May 9, 2012
When I awaken from my comfortable sleep on a hard timber floor, I know what I must do. I left my fellow-hikers at Hogback Ridge Shelter to mellow-out for a day. They are to make their way to U.S.23 where it passes beneath I-26 where I will pick them up. The auto is a mere six miles away at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. I told them to be there by noon, allowing myself plenty of time today, but I won’t need it. I should be able to beat that by at least two hours.
Nighttime’s blackness has barely faded when I arise. I’m the first up and I pack as quietly as possible. We had to hang our food from a makeshift bear line, as there are no bear cables at this shelter.
As an aside, I noticed that the trail maintenance club which cares for this section changed at Spivey Gap. I presume the club that maintains this section hasn’t bothered to construct bear cables. The previous section – from Hot Springs all the way to Spivey Gap – has done a nice job with the trail; each shelter has a picnic table and bear cables, this shelter has neither. But I am reluctant to criticize any maintenance club, as maintaining this trail is all volunteer and quite a chore. But still, it would be nice to have bear cables.
I unstring my food which is hung neatly with all the other old guy’s food. I leave the line and their food for them in front of the shelter, where I know they’ll find it. We had agreed the night before that the first one out should bring all the food off the line, and I’m it.
I step away from the shelter and take a couple of pictures in the near dark before giving my traditional and usually unseen two finger salute to all the sleeping hikers. Then I’m off.
The first 4 miles are mostly flat with a couple of small climbs and a small descent. The last two miles are steeply down. I cruise along, fresh and enjoying the early morning air. The day does not break bright, but rather slowly illuminates a steel gray overcast. At mile three it starts to sprinkle.
I’ve hiked through many brief passing showers and never bothered to get out rain gear, believing the shower will pass before I’m irreversibly soaked. Now comes the moment of judgment. Will this shower pass, or is it the precursor to a steady rain?
Where do premonitions come from? The sky looks ominous and I take the time to drop my pack and fish out my rain jacket. Instead of putting it on in the traditional manner, I wear the hood over my head and let the coat cover my pack. This keeps the pack dry, my head dry, and most of my upper body dry. I’ve tried wearing rain gear before and found that I become just as wet underneath from perspiration. This arrangement allows me to hike in the rain and still ventilate well enough to stay comfortable.
The sprinkle turns to a steady rain. It continues all the way down the mountain. At points it is raining hard. My shoes and legs are wet, but overall I’m comfortable. There comes a point when hiking in the rain that it becomes pointless to fight it.
I get glimpses of the Nolichucky River below me. It is shrouded by low hanging clouds. I continue lower, every bend in the trail taking me closer to the river and the sound of its rapids. By the time I reach the pavement, I’m thoroughly soaked. I look left to where the A.T. follows the road for a hundred steps before crossing the bridge over the Nolichucky and disappearing once again into the woods. But I’m not going that way. I follow the pavement up to the bridge and straight ahead is Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. It is well attended by numerous hikers. My thought is to get to the car quickly and proceed on my mission to pick up the others in my hiking group at the pre-arranged point.
As I walk to uncle Johnny’s, I look up and who is it I see? Teen Daughter is walking toward me, smiling. So much for a plan.
She explains: yesterday they decided it was too boring to spend a day at the shelter, so they packed and hiked to US 23 and I-26 on the assumption they could find a way to the hostel. Bama and Winkle were there and after a brief chat, they share a ride with them to the hostel. They’ve been here overnight and already had their showers and celebratory I’m-out-of-the-woods meal. I guess that changes my plans.
Awaiting me is one of the cabins, a warm shower and dry clothes. It’s hard to object to such things.