After a quick breakfast and packup I hit the trail. It was still raining, and the air was milky with mist. I passed a number of trail maintainers over the first couple of miles. All were chopping down trees, carving in water channels, or just looking on. As I'd approach a cluster of them I could see their neon orange construction hats bobbing in the fog, nodding in greeting to me. I decided that I would skip wearing rain gear. It was warm out, with just occasional rain drops splattering my boots and bandana-clad head. I wore just nylon shorts and a capaline t-shirt, with Thorlo socks and my Asolo boots. Not posessing rain gaters, I figured I could just get wet feet. This plan worked nicely for the first few miles. I walked along at a fair pace, singing and whistling to myself as I waded through the cloud cover. I couldn't see more than a few feet on either side of the trail, and ghostly limbs grasped overhead.
As I decended Cowrock Mountain, entering Tesnatee Gap, the rain started.
We interrupt this train of thought to inform you that Tesnatee Gap is the spot where John Muir probably crossed the mountains on his famous 1,000-mile walk to the ocean. (We interrupt this interruption to information you that John Muir's birthday is, we think, tomorrow. Happy b-day, John!)Before you could say "Too Much Ramen" it had gone from pitter-patters of rain to a pounding rain falling by the Nalgeneful. The fog came crashing to the ground with a thud. (Is hyperbole permitted here?) Remember that half of making it through a thru-hike is attitude, I let out a whoop. Somehow, over the next hour, I managed to shout, scream, curse and holler my way up Wildcat mountain and along the ridge. Mother Nature has probably never been challenged so heavily.
"This is rain?! This is NOTHING! Show me some REAL rain!"
On like this for the next two miles. Around noon I hit the blue-blazed side trail for Whitley Gap Shelter. I stood to the side of the trail, waiting for some Boy Scouts to pass, trying to decide if I wanted to stay at Whitley. I knew that it was 1.2 miles down that side trail to get to the shelter(Whitley Gap Shelter), and that it was 4.2 miles to the next shelter (Low Gap Shelter), which was only 200 yards off the the AT. This is the point at which Waldo Did Something Extremely Stupid. I kept walking.
Now, I want you to know a little more about what the circumstances were like. I could hear the rumblings of thunder in the distance. The temperature had dropped considerably since I'd set out at 10:30. I was now uncorrectably wet. Putting on a raincoat would prevent me from getting wetter, but I'd still have soaking wet clothing. The only way to dry off would be to get into my tent or a shelter, dry myself off with my banana, and change clothes. But the thought at the time was "This will look really cool on my web page." Stupid thought. I figured I could have an entry like this:
"Lightning struck the ridge all around me. I slogged through what seemed to be a small river. Mud-smeared, I came to the first shelter. Despite, I pressed on."Stupidly, I kept going. The next 4.5 miles were considerably worse. The temperature dropped to the low 50s, the lightning kicked up and the rain just cascaded down. I got mighty cold, mighty fast. To make sure that my extremeties were still working, I wiggled my toes and fingers as I walked. I even tried sign language every few minutes (thanks to Jessica Sleeth, Patrick Reed and Fred Boyce for teaching me to sign and keeping me in practice) to make sure things were still functioning OK. The 'r's were tough, but everything else came out OK.
I arrived at Low Gap Shelter to find it full of dayhikers. Two were kind enough to make room, and I spread out, changing my clothes and eating. I talked to a couple of the dayhikers as I ate. Seems they're students from Geogia Tech, a couple of architects. One of them has plans to climb Everest in a couple of years. Quite a challenge. Some Boy Scouts came by a little later, all wearing cotton, all shivering. Troop 175. Most changed, though many just stood around in the rain in shorts and t- shirts. One had already left with an adult -- he was hypothermic.
Rule #1 of hiking: never, ever, ever wear cotton. You'll get wet and you'll stay wet. Find some other fabric, like polyester, acrylic, polypropeline, nylon, capilene -- whatever. Just not cotton.Anyhow, they set up some tents, some sleeping under the shelter, some crashing in the shelter. The place was a mess. On top of this, there was an older couple sitting in the shelter (I swear they didn't move once over the next 18 hours) that seemed to hate kids. It was depressing to be there. I just curled up, read, and did a lot of sleeping.
Today's Song: "Not Athena", Monsoon (Shannon Worrell and Kristen Asbury)
At Low Gap Shelter, I asked "Is anybody here thru-hiking?"
The response from one hiker: "Sure, I'm through hiking...for the day."
"Man may sing his endless songs of wronging rights and righting wrongs. It's all the same to the clam." - Shel Silverstein---