Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 14

I stirred every hour past midnight to check my clock and make sure I hadn’t missed the perfect hour to head to Newfound Gap and meet my Mom and her husband for my resupply. Once 6:20 am flashed on the screen, 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I donned the lowest red light setting on my headlamp, took a quick trip to the privy, and quietly assembled my gear as my shelter-mates slowly began emerging from their own sleeping bags. With a quiet goodbye, I was off into the thick fog, my bright headlamp leading the way.

Though night hiking isn’t usually my thing, I greatly enjoy hiking just before the sun comes up. It’s a magically quiet time of day that lends itself to meditative thought, one of my favorite parts about long-distance trails. After thirty minutes of steady hiking, there was just enough dawn poking through the trees to see the slick rocks and wooden logs directing water bars lining the trail. It was around that time I decided to turn off my headlamp – and promptly took a gnarly spill on a particularly slick wooden footboard. After realizing quickly nothing was broken, I regained my bearings, brushed some of the mud off my knee, and continued on down the trail.

About 10 minutes later, I took another peek down at my knee to find a large glob of mud and blood making its way down my shin. Upon splashing some water and further inspection, I realized I had a large and still-bleeding gash across my knee. With nothing more I could do for my injury at the moment, and the understanding it wouldn’t be trail ending for me, I simply took note of the stinging as a welcome distraction from the pangs of overuse from other knee and continued on towards Newfound Gap.

I arrived about an hour and a half early to meet my Mom, as I had anticipated with my early rise, and turned on my phone to see if any service was able to peek through the clouds. No sooner had I seen the familiar LTE symbol flash at the top of my screen than I received a series of photos of my dog, my partner, and his daughter enjoying a gorgeous sunset at their west Texas ranch. A text from my Mom came through as well – “Gram is losing her mind. Please check in twice a day.” I felt a familiar frustration building that I’d experienced my last trip through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park when my Mom and Gram called the rangers in an attempt to set up a search party after 3 days of not hearing from me. Knowing there was nothing I could say to ease the worry, I sent a quick picture of my knee and an assurance I’d be fine but could use some antibiotic ointment or something clean to wash the mud out with. My Mom responded quickly and, being a nurse her entire life, told me she was on the job and would come prepared.

Yes, it was that foggy.

I met several hikers while waiting in the mist for my family, and being the black sheep of the parking lot in our incredibly smelly layers and sweat-stained packs, we naturally struck up conversation. Two of the hikers were about to hop off trail after a LASH, and two others were finishing their flip-flop thru-hike. After a few minutes of chatting, one of the flip-floppers mentioned her blogging online for The Trek, to which I quickly asked her name: I had found Mountain Goat! If you haven’t kept up with her journey so far, she has under 200 miles left to Springer Mountain and a real knack for storytelling – go check out her writing!

After a few hours, I saw my Mom’s familiar red Honda pull into the spot closest to me and the other hikers. She emerged carrying several bags, Jerry donning a Styrofoam cooler, and both carrying umbrellas. She quickly ushered me to into the car as the storm picked up and had the medical kit she assembled on the car ride over laid out on display. After handing me a few sprays and insisting on many thorough scrubbings, I put a thick layer of liquid bandage over the gash and it was determined to be as in good a shape as it was going to be considering I’d soon be heading back into the woods. Jerry took to advertising the various candy bars and Gatorade he and my Mom had brought for any backpackers passing through – their first experience as trail angels on the AT.

A somewhat silly scene took place as the rain picked up and my need to reorganize my pack and resupply was still clear and present – it involved 2 sets of umbrellas held by my Mom and a fellow hikers covering myself and various electronics, my open bear canister, and clothes bag as I quickly refilled my small Ibuprofen bottle, switched out my charging blocks, and exchanged soaked socks for dry as fast as my now-numb fingers would operate. Sure I’d turn blue if I stayed any longer, I threw on my rain jacket (inside-out at first and then as intended) and gave my Mom a hug I’m sure she’d be able to smell on the way home, and took off towards Icewater Spring Shelter.

After about 10 minutes I had successfully surrounded myself with a thin layer of warm sweat to cut the harshness of the cold rain that made the hike into Icewater Spring Shelter gradual and easy. I had the shelter to myself for a few peaceful hours, donning my down booties and engaging day hikers looking for a lunch spot out of the rain. I was expecting Sam, AKA RD, a hiker I had met and spent miles off and on with since my first days on the Appalachian Trail, to meet up with me in the evening. Though I would’ve given him a break considering the weather and projected forecast, I got a text shortly after devouring my Outdoor Pantry Chicken and Waffles assuring me he’d be rolling in late.

My record for a bear canister resupply – six days total ’till Hot Springs!

Jewell, a woman I had met the night before at Mt. Collins Shelter, and a friend she had picked up at Newfound Gap for her first overnight backpacking trip in over 2 decades arrived at the shelter in the late afternoon. They followed my own list of priorities since arriving at the shelter – change into dry clothes, hang up wet clothes, sort pack, find water. After overhearing some delicious concoctions Jewell had dehydrated with the help of Backpacking Chef, I offered labor for food and fetched all of our water for the evening during a break in the storm, stepping over the heels of my Altras and squishing them down with my bare feet in an attempt to not have to don my wet socks once more. In return, she shared dessert with me – half a Swiss Miss hot chocolate packet mixed with a spot of water into a slurry, 4 large chunks of dehydrated angel food cake, and a handful of dehydrated strawberries on top. It was absolutely decadent.

All smiles when it’s warm and dry!

RD arrived late that night, but not close enough to hiker midnight to be considered rude to our affable shelter-mates. We chatted excitedly for a few minutes, not having seen each other since 2019 in the Shenandoahs, until I spied a large rat scurrying past, feeding on the crumbs of our dinner under the shelter’s makeshift countertops. Donning our red headlamps, we saved the majority of our catching up and stories for the 12.5 miles we’d share the next day, and the shelter was quiet come the official chime of midnight (or, admittedly, 9 pm).

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Comments 1

  • Loren : Sep 22nd

    Hi Katie,

    Was taking a break from work and reading your blog. After looking at your pictures I decided you look familiar. Is it possible I saw you coming out of lost Cove in Yancy County a few weeks ago? This would be quite a coincidence if so. Also funny because I regretted not asking if you were looking for hiking partners . I do a lot of hiking alone and always looking for company.
    Hope to hear from you,
    Loren Wooten


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