Day mileage: 11.7 mi
AT total mileage: 137.3 mi
Time: 5 hours
The raineth haveth cometh.
Waking up at 7 am left me to find the camp site practically empty. Of the dozen tents sent up in our one area when we retired for the evening, only 4 were left including my own. We broke our tents down, and ate a quick breakfast. Weather reports indicated the rain would begin at 10 AM and would continue through to tomorrow. As we filtered water and got ready to start hiking, we came across another family who's almost done with their SOBO (SOuthBOund) Appalachian Trail hike. There were both parents, three kids, and a young Husky canine hiking, netting close to 20 miles a day per the father of the clan. That kind of mileage astounds me, although if they've been at this for as long as they say, I'm sure it's not inaccurate. I can't imagine being 12 years old and having hiked the entire A.T.
We climbed (again, our group of 4) out of the Cold Spring Shelter and headed into what became a quick paced and relatively easy day, all things considered. At our elevation of just under 5,000 feet, we would be dropping down to under 1,700 when all was said and done. The destination for the night was 'The N.O.C.' aka the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a whitewater rafting and hiking outfitter. The hike would take us over 12 miles of terrain, 8 of which was downhill, sometimes at severe angles. We walked together as a group to another bald where we were able to scale yet another fire tower for more cloudy views of the surrounding mountains. We continued our hike from there, and while Crusoe and Keegan headed up the front, Doc and I stayed slow and cautious in the back. He has had issues with his ankle in the past, and we're both aware of the risk of rushing. Over 8 miles it became extremely tedious to watch every downhill step, but proved worth it. At some point we crossed into a low enough elevation that the vegetation completely changed. All of the sudden the forest floors were covered with newly growing plants, the fallen trees covered in a lusciously soft looking moss, and the birds chirping a different tune. It was truly beautiful, and a welcome change from the more barren and still hibernating forest floors of the higher elevations. Papa Doc and I meandered through these lower portions for a while discussing life, work, and traveling. Not too long after we were joined by Simba, one of many German thru-hikers, who has separated for the day from his friends Lucky Moose & Snailman. He spent a while telling us about hiking trails in Europe alike the A.T. that get upwards of 200,000 starting hikers a year... Almost 100x the number of those that attempt the Appalachian Trail. Apparently the A.T. is decently well known in Europe.
At about noon-thirty, 2 and a half hours after the weather predicted, the heavens opened. We had been in a slight drizzle for fifteen minutes or so, during which we had stopped to wrap our backpacks in waterproof covers. I stowed the camera, expecting some more sever weather moving in, and appreciated that 2 minute detour when the torrential rain began. Simply due to the desire to keep my dry clothes dry, I continued the rest of my day with no shirt on. The looks Crusoe and I have gotten without shirts on some of these days are hysterical, but people seem to forget that we're used to colder weather. We often debate between ourselves whether it'd be more beneficial to be more accustomed to the cold of the North or the heat of the South. Doc, Simba, and I picked up our pace and made it down the remaining mile of switchbacks by 1330. Soaking wet, we were met by Crusoe and Keegan with cold 24oz cans of PBR. Although not my favorite beer, it managed to put a smile on even the most soaking wet of hiker's faces.
After a quick pow-wow we decided to see if the NOC had any bunks left for the night, hoping to keep our tents dry for one more day if possible. They were able to place us in the 'overflow' house where we'll share the bunk rooms with 4 other guys. For $20 you get a warm bunk room and warm showers.. believe me, it was worth it. I stopped by the outfitter to get tent pole braces, which I'll only need for two more days. Per my parent's help, MSR was contacted and they'll be overnighting new tent poles to Fontana Dam for me to pick up on Wednesday. They're aware of a 'bad batch' of poles manufactured... Further discussions will be had as to whether or not they'll waive the $15 overnight shipping fee. Either way I appreciate the company standing behind the product. The kind fellow at NOC found me some pole repair braces in their storage room, and after hearing my story gave them to me for free. I also picked up a pair of orange Superfeet inserts for my shoes, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Kim. The theory is that they will absorb some downhill impact and relieve my knees.
Our group of 4 had lunch at the restaurant on property, and I consumed a burger with two 1/2lb patties, jalapeños, cheddar cheese, and the typical mayo/lettuce/tomato mix, along with a few slices of veggie lovers pizza, two beers, and two large glasses of milk. Immediately followed by a pint of strawberry shortcake ice cream. To say that my appetite is decent would be a massive understatement. And to answer your question, when paced correctly, beer and milk work fine together... I walked into town craving milk and orange juice. Tomorrow, the OJ shall flow.
We're sitting up at our cabin, after each of us took a hot shower, winding down for the night and looking at tomorrow's maps. The rain will undoubtedly continue, and we'll be faced with a 3,300' climb out of this area. Per a previous thru-hiker, we're in 'rarified air' with our 2014 thru-hiking peers. With a full tummy, cleansed body, and dry socks, I look forward to tomorrow.
A little rain never hurt anybody. Lightning maybe, but we'll deal with that as it comes.