I’ve struggled with several openings for this post. “It rained all night the day I left, the weather was not fine.” Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” “The trail does provide, but not always.” But I think I’m going to go with, “It is what it is.”
It did rain all night. I kept hearing the familiar roar of the wind rushing up the side of the mountain to dry the trail, but then it would start to rain again. By morning, everything in the tent was damp and the tent weighed an extra 2 pounds from water and mud when I rolled it up.
My best laid plans went awry. Two weeks ago I mailed a resupply package to Outdoor 76, an outfitter in Franklin, NC. The conventional advice is to mail your resupply packages to businesses that will accept them, because business have longer hours than the Post Office. But now, due to my two day weather delay, I HAD to get to Outdoor 76 today because they are closed on Sunday.
The trail did not provide this time. Although the rain was badly needed, it left the trail a sea of ankle deep mud that was, as they say, slicker than eel snot. And, as it turned out, the rain continued to fall until nearly noon.
But it is what it is. So I packed up in the rain, started slogging through the mud at first light, and faced a 16 mile day (my longest so far) to get to Winding Stair Gap in time to get a ten mile ride to Outdoor 76 before they closed at 7:00 pm. Believe it or not, it was not bad.
Maybe I’m a little weird (OK, no maybe about it), but I enjoy walking in the rain. And while I had to be careful about my footing, the thick mud is actually pretty easy on the feet. And although my tent was heavy, I had eaten most of my food so the total weight was pretty comfortable. Finally, the concentration required by the trail conditions took my mind away from the burnt wasteland surrounding me in the early part of the day.
After 4.5 miles, I arrived at Moody Gap which marked the northern boundary of the forest fire damage (for now). This point also marks the beginning of the climb to Albert Mountain, the trail highlight of the day. The trail to Albert Mountain is not for the faint of heart. I’ve never had a fear of heights, but near the beginning of the climb, there were places that the drop off on the side of the trail was so steep that I was glad that the visibility was too bad to see the bottom. At the end of the climb, the trail devolved into a series of stairs and rock scrambles. It was very difficult, but a lot of fun. And the payoff for the climb? A solid sea of white that looked strikingly similar to the view I had at Standing Indian Mountain. But, honestly, that wasn’t as important to me as reaching another famous milestone on the A.T. This location is celebrated as the 100 mile mark on the trail and the mandatory selfie is the featured picture of this post.
After the easy descent from Albert Mountain, the trail became an Interstate Highway with a posted speed limit of 4 mph. I covered the 6.4 mile section to Wallace Gap in well under two hours, where I stopped for a bit for water and calories. As an added bonus on this section, the sun came out, I shed layers of clothing, and the path went through a beautiful, wide open forest.
From Wallace Gap, I only had to complete a 5k to get to Winding Stair Gap, but there were two obstacles to overcome. One was a steep 500 foot climb over an unnamed bump in the trail, and the other was that once again I had to walk through an area damaged by forest fire. But it is what it is and I arrived at my destination, 15.9 miles and seven hours from where I began my morning.
Walking into Winding Stair Gap, I had three hours to get to Outdoor 76, and had no idea how I was going to get there. Since it was the weekend, the local transit was was closed so I had pretty much resigned myself to an attempt to hitchhike to town. Now before my family starts to freak out about this, hitchhiking is very common around trail towns and the locals support it to bring revenue to town. Anyway, I took off everything that was covered in mud, made myself halfway presentable, and was reaching for my “Hiker to Town” bandana when a van pulled over and stopped. The driver rolled down her window, introduced herself as “Hiccup” from Grooder’s Hostel, and asked if I need a ride. I explained that I wasn’t staying at Grooder’s but a ride would be appreciated. So we load up, start rolling, and she drives to the door of Outdoor 76! I ask her if I can pay anything and she states that it is donation based. I hand her a ten, she says fair enough, and problem solved.
Outdoor 76 is an exceptional outfitter with a wide selection of gear. In the back, where I came in, is a little bar with about 15 beer taps and sitting there Rock Hopper, Mandrake, and Hulahoop! We exchange greetings as I head to the shop where in addition to picking up my resupply package, I wanted to get fitted for some trail runners to be forwarded down the trail. I felt like I was in the women’s shoe section at Shoe Station during their annual sale after going through over ten pairs of shoes until I was happy with the fit. With resupply box in hand, I returned to the back where I had a beer while being amazed and dazzled with card tricks by Mandrake.
Finally, I loaded up for the 1.7 mile trek to the Micro-tel where I was planned to spend the night. Walking along, looking as pitiful as possible in the hope that someone would mercifully offer me a ride, I was about halfway there when a small truck pulled over. It was Hiccup! She let me pile into the back (it had a topper) and gave me a lift the rest of the way.
Once again I am being pampered with a soft, warm bed. I took a shower with most of my gear to get the mud off, and now everything is spread around the room to dry (I’m certain housekeeping will be pleased tomorrow). Looking forward to a great night’s sleep.