Red Letter Day

It can pour without raining. It also pours when it rains. It’s done all that and more this week.

First, for the good news. As of tonight, I have 500 miles in the books. That’s a psychological quarter mark in spite of the nearly 2,200 actual miles in the whole hike. It’s a nice round number that happened by accident.

Normally the shelters are spaced about 7 – 8 miles apart. By skipping every other shelter, Appalachian Trail hikers average about 15 miles per day which is a pace I can sustain for the long term, especially with the limited daylight of shorter days. It is December after all.

For some odd reason, today’s shelters were 10 miles apart. What’s a hiker to do? The first one popped up about two o’clock. Waaay too early to call it a day.

There were two possible campsites up ahead around the 15 mile mark with water, but when I arrived at each, the ground was soggy and saturated. Not appealing, especially with more rain in the forecast.

Why not drive on to mark a 20 mile day and cross off the 500 mile milestone? I dove right on that one. So, here I am at “No Business” shelter about 5 miles from Erwin, Tennessee where I’ll resupply, do laundry and meet up with M-80 and his wife Trooper (Brett and Pattie) who thru hiked last year.

I’ll continue to plug their videos on You Tube as the most realistic depiction of a thru hike I’ve been able to find. No sugar coating, that’s for sure.

As I write, the pounding rain on the tin roof of the shelter sounds like the Georgia Tech marching band drum line at half time. Hearing protection isn’t optional. When mamma nature knocks…

Moisture was the hallmark of the last couple of days. It’s been foggy all week. Not the normal kind. I mean real pea soup that coated everything with wet. Real wet. Rain without rain, so to speak.

The trees were bejeweled like princesses with diamond bright water droplets. So were the spider webs inside the shelters. That’s why the forest is green with moss. It was hard keeping dry.

Today wasn’t much different. Last night rain with fog entertained me most of the night. Toward morning, the rain held up until about the 5th step into my hike when all hell let loose.

No pain. No rain. No Maine. Right! Dive right in.

The rain gave up after a couple of hours and the temps hovered between 55 and 60 until now. I hiked in a light weight running shirt all day. It was a freebie.

The last leg of today’s itinerary started at 5:15 pm with 4.5 miles remaining. That meant a two hour night hike, but hey that’s not abnormal. People night hike all the time. So have I.

The first 30 min was a good climb, with remainder being a gentle down hill. A lucky finish to the day, I thought. I was oh so wrong.

Flash back about five hours to a walk across a high bald where the wind was roaring. It reminded me of being above tree line in Colorado when a big storm was brewing. Wouldn’t you know it, the wind ripped the rain cover off my back without my even knowing it.

Alas I discovered the rain cover AWOL when I stopped to snag water. Miles after the fact.

So, when I launched my final climb, the last thing I was worrying about was a rain cover on my pack. That would be wrong too.

Just as nature pulled the evening shade and my head lamp blinked on, that was the signal for the sky to open up. It was just like getting a Gator Aid dunk as a winning coach. Splash!

As I hiked on, my LED head lamp faithfully splashed light mixed with rainwater on the 2 x 6 patch of trail I need for navigation. It wasn’t long before it seemed that either my glasses were smeared with grime or my breath was fogging the lenses.

I adjusted to realize the familiar fog of the past few days had reinforced the downpour just make it interesting. The difficulty factor had just been upped.

The trail tracked down hill until a few tenths of a mile before the shelter. Following a side trail to water, I could expect the shelter in 1/10th of a mile or so. That was the 500 mile mark.

My head had been hard down concentrating on the snot-slick trail bed punctuated with treacherous roots and rocks. Per chance I glanced up at the right moment. No sign, per usual, but there it was! Home sweet and dry home for the night.

Needless to say, a lot of gear is soaked. My pack, and I’ve complained about this before, is not even remotely water resistant. Glad I’m going to town tomorrow.

Meanwhile, all’s well. We just need to dry out.

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9 thoughts on “Red Letter Day

  1. Would you please explain why you’re hiking the AT at this time of year? Is it truly all in the challenge? Is it enjoyable? Wouldn’t it be nice to at least be able to count on some decent weather? Yikes…you’ve got me worried for you!

    • Rainy weather, snow and a little ice are part of the landscape this time of year. Weather is a feature if any hike.

      My wife keeps me attuned to the forecast so I always know what to expect. I also have the equipment I need.

      I never take chances. Last night, while drippy, was fairly routine. Nothing essential got wet. The essential stuff was in Sea to Summit dry sacks.

      I’ll return home for the holidays when I reach Damascus. After that, the 10-day forecast will govern my activity. Barbara Streisand sang it best, “On a clear day you can see forever!”

      • Well, that seems logical. Having arrived in the mountains after years by the sea and then prairie and found myself in some dicey situations and well out of my comfort zone, your reviews reawaken some of those feelings of anxiety. However, I agree…it’s a great feeling to meet these challenges and succeed! All the best, each step.

      • We are going to be in Blackwater Falls S Park West VA this coming Thurs-Sun. We’re driving in from IA. Our daughter and family comes from DC area. We get to see them and 5 gkids ages 3-15. We’ll do some hiking and exploring with them. The weather looks good so far with 20-30s and sunny. If we got your wet and foggy wx, it would be more challenging.

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