52 Hikes: #5 Trail 200, Sipsey Wilderness

6:00 AM – My day starts early as the trail-head is about 2 hours from my front door. I wonder to myself if maybe it’s a little ridiculous to drive so far just to walk a few miles alone in the woods. It probably is. But I’m not ready to hike into the Sipsey Wilderness and spend the night alone. Which, now that I think about it, sounds silly since I walked onto the AT to spend several days and nights walking and sleeping alone.

The drive to Sipsey Recreation Area is all loveliness to me: quiet, cool daybreak streaming through the tall trees lining the county highway, verdant, dewy.

Clusters of hikers – families, hiking clubs, a few individuals – prepare to disappear into the wilderness. Several empty cars indicating hikers who had already set out before my arrival dot the parking lot. I grab my daypack, making sure I have my water bottles, gps, other hiking necessities, and trekking poles. After dropping my offering in the box, I step onto the trail.

At first sight of the sign, I am all kinds of excited about what new experiences and natural treasures await.

At the halfway point, I stop to rest and enjoy the snacks packed for the day.

The trees and plants grow on, around, and through rock obstacles. Life finds a way. I continue my hike and reach my own obstacle: the “fat man’s squeeze.”

Not too sure about going through here, but the trail ended. I have a choice to make: climb over (no trail), walk around the boulders via the river, or end my hike before the end of the trail and go back to the parking lot. The water level being high, I do not want to swim around the rocks to the other side. Trying to climb over the rocks looks more dangerous than I would like to attempt without a buddy with me. The only way is through.

I remove my pack and pull it behind me as I inch my way in the pitch blackness, the openings at either end being only windows of light. Each step a step of faith that the ground is level beneath my feet. I can feel the cold, damp rocks against my cheek and scraping against my back. At the end of the squeeze there is a small waterfall making the ground muddy. I trudge through to solid ground making my way to the end of the trail. Finally, I turn around and do it all again to return to my starting point.

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