“You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest, like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain…” – John Denver
I awoke ready to get back on the trail, but Franklin had a final parting gift for us hikers. A local church picked us up at 7:20 and took us to their church building for a full-up pancake and bacon breakfast! (On the bus, I met Cahootin, who earned that classic trail name because that’s how he pronounces Katahdin. He also has earned the title of worst smelling hiker, amongst many worthwhile contenders, including myself.) The church serves this breakfast every morning during the 2 months or so of the main AT hiking season. On top of that, they took a picture of each of us to send with a note to a loved one of our choice. (I narrowed it down to Lil Jan and Jason Witten but Jan won out.) On top of that, one of the ministers shared a brief devotional message about God’s love and the saving power of Jesus’ blood. I love how this church uses their position along the AT to support and encourage hikers and share the Good News with them.
They returned us to the Budget Inn where Ron Haven loaded us up and returned us back to the trail. Interestingly, several hikers stayed behind to take a zero because of the likelihood of strong thunderstorms/possible tornado conditions later that afternoon. The next several hours of hiking were especially beautiful in that there were more meadows and balds than usual. At Silers Bald I met Moose, a high school student from Clemson SC. As a former Dean of Students, I asked him why he wasn’t in school and where his hall pass was. (Private school…took extra courses to finish 11th grade early…I bought it and didn’t give him a demerit.) I also stopped to treat another right heel blister. At mile 119.9 I reached Wayah Bald and was rewarded with a cool stone tower and the best views of the day.
After 11 miles I reached my target, Wayah Bald Shelter, and called it quits about an hour before the thunderstorms began. Thunderstorms are the main reason to stay in a shelter…added protection and not having to pack a wet tent the following morning. My first shelter experience was a doozy. I was joined inside by T-Rev, Squid, Stitch, and 3 Swiss hikers. The third Swiss dude fit by laying sideways along our feet. Several later arrivals, including a dog, tented in the thunderstorms which lasted off and on throughout the night. We all ate, laughed, shared stories, and even made a short Happy Anniversary video for Lil Jan.
As I tried to sleep along a row of hikers, I kept thinking about all the shelter mice I had read about in AT books. Would they crawl over me? Would they get in my sleeping bag? To my knowledge that didn’t happen. What did happen was my usual urgent need to pee at 3am…in a crowded shelter, with no bottle, and Mr Swiss family Robinson at my feet blocking my exit. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, flipped over, and did a crab walk over this young foreigner, here on a 6-month visa. As I passed over him, with my butt a mere 6″ from the tip of his nose, I kept thinking…keep the hips high and don’t cut any (Swiss) cheese. In the morning I awoke with a clever collective trail name for these foreigners…ABBA! As I proudly shared it with them, the young lady responded, “We are from Switzerland, not Sweden.” Switzerland… Sweden…whatever.
It was a cold rainy morning as I climbed out of Burningtown Gap toward Cold Spring Shelter. My feet ached along with my left knee. To make matters worse, I switched my music to shuffle mode and Always and Forever came on…perhaps the worst song ever to listen to while hiking uphill. At the shelter a section hiking couple offered me a cup of coffee. Later, after the long climb out of Tellico Gap, I reached the Wesser Bald observation tower and was rewarded with arguably the most scenic, 360 degree view to date. As I made the long, wet descent, I came across my first…(drum roll)…snake! This black snake was just hanging out in a tree stump. I told him my name was Fob and took his picture.
After a pretty grueling 15.5 miles, I arrived at A. Rufus Morgan Shelter and set up my tent downhill from there by a stream. Up at the shelter, T-Rev and The Hikers Formerly Known As ABBA were settling in for the night. A short time later, BooknBoot, the friendly Aussie who had slept in the bunk under me at Neels Gap, arrived and set up her tent. Later, Stitch arrived…she’s a really cool former Army troop from Gainesville, GA (not FL) who laughs like Stitch…and does so each of the 10 times she’s heard me tell the story behind my trail name.
I built my first campfire of the trip and then retired to my tent to enjoy a heartwarming 28th Anniversary phone call with my wife. John Denver was right…nights in the forest are enchanting. Mountains in springtime are majestic. And walks in the rain are exhilarating. But nothing fills up my senses like a moment shared with Lil Jan, my best friend and love of my life.
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