AT Day 50 – What Does The Rain Say
Moore Run to Rod Hollow Shelter
Bye Bye Shenandoah Camp to Noodle Experiment Camp
AT miles: 25.1
Total miles: 1003.9
Elevation change: 5410ft gain, 5551ft loss
Although I haven’t reached the official 1,000-mile marker for the AT, combined with the approach trail from Amocolola, my AT mileage eclipsed the milestone at some point late in the day. I saw it coming, but didn’t mark the occasion until I added everything up in camp. And with nothing but a damp tent and strange dinner, I wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory. Tired. I think that I felt appropriately tired for having hiked that far. What does reaching mile 1000 mean? This was a question I grappled with on the PCT and then the CDT, and honestly, I don’t remember any profound answers. A thousand miles is a long way to walk, certainly, but it was never the goal, and I’ve signed up to walk many more. Rather than digging into the abstract value of arbitrary goals, I found more joy in remembering the 1000-mile mark during those other hikes. On the PCT, I had just exited the northern boundary of Yosemite after an incredible few hundred miles through the High Sierra. On the CDT, SpiceRack and I were deep in the wild south of Yellowstone, one of my favorite, unfamous parts of that trail. Those are both good memories, so I was grateful to be reminded of them even if the big number means little. I don’t know when or where I’ll reach my next 1000-mile mark, but I look forward to another trip down memory lane.
Milestones were far from my mind when I rolled over with my alarm, arms numb from sleeping on top of them, and heard the pattering rain over the rush of Moore Run. Still raining, huh? At least one storm, maybe more, had rolled through in the night, bringing pummeling rain and flashes of light that penetrates my eyelids with ease. I wasn’t stoked about another day of grinding out miles in the damp, and wanted nothing more than to roll over and snooze. But this was neither the time nor place. No rest today, but rest was coming. I’d arranged to meet some friends in Harper’s Ferry, roughly 55 miles north, on the morning of the third day. I’d spend the weekend at their place in DC, but had to stay on my game if I hoped to make the rendezvous. Many miles to hike, and a resupply stop to navigate today.
The rain was just a light drizzle by the time I got hiking, up and over a low lump, just over a mile to the road. The drizzle was still going when I stuck out my thumb, trying to look dry and cheerful. Does the cruddy weather make it more or less likely that someone picks me up? I got my answer after just a few minutes when my ride commented that this was no weather to be hiking in. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, that I would be back out here as soon as I could.
The Martin’s supermarket in Front Royal was huge and overwhelming. It was also a dangerous place for a hiker looking to provision just two days of walking. All that food, so little time to eat it. I did my best at moving along the aisles with efficiency and discretion, assembling a modest haul that was definitely too much food, but hopefully not way too much food. I spread everything out in the shopping cart corral, reduced the packaging, and packed it up while inhaling my apple, banana, pint of ice cream, and can of coffee. The first two were for nutrients, the others for speed. With almost 1000 calories and 200% of the daily recommended sugar intake, it wasn’t the healthiest performance enhancer out there, but it was legal and delicious. My body is a temple. Hopefully it would be effective too.
I hadn’t poked my thumb out for even a second when a local hostel proprietor pulled over to take me back to the trail. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. So within two hours, I was back on the AT with food for days and a rush of stimulants flowing through my veins. For now, at least, I felt invincible, not yet concerned with the inevitable crash.
It wasn’t long before I was hiking in my rain jacket, under my umbrella. The steady rain joined the steady climb through a dripping forest of wide trunks with no tops and soggy puddles of mud. The trail was gradual though, and I made good time, my brain whirling with thoughts of everything and nothing at once. Gentle bursts of thunder grumbled overhead. They reminded me of a polite burp, held in the mouth, in between courses of pie at Thanksgiving dinner. Audible, but barely, and necessary.
On a whim, I explored the short side trail to a shelter in search of a dry place to sit and snack for ten minutes. Again, the timing was perfect. As I sat, the rain intensified and the first visible flash flickered. A powerful, cracking boom shook the shelter, matching the resonant frequency of the floorboards. Nine seconds between flash and boom. Then five, then three. The rain pounded down, filling the air with mist. I watched my umbrella vibrate like a drum with each long rumble, a liaison between sound and sight. I ate dill pickle flavored potato chips, feeling damp and dry at the same time. Twenty minutes later, with the thunder harassing some other mountain and the rain slackening, I gathered myself to reintegrate with the natural world. It had been strangely disconnecting sitting protected, but I was grateful for my relative comfort and the opportunity to enjoy rather than survive the storm. My favorite moment of the day had been snatched from the jaws of misery.
The trail was now a flowing river of chocolate milk and I gave up all hope of keeping my feet dry. I splashed along, just happy to be able to stay on my feet through the unpredictable slop. An easy down brought me to the constant, unnatural thunder of Route 66, and I crossed beneath the screaming vehicles on a road of my own. I thought back to the CDT, my mind whizzed westward on its own highway of memories. Was it Grants, NM where we crossed this road? I thought it was, but wasn’t sure.
I met three more flip-flop sobos on the next large up and over. They all seemed skeptical when I told them that this was arguably to heaviest rain I’d seen in my 50 days on trail. They were also still wide-eyed and fresh, and I harvested some of their enthusiasm for myself. I needed something as my sugar and caffeine stores started to return to normal.
I celebrated the top of a big climb with a mostly-thawed burrito. I ate it on the go, struggling to stay on my two feet and fighting off the rain with my umbrella. At the bottom of the hill, I filtered a liter of water from a rushing creek, overflowing its banks, water murky with and extra dose of dirt. Then it was back up through a bunch of annoying vines that yanked on my umbrella. For a few minutes, the rain again intensified and thunder rumbled, but it wasn’t a direct hit this time. Just a gentle soaking for my legs.
That was the last of the major storming, and the rain mostly disappeared for the remainder of the afternoon. I was treated to some superb meadow walking through Sky Meadow State Park, following a wide strip of green through a tall mat of brown and under humongous oak trees. I tried to imagine the scene a little later in the season, with green everywhere, including a high canopy of shady leaves. The vision in my mind was pleasant and soothing.
After a slick descent to Ashby Gap, I scampered across the busy highway and began the final push to camp. My energy was definitely nearing the bottom of its ebb tide, but I thanked my body for getting me this far despite the gastrointestinal abuse. I meandered through the forest, daydreaming about the dry and empty shelter waiting for me in a few miles. I would spread out all of my wet things, I would walk with bare feet on a dry floor, I would watch the last vestiges of the storm dribble harmlessly on everything but me. However, before I reached the disappointment that lay ahead, I was electrified by a neon shock of color at my feet. A small cluster of blue-purple flowers glowed with an internal light. There was one, two, no hundreds of them. I’d never seen anything like these before. Maybe it was a special time of day, but they were easily the most vibrant flowers I’d ever seen. Like I said, electrifying.
There was someone at the shelter when I got there, dashing my dreams to bits. But with the sky clearing, pitching my tent didn’t seem so bad anymore and might actually help to dry it out. I filtered water and got my experimental dinner soaking. Spaghetti made with black soybeans promised to cook within four minutes, which put it within range for a cold-soaker like me. The result was plentiful and not particularly yummy, and I couldn’t quite pack it all in, giving me eomething to look forward to at breakfast.
It was then that I realized that I had hit mile 1000 somewhere around Ashby Gap. Confused by what that meant and the strange flavors in my mouth, I called it a night. It’s best not to think too hard on a full stomach.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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