Horse Gap to Jarrard Gap
Thunder Drum Tent Camp to I Miss My Beard Camp
AT miles: 15.8
Total miles: 34.5
Elevation change: 4022ft gain, 3494ft loss
The rain that prevented any coherent thinking also washed away any dreams that threatened in the night. At various points after dozing off, I awoke to a renewed fury of horrendous rain, violent and unwelcoming. I feared being swamped, though not enough to do anything about it. At some point in the night, however, the rain let up and the stars shine through the translucent tent canopy.
When the alarm sounded and Rooster began to caw like Rooster is known to do, the wind was still blowing, straight at us now, and the temperature had plummeted. A glance at my thermometer was all the reason I needed to stay bundled up for as long as possible. The red line was a little fuzzy, but it hovered between 20-25F. Yikes. I was warm in my quilt, facing a pile of wet clothes and oodles of discomfort ahead. I think that my hesitancy was warranted.
However, all things considered, I was doing better than the other two. Rooster had a wetter night than I did and Crunch somehow managed to take a crap inside his tent in the night (if you’re reading this, Crunch, don’t forget to throw it away if you haven’t already). Yep, I was doing alright.
But then it was time to hike. We finally rolled out of camp at 7:40am, a little later than planned, but excusable considering the conditions, I think. I blew warm breath into numb fingers as I started off in all my layers.
Some sun poked between a few clouds and through the bare tree trunks as we climbed and descended the undulating ridgeline. A “wintery mix” as the dudes called it, blew in my face. I called it frozen mist. My face soon became numb even as the exertion warmed the rest of my body, from fingers to toes. I noticed that my legs felt pretty good. Surprisingly good, in fact. I did notice a slight twinge in my left knee, similar to the twinge I experienced on the SHR last summer. That was caused by a tight aducter muscle and was fixed with ample stretching and expert massaging by SpiceRack. I hoped that similar care would handle it this time around as well.
The trail twisted around hills and across creeks. Crunch recapped the entire Dexter series for me before I stayed behind to dig my first cathole of the hike. I found the dudes waiting at a particularly fantastic viewpoint. A flat slab of rock perched on the edge of the trees, gray hills extending south and an endless flat expanse running to the horizon everywhere else. Though I had walked over them all, I couldn’t name the summits. They all looked the same to my untrained eye. Beautiful nonetheless.
At Woody Gap Rooster and I said farewell to Crunchberry who had business to attend to in the real world. He offered us Mountain Dew then disappeared down the highway. Quickly becoming chilled in the howling wind, Rooster and I tucked up next to the leeward side of the pit toilets fora rest and lunch break. The fellowship was broken and I was hungry.
By the time we got moving I was once again chilled to my bones. I hiked behind Rooster in all my layers through a forest of rhyme ice, climbing to another stupendous view at Preacher Rock. After that we dropped way down and out of the wind. In the sun, it was damn near pleasant. After such a brutal morning, everything seemed to feel fan-freaking-tastic.
Deep lethargy overtook me in the warmish lowlands. After all the wind, cold, and walking, I was beat. Jarrard Gap was howling, but an abandoned leaf-filled road led us to a protected paradise. Three other tents tucked in between the small oaks that sprouted like grass from the old roadway. Rooster and I found just enough space for my tent and a janky tarp pitch.
The sun set below a clear sky. Stars repopulated the darkening abyss and lights sprang to life in the flat below. I couldn’t decide if they were comforting or maddening. I was certainly jealous of the warmth they represented as the temperature again dipped into the 20’s. Cold beans for dinner, finished off with peanut butter and Oreos. I asked Rooster when he thought it might warm up for me. “Not for a while,” was the gyst of his answer.