Nearly 9 miles later we emerged soaked to the bone and staring at a sign across the street - Toccoa River... 3 miles.
We started our adventure the way any good hiking couple would. We loaded Brian's new backpacking backpack with water, fishing supplies, lunch and snacks. We loaded the baby into a baby back rider and loaded his backpack with food, changing supplies, a toy or two, a blanket, and extra footie pants. We even remembered such essentials as a topo map, cell phones, ipod, camera, and fishing book. We felt fairly prepared. We checked the weather, looked good till around 5 or 6, loaded the dog and the baby in the car and left.
We drove a few hours to northern Georgia and found our trail head and began the hike. It was beautiful. So fun and so nice to be in the wilderness without hundreds of trail hungry people leaving trash everywhere and talking on cell phones. Just our little family.
Brian had warned me that the reviews online said the first 1/3 of the trail was fairly difficult, but that the next 2/3 were mostly downhill and easy. Plus, after we got to the river there was a different road we could take out that went along the bottom of valley rather than up and over the mountain. So I knew it would be tough but that it wouldn't be tough for that long.
It was really tough going for the first 40 minutes, but still fun and refreshing. We even missed a turn and got lost for a little while. Brian forged ahead and found the trail again, then turned around and told Portland, "Find Mommy!" and soon they came bounding up the trail back to Bradley and myself. A small setback but nothing big. We learned to keep our eye out for the diamonds marked on the trees so we wouldn't accidentally stray onto a side trail again.
About an hour and forty minutes into the hike Bradley decided he had had enough of the baby back rider so we took a break and Brian offered to take him for a while.
At this point I was suspicious that the topo map we were following had some serious flaws. It did not show any of the switchbacks we were going on, nor could I figure out where we were on it judging by the up and down terrain we had just hiked. Judging by the time we should have been about half way, or at least approaching the 1/3 mark where it is supposed to get easier. Brian kept reassuring me that we were following everything just fine and that we must soon be approaching the 1/3 point where the trail turns downhill.
Finally we reached a beautiful view and it seemed the top of the mountain. The trail turned down and we hiked eagerly on. Within 10 minutes though, the trail began to climb again. And climb with vigor. It started to switchback very sharply and rise very quickly. (It should be noted that I was a bit of a wimp and needed to rest my legs every so often, and during this point Brian was carrying Bradley and I was still asking to take breaks.) Eventually we reached what seemed like the top, again we started to go down hill. We thought we were on our way till once again, the trail slowly started to have a distinct upward feel to it.
Now we had checked the weather and radar map before we came out. There was not supposed to be any inclement weather till much later in the day. We had heard a few thunder rumbles and felt short, light rain patches since we started at 11:30ish, but didn't think much of it. I don't know the exact time the rain started, but it sure wasn't 6 pm!
We had switched and I was carrying Bradley and Bradley had decided it was time to eat. We stopped for a rest when suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the sky opened up. Brian moved us to a more sheltered part of the forest and we pulled out the blanket to cover Brad. Within one minute Brian and I were soaked through. This wasn't a cute Oregon-misting, or a light move-through rain, it was thunderstorm pouring.
Somehow I managed to keep Bradley covered and began nursing him. After some fervent prayers were said, the rain lightened enough for us to keep going. Brian carrying his pack and mine, and I carried/nursed Bradley and continued hiking in the rain.
About twenty minutes later the rain had let up and we found... a sign. Odd though. Our map did not show any other trails intersecting ours... hmm... At this point we decided that indeed we were on the wrong trail.
This realization was pretty frustrating being in the current state we were in. We sat down and ate our sandwiches, rested for a few minutes, and started the hike back.
We were very blessed and the rain did not continue. But Bradley was still somewhat wet, so I held him close to my body and hiked the rest of the way out. Brian attached my kid pack to his pack and took care of controlling the dog -who by the way was very very good the whole hike but the last hour.
The hike back started out in fairly low spirits because I knew what we had to re-hike. But it went surprisingly fast. and... we survived. We got to the car, put Bradley in warm dry clothes, toweled off and ate the rest of our snacks on the ride home.
Portland was happily tired. But still brought us the ball and was ready to play when we got home.
Here is a version of the map we later found online to see how far we went. We were supposed to hike 3 miles to the Toccoa River and then back out for a total of 6 miles. In the end we hiked a total of 8.5 miles.
In the words of our friend, "I'm glad other people do stupid stuff with their family too." Yesterday we were definitely the other dumb family.