighteen months ago, we came to Georgia to hike the Appalachian Trail, our last of 14 AT hikes.  Loving our Georgia hike at Springer Mountain, the Southern terminus of the AT, we also explored the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.   Sold on hiking in the American South, we vowed to return to its warmth the following October.

FD 4C James' boots

James’s boots

And that we did, hiking again in the Great Smoky Mountains, and then traveling south in North Carolina to hike the AT near Fontana Dam.  There we came upon two hiking boots filled with beautiful pebbles, a living memorial to Brenda’s husband James who had passed on from cancer.  She encouraged hikers to take a pebble and carry it for James who never got to hike the whole AT.

Bren door to storm shelter

Storm shelter in Brenda’s backyard

Taking two, we emailed Brenda, sent a picture of us on the AT, and became North/South email buddies.  Graciously, she invited us to her place when we next came south.   This April we return and begin an in-person Alabama friendship with Brenda.  Click here for the Brenda/Fontana Dam blog.

Bren H in storm shelter

Hannah in the storm shelter built for nine

After breakfast, Brenda shows us the tornado storm shelter in her backyard that we nearly needed during last night’s deluge with tornado warnings.  With room for a snug nine folks, Hannah checks out the interior; more than Fenway Park, these truly are the “friendly confines.”

WJ 1 explanation

Mist falls throughout the mid-morning, but Hannah and I, ever hopeful, still drive an hour to the Walls of Jericho on the Alabama/Tennessee border, just to the west of Chattanooga, TN.   Traveling in the South on Sunday morning, we are amazed how few others are on the road with us; they are all in church.

WJ 1A H as trail begins

The trail to the Walls of Jericho

Heading towards the Alabama trailhead, I drive slowly in fog that engulfs the mountains.  With rain forecasted later in the afternoon, we pull on our hiking boots, knowing its going to be one messy trail, given the 3” of rain that fell last night.  The online reviews for this trail make it sound like a tough hike; but with a waterfall at the end of the 3.6 miles of hiking, it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.

WJ 1B H on muddy trail

With gently sloping switchbacks through the new spring green this last week in April, we know that while we will descend over 1000′ to the waterfalls, we also have that same trek back up the mountain when we are most tired.

WJ 1C D on trail

Meeting up with an older (our age!), athletic hiker dude, we listen as he encourages us to go all the way to the falls themselves (i.e. hiking through a foot, foot and half of raging water).  Though he is quite enthusiastic, the thought of climbing over slippery submerged rocks in ice cold water leaves me, well, cold.  We smile and nod as we part, but I think there’s no way in hell am I going to do that.  Hannah keeps an open mind.

WJ 3 pooling on trail

The trail gets more than soggy

Once at Mill Creek, we walk until we come upon a 50’ log bridge with a railing that allows for an easy crossing.   But now in the low areas of the trail, the water begins to pool, including one spot where the water covers a wide stretch of the trail.  No fans of hiking with wet socks and soaked shoes, we look for alternatives around the mini-pond.  Bushwhacking 30’ down the trail, we plod through the grass using dead branches to step over the soggy spots.

WJ 2C H on log bridge 2

Hannah, high and dry

Then, a twenty-something couple, returning from the falls, tells us that we have to hike through the river to the falls themselves.  Looking like reasonable human beings, they add 2% to my likelihood of water walking to the falls.

WJ 3E rope on trail

As the path narrows, the cliffside rope is just what is needed with Walls of Jericho above and the river below

While we hike, Hannah tries out a new trail name for me.  Cameo.  Since I am the one taking pictures with my iPhone, she is in most of the pictures.   Let’s be honest, she is photogenic plus.  Occasionally, I do make a “cameo” in one of the pictures when we hike.  By the way, trail names are usually given, not self-selected.

WJ 3D trail beneath wj

The trail beneath the Walls of Jericho

Crossing a second log bridge, our mellow hiking is over.  Arriving at the vertical Walls of Jericho themselves, we hug the mountainside above the raging “River Runs Through It” torrent for nearly a mile.  As you might guess, given her recent fall, Hannah walks close to the mountainside of this cliff trail.  She asks me if I wouldn’t walk so near to the edge.  Her 25′ fall from the San Ysidro Trail was just two months ago.

WJ 4B downriver from falls

The river just downstream from the fall

After 3.6 miles, the trail ends at the wide part of the raging river with an island beyond and then a narrower shoot of the stream roaring by.  Seeing the reality of crossing on slippery submerged smooth stones, Hannah and I quickly agree that we want no part of a river crossing in 6 to 18 inches of water.   To what end?  We’ve done what we love about hiking – getting lots of exercise in a wilderness setting.  Walking through the water to the falls doesn’t change that.  And why risk her leg and my iPhone to a watery grave?  It’s a “no way Jose” moment for us both.  Check out the video of the end of “our” trail.

WJ 4C across to base of falls

The water crossing to the distant falls that we’ll do next time.

Anyway, we can return next spring when the conditions may be different.  We are told by a fellow hiker that normally you can walk across these river rocks without getting your shoes wet.

With still have 3.6 uphill miles back to our rental car at the trailhead, we hike without an ounce of regret.  Light rain filters through forest as we climb back up the mountain and past this mini-falls to the right.

WJ 5 H at minifalls

Just down from the trailhead

The Walls of Jericho is a tough hike but rewarding indeed.  Within ten minutes of getting in the car, it starts to pour.  The universe is again smiling down on us.

Dan and Hannah Hike to the Waterfalls of DeSoto State Park in Alabama

Even days before our departure to hike and pickle in the South, I am rethinking the wisdom, or really the lack of wisdom, of my scheduling our flight from Boston to Atlanta at 610A this Saturday morning.  On one hand, such early flights are often less expensive; another plus is that by arriving at 9A in Atlanta, we can then hike in northern Alabama and still have an evening with our friend Brenda. DS map of DS

On the other hand, we sleep poorly and awake at 130A to get to the airport on time.  It will be amazing if we are coherent and at all good company for Brenda this evening.

DS La La Land

Fortunately, we are flying Jet Blue with their seatback TVs!  Today for our 2h 30m flight we have La La Land.  Having seen it on a rainy afternoon in Santa Barbara two months ago, I know I am going to La La Love It.  The lovable Emma Stone!  The dashing Ryan Gosling!  The foot taping music!  The dazzling choreography!  The hope that comes with choices!  Believing in possibilities!  I can’t get enough of the inspirational grit and resilience of Mia and Sebastian, let alone the humor of the screen writing.

Stick with me for one example of the humor.  Mia and Seb are coming back together after he has been on the road performing while she has remained in Los Angeles preparing for her one-woman show.  He asks if she wants to join him on the road.  Where she asks?  Boise, he responds.  Boise?  To which he says, you’ll be able to check it off your bucket list.

Arriving in Atlanta on Saturday morning at 9A, we easily navigate the rail system to the rental car center miles away.  Being an Avis Preferred member (you get that status by merely signing up), we are given express service and have none of the usual fear-based questions that the attendants usually ask about buying more insurance and being responsible if you are an accident.

DS 1 D at state line

As planned, by 10A we are driving through Atlanta north on I-75.  Saturday mornings are great times to drive through the city since we have none of the snarling weekday commuter traffic.  Well north of town, we turn west on route 140 to Alabama, eventually stopping at the state line for pictures.

As a lifelong northerner, I come to Alabama with some uncertainty.  With its troubled racial past and conservative politics, I just don’t know what to expect.  Movie stereotypes of Deep South southerners often have them as threatening, xenophobic, and intolerant.   What is in store for the two of us who enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?  By the way, both were winners of the popular vote for the presidency.

DS 2A H on trail

Ever-trusting, we drive on to DeSoto State Park in Mentone, Alabama for waterfall trails.  Today will be Hannah’s first hike since she fell from the San Ysidro Falls Trail in California two months ago and ended up in the ER.  With no fear, she leads our hike as she always does.

DS 2B DS trail

This family-friendly hiking area has color coded trails that make it easy for one and all to find their way without fear of getting really lost.  Taking to the orange blaze trail, we are loving our time in the great outdoors, rich with rhododendrons, just above the West Fork of the Little River.

DS 3C D and H at Laurel Falls

Dan and Hannah at Laurel Falls

At Laurel Falls, we see dads watching their sons splash in the chilly pool beneath the falls.  In conversation, we learn that they are from Trail Life, a Christian group from near Birmingham, getting away for the weekend.  These dads have hit the lottery, creating memories with their sons that crush any afternoon games on TV.

DS 4 H at Lost Falls

Hannah at Lost Falls

Weaving between the campground and the river, we hike on to Lost Falls, our favorite of the three that we will see today.  Immediately climbing the cliff edge to approach the waterfall, Hannah is doing just fine on her reconstructed leg.  Check out the video below for confirmation.

With rain imminent, we feel like we are stealing a day of hiking that we easily might have missed.  To a person, the Alabamians we meet are friendly and helpful as we hike in near 80F, when it was 42F when we left Maine this morning.

DS 6 Indian Falls

Indian Falls

Looking for more waterfalls, we cross country road route 89 and hike to Indian Falls.  From there, we take the yellow blaze trail along the same West Fork of the Little River.  Big mistake.  In addition to never finding the promised Lodge Falls, we must rock scramble up and down with no hiking rhythm.  Abandoning ship after ten minutes, we backtrack and head for our overnight with Brenda in northern Alabama 90 minutes away.

Under threatening skies, we arrive at Brenda’s place minutes before the deluge.  Let me explain our connection to Brenda, whom we have never met.

FD 4C James' boots

Last October, we hiked the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina to Fontana Dam.   There we came upon two hiking boots filled with brightly colored pebbles, a living memorial to Brenda’s husband James who had recently passed on from cancer.  The explanation sheet by the boots asked hikers to take a pebble and carry it for James, who never got to hike the whole AT himself.

FD 4 BamaHiker overview

James, Bama Hiker

We took one, emailed Brenda with a picture of us there on the AT, and became North/South correspondents.   Graciously, she invited us to her place when we next returned to the South.   Click here for the Brenda/Fontana Dam blog.

Greeted like family this stormy evening, we see the cobalt grey skies, which soon morphed into a hail-filled downpour.   The threat of a tornado has Brenda thinking we may just need to go underground into her storm shelter buried in the backyard.

Bren biscuits with H

Hannah with Brenda the next morning

Fortunately, the tornado warnings end, but Biblical rains continue throughout the night.

Before Brenda’s lasagna dinner, I ask if I can give an Irish blessing.  It comes from my niece Tara’s wedding; we’ve used it in California, Georgia, and whenever we are invited out in Maine.

Thank you for the food before us, the friends beside us, and the love between us.

Brenda is the friend beside us and clearly all that’s good in Alabama; in short order, we feel like family.

Click on this link for a newspaper story about the continuing Brenda and James love story.   http://www.waff.com/story/35528290/late-alabama-hiker-inspires-others-to-finish-appalachian-trail