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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A sheltered life

Some Appalachian Trail hikers always stay in the shelters. Others avoid them. Me, I’m a switch hitter.

Shelters are fine if they aren’t too crowded or the Muppet Show doesn’t show up like it did at Pass Mountain Hut. In the rain, there’s no wet tent to strike, but the are colder. Then there’s the mice. They’ll enter stage right in another act.

Last night I reached the Jerry Corbin shelter about 4:15 pm. I’m hiking much faster now. That’s plenty of time to get water, set up the bed roll and eat before dark which ranges between 5:00 and 6 pm depending on cloud cover.

As I approached I noticed a 3-person Big Agnes tent in the tenting area. I called “Hello!” to announce company. A young man’s voice responded, “Please don’t pitch your tent anywhere near me. I hate snorers.” That was an unusual request. I was planning to sleep in the shelter anyway because I had 15 hard miles to march today.

No face, just a voice and no food bag hung on the bear cables. Maybe I’ll see this guy at dinner. People tend to gather and cook at the shelter picnic table. No show by Mr. Antisocial. No loss.

I hit the hay at 6:30 pm (hiker midnight) and flipped on my iPod to Simon Schama’s history of Great Britian and crashed.

Flash forward to 11:15 pm. I hear in the distance what sounded like a low flying European helicopter, but the sound wasn’t quite right. Then BANG, two ATVs drove on the AT into our area. One pulled a trailer. The noise was deafening, like say a snorer on steroids!

It took me a minute to realize we were in that part of Tennessee that’s always disliked hikers. Only human foot traffic is permitted on the trail. Period. No hunting either.

After a couple minutes the mounted patrol roared ahead on the AT. I assumed they’d be back. They boomeranged at 12:45 am. This time they blasted through camp at high speed. That’ll reach Mr. Antisocial that there are worse things than snoring, I thought. I went back to sleep.

As I hiked out I realized that our Noisemakers were locals illegally hunting. The pattern of their tracks indicates one was the hunter. The other the beater. Fortunately, I could tell by the bouncing noises that the trailer was empty.

Not a mouse turned up in the shelter last night. I wondered why? The night before they sounded like the Mongolian hordes. While I had a headlamp staredown with one, the rest of the army sounded like it was trying to dig through the tin roof. Finally, after more than an hour, I heard a hickory nut take a rolling plunge down the slope.

Game. Set. Match. Blissful tranquility!!!

BTW, as I was typing this I heard a huge tree go down in the proximate vicinity. I played my barking dog app just in case. 🙂

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The peril of weight loss

Hot Springs, North Carolina. It’s a lovely hiker town. There’s a lot to love. Everything is incredibly convenient and the food is great.

I’m back at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. It’s a 175-year-old house with lots of loving. It wears like your favorite slippers. It’s a living AT landmark and worth the visit.

The hike from Standing Bear Farm at Davenport Gap featured plenty of snow from last week’s storm. A couple of drifts were around 20 inches, but most of the trail was slathered with icy crusted footprints left mostly by the herd of SOBOs migrating toward Georgia.

By now, the SOBOs can smell Georgia and the colder weather has put a spring(er) in their step. 🙂

The icy trail slowed the pace some, but my MSR microspikes added huge afterburner in the form of sure footed traction. They are not a requirement, but when you want them, it’s nice to have ’em.

Max Patch lives up to its billing. The view is awesome with the added bonus that it was free of snow.

As fate would have it, I stumbled into a SOBO blogger I’ve been reading. It was like a cherry on the summit.

Before leaving the trail for Thanksgiving, on average I met a SOBO about every 36 hours. The last couple of days, sighting them became routine. Seems the Storm and a special community Thanksgiving hiker feed sponsored by Crunchmaster’s dad and Ms. Janet corralled them in town.

Sometime you outsmart yourself. I bought two packs. One for the winter and one for the other seasons. The summer pack is 40 liters expandable to 50. The winter behemoth is 80 liters. The reasoning being that I’d carry slightly more and I’d have to compress my down less.

Well, the big guy didn’t work out and has been fired. The hip belt ate me alive. I have purple bruises on both iliac crests. Nearest I can tell, the issue relates to the 30 lbs I’ve lost since I bought it.

Enter a Good Samaritan. We invited a hiker I met at NOC to stay with our family over Thanksgiving. Today she is shuttling my “summer” pack to Hot Springs in my car. This after dropping me off a couple of days ago. Her new trail name ought to be “Driver ”

I didn’t buy a new pack from the excellent outfitter in Hot Springs because I didn’t want to make a mistake. By returning to my smaller pack but tried and true, I’ll have to up the risk a bit by excluding some gear, but my sleep system will remain viable well below zero.

Seems I was smitten both by my hip belt and weight loss. Lesson learned.

Sure hope the soreness goes away quickly. Now it’s off to Erwin, Tennessee where I’ll see M-80 and stay at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel.

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