Day mileage: 23
AT total mileage: 692
Time: 9.5 hours
Remember when you were in grade school, perhaps you'd sit around the dinner table with your parents, and dad would inquire as to how your day was? I'm going to run that scenario now, with my dad (obviously) taking on the persona and voice of Ward Cleaver, while I'll (also obviously) play the timeless role of Beaver Cleaver.
Mr. Cleaver: Well Beav, what'd you do today?
Beaver: Well, gee Dad, I went hiking in the woods. Seeing as you have always taught me that I need to be a self sufficient kinda guy, I thought I'd try to live on the land.
Mr. Cleaver: Well now Beav, that's the kind of maturity I like to see. Wally, you hearing this? So anyway Beaver, what'd you do in the woods?
Beaver: Well dad, I practiced my ark building skills.
Mr. Cleaver: How and why do you have ark building skills?
Beaver: Well gee dad, seeing as it was raining holy hell and I was genuinely afraid of drowning in the mountains, I thought I'd build an ark. A big one, too, with enough room to save the animals. Deer, turkeys, snakes, bobcats, birds, chipmunks, wild hogs, ponies, bulls and cows, squirrels, you know... Animals!
Mr. Cleaver: Beav, aren't you forgetting bears?
Beaver: Nope! Haven't seen any yet so I'm beginning to believe they don't actually exist on the Appalachian Trail.
/end scene. No point in dragging that out any further.
Had I been 4 years old, adventurous, armed with a fashionable set of blue rubber boots with yellow duck decals that went up to my knees, and perhaps even with a gigantic umbrella (the kind a four year old thoroughly believes would allow him to fly like Mary Poppins should he attempt to jump from great heights), today would have been a phenomenal day. Puddle jumping would have occurred immeasurable times, and the smile on my face would be perfectly suited for a four year old boy splashing in puddles and rain. Alas, my friends, I'm not four. I had no awesomely fashionable blue duck boots, and no Mary Poppins umbrella. Armed with a 33 pound backpack, waterproof socks (more on that later), and dedication to walking, I ventured into the world hoping for the best with today's precipitation.
It began raining at just before 5 am. In that moment, as I was awake, I muttered a profanity under my breath (great way to start the day, no?) and decided to scrap my plans of making it 31 miles to the 700th mile of the trail today. Instead I went back to sleep, getting up finally at 6:50 Quietly packing up so as to not disturb the others in the shelter, I was on the trail at 7:30. Descending down off the mountain where the shelter resided, I made it only 2 miles and into the middle of a pasture before the skies opened up a bit more. Gradually at first, it was a light rain for a half hour or so, but enough that the long unkempt grass of the fields soaked my shoes. Crossing between abandoned barns and over two low-trafficnstate roads, the trail continued up through more pastures. It was about this time, halfway to the next shelter, that the serious rain started falling. In a matter of minutes my waterproof socks had inches of standing water, my clothing was entirely soaked through, hat drenched, waterproof bag cover barely able to fight off the amount of water falling. It was horrible. The rain would continue in this monsoon fashion for hours without an intermission of any sort. At one point I passed the 'largest tree in the southern half of the Appalachian Trail', a gigantic one with an 18' circumference right alongside the trail, but I didn't even stop to look. Snapping a photo as I quickly hiked, I continued on without missing a beat, rushing to get my phone back safely covered and out of the rain.
The 3 miles from the beginning of the monsoon to the next shelter included a thousand foot climb up to the next ridgeline. The forest was dark, pine needles everywhere, and the torrential rain was falling at a fast enough rate that the trail had become a rushing river of mud, debris, and rocks, at times inches deep causing me to nearly dance my way up the mountain. Despite my rushing it still took just over an hour to reach the sign for the shelter. My plan was to stop there, dry off, put on my rain coat, and eat a small breakfast. Upon reaching the sign I learned that the shelter was 1/2 a mile down a steep trail, ultimately meaning I'd have to climb a half mile back up to continue on. I decided against this plan, heeding the warnings written in Sharpie on the sign, and pressed on another 6.5 miles to the next shelter. While I wish I could say hiking got easier, it of course didn't. After crossing the Eastern Continental Divide, which I'm embarrassed to admit I don't remember existing, the ridge on top became entirely rock faces, slanted at 45 degrees, covered in moss, soaked from rain, and exceptionally slippery. It was at this point that I found the limitations of my NB 1210 Trail Runners. Using my trekking poles as outriggers, my speed slowed to a mile an hour as I tried to traverse the miles of rock without falling. Eventually the trail cut back into the woods, and I carefully rushed down the 2,000 foot descent to the next shelter. When I arrived there the rain had backed off a little bit, but was still coming down with force. I holed up in the back corner, put my fleece on as insulation against losing all my body heat, and ate everything I could find. I'd walked 13 miles without eating or drinking, simply due to not wanting to stop in the rain. I shared the shelter with a few other hikers who didn't want to venture out into the rain.
Although I probably shouldn't have, I sat in that shelter for over an hour just because it was dry. Eventually I came to the notion that 13 miles wasn't a good enough day, and I'd have to push the extra 10 over the next mountain in order to be done for the day. Redressing in my rain clothes I headed back out, frustrated that I'd be making another 2,000' climb out of the gap I'd hiked down into. It was about this point that I was made aware of some very painful chaffing on my thighs due to the wet fabric of my shorts which subsequently made the next 10 miles exponentially harder with every step. I continued climbing, however, and reached the summit of the mountain rather quickly. On the top was a monument to Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII, who died in a plane crash nearby to the memorial site. After reading the plaque I continued on, with only 5 miles left to the shelter I'd be staying at. By this point the rain was trickling, though my shoes were still drowning in gallons of water and my hands were as wrinkly as a child who spent an entire summer day in a swimming pool. I descended the steep mountain to yet another gap, where I refilled water and then began the last 1.3 mile climb (unsurprisingly) uphill to the Pickle Branch shelter. It was about the time that I began this ascent that the sky opened again and I was soaked through (my clothes had nearly dried) yet again, forcing me to almost run the mile to make it to the shelter. In an act of fate that fits perfectly with the rest of my day, the shelter itself is a 1/2 mile jaunt off the Appalachian Trail, through a windy side trail that eventually brought me to a small shelter with just enough space for me to squeeze in. Though it was only 1900hrs, all but two hikers were asleep, so I had to be quiet while trying to cook dinner and set up my stuff.
Today sucked. I wish I knew how to build an ark because I would have just sailed it downstream in the mountains. It's exceptionally hard on moral to face a day like this and still want to leave my sleeping bag tomorrow morning. Alas, it's part of the trail. Maybe tomorrow will be sunny, the trail's funny like that. Also- interesting fact... Remember how I said that Pneumo and Jellybean were walking 6 more miles last night to the next shelter, and wanted me to come? Well after reading the trail logs it looks like those fools pushed on till 3 AM, hiking a 40 mile day. I'm so glad I said no to that activity.
Anyway. Fingers crossed for a dry day of hiking tomorrow. Hope you're all enjoying your warm houses, hot showers, and non-dehydrated meals.