Having Type Two Fun in Tennessee
When I made my list for why I am hiking the AT, I included that I wanted to seek out type two fun. With the weather recently, this hasn’t been difficult.
Growing up in Boston and going to school in Maine, I consider myself to have a high tolerance for the cold. Last fall, when friends broke out their winter jackets, I teased them as I got by with a sweater and a vest. However, I was living most of my life indoors. Now, I am living most of my life outdoors. The weather this year has been unusually cold and wet, putting my tolerance and thru-hike dedication to the test. Two perfect examples recently are my night below 20 degrees F and my day in freezing rain.
My Night Below 20
As I left Boots Off Hostel, I refreshed the weather forecast. The AT weather predicted a high of 35 for the day and a low of 22 for the night up at Moreland Gap Shelter just under 4,000 feet, where I planned to camp. My coldest day and night yet.
The day wasn’t too bad. The sun and the climbs kept me warm. Although I constantly put my gloves on and took them off as my hands got cold and then hot. Around 3:30 p.m. I ran into two section hikers going north. I asked them where they were headed, and they said to a hostel—lucky ducks. Then they asked me where I was headed, and I said to the next shelter. They gave each other a look, proceeded to tell me that the shelter was perched at a very cold, windy gap, and recommended that I find somewhere else to camp.
Sure enough, when I rolled into the shelter around 4:15 p.m., it was windier and colder than it was 500 feet higher. It was also a little early to call it quits on a cold day—moving keeps me warm, so I thought I might as well continue hiking. I managed to go another 1.7 miles to a much less windy spot before sunset. Quickly, I went about my camp chores: pitching my tent, filtering water, cooking, etc. After dinner, I boiled water to put in my bottle, which I would then put in my sleeping bag.
By 6:30 p.m. I was ready for bed. Now, I get a little scared camping on my own. In reality, I am much safer alone in the woods than walking a city street, but my mind is very imaginative, and I get carried away with frightening thoughts. Additionally, if I go to bed too early, I won’t sleep very well and will continue to let my imagination run, which will keep me up, and the vicious cycle repeats. Therefore, I used an idea that I got from my friend Hot Rocks. At the hostel, I downloaded a movie from Netflix to watch without Wi-Fi. So I bundled up in my sleeping bag with my hot water bottle and watched Julie & Julia.
When the movie was over, I had to pee one last time. As I got out of my tent, I laughed at the sight of frost coating the inside of my rain fly. It was only 9 p.m. I kept warm enough through the night, but it took some adjusting, especially to keep my face warm. The next morning while packing up, I tried to shake as much frost off of my rain fly as possible. I left behind a small pile of snow. Later, I was told that the low for the night was 17 degrees, not 22.
My Day in the Freezing Rain
A couple of days later, I put myself in a precarious situation. The forecast for Roan Highlands called for one to two inches of rain and a high of 41 degrees. I stayed the night at Mountain Harbour hostel, so I planned a 15-mile slackpack to Carvers Gap with them. That way, even though I would get soaked during the day, I would at least be able to dry off and warm up at the hostel again that evening. Foolishly, I arranged to be picked up at 3:30 p.m., even though I knew I would probably be done by 3 or even 2:30 p.m.
The morning started out alright. It was chilly and misting, but certainly tolerable. By the time I hiked several miles and gained 2,000 feet in elevation, the skies opened up and the winds whipped. I ran into four hikers going the opposite direction, on their way down from the mountains. They were all surprised to see me. Who was crazy enough to be out in this weather? We were. But at least they were below treeline and within four miles of the road. I was hiking toward exposed balds with 11+ miles to go.
When I reached the first bald, I hesitated. I wondered about turning around, but I had come too far already, and I was determined to do my miles. The wind burned my cheeks. I walked in a trail that was a stream. If it wasn’t a stream, it was mud that would make me slip back with every step up or slide forward going down, threatening to throw me on the ground. In other spots the mud was frozen. Ice covered some sections of trail. The rain turned to sleet and back to rain.
As long as I kept moving, I was warm, but I started to worry. I worried that I would fall, and unable to move, I would get hypothermia. I worried that a tree would fall on me (when I was below treeline), and, unable to move, I would get hypothermia. I worried that I would get to the road too early, wouldn’t be able to call the hostel, and while waiting, I would get hypothermia. My worry worsened when I realized that I forgot my SPOT, a GPS device that lets me tell my mom I’m safe or sends for help in an emergency.
I started to laugh. This was crazy. I was bat shit crazy. Then, I started to cry. I didn’t want to die. How could I be stupid enough to go out in this weather? Ten minutes later, I was laughing again.
Luckily, I had cell service at a shelter along the trail. I called the hostel and arranged to be picked up an hour earlier. It was instant relief to know that I wouldn’t have to wait out in the rain and cold at 5,500 feet. No more crying. Just laughing. I am not sure how cold it was or how fast the winds were, but the conditions definitely felt extreme.
These experiences are type two fun because they may not have been enjoyable at the time, but they are fun to look back on. I am glad that I put myself to the test and came out on top. I may be crazy and a little stupid, but I also proved that I am brave, proud, and determined. Springer, I’m coming for you!
Update: I have now hiked in snow, too. The weather is only getting crazier and colder!
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