Day 14 – March 21 – 14.8 miles – Rock gap to Wayah Bald Shelter
Zen gave us a ride back to Rock Gap in the morning. Our destination for the day was the Wayah Bald shelter 14.8 miles away. Our longest day yet.
Throughout the day we had several climbs and hiked with two other hikers. Butters and Backtrack. We met them at different times during the day and got to find out a little bit about them. It was the first time Stoat and I really talked and walked with other hikers. It was a nice change of pace.
Butters had retired and sold his house a few years ago. I believe he said he owned a camper and traveled all over the US to hike. He had hiked southbound in 2015 and was hiking northbound in 2017.
Backtrack was a 20 something woman from northern Florida. She was carrying a pretty big pack because she was carrying extra gear for a friend of hers who was going to meet her on the trail.
I asked her if they had the white gravy I had seen in all restaurants in so far in Florida. She said where shes from in northern Florida it everywhere, but in southern Florida its much less common. That was because “Florida is the only state where it becomes more southern the more north you go”.
The last climb of the day was over Wayah Bald. The temps had risen throughout the day. We were in tee shirts and sweating for the first time since early Georgia.
The climb felt like it took forever. It helped moral that we were a group a four now, but I still felt like I had no energy. I originaly thought that it was because I didn’t drink enough water or because it was a long, hot day. In hindsight I think it might have been the beginning of something more sinister.
Toward the top of the climb the affect of the previous years fire became evident. All the trees had been burnt black and there wasn’t any underbrush. Butters told us of how different it looked in 2015.
The last 200 yards of the climb was on a paved road that led to a stone tower. There was a small stone wall in front of the tower and thats where we sat down to take a break and drop our packs.
Two women saw us walk up and we began to talk. When they found out we were thru hikers one of them became excited. Her name was Cheryl and she had all kinds of questions for us. She also had a ton of peanut butter filled pretzels for us.
After chatting for a little bit she took a picture with us and wished us luck. It was pretty cool to see other people getting excited to see us. I think it made their day and I know it made ours.
After Cheryl left we decided to go up into the stone tower. While the stonework was still intact the other parts had been badly damaged. There was barely a trace of the large wooden roof that once adorned the tower. The steel stands of the information signs were ok, but whatever the signs themselvs were made of were burt to a crisp. Leaving only strange tendrels that formed shapes that payed homage to the flames that formed them.
The sun was shining and there was only the lightest of breezes. From the top of the tower we were treated to views that were well worth the climb up.
We hung out there for a while and enjoyed the view. There is something special about a group of people enjoying something quietly. Its like everyone says “Isn’t this cool? Lets just enjoy this moment.” without saying a word.
The dark clouds that had been off in the distance started to make their way toward us. It was time to get going.
The Wayah Bald campsite was 0.9 miles downhill. With the threat of heavy rain we made quick work of it.
When we got to the campsite we found Odin and Feathers had set up in the shelter. They took a zero in Franklin as well, but we somehow never ran into them there.
Soon a fire was started and many hikers gathered around.
Mantis – a tall lanky guy.
StarGazer – who we met briefly at gooder grove.
Second Shift – A group a three guys who went by the name because they were always the last to leave camp and the last ones to get to camp at night.
Renee – a 19 year old girl from Verona NJ. Stoat and I have friends who lived there and we tried to figure out if we knew any of the same people.
Wild Thing. – A 40 year old school teacher from England. He was hiking the AT and along the way was going to stop in to different schools and give a lecture.
It was a good group of people and we had good fireside conversation.
After a while the wind picked up significantly. Being that we were in an area that had recently burned, the combination of fire and high wind made me a little nervous.
I needn’t have worried. A few minutes later a mist descended on us and it began to drizzle.
We decided to call it a night.
As I was about to get into my hammock the entire world became very white and very loud. I instinctually squatted down and nearby I saw two silhouettes. One had its hands straight out as if fending off an attacker. The other had it hands on its head as if to protect themselves from a falling object.
Lightning had struck very close to us. It was impossible to tell how close because the light was diffused by the mist. You know its close when the lightning and thunder appear to happen at the same time.
In the valley down below the trees started to howl from the wind.
The storm had arrived.