Day 8: Dick’s Creek Gap to Plumorchard Shelter // 4.5 miles. As expected, I slept well all night, though things got a little hectic after coming back from dinner. They locked the main building, so there was only one toilet for about 25 people, all of whom were trying to do their thing and go to bed. It’s a new hostel, and they don’t entirely have their act together yet. In the morning there was confusion about having tickets for breakfast–some people had been told about buying breakfast tickets when they checked in, and others had purchased breakfast but not been given a ticket, etc. The cook, instead of being gracious about it, was really rude and confrontational with people and it made the whole meal uncomfortable. So we were happy to leave. I had a tough day mentally, though the trail wasn’t too bad and we stopped very early. Honestly, even though I’ve had more than a year to think about it, the enormity of this undertaking is hitting me really hard. This is hard, and we have only just, just begun. I try to understand how far was have yet to walk, and it feels big even though I know I’m not even grasping it. So I was grappling with that a little bit and trying not to wonder if I bit off more than I can chew. I also had some cramps, and that’s never good for anyone’s mood. Once we got to Plumorchard Shelter I was feeling really down. I know it’s too early to call it, and I don’t really want to, but some part of my brain is urging me to stop this insanity now! We ate lunch and decided to stay there for the rest of the day even though we hadn’t done many miles. I lay in my sleeping bag and read blogs from my old life while snacking, and that helped. That night tons and tons of people showed up. It was so crowded…this is why we avoid camping at shelters.
Day 9: Plumorchard Shelter to Standing Indian Shelter, backwards down to Deep Gap and back to Hiawassee // 11.2 miles.
So here’s that story: yesterday we woke up feeling a lot better (recommitted to the hike), and left the crowded shelter early, excited to cross into North Carolina and put the first state behind us. Rain was predicted but so far it was a lovely overcast sky and comfortably cool, a nice break after all the sun. I’d been feeling a bit burned and frazzled by it since there are no leaves on the trees for shade. We hiked four miles through haunted looking misty forest and crossed into North Carolina. I asked a girl to take a picture of us at this famous tree, and it turns out she is a photographer, so that turned out well! North Carolina welcomed us with some brutal climbs straight away out of Bly Gap. No switchbacks here, just straight up and over. Rhododendron everywhere, cool dark green tunnels of it we’d get to walk through every now and then. We made it to a shelter for lunch and remet the girl who’d taken our picture and her boyfriend. Their names are Brandon and Katherine (a lovely nice and the best spelling 🙂 ). It started drizzling while we ate and talked; they laughed at our method of just breaking off big hunks of salami and cheese and taking bites off each. We’ve already abandoned civilized stuff like knives and cutting things into slices. They finished eating first and took off into the rain, which seemed to be increasing. Inspired by them, and not desiring to do another day of single digit miles, we followed a few minutes later. And then it promptly started pouring.
It was miserable. We found out that our rain gear sort of (completely) sucks. It held out for a little bit but after twenty minutes it started seeping in and not long after we were soaked. Also, a front was clearly blowing in because it was getting colder and colder. I couldn’t tell if our pack covers were also leaking or not, and didn’t want to stop and check, so I just prayed and prayed I’d have at least a dry sleeping bag to crawl into that night. We reached a dirt road at Deep Gap and milled around there for a little bit, hoping someone would come along and take pity on us, though we were in the middle of nowhere and it didn’t look likely. No one appeared, so we started the climb up to Standing Indian Shelter, knowing it would probably be full but praying we’d at least be able to sit under the roof for a minute and collect ourselves before trying to pitch the tent in rain.
Near the top we ran into Katherine and Brandon coming back down. They said the shelter and all floor space was full, and the tenting sites up there were completely flooded. They also said it was supposed to be below freezing that night, which we hadn’t known but seemed reasonable considering how cold it was getting. Their plan was to go back down to the road and try to call a family friend who lives in Hiawassee for a ride back into town. Failing cell signal, they planned to camp there in the parking lot where there was some flat ground and it would be warmer than on top of the mountain. This was literally our second conversation with them ever, but they offered us spots in the car if they could get in touch with their friend. We didn’t even think about it–promptly turned around and went South on the AT for the first time.
The rest is beyond trail magic. We stood shivering and soaked under a tree while they walked around looking for signal, then were able to get in touch with their friend, who agreed to drive 45 minutes out there to pick us all up. A group of fifteen thru-hikers using a support van let us sit inside their vehicle while we waited to stay warm. I think otherwise I’d be frozen there still. Beth, the trail angel who came to pick us up, arrived frazzled from a tough drive up forest service roads in dense cloud and rain. We heard all the hotels in town were full (of smart hikers) so we weren’t sure what we would do once we got back to Hiawassee. But Beth invited us back to her beautiful old fishing lodge house overlooking Lake Chatuge, made us margaritas (!!!), chili, cornbread, and chocolate chip cookies, let us shower and do laundry, and gave us a bed. An entire guest room, actually, all to ourselves. Now we’re sitting around all in robes, which looks hilarious, drinking margaritas. And it is freezing cold outside and we have a big fire going.
I’m still sort of in shock. Things went from as bad as possible to as good as possible in under an hour. That’s the Appalachian Trail for you, I guess.
So, we have a new respect for rain. And for the amazing generosity of total strangers. We can’t repay Beth and her husband David for taking us in, or Brandon and Katherine for becoming the fastest friends we’ve ever made. We’ll have to pay it forward and help someone else out with whatever we can.
It’s raining all day again, so we’re staying here for a real zero day. Our first. Tomorrow we’ll head back to Deep Gap and try again with North Carolina!