Thursday, December 10, 2009

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 2, 2009

As predicted, a tent-flap-flying fierce storm blew through. The rain fell hard and wind howled. I woke up briefly and checked to make sure my stuff was dry. The pile of leaves under me raised the floor of the tent enough to keep to the outside any rain that did come through.
An inability to keep out rain is a major drawback to the tarptent. It's single wall and has mesh openings on all four sides. It is essentially a tarp with bug netting and a floor attached. I like its light weight (34 ounces), but miss the confidence I had facing storms in my old Kelty Zen tent, which weighed almost 5 pounds. Is there such a thing as a lightweight bomb-proof tent?
It was still raining hard when I woke at first light, but I packed up, anxious to get moving after 13-14 hours lying prone. My sleeping bag was moist at the foot, but otherwise dry. I also kept my turtleneck and a pair of socks dry.
The trail was long and rolling up to the base of Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia (4,458 feet). Even in the hard, driving rain, mist and gale, parts of the trail looked familiar. I took the Freeman Trail, an alternative bad-weather route that goes around the side of Blood Mountain, instead of up and over it. Parts of it are a boulder field and today the boulders ran with countless streams and waterfalls. It was quite beautiful, despite the treachery of traversing it. When I rejoined the AT, it was easy trail all the way to the Walasi-Yi Inn at Neels Gap. It is here that many a prospective thru-hike has ended and/or countless pounds of gear mailed home or given away.
I stepped dripping into the outfitters and saw a familiar face and trail notable, the infamous Pirate. I got quarters for the dryer and debated staying at the hostel, which Pirate runs. Staying would go against a rule I set for myself -- to sleep outside each night -- but some rules were meant to be broken.
I write this sitting in a recliner. Pirate is off to bed. He said he didn't feel well, It's still raining outside and a soupy fog reduces everything to ghostly shadows. I made a good choice to stay here. I'm behind my so-called schedule a day, but the forecast calls for clear weather the next couple days. Besides, I set the schedule and can go as fast or slow as I want.
I'm the only one here at the hostel. Hiking the AT in the off-season makes me realize how much the hiker community makes this trail special, Seeing Pirate and the other hikers who live and/or work here has been good for me. Don't get me wrong. Solitude is nice. It's what I seek when I backpack just about everywhere else. But on the AT, and, to a lesser degree, the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails, there is a mobile community of hikers, supporters, wannabes, and other fellow drifters in the stream.
The hostel walls are plastered with photographs of people who have stayed here. Seeing these faces makes me realize all the more that these hikes on the major long trails are as much about the people as the scenery and connection to the natural world.

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