Tuesday, March 12, 2013

First Rain

Day 4: 11.5 miles. Neel's Gap to Low Gap
Day 5: 13.3 miles. Low Gap to "Cheese Factory"
Day 6: 13 miles. "Cheese Factory" to Dick's Creek Gap

Still in Georgia!

"Hey Guys, it's 6am. Wake up."

I cracked my eyes open a tiny bit, letting in nothing but darkness. Apollo was scratching on the side of our tent because we'd planned on waking up early to beat the rain. It was Day 5 and we were tented at Low Gap. We'd heard that it was supposed to start raining at some point, so we wanted to get as far as we could before getting soaked. Best laid plans, so they say.

We broke down the tent, packed up, and started heading down the path in complete darkness. The swaying light of our headlamps lit up the morning fog, which turned out to be day-long fog. As the sun crept up into the sky, we couldn't see farther than 10 feet in any direction. The trees faded away into a thick, steady whiteness. It was like being at the beginning of a Stephen King novel- or in a video game where the landscape hasn't been rendered yet.

The fog was carried by a steady, frequently redirecting wind, that brought cold mist that collected condensation on our faces and packs. It also collected on my bum- particularly when I stopped to take a pee. We figured out that because of our altitude, we were actually hiking inside of a cloud. Granite, a 21-year-old guy that joined our hiking pack, said that when he was a little kid he gave his dad (a hiker) a ziplock bag and asked him to collect a cloud for him. I wondered aloud if we could collect some of the cloud and put it in our packs to make them lighter. Screw physics- whimsy wins out!

We had only planned on hiking 10 miles to Unicoi gap. It was mostly uphill all day, then one steep descent into Unicoi gap. At this point it was me with Dumptruck, Apollo, Granite, Dozer (another young gent), Trekker (a high spirited, kind retired guy from LA), and Pilgrim (Trekker's retired work pal). Pilgrim was, humblingly, much faster than all of us while hiking. But for the majority of the day, I led the pack with five other guys trailing behind me, in step. A passing hiker referred to us as "Clever Girl and her boys."

We got to Unicoi gap early in the day, and were immediately stumped. We all stood around, looking at each other. There was nowhere to camp. But to get to the next campsite, we would have to hike 1 mile straight up (an 1,100 foot elevation change), followed by 1 mile straight down (a 900 foot elevation change), followed by another 3 miles straight up (a 1,300 foot elevation change). And this was after hiking over 10 miles already. We're still beating our bodies into shape, so 10 miles is still hard. The boys talked about our options, poring over maps and topography. I ate a bag of skittles.

"Let's keep going dudes," I said, passing around the skittles. With no other options available to us, we headed straight up the mountain. We tried to keep eyes out for possible sites to set up our tents, but all there was was the trail and steep elevation change on both sides. The wind was picking up, and there continued to be hardly any visibility. We kept hiking straight up at a steady, unbroken pace.

We got over the first mountain and we were 1 mile up the second mountain when the sky finally broke. Fat, cold raindrops exploded everywhere, bursting open, soaking the landscape and our bodies. Because of the heat of hiking, most of us had taken off our rainpants (with the exception of Apollo, because he's got them brains). I still had my rainjacket and pack cover on, but my legs and feet were instantly drenched. We all started laughing and screaming, but there was still nowhere to camp that was sheltered from the shrieking wind. I felt a bit like a ball in a pinball machine, hurtling from one point to the next with no real logic except a blind need to propel oneself forward. Trees on the AT don't light up and send out a bunch of bonus points when you crash into them, though.

We rounded a corner and came upon a grove of laurel trees. Most of the trees here are leafless because of the season. However, laurels are short, twisted trees that have large green leaves in spite of tge weather. We crashed into the grove, which was clearly a campsite. We found out later that the area, many decades ago, had a cheese factory run by a crazy New Englander. The cheese factory had burned down long ago, but there was still some remnants of the foundation. Somewhere, sometime in history, a man shot straight out of his bed and declared,

"Gadzooks! A cheese factory! In the wilderness of Georgia! Ooooodalalee!!"

I hope my midlife crisis will be half as bonkers as that. Maybe a botanical garden in the middle of the Kraft factory.

We all helped each other set up tents in the pouring rain, somewhat sheltered by the laurels. Dozer had a tarp he strung up, and we all huddled underneath it, making dinner in our tiny cookpots. No matter how hard we tried, everything was wet. Eventually Dumptruck and I crawled into our tent, which was miraculously warm and dry (enough). Except our bodies were dripping wet, so everything got damp. Rain continued to pour steadily on the roof of our tent, drumming out a rhythm. I finally began to warm up, and drift off to sleep.

"I think I have to pee."

I looked at Dumptruck with the sort of look a dog might give you if you tried to put it on the phone.

He stumbled out of the tent and a shower of water descended onto our packs, which were sheltered by a small extension of our rain fly. I watched this happen with a slightly stupid, happy resignation.

A lot of amazing things happened today too, but this post is long enough. Maybe there will be another post soon. We're currently in a hotel for the night, and the journey here was epic. Stay tuned, my friends.

Clever Girl


  1. Doing great! You're posts are the highlight of our week. Love and miss you! Mom and Dad

  2. Hey, tell Dumptruck to hand the camera to someone else once in a while...we want pictures of that boy! (Or have you disposed of him...) Seriously, the pictures are awesome and really complement your writing. What a great team! Love Mom and Dad

  3. I was watching the radar in your neck of the woods, being the weather geek I am and expected you might get wet. We love your posts. We agree with your Dad. Would like to see a picture or two of Dumptruck. Sounds like your having a blast.
    Love you very much! Mom and Dad