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