In the middle of the night, it started to pour—icy rain that was only a degree or two from snow. Wayah Bald Shelter clings to a hillside; the few relatively flat spaces for tenting aren’t flat at all. And for the first time, I managed to pitch my tent sloping both to the bottom and to the side. I spent all night trying to keep myself from rolling to the right and soaking my down quilt.
I woke up with three inches of water in the bottom corner. In the deep mud, two of my tent stakes had pulled out, and the fly had emptied into the tent Disaster. Not only was the tent soaked again, but again there was rain predicted all day and all the next night, with low temperatures in the twenties.
My first plan was to go a short five miles then claim a space in the actual shelter, and spread the tent (and everything else) out to dry. But as I marched, I just started to cry. A big huge ugly cry. That stuff was saturated; no way was it going to dry. I remembered that last icy night with a wet tent, and I was overwhelmed with the logistics of the upcoming Smokies leg (the resupply issues, the mandatory 15-mile days, the weather extremes and probable snow), and my pack was too frigging heavy.
I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trudge up any more mountains. But there’s no other choice out here. You have to walk. You have to. There’s nobody to call (short of 911), no road, no taxi. Even if it hurts, there’s no choice but to walk.
So I walked and cried and discussed it with the trail, asking for some wisdom or clarity with regard to the best possible decision.
And I remembered a new hostel that had opened. I had their phone number. I checked my notes. They had a pickup point in four miles.
So here I am, in the Aquone Hostel. And this is a magical place! More like a high-end hotel than a hostel. Maggie and thru-hiker Wiggy, from England, built this amazing house themselves. I’m here with another group of hikers in their fifties, two married couples and one woman whose husband and children are at home. Socks I met before; she’s the hiker with the torn meniscus who underwent serious medical treatment in Franklin. That whole group is slackpacking this leg, thanks to Wiggy. Although they didn’t know each other, coincidentally they’re all from Michigan.
This isn’t a rout, like Hiawassee was; it’s more of a controlled retreat. I got nine miles today. Tomorrow I’ll work through that Smokies schedule and nail down the terrifying resupply issues and mileage. I’ll get the pack dry (everything in the tent absorbed that bathtub full of ice water; I wouldn’t be surprised if my pack was 40 pounds today).
Aaannddd… it’s time for the come-to-Jesus meeting with my pack. I’m sending everything home. Everything. Half my toothbrush. My underwear. My shorts. The second half of my trail guide. My camera ( I’ll use the phone). It all goes home at the NOC in two days. I’m chucking the tissues, the baby wipes, all but a few drops of liquid soap—literally every spare gram that doesn’t involve safety.
There are a lot of new friends here, with starting dates ranging from the first through the fourteenth. I wish I were making better time. Coming to grips with my inner Lord of the Flies will help. Also, we talked gait last night, and Slow-but-Sure told us she figured out a way to double her pace on the grueling uphills. She’s pushing off more with her back leg. Brilliant! I think I’ve been more or less exclusively pulling myself uphill with my poles and the front leg. I can’t wait to get out there and try what she demonstrated. Makes me wonder if I can figure something out for the rough downhills, too.
Ironically, here in the Taj Majal of hostels, there is no internet (they have a computer for guests to use to check email and such). 🙂
My advice? Skip the NOC and stay at Aquone. They even have a small resupply area. Wiggy’s done it; he knows what we need.
In the photos, the lone guy in the rain is Quaker from Pittsburgh. On the couch are some of the Aquone gang: Blackhawk Bob, who’s traveling with a humidor; Spow-but-Sure; PopPop; Bud; and Marky, who felt like a long-lost sister.