Thrills, Chills, Spills, and Rats

In preparation for my upcoming AT thru-hike, I have been going out and hiking different parts of the trail ahead of time. It helps me to test gear at different times to see how it responds to different weather conditions and how compatible it is with the actual terrain I will be on soon. This week my friend Candis and I went to a section of the AT known as Preachers Rock. It was only a little over a mile hike to get to and the view was absolutely stunning. (See photos at the end.) We had tried to visit once before but there was a winter storm, so we decided against it. This time the forecast was supposed to be nicer… or so the weatherman claimed.


“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” — Mark Twain

The weatherman said lows of 38 with increasing clouds. OK, I can handle that. My hammock top quilt is rated to 20 and my underquilt is rated to 30. I should be OK. Well, the weatherman was wrong. By 2 a.m. it was sleeting and it was about 25 degrees and I was shivering. Thankfully I had my two trusty Zippo Hand Warmers and was able to stay somewhat warm the rest of the night. Yes, they are added weight, but I am so glad I  carry them in the winter for this exact reason. By morning the temp was a balmy 29 and the sleet was a lot steadier, and as we packed we first had to shake off a layer of ice. I donned my Frogg Toggs and covered my pack and we started our trek back to the car.

If you know me, then you know I like coffee in the morning. So not surprisingly I have a leak-proof coffee mug that I strap to my pack so I can drink coffee while I hike in the morning. And I somehow managed to talk Candis into one. So we hiked down with coffee and two trekking poles in hand. For those keeping track, that’s three items versus two hands. And that’s a recipe for disaster.


As I finish my coffee I ask Candis to please clip the cup to the back of my pack for me. As she obliges, I offer to hold her cup, and in the exchange, her cup drops down the side of the mountain. As luck would have it, the cup ends up close to where the trail cuts back on itself.  So I said to Candis, “You follow the trail down and I will follow the cup down and meet you back on the trail.”

All was going good. I was very careful inching my way down ever closer to the cup. As I approached the cup, I reached out with my trekking pole to snag the handle and—success! I was able to reel it in. I felt like a hero. She was happy and exclaimed, “Yayyyy, you’re my hero!” OK, she didn’t really say that. But I think she did clap.

Just then, while riding that emotional high wave,  I took a step and well, I slipped. The ice on the leaves below my feet had proved to be too much for this mere mortal and my ego was quickly put into check as I literally fell back to earth. Now Candis, being a kind and gentle soul, did what anyone would do; she laughed. Then she asked if I was OK.

As I stood up and gathered my thoughts. I realized I was tangled in a briar patch. So I exclaimed, “I’m OK. Luckily the briar patch broke my fall!” Of course she again laughed. And though I’m not certain, I think she had a tear in her eye. I choose to think it’s because she sympathized with my pain and not from excessively laughing.


Well, I managed to reunite Candis with her cup and we had no more problems hiking down until we reached the car. And I had one final surprise in store. I uncovered my pack to knock the ice off before putting it in the trunk. That’s when I noticed I had a snack bag full of mixed nuts and Reece’s Cups in the mesh pocket outside my pack. I thought, “Oooh, this will be yummy to eat on the ride home.” Then I noticed the nuts were pouring out of a hole in the corner. I forgot that this was in my pack and I didn’t put it in my bear bag.  I guess at some point in the night a small critter found it and decided to break in and have a snack. This of course sparked more laughter from Candis and has me rethinking my hiking partners.

Next time I think I will just hike with the mouse, because it at least never laughed at me or lied to me about the weather.

Happy trails out there.

Last photo by Candis

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