Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hail to the Mountains

Day 11: 5.8 miles. Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Crest. We hiked the first 3 miles with Connie and John, then bid farewell to them as they hiked back to their car at Winding Stair Gap. We'd meant to go farther, but Fresh Grounds was at Wayah Crest, so we couldn't leave the good company.

Day 12: 8.8 miles. Wayah Crest to Burningtown Gap (hike shortened by thunderstorms!)

Day 13: 13.1 miles. Wayah Crest to Nantahala.

There was only a mile left to go for the shelter when the first bolt of lightning lit up the afternoon fog. It was hard to tell where it had struck because of the thick, cold mist enclosing in from all sides. All day long the rain had followed the fog like a cat follows its owner into the kitchen: silently, and with specific purpose. Though in our case, the rain was not looking for treats. It was looking for every dry, warm spot available on our already shivering bodies. And, like a cat, it was not going to stop until it got exactly what it wanted.

"The fog is here, it's going to start raining again. I don't want to head up that mountain now that there's lightning," said Dumptruck, stopping for a moment to let out a tiny squeal of pain as he, yet again, zipped an errant beard hair into the zipper of his rainjacket. "Let's camp here."

A week ago we (Apollo, Dumptruck and I) purchased an 8x10 tarp, with the idea that we could first string the tarp up as a roof, and then construct our tents underneath the tarp, minimizing any rain getting into the tents as they were built. There had been no prior opportunity to play with the tarp, to understand the mechanics of how, exactly, to string it up between four trees. Admitedly, it doesn't seem that complicated. However, when the sky was pouring buckets of freezing water down onto us, the previously inocuous green tarp magically transformed into a tantruming, precocious toddler, flopping around in that boneless, slippery way they do when you just want to pick them up off the floor of the candy aisle in the grocery store, for heaven's sake.

It took the three of us a solid 30 minutes to get the tarp into place. As we started setting up our tents underneath, it stopped raining. Regardless, we took comfort in being able to set up a little cooking area between our two tents, confident in our safety should it start to rain again. We felt somewhat validated in our choice not to press on for a mile to a potentially populated campsite, as then we would have had an audience for our truly shameful display of utter tarp incompetence. They really just give college degrees to anyone these days.

As I was raising a sporkful of instant mashed potatoes and cheez-its to my mouth, the wind shifted. I paused, mouth open, letting my eyes travel slowly around at the steadily encroaching fog.

"I think the storm is leaving," offered one of the boys. I only had enough time to quietly draw myself further inside of the open mouth of the tent. There was a crack of lightning, a peel of thunder, and sudddenly: hail. Lots and lots of hail. Hail the size of peas, pelting down from the sky like rice thrown at a scampering pair of newlyweds.

The tarp bowed downward as a huge collection of hail amassed quickly in the center. Dumptruck, the only one still wearing shoes and raingear, stood up to dislodge the pool of hail, and it waterfalled over the side of the tarp. The wind ripped the tarp upward at the same moment, and our lackluster securing technique came back to bite us in the butt, as one corner untied itself and the tarp flew upward like a gleeful green sail. Dumptruck jumped up and ran out into the rain and hail to tie it back down, while Apollo and I stayed dry in the tent, feeling guilty and grateful. Dumptruck appeared a moment later, water freezing to his raingear, and announced that he was going to bed, 5pm be damned. Apollo and I heartily agreed.

But first, I had to pee.

As I crouched behind a thin clump of rhododendrons, hugging a tree for dear life as hail pinged off my bare backside, I thought to myself, "I've had worse Mondays than this."

The next morning we packed up our (literally) frozen stiff tents and headed out. Halfway through the day, we got to an observation tower, where we could see for 360 degrees around the mountain-covered world. We hiked for 13 miles to the next gap, where a restaurant sits on a river. We stuffed our faces and camped on flat ground, under a clear sky.

We had set up our tents in a clearing, and the sky stretched out above us. We laid on our backs in the grass, watching the blue sky turn black, and seeing stars take over the world, one brilliant pinprick at a time.

I thought to myself, "I've never had a better Tuesday than this."


  1. That last picture is so awesome...or I should say even awesomer than all the other awesome pictures. Like something out of X-Files. Why is the bus headed to the it a portal to another world?
    This blog was laugh out loud funny. Knowing to back into the tent as the comment about the storm moving away was spit-take worthy! All hail Dumptruck for his courage and perseverance.
    We love and miss you. May all your Tuesdays (and other days) be as grand.
    Mom and Dad

  2. I agree with John about that last picture. I too spent some time pondering its deep meaning. We were watching the storms approaching you with some trepidation. Glad too here it went well. Just got to love peeing in pee size hail.:-) Hey Mike, we think your beard is coming in quite nicely. Wishing you all the best. Also a very Happy Birthday to the birthday girl! We love you and miss you. Mom and Dad

    1. It was actually a school group camping on the other side of the trees, playing with flashlights. Also, there were aliens.

      The beard is looking good so far! No birds nesting in it (yet).

      Love you!

  3. I've got to jump on the early birthday wishes train! Happy Birthday Clever Girl! Miss you and think of you guys often.

    1. Gaaaah I love and miss you to the nth degree. Thank you for the birthday wishes! I think of your face often, and hope all is splendid for you.

  4. Happy birthday, Kit!!! (: (and btw, thanks for mailing those two props back before you left nyc). I absolutely love reading your posts. Makes my day when I see a new one!!! Sounds like an amazing time. Hope you have a wonderful birthday hike!

    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you got those- we unearthed them while moving and knew they needed to find their way home. Love!

  5. HI Kit! My name is Kelsey, I work with your friend Diadem. My boyfriend and I are headed to Atlanta to begin our own trek of the AT on Tuesday! She shared your blog with me! I love reading it! It will be fun to maybe see your names in the trail logs! Anyway Happy Trails and fair weather to you and your crew!

    1. Hey Kelsey!

      You're going to have so much fun! Piece of advice for blisters- when you can (in a town, when you get a chance) soak your feet in warm water with epsom salt. It's amazing, and turns blisters into callouses! Hooray!

      Look for my entries in the logbooks- they're little velociraptors. Remember it's always okay to take a breather when you need it :)


  6. I love everything you are doing, Also happy birthday, and also check out my blog toooo

    1. Followed! Wooooo! Love and miss you very much.