15-Nov-2019 -- I was on my way to the Atlanta airport from Clemson University, and thought that I might be able to get in a confluence visit on the way. I had been promoting geotechnologies in universities all week, and I considered a confluence visit to be the perfect capstone. In retrospect, I should have chosen 34 North 83 West, but, read on. Every visit is an adventure. The day dawned in South Carolina rainy and gray, and continued as I entered Georgia on some truly remote, wonderful, country roads. As I neared the town of Deepstep, anticipation mounted. It had been years since this point was visited last, and I knew this visit today would be my last one of 2019 and thus of this entire decade. I turned west at Deepstep, then south, and when the pavement ended, the adventure truly began.
This area is an active mining zone for kaolin, a platy soft white clay. According to the BASF website, kaolin was first discovered in China, and it has been used in the making of porcelain and fine china for centuries. Today, kaolin is an important and cost-effective pigment in many paper and paperboard, paints and coatings, plastics, wire and cable and in concrete among many others. Judging by the number of mines visible on the satellite images, I would say that the demand is high. The mining would have an influence on how the day would unfold. Read on.
Did I mention that it had been raining all day? Not ten feet into the non-paved portion of the road, I began slipping from side to side, despite proceeding extremely slowly. I chose different parts of the road to drive on; it was wide enough but again, extremely slippery with some sort of Georgia sandy-soil making things worse than any icy roads I had driven on over the years. I proceeded nonetheless to the next road, drove west, made a U-turn, and parked. Then, looking at the pools of water already forming at the wheels of the rental car, I wondered--would I be able to get back out of here after my confluence hike? Not hesitating, I got back in the vehicle and drove very gingerly back to the pavement, where I parked. I then proceeded on foot on the very same muddy roadways. I had thought it would be easier than driving, but that was not the case. Numerous times, I nearly fell, and wearing my work clothes, and having to sit on the airplane that evening, I did not want to get muddier than just my shoes.
After about 30 minutes, I arrived back on the spot where I had parked earlier. Fortunately, it was not cold; about 55 degrees F (13 C). I proceeded north up the road into the trees, to the north, slipping more now, as the road rose up an incline. I rounded a bend.
Suddenly, as sometimes happens on these confluence treks, something unexpected then appeared that completely changed the entire experience: Straight ahead of me was a formidable and locked gate. Just like my experience 2018 with a point in the snowy woods of Michigan, I would end 2019 with an attempt, rather than a success, here in the muddy woods of Georgia. This was a very serious gate with warnings about video surveillance. I heeded the warnings, and walked back out the way I came in. Understandable with these deep mining pits, that they did not people wandering into one and falling hundreds of feet. And no, dear reader, I could not have taken a trek into the trees at another location and bypassed the fence, for everywhere, not 10 feet into the forests, stood a very formidable fence, blocking any access to any location that was off the road.
As I walked back to the vehicle, I reflected: It had been a good year for confluence treks. It began slowly, with two visits in Arizona, one in Germany, and an attempt in Indiana during the first half of the year, but I finished strong with 10 more visits in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and even Australia before this point in Georgia to finish the year. It had also been a good decade for visits. I clearly remembered how the 2010s began, on the third day of the new decade, 3 Jan 2010, with my multi-hour but beautiful Mojave Desert hike to 34 North 115 West. That truly did not seem like 10 years ago already. What a decade. I did not have time to count then all, but I probably logged 300 visits during the decade, bringing my total to well over 400 at this current time, the end of 2019.
About a half hour later, after much slipping, I arrived back on pavement and my vehicle. The landowner of the house to the east came up to me and this proved to be the best part of this trek. He was very friendly and talked about how he sometimes pulled people stuck on those muddy roads out with his truck. He and his family have lived in this area for an entire century. He told me about the history of forestry and mining in the area and I told him about my attempt to reach the point. This conversation truly was wonderful and I appreciated his friendliness.
I drove north, then west toward Macon. I passed one of these enormous mines, but as I needed to reach the airport, declined to take a photo from the roadside. It rained the entire rest of the day, the whole way back to Atlanta, where I had an hour or so that I spent at a public library before returning to the airport. During the drive, I thought long and hard about whether I would submit this visit. Did I want another hollow square on my confluence map, indicating attempted and not successful? Especially as this was my last visit of the year and of the decade? In the end, service to the future visitor is what won out in my mind: I wanted to tell future visitors that at least for the foreseeable future, this point was inaccessible. It could be inaccessible for a decade or more. The only reason I could see that things could change is that the mining would cease in this area, and the pits would all be remediated and completely covered over, and the fences would come down. But I didn't anticipate that happening for quite awhile, maybe not in my lifetime. Even if the mines closed, I would think that the area would not be deemed safe to walk around in; only after the soil poured in the pits had time to settle. So, do be careful, and mines are definitely not something to trifle with or enter without an official. But, as I always say, get out there and explore the Earth. There are plenty of places that are not being mined. Indeed, never stop exploring!