Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Conditioning Hike #3 - Chickamauga

October 30, 2010

Since I was in grade school, I have been an avid student of history, especially the Civil War. Thus, it was no surprise that one of the benefits of taking a job in Chattanooga was its pivotal role during that war. Lookout Mountain, the site of the famed "Battle above the Clouds", is visible from the parking lot of my apartment building. While driving to work, I see Missionary Ridge, the site where the Army of the Cumberland charged straight up the ridge to the astonishment of the Confederate defenders. And just a few miles to the south in Georgia is the field of Chickamauga, the bloodiest battle in the western theater.

Besides being full of monuments and history, the Chickamauga battlefield is also a great place to walk. Miles of trails snake through the forests and fields, through important sites such as Brotherton Field and Snodgrass Hill, and acres of land that had little impact on the battle, but are good places to walk and enjoy nature. From short spur trails to informational placards to a 14 mile loop trail that goes through most of the park, there are plenty of opportunities for a good walk.

The large number of trails and the gentle terrain of the park made it a natural place for me to do my first endurance hike. Thus, shortly after noon I took off from the visitors center, with no particular goal in sight. My only intention was to walk for several miles, to give my body notice that it would have to put up with these long walks from now on.

For the first third, I must say it was a pleasant walk through the woods. I found myself on trails near the edge of the park, away from the main areas of the battlefield. Occasionally I would run into small areas where cannons and monuments were, but for the most part it was myself, the trees, and squirrels. The trees were beginning to turn, although some were still green.

After about mile two, my poor physical condition began to rear its ugly head. My feet started to hurt, and I started to wonder where the hell I was. Not having a map or compass, I wasn't exactly certain where I was. Even when I found roads or bigger monuments, such as the one at Bragg's Headquarters, I wasn't certain where I was. Clearly for longer journeys in wilder areas I will need to be better prepared. Still, I was enjoying my walk, greeting the occasional trail runner or group of horse riders as I continued on my way.

Onwards I went, finally reaching Lafayette Road, the main road that bisects the park. Here, again without a map, I missed the trail that paralleled the road (which is not one conducive to road hiking), ending up taking a shorter trail that led from where I had met the road to Brotherton Field. Here was where Longstreet's troops made the breakthrough right where the Union had inadvertently weakened their lines, resulting in the panicked retreat of a large chunk of the Union army back towards Chattanooga. For me, the field was tranquil, if a bit too sun-drenched for my tastes.

From here on out, my walk was just a test of endurance, to see if I could get my weary body back to my car, one step at at time. There was not a continuous trail along this stretch, forcing me to walk along a pullout road. Once this road met the main road, I decided to "bushwhack" for a small distance through trees near Kelly Field, walking through the field back towards another row of monuments. Here I rested my feet for a bit, looking at the multitude of stone monuments from Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and other states of the Union.

Somewhat recharged, I settled back in on the main loop trail, on the home stretch back to the Visitors Center. Each step at this point I could feel through my shoe, but I still kept going, knowing that it was the only way to get back to my car. At one point I had to cross loose gravel of a fairly large size, which slightly rolled my ankle at least once, almost sending me tumbling to the ground. Fortunately, I kept my footing, and continued on. To falter at that point would have been frustrating.

Finally I left the last wooded area and re-entered another field, where an Illinois monument and the Florida state monument stand. This marked the end of my approximately six mile loop, but I still had a short hike back to the Visitors Center parking lot, where I dispatched with some trash I had picked up along the trail. Before leaving I checked the big map board standing outside the Visitors Center, just to get a general idea of where I hiked, and realized I had spent a good deal of time near the eastern boundary of the park, which explained why it took as long as it did to get back to the main road.

That night my feet were sore, and my legs were stiff. Nevertheless, I felt I had accomplished something, got some decent pictures of the battlefield, and felt generally good about the experience. The next day I would be going out to eat breakfast, and then take a short drive out to Cloudland Canyon State Park, where I figured I would get some nice pictures of the fall foliage from the east rim overlooks before calling it a day. Little did I realize as I went to bed that night the trek I had in store for me that next day.

On the Next Edition: Rocks, Roots, and Canyons, Oh My!

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