Hot Springs, NC to Little Laurel Shelter
This Old House Camp #2 to That’s A Lot Of Tents Camp
AT miles: 19.6
Total miles: 302.7
Elevation change: 6260ft gain, 4042ft loss
As I walked out of Hot Springs today, a steady breeze blowing my hair around as I tried to twist it into braids, and clouds that were definitely going to rain on me above, I felt ready and excited for the uncertainty ahead. My time in town was nice, the food, the people, the shower, and it was time to move on. It felt right to be hiking again. This is what we thru-hikers do. We may stop for a short visit to rest the legs and wipe away the grime, but then we move on. And I had just been visiting. By hiking out, I was returning to where I belong.
My internal clock once again woke me up long before I was ready. It was still on trail time. I tried snoozing, but then made myself useful, getting organized and packed up. At 9am I walked the short distance down the road to the post office to mail home my microspikes. I hadn’t needed them, which was a good thing, and hoped I wouldn’t. As I waited for the clerk to unlock the door and officially open for business, I considered the clouds above. Rain was in the forecast, and while they weren’t threatening, I believed that they were a sign of more to come.
Back at Sunnybank, I shared another good conversation with Elmer over half a mug of coffee. I was anxious to get hiking, but couldn’t pry myself away until my hard-deadline of 10am rolled around all too soon. I finished packing, converted the rest of my town food into sandwiches, said farewell to Matt and Elmer, then started the now-familiar walk down main street. I had my pack on today though. I was hiking now. I meant business.
I downed my three avocado and hummus sandwiches by the time I crossed the train tracks, three blocks later. Then I pulled out my comb and worked it through my hair as I crossed the French Broad River on the two-lane bridge. Down some stairs on the other side, my feet touched dirt for the first time since I got to town two days ago.
I sheltered out of the steady wind behind a tree long enough to work my hair back into hiking braids. The trail along the rushing river was pleasant, but short, quickly turning up the steep hill on my left. My thermometer read 75F. A humid 75F. I was dripping sweat by the time I topped the hundred foot cliff, Lover’s Leap. I hoped it would rain soon to freshen things up a bit.
On top, a gentle rollercoaster through pine forest helped me catch my breath. A breeze chilled my sweat. My legs felt good, if a little tight, and I made good time, passing numerous day hikers enjoying adventures of their own.
The trail climbed steadily from the highway crossing at Tanyard Gap. Pine transitioned to familiar oak, deep brown leaves again blanketed everything in a rustling coat. At 1:30pm, right on schedule, a light rain broke the building anticipation in the air. It rolled in on a fresh breeze, and I pulled out my umbrella, actually relieved to feel a few drops splash on my neck. The rain also gave me an excuse to skip the side trail to a fire tower at the top of the climb. I’m a sucker for views, so I would have checked it out, but I really just wanted to hike on.
The rain showers came and went as I cruised along wide ridgetops. The rain always came on a breeze, and I noticed that I could usually hear it coming. I traded my umbrella for my pole, and vice versa, every few minutes for the next few miles. At one point, the sky darkened and the wind picked up. The rain, which had remained gentle thus far, increased its ferocity, turning the trail into a puddle and soaking my shoes. I took refuge on the protected side of a large oak to wait out the tempest. The air grew hazy, either with the obliterated remains of the fat raindrops, or because a cloud had blown in. When it calmed, I got moving again, accepting that my legs and feet were going to be soaked for the rest of the day.
I gathered water at the barest trickle, crossed another road, then strapped on my boosters for the last five miles to camp. I had about two hours left before dark and had no idea what the terrain would be like. A steep climb tested my aerobic capacity, but then the trail nearly flattened out altogether. My legs moved with a practiced efficiency, and my arms performed a complex dance, switching from pole to umbrella and back, while throwing more fuel on my fire. Bars, gummies, and water. Ducking through rhododendron tunnels, I fantasized about having the approaching shelter all to myself. I would keep my tent dry and light, and wouldn’t need to worry about setting up in the rain, which is always a precarious time for dry gear and wet humans. Sweet But Psycho alternated with AC/DC in my mind as I ticked off the miles.
One tent, two tents. This didn’t look good. Even before I saw the shelter, I knew that I would be tenting in the rain. In total, there were six large, matching tents. I laughed to myself. Of course, the one time I actually kind of want a shelter is when I run into a massive party. I found out while gathering water that it was a group of 12 from some Massachusetts university. Pretty cool for them to be out here, but the timing sucked for me.
I pitched my tent in the rain, on the last remaining flatish spot. It was nearly dark by the time I dove in for the evening, and it was by red headlamp that I organized my messy pile of things into a cozy home. I munched BBQ Lays and Oreos and felt my wet layers begin to steam under my quilt. I was wet, but warm, and would easily dry in the night.
The highlight of my evening was a peanut butter, nutritional yeast (noot), and sriracha burrito. I’m upping my dinner game this section, and, with this small burrito, have already achieved culinary perfection. I lay back, proud of my day and genius, listening to the dripping forest and youthful restlessness of my campmates. What was my favorite moment of the day? Probably, no definitely, eating those yummy sandwiches on the way out of town. The trail ahead, the comforts of society in my hand, chewing a tasty bite, feeling strong and ready for the trials ahead. That was a powerful feeling. A good feeling that I hope to remember for a long time.