They say that the trail provides what you need, and today was no exception. Around 2:00 am I woke up and it was still pouring down rain. The last time I had cell service, my weather app indicated that it was supposed to rain until 8:00 am, so the big internal debate began. Do I set out early and march through the mud and rain to secure one of the six campsites at Gooch Mountain Shelter? Or, do I sleep in to let things dry out a bit and take the chance that I will have to walk another mile or so to find a campsite?
At 2:30 am the rain stopped abruptly. And then I heard it. At first it sounded like waves breaking on the beach. But the intensity kept increasing until it roared over the ridge line and crashed down on the tent like a tsunami. And it kept coming in wave after wave. Although I’m concerned about my tent stakes holding in the wet soil, I’m laying there with a big smile on my face. Not only has the much needed rain arrived to ensure adequate drinking from the springs, but the wind arrived just in time to dry out what was sure to be a muddy and hazardous trail.
To be clear, the wind did nothing to dry out the contents of my tent. After being pelted for 14 hours, the mist from the splashing rain had permeated the interior of the tent, coating the contents with moisture. I slept in my down pants and puffy jacket covered by my rain suit, so that was OK. But my sleeping bag and hiking clothes were going to need some attention later in the day.
With the temperature at 39, I had to reach deep inside for that old Marine Corps discipline to come out of my sleeping bag and put on those cold, wet clothes. So I ate a hot breakfast, changed into my refreshing hiking outfit (Hello!), rolled my tent into a muddy ball, and hit the trail. Within 15 minutes, I was warming up, the outside air was warming up, the sun was shining, and it turned into a beautiful hiking day.
In .75 miles, I arrived at the Hawk Mountain Shelter and pulled in to filter some water and use the privy. Big Jim and entourage were there (I felt like Norm walking into the bar on Cheers. OnthegO!) so I visited for a while and went on to take care of business. With out revealing T.M.I., that was my first trip to the privy since Sunday night at Amicalola Lodge. Let’s just say it was quite a relief.
The hiking today was mostly in mountains covered with hardwood forests. It seems very grand because without leaves on the trees, you have decent views of all of the surrounding mountains. It gives you a much greater sense of scale than you would experience while hiking here later in the season. It also gives you a sense of foreboding when you can see what is coming, and in this case it was Sassafras Mountain. From Horse Gap, you climb 666 feet in one mile to an altitude of 3,347 feet and, as I am learning is always the case, you get to go back down the other side. It was a lot of fun, but baby I could feel the burn.
Arriving at the Gooch Mountain Shelter around 1:30 pm, I grabbed one of the two remaining tent sites, set up camp, and started laying all my stuff out to dry. It turns out that they are pretty lenient regarding how many people are allowed to camp here. At last count, I saw 16 tents and 5 hammocks, but if you don’t get one of the designated tent pads, you end up sleeping at some awkward inclines.
At the shelter, I had the pleasure of meeting Trail Ambassadors “Smokestack” (because he always smokes a pipe) and his wife “Mother Nature.”Trail Ambassadors are volunteers who help out at various locations when a Ridgerunner (a paid position of the A.M.C.) is unavailable due to time off, etc. Their responsibilities include helping hikers by providing information, maintaining camping areas, and reporting hiker statistics to the A.M.C. Smokestack is an active contributor to the A.T. Thru-hiker Class of 2017 Facebook page. They are in their 70’s, are former thru-hikers, and have been volunteering on the trail for over ten years. It was delightful listening to their stories and I’m so happy that I got to meet them.
All my gear is finally dry, but now I need it to rain on it to clean off the dried mud. On second thought, maybe I can live with it the way it is. It is supposed to dip into the high 30’s again tonight, but the wind is still, so it should be a great night to sleep. The moon is so bright that I don’t need a flashlight.