Plumorchard Gap to Coleman Gap
Rainforest Camp to Life Is Better At The Beech Camp
AT miles: 18.4
Total miles: 100.3
Elevation change: 4948ft gain, 3819ft loss
Undoubtedly the toughest day on the trail yet. Physically and mentally for sure. Emotionally, maybe not. Part of it was my own doing, but the dreary weather didn’t do my mental state any favors. I love the sun. I need the sun. I miss the sun.
It was still dark when I woke up the first time. I had no concept of time, and I felt rested and ready. A slight, but sharp headache had settled in behind my left eye. Either my body was done with the whole 12-hours-of-sleep thing, or it was telling me to hydrate. I chugged the water that I should have chugged last night and rolled over to sleep it off.
The pain was still there when I came to again. A check of my watch told me that there was no more waiting it out. Time to get moving. I ate a burrito and packed up my stuff. It all seemed to be damp, likely from the condensation being shuddered loose by raindrops in the night.
The rainforest vibe was still in effect when I emerged. Cloud enveloped all things. Cool drops splashed intermittently from high above. Another hiker, Mica was just getting back on trail at the same time I was, so we shared the first couple miles. In between stops to remove layers, I heard about the drama at the shelter that I missed last night. That made me feel a little better about my decision to tent in the rain.
I was alone when I crossed the border into North Carolina. A sign on a tree marked the spot, but there wasn’t much worth hanging around for. The occasion had echoes of crossing the Wyoming-Colorado border on the CDT, when SpiceRack and I nearly froze in the icy rain, pitching our tent then and there for some shred of warmth. It was much warmer this time around, and for that I was grateful.
I chugged a bunch of water at the next creek, hoping to kick my worsening headache. Even if they at worked, the pain was here to stay one way or another when the trail turned skyward. The upslope was relentless and I powered forward as I usually do, confident that the grade wouldn’t last long. Eventually I wilted, dropping into low-gear and taking occasional, minute breaks to let my legs clear the lactic acid. NC was brutal, no doubt about it.
I pulled in to Muskrat Shelter in need of a break, from hiking, from the cloud, from my headache. I had the gloomy structure all to myself for a few minutes until Smiles showed up to brighten my day. He was friendly and we shared some good conversation about our dogs back home. He also told me that the trail was flatter ahead. I ate a caffeinated Clif Bar for my head, then hopped back on the trail, feeling marginally better.
The trail was much friendlier after Muskrat and I was able to find a good rythm. There were no views to speak of, but the trail itself was beautiful, filled with contrasting colors of mossy rocks and brown leaves. I stepped carefully on the slick surfaces, and had no issues reaching Standing Indian Shelter. I stopped there for a visit to the privy and to refill my bottles. Again I had this place all to myself, which was very creepy indeed. An owl hooted somewhere in the mist. I ate my final Taco Bell burrito.
The climb up Standing Indian, the mountain, was easier that I expected. An old service road kept the steepness reasonable the whole way up, and I was on top before I could even think about getting winded. Then, a remarkable thing happened. The blowing wind pushed the clouds aside to reveal a limited view. The best of the day. I couldn’t see much, just a gray hillside far below, but it was a treat nonetheless. The sky grew lighter, and it seemed like the sun had a chance of breaking through. I almost needed to put on my sun glasses. Almost.
Dropping from there to Beech Gap was easy. My brain was tired even though it was only 4pm, maybe from having a headache all day. When I got there, I sat down and thought long and hard about my options. This was where I had planned to camp, and it was a nice spot. Almost dry. I may have been hallucinating, but I even caught a fleeting glimpse of some blue sky.
Ultimately, I decided to push another mile and a half to Coleman Gap. When I got there I couldn’t help but feel like I’d made a mistake. Coleman was socked in. Cloud everywhere and tree drops raining down everywhere. No hope of drying out here. Oh well. Instead of sitting on a log at Beech, I tucked into my damp tent at Coleman. My headache was still present, though I felt I’d made the turn. Still, all I had an appetite for were a few handfuls of Doritos and serveral Oreos.
Totaling up my mileage while condensation splashed on my face like low-grade water torture, I realized that I was just past the 100-mile mark, including the approach trail. I don’t know what that means, if anything, but the small milestone was a nice touch to end a brutal day. Here’s to that headache being gone in the morning…