Have you ever tired to sneak in a hike in a borderline-insufficient amount of time?
I feel like I do this at least once a week.
On this particular day, I was trying to complete the Cherokee Trail at Stone Mountain Park in about 2 1/2 hours (including driving time). Depending on the exact path you follow, it’s around 5 miles or so.
Now, it wasn’t exactly a high-stakes proposition. I was just trying to get off the trail and back home in time to feed my doggo at her regular dinner time. She wasn’t going to starve or anything if I was a bit late, but I like to keep her feeding time pretty consistent.
Anywho, everything started out wonderfully.
I always try to jump on the trail at a fairly low-lying point, head straight up the steepest portion and then cruise downhill for the second half. Forty-five minutes in, I was making great time. To be fair, this was primarily a calorie-burning hike, so I wasn’t snapping many photos.
I made it to the downhill portion, my legs were still feeling great, and I had awesome tunes pumping in my earbuds. Life was good.
But then I got thrown a curveball.
For the unfamiliar, Stone Mountain Park is primarily comprised of a gigantic hunk of exposed granite and some surrounding forests.
I’ve been visiting this park for more than 30 years, and I absolutely love the natural areas within its borders. But unfortunately, the park also has a very dark side.
For starters, one side of the mountain features a repulsive carving of confederate leaders on it, and the park is littered with a ton of other civil-war-era references. It also has an absolutely disgusting cultural history.
I’m not getting into all of this right now (you can read about it here, if you like).
Suffice to say, I visit the park for the things Mother Nature has created and try to ignore some of the terrible things humans have done to the area.
At any rate, the park projects a laser show on the carving at night.
And despite being incredibly familiar with this park, I have apparently never traversed this part of the trail this late in the evening. And I say that because when I reached that portion of the trail, I found that it was closed.
Alright, so I found this very irritating, but it wasn’t really a big deal for me. I just had to walk around it somehow and find a place to re-join the trail.
The thing is, while I know every nook and cranny of the natural portions of this park, I haven’t been down here by all the touristy things in decades.
This meant that I didn’t exactly know where I could re-join the trail.
And this meant I had to do a little exploring (note how I had to deviate from the trail in the All Trails image below).
It went well enough, and I saw some nifty rock formations for my trouble.
But my timeline was shot to hell.
The modified route added a bit more of an elevation increase to my journey, and I had to wade through thousands of tourists – none of whom seemed to be in a hurry like I was.
And it was now dark. Like, dark-dark. And I only had a little emergency flashlight with me for some reason.
No big deal – I was back on the trail, and like I said, I know it like the back of my hand. So, I didn’t even really need my flashlight for most of the rest of the hike.
I started pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down, as I now had a hungry pupperino waiting for dinner at home.
And then I started hearing something – lots of somethings, actually – in the bushes to my right. It was exactly what I thought: a decent-sized herd of deer.
This park is absolutely lousy with deer. They’re everywhere, and they aren’t particularly troubled by humans. It’s usually easy to get pretty close to them, and I’ve been literally surrounded by them during several after-dark hikes.
Nevertheless, it was cool to see them, and I managed to snap a few nifty photos – including one of the first ones using my phone’s “night mode.”
Neither are super special photos, but I’m glad I have them.
The rest of the hike proved relatively uneventful, but I’d managed to work around a bit of a challenge and enjoyed a neat encounter for my trouble.
(My doggo was perfectly fine, for the record. Though she was even more glad to see me than usual.)
And that’s kind of the point of this entire story: You never know when things are going to go differently than you planned while enjoying the natural world, but if you just roll with the punches, you may end up experiencing something better than you’d thought you would.
We’d love to hear about the times your outdoor adventures didn’t go as planned. What happened? Were you pleasantly surprised by something that followed an obstacle? What would you have missed if things went smoothly?
Let us know in the comments below!