Day 83 – Rainy Days

Today is the first day I actually came off trail because of bad weather. I hiked 7 miles before I came off and was thoroughly soaked and cold. It had been raining since 1 PM the day before, and I decided to go to a hotel where I would be warm and dry. It turns out many of my hiker friends did almost the exact same thing today.

Hiking in the rain is okay. Being soaked all the way through your rain gear and having wet shoes to wear and a wet tent to sleep in is not so much fun, especially when you’ve been in rain nearly every day of the last 49 days – since the middle of April.

It’s far easier to think of all the miseries associated with constant rain, so I challenged hiker friends to come up with things we like about rain:

1) No snakes when it’s raining, including timber rattlers

2) It’s usually much cooler too, which is terrific for hiking as long as you stay dry enough not to shiver when your core cools down after you stop. (Three of us were shivering so much today we had to pick up the pace.)

3) It keeps the mosquitos, gnats, no-see-ums, sweat bees, and all those other pesky flying insects from swirling around your head and biting you.

4) We don’t have to wear a brimmed hat or sunscreen, but we do pull on the hood of our rain jackets.

5) We are grateful for the additional water sources, as every spring and wet weather creek is full of water. Here in Virginia we have had longer mileage between some water sources, so having unexpected refill spots is very nice.

One of my friends back home suggested quiet time contemplating, which is a plus. However, we usually hike alone for hours and hours every day, so we have lots of thinking time, rain or shine.

Even though we had four days without rain last week and a couple days that it only rained right as we set up camp, when the rain started back again three days ago it was very discouraging. Let me give you some background facts to set the stage:

  • A part of I-40 by the Great Smoky Mtns was closed due to mudslide from rain a few weeks ago.
  • The highway I was picked up from today was closed two weeks ago, because of mudslides across the highway.
  • Virginia set its record rainfall for May this year.
  • Four miles of the AT near Harper’s Ferry, was five feet under water several days ago.

This is my typical day in multi-day rainstorms:

I awake and look around at the wet clothes hanging in my tent. The smell of mildew hits me full force as I dress, but thankfully some clothes are just damp and I put them on hoping body heat dries them quickly. I unzip my rainfly and look out at the mist and fog, glad it isn’t actually raining because I need to run out of the tent for a potty break.

Hurrying back, I carefully plop my hind-end inside the tent door, leaving my feet outside until I can take off my mud covered camp shoes. I try in vain to wipe the dirt and wet leaf bits off my feet before pulling them inside the tent. If it isn’t raining yet, then it’s back outside soon to cook breakfast and coffee, where I huddle on a foam pad placed on a rock or log to keep my shorts dry.

Then I pack up my stuff and put it into my backpack, covering it with it’s rain cover in case it starts raining before my tent is down. Then I take my soaking wet rainfly and stuff it into its bag with the tent, where all will be thoroughly wet until I (hopefully) have a chance to dry it when the sun comes out. Finally, I put on my last dry socks and then put on my wet boots, knowing the boots may soak my socks all the way through.

Now I am all set to make another crucial decision: raincoat or no raincoat? Going uphill in a raincoat is like being in a sauna. Leaving off my raincoat with a gentle rain is the best option, but if it suddenly downpours…, then I am as soaked as if I fell in a river.

Finally I start hiking. It’s 8 am and I am stepping in mud right away, hopping around puddles and looking for high ground when the path is completely flooded. Much of the time I walk straight up running water as the path is now a little creek. Lately, I notice lots of newly fallen trees across the path, tumbled when the saturated earth could no longer hold them. I climb up and over the branches and trunks, thankful none fell as I hiked along.

Rocks and tree roots are especially slippery, so I hike slower than I would like, to keep from twisting an ankle or knee, or stepping into a hole covered by water.

Squish, squish, squish go my feet. I come to a view point. It’s fogged in and I see nothing. Squish, squish, squish and I arrive at a shelter and sit for awhile wondering if the sun will come out so I can dry my tent. I didn’t take earlier breaks because everything was soaking wet, and it’s no fun opening your pack in the rain. Scooting back against the shelter wall, I eat lunch and ask other hikers if they have an updated weather report. Everyone hopes the sun will come out. Then I close my pack, make the raincoat decision for the umpteenth time that day and keep hiking.

As I near the place I want to camp, I mentally go through my packed clothes, assuring myself I have something dry to wear that night for sleeping, and hoping the rain will stop long enough to set up my tent. Muddy boots come off and wet camp shoes are put on. Dinner is made. I check the weather report and say goodnight to fellow hikers. It’s 8 pm and I’ve hiked fifteen or more miles through another wet and foggy day. As I lay down to sleep, I think about how lucky I am to be able to do this hike and am still glad to be on the AT.

Day 36 – It’s Tough

We interrupt this regularly scheduled post to bring you an important announcement about upcoming weather on the AT:

Rain and more rain. RV’ers east of us are being evacuated right now as rain continues. We’ve been hiking in it three days and were glad when Wingman told us there were bunks still available at Greasy Creek Hostel. We cut our hike short a couple miles and took the side trail .6 miles to the hostel, and we are drying out quite nicely. Stud has his truck here, so he took us to a diner where we filled up on a good hot meal and came back to a fire in the wood stove and movies on roku in CeeCee’s main house. CeeCee even offered free glasses of Merlot. Great idea!

Tomorrow we plan to slack pack 12 miles and stay here again as the rain is predicted to be even harder and all day.

Slack packing is when you take only what you need for a day hike and a shuttle picks you up and brings you back to your stuff. At this hostel, they drop you twelve miles north and you hike southbound back. It’s much faster, and we are excited to have a chance to make miles in less time.

I can now say only 6 days of the 36 I’ve hiked have been the kind of weather someone at home thinking of hiking would actually say “Yes, let’s go for a hike!”

There were two nice days I was off trail to meet Melynn and to watch my niece, Charlotte (#17), play lacrosse at college not far from the trail. They are first in their conference and whooped the opposition. Great game! The other 28 days…. let’s just say if I invited you to hike any of those days you would have said “Heck No!”

Never the less, most thru hikers still come to camp happy they are hiking the AT and I am definitely in that group!

I just know the trees on top of the mountains will eventually leaf out with warm spring days. Right now the trees are not even pushing bud. One day soon I won’t believe it was cold for so long, but now the last freezing night was only five days ago when we awoke to 27 degrees, frozen water bottles and wind so cold and harsh I thought the left side of my face was heading for frostbite.

So, the rain is terribly unpleasant and it’s hard not to be too cold or too hot as you fend off rain in rain jackets and pants, while your inner core temperature shoots up with the effort of hiking mountains, but… it hasn’t been lower than 43 degrees or so since that last very cold night five days ago. The “warmer” temps give me hope we will soon be hiking in sunny days with spring all around us.

In the meantime, I hope Melynn isn’t too bummed out about the rain as it looks like we have a few more days of rain before the sun will come out and give us a day anyone would be glad to say “Yes, let’s go for a hike!” If anyone else wants to join me for a few fun days in the trail, check out my tracker on the mail drops page and let me know when to look for you!

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