Saturday, May 2, 2009
Start: Muskrat Creek Shelter, North Carolina AT
Finish: Deep Creek, NC
It rained again last night.
The night before when it rained, I stayed dry, but last night the tent was wet when I set it up, and it never dried thoroughly. The inside floor was damp and this morning, I was uncomfortably wet. Once again I pack from the inside of the tent, emerging with nothing left to do but take down the tent in the rain.
Last night I arrived at Muskrat Creek Shelter after a much more vigorous climb than I had expected. I was the second person to arrive. The first was Bob, a man from Buffalo, who was celebrating his first day of official retirement. He had been on the trail for two weeks and was back after a short break in Hiawasee to allow his blisters to heal. He had used his last few vacation days to get a jump on retirement.
I was tired and contemplated sleeping in the shelter, but Buffalo Bob picked up the shelter log book and began reading entries of the various people who had been here before; one thing was certain, this shelter had mice!
I made dinner then set up my tent.
Shortly after I arrived the Atlanta couple came into camp, pitching their tent at a far corner close to the trail. A couple more young men arrived and found a camp site away from the shelter.
I looked at my cell phone which had been off most of the week and found that I had one bar and possibly enough battery for a quick phone call. I called Don.
Don is a friend I previously worked with who now lives in Atlanta. He had agreed to be my ride back to Amicalola Falls. I was looking forward to seeing him again and wanted to confirm the timing. I found my best reception on the top of a nearby rise, a view of a deep valley expanding to three sides. It felt peculiar to be standing on a crest over 4500 feet, just off the Appalachian Trail, making a phone call.
Don answered, “Where are you, buddy?”
“About three miles from the pickup. What time is good for you to be here tomorrow?”
“I can be in the car by 5:30 a.m. and I should be there by 8:00.”
Only a true friend would offer to be in the car by 5:30. “Tell you what, just be here between 9:00 and 10:00 and I think we’ll be perfect.”
It’s now 7:00 a.m. and I’m shouldering my pack in a light rain. I put my hiking poles against the tree and lift my pack as the male half of the Atlanta couple comes to wish me well.
He says they are planning to leave in an hour or so and they have a ride coming around 11:00 to the same pick-up point. I wish him well, then I’m off.
Trail Angels are anonymous and unseen benefactors who leave things useful for hikers. Often times it’s food. I had not seen too much left along the way, so perhaps most of the trail angels are farther north?
I walk about a half mile before the terrain begins to get a little rugged. It is at that precise moment that I realize I have left my hiking poles leaning against the tree back at Muskrat Creek. For a very brief moment I consider going back for them. I think about the half mile distance times two. Do I want to walk an extra mile today? No, not really. Well, I think to myself, I have just left someone a very nice gift. I hope and pray that someone without poles comes along and adopts mine, and that they are a blessing to them. I now officially release my ownership rights to my poles and I suppose I shall never know what becomes of them. I trust they will be put to good use and find their way far up the trail.
I pass Chunky Gal Trail, a side trail that runs downhill to U.S.64. I have read many explanations about the origin of the name, none of which I’m passing along to you. I prefer to take the name at face value and picture the gal for whom the trail is named.
I arrive at the parking area at the end of Forest Service Road 71 precisely at 9:00. I’ve seen several day hikers pass me going the opposite direction. It’s Saturday and time for weekend recreation. You can tell the day hikers apart from the others. They are the ones unencumbered by bulky packs. Lucky them.
No more than 5 minutes pass when Don and Ronda pull up the gravel road. We have a terrific reunion.
I put my pack in the back of his SUV and take one long, last, lingering look. It has been great. I’ll miss it.
And now back to civilization where the first order of business is eggs and sausage at the Waffle House.