A Hailstorm in a Tent
Day 88: 1,530 ft ascent, 9.2 miles
We got a late start on the trail the next morning, about 10:30 a.m. After looking at the map, we had two good options: hike nine miles to the last water source before a climb or hike upwards of 16 miles to the next known campsite, including a big climb at the end of the day and carrying water. We opted for the first option.
As we hiked, we saw clouds moving in. We didn’t have great service to get a weather report, but our senses told us a storm was coming in. The storm finally hit, quick but intense. We put on our rain gear and walked though it, not really having any other option.
It was clear skies by the time we got to our campsite. I tried hanging a clothes line to dry out our clothes, but the late afternoon sun between the trees didn’t do much to help dry our clothes. We would be putting on wet clothes again in the morning.
Day 89: 5,060 ft ascent, 16.8 miles
We broke camp and started the big climb of the morning. As we were about halfway up, another hiker came walking towards us and asked if we had seen a beanie. Sure enough, his was on the ground about 30 feet behind us on the trail. We chatted with the guy for a few minutes as we hiked. Erik and I were faster, but before we left him I asked him his name: Foghat.
Foghat!? I did laundry with him at a laundromat in Franklin, North Carolina three months ago and didn’t recognize him! We hadn’t seen him for probably 700 miles or so of hiking. It’s amazing how people you hike around come and go along the trail.
We got to a parking lot at a fort road that had a few cars. I yelled down at a few people standing around their cars if there was a trash can in the parking lot (knowing perfectly well it would be a miracle if there was one there). They offered to take our trash, so we went over and chatted with them for a few minutes. One lady told us about bad incoming weather expected the next afternoon. I made note of her comment and planned to check weather forecasts closely the next day to make sure we didn’t find ourselves in a dangerous situation.
Day 90: 2,880 ft ascent, 13.0 miles
We were in and out of service all morning, but every time we had service we checked the forecast. All of the weather forecasts we could find showed something was going to happen that afternoon, but none of them could agree on what would happen or when. We stopped for water at the Priest Shelter and spoke with a handful of other hikers also making plans around the weather.
We decided to push as quickly as we could to the next shelter and ride out whatever storm would pass there. With the threat of severe weather, we didn’t want to find ourselves on top of a ridge line. We got to the empty shelter a little after 2:00 p.m. with blue skies.
We ate a late lunch and started hearing thunder echoing through the mountains. Soon one other person appeared. Then another. Then three more. Next thing we knew, the six-person shelter was full! While those inside said they would leave room for us when the storm started, it quickly felt like the only spots left would be the areas that would get wet. We decided to take our chances in a tent instead and took off to the nearby campsites.
About 30 minutes after we got camp set up the first strong cell came through. The wind shook the tent and the rain pelted the side. It was a strong storm, but only lasted about 20 minutes before the skies started to clear. We had made it through the worst of it… or so we thought.
About an hour later, we heard the thunder rolling in again. The wind picked up, and soon the rain arrived harder than before. We thought that was bad until the hail started! Dime-sized hail tried to break our spirits, but luckily the tent held up.
My biggest fear was a rogue tree falling in the wind. This more powerful storm lasted longer than the first one had. The rain finally started slowing and the wind stopped howling. We had survived unscathed! I was exhausted after being on edge from the storms for a few hours and my sleeping pad felt like the most comfortable bed when it was finally time to go to sleep that night.
Day 91: 2,480 ft ascent, 12.4 miles
We got a late start after cleaning mud caked on the tent from the night before. We decided to backtrack half a mile and take the Mau-Har blue blaze trail instead of the AT itself. We had heard the AT had quite a few rock scrambles near the top. With the rain the night before, we didn’t want to be slowed down with wet rocks. Although the side trail was shorter, with our detour to the shelter first it wasn’t much shorter mileage.
After we met up with the AT again, we also started crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway again. This meant cars, overlooks, and best of all: trash cans! Erik looks forward to trash cans sometimes days in advance. Ounces do add up in our packs, so any opportunity to drop weight is welcomed.
Day 92: 1,510 ft ascent, 12.3 miles
It was a little chilly when we woke up. We had what looked like an easy trek into Waynesboro, with plans to go in and out and get back to the trail in the evening. That easy trek turned out not to be as easy as we had hoped. Between boulder fields that slowed us down and heavy smoke moving into the area, we were beat down by the time we got to Rockfish Gap.
We tried something new at Waynesboro: hitchhiking! We hadn’t tried it before since we had Jake, but now that he was taking a well deserved retirement from the trail we had more options. Erik and I both felt awkward sticking our thumbs out but we had fun with it.
We got a ride to Dominos, where I promptly ate too much and it became clear we weren’t going to be leaving town that day. We made a quick stop at the local outfitter then got the hiker rate at the Quality Inn in town. Although we hadn’t planned to stop, it was nice to get a shower after the recent hot and humid days as well as get a quick load of laundry done.
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