Today, I led the Zen Buddhists on a hiking trip to Jack's River Falls. I reconned the trip two weekends ago with my friend A., but today was the "official" trip.
I picked my friend K. up at her house a couple of blocks form mine, and we drove over to the Atlanta zendo. There we picked up two more guys, and then drove to the Starbucks in Kennesaw near I-75 and Barrett Parkway (near where the Rio Bravo used to be) and picked up Karl. From there, the five of us rode on up to the town of Cisco, Georgia in Karl's van.
Ninety minutes later, we got to Cisco and met the group from Chattanooga that was hiking with us, including my friend Arthur. After waiting around the general store in Cisco for a while for the last of the Chattanooga folks to arrive, we finally gave up on them at 10:30 and the now twelve of us headed toward the trailhead in three cars: Karl's van, an SUV and Arthur's jeep.
It turns out the recon that I did was for naught. About one mile into the seven miles of dirt roads to the trailhead, we hit a "Road Closed Ahead" sign. It seems that a bridge had been washed out by Hurricane Ivan in the time between my trip up with A. and this weekend. We figured out an alternate route with the help of Forest Service maps, a guidebook, and a local who just happened to have driven up at that moment. The detour involved driving all the way up past the Tennessee border and circling back, so we didn't get to the trailhead until about 11:30.
No matter though. It just shows how little value there is in planning. You can try to plan out every little detail, but there's no accounting for that banana peel (or wash out) that you slip on as you head out the door.
The hike from the trailhead to the falls was four miles long, and mostly downhill. I got concerned though, as some of the hikers started to lag significantly behind - if they were having trouble hiking in while walking downhill, how will they feel hiking out another four miles mostly uphill? So, I fell to the rear of the group to wait up for the lagging hikers and let the others go on ahead.
Not a good idea as it turned out. The lead group got to a fork in the trail by Jacks River, and instead of hiking downstream toward the falls, turned in the wrong direction and started upstream, away from the falls. By the time I got to the fork, I could not tell which way they had headed, so I led the laggards in the correct, downstream direction.
By the time we got to the falls, it became apparent that the lead group wasn't there. However, the other Chattanooga folks, the ones that we had given up on while waiting at the general store in Cisco, were arriving at the falls just as I was. It turns out that they had skipped Cisco and headed directly for the trailhead, and since they were coming from Tennessee anyway, missed the washout we encountered on the Georgia side. However, it was apparent that I had to backtrack the half mile or so to the fork in the trail and try to catch up to the lead group that was headed the wrong way, but just as I headed out, Arthur also arrived at the falls leading the lost group. So coincidentally, we had all arrived at the falls at the same time, me and he laggards, Arthur and the errant leaders, and the abandoned Chattanoogans, despite our differing routes and despite all my attempts at trying to "lead" everyone.
We had lunch at the falls, and 30 minutes of sitting meditation. The hike back was pretty uneventful, and I learned to accept that different folks will hike at different rates, and to just accept their differences. The lead group got back to the trailhead at just about 5:00 like planned, and the last of the last was only about 15 minutes behind.
A good day overall - the weather was beautiful, the trail was open despite Ivan's wrath, the falls were flowing full, and we had the rocks over the falls to ourselves for most of the time - a rare event for Jack's River.
And I learned the futility of trying to plan.