“Into each life some rain must fall.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Light rain, particularly on a warm, muggy day, is a refreshing thing on the AT. Heavy rain and rain that lasts for several days gets old pretty quickly. It makes everything more challenging…the trail can become muddy (or even turn into a stream), the hiking pace slows, rocks become slicker, and visibility drops making the “money” views not so grand. For wearers of glasses, your choices are to take them off and have blurred vision, or leave them on and drive in the rain with no windshield wiper. While the contents of a well-packed and covered backpack can mostly stay dry, the same cannot be said for the hiker carrying it. You end up soaked to the bone by the rain and by your own sweat forming under any attempts to cover yourself with rain gear. Wet socks/feet make you more susceptible to blistering. If it’s rainy and cold, the misery factor increases as does the chance of getting sick.
Four upsides to all this: 1) water sources will be more frequent and reliable; 2) you appreciate the sunshine that will eventually appear so much more; 3) overcoming shared rainy misery bonds hikers; and 4) like other AT challenges, overcoming extended rain makes you a tougher, more resilient person.
Day 51 was a rainy day. My approach was to wear very little (shorts, sometimes a shirt, and boots), spend time in prayer, think positive thoughts, and keep moving. Near a stream at mile 540.1, two rabbits hopped by alongside the trail. That didn’t lift my spirits much but here’s what did…Trail Magic! The historic Lindamood School, part of the Settlers Museum, is a one-room schoolhouse from the 1890s. A local Baptist church stocks it with free food, drinks, and supplies for hikers. It would have been magic enough to simply have a place to get a break from the rain. All the goodies inside were a much appreciated bonus. Yet another church group letting their light shine on the AT!
After a short, rainy 6.2 mile and day, I decided to stop in Atkins and dry out at the Relax Inn. After checking in, my first stop was the delicious All-You-Can-Eat buffet at the nearby Barn Restaurant, a hiker favorite. By mid-afternoon the rain stopped and I was able to lay out my wet tent and boots in the parking lot while I did laundry. Since the laundry room was next to my room, I was able to put all my clothes in the washer and then sprint to my room wearing just a towel. As I entered my room, I noticed a trellis on the far side of the parking lot that would be a perfect spot to hang my tent. Not seeing anyone around, I grabbed my tent and ran across the parking lot in my towel. After hanging it and beginning the return sprint, I looked over and Princess Grit was entering the parking lot. She yelled, “Is that you, Fob?” and I yelled back, “Never heard of him!” and ducked into my room.
That night Buddah Jim, Princess Grit, several other hikers and I ate at a Mexican restaurant attached to, appropriately, a gas station. Buddah Jim told me all about his work at a psychiatric hospital. Based on his description of some of the patients, I believe most aspiring thru-hikers would feel right at home there.
Before leaving the motel, I picked up a couple of items from the hiker box, including some beef jerky. A few miles after crossing the I-81 underpass out of Atkins, I reached mile 547.275…the one quarter mark on the Appalachian Trail! Later that day, near mile 556, I saw my 6th harmless AT snake.
At mile 557.3, atop Brushy Mountain, I started getting hungry and remembered the beef jerky I had picked up from the motel’s hiker box. That sounded good so I reached into the package, pulled out two pieces, and stuffed them in my mouth. Instantly, I knew something was wrong. They tasted like wet cardboard that had been sautéed in bacon grease. I gagged for a moment and then swallowed them simply for the calories. A little while later, I commented on the disappointing beef jerky to a fellow hiker. He looked at the package and said, “Dude, you’re eating dog treats!” I couldn’t believe it! There was no mention of dogs or pictures of dogs on the package. There were some Spanish phrases on the package, but nothing about perros (dogs). Later, I complained to Conductor about the misleading labeling. He asked who made them and I told him Gravy Train. He told me Gravy Train is a well-known dog food company, so the package really doesn’t need a warning label stating, “These are dog treats. Not to be consumed by hikers.” And yet, having stuffed the bacon-flavored cardboard in my mouth, I would say it does. They were so bad, in fact, that I’m not even sure our dog, Mandy, would eat them.
As I ascended Lynn Camp Mountain, I saw and got video of AT Snake #7, a black snake. I checked the forecast and saw that heavy rain was due to hit in about 30 minutes. It was time to descend the mountain in full beast mode. I kicked it into high gear and made it to a pretty campsite right on Lick Creek with enough time to pitch my tent, heat up some instant potatoes to accompany my Mike n Ikes, and hang my bear bag. Then, with the sun setting and a light rain beginning to fall, I caught my second AT fish using a piece of Slim Jim. I would have used some beef jerky for bait, but Gravy Train is really just for dogs.
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