Friday, April 26th

It seemed that we'd called the weather entirely wrong.

The rain started coming in just after midnight. It sounded like we were being shelled, what with the metal roof overhead. I decided, in my half-awake grogginess, that if it rained this hard all day, I wasn't going anywhere.

Sven had to get up and patch the leaking roof with a trash bag. Older Brother had a mouse explore his ears. We all got damp sleeping bags, save for Trail Snail, who had the sense to use a bivy sack.

The rain let up just after daylight, a welcome reprieve for town-hungry hikers. The next town, Franklin, North Carolina, was only twenty miles away.

I had another oatmeal breakfast, downed my usual Vitamin I, and began hiking to the next shelter, Carter Gap Shelter (7.7 miles) around 10.

SvenThe day turned out to be beautiful, though the trail was a wee bit slippery. I, like everybody else, flew down the trail, as the terrain was far easier than anybody had anticipated. I hit the shelter just after noon, finding just Sven there. He said that he was going to continue hiking the 6.8 miles to the next shelter. I pondered it and, just after he left, decided to do the same.

I took a brief break, however, eating some pita sandwiches and M&Ms. While eating, a small red squirrel began to scout me out. It circled me a few times, moving along in a jerky fashion like a clockwork creature of the woods. It finally came to rest at the end of a log about five feet from me. It sat there for nearly twenty minutes, both of us unmoving, staring one another in the eyes. I'd like to say that I experienced some kind of deep emotional connection between that squirrel and I, bridging gaps of linguistics and species, gaining immeasurable insight into the world of the woodland creature. The fact is that I spent most of the time trying not to scratch myself and wondering if the thing had gone and died. Leave it to Waldo to be deeply philosophic, eh? The Brothers finally came along to their day's goal, their noise scaring little Squirrely away.

The day's hike continued to be gravy, though I came across a lump. Well, it was more than a lump -- I actually found a mountain in my gravy, called Albert. Albert is a 0.2 mile rock scramble, described by the Appalachian Trail Guide as "steep, rocky and memorable". It was great -- a nice, short reprieve from an otherwise unexciting day's hike. I was rewarded at the top with an outstanding view.

Albert Mountain is topped by a fire tower, from the top of which I could see for miles. Layer upon layer of ridges were in all directions, each ridge's flanks flecked with spots of greenery, thicker towards the base. It was a beautiful sight that made the 97-mile walk worth it. Immediately after the top of Albert was the shelter, Big Spring Shelter. For the life of me, I can't figure out why they gave it that name -- the spring was a trickle.

Sven was at the shelter, having arrived an hour earlier. He had made his dinner of just about everything he had left -- noodles, mashed potatoes, cheese, spices, powdered milk and who knows what else, all tossed in a pot and boiled. He seemed to like it. I went for the Lipton's again, stirring in some pepperoni and powdered milk for extra protein. I'd been burning about 5000 calories a day, and my appetite seemed to have just hit. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough food to back that up. My throat, I'd noticed, had begun to get sore, and my nose had begun to stuff up. I made 32 ounces of spiced cider and drank it as Sven and I talked in the dark of the shelter. It seemed to help my throat a bit, but not much.

Sven told me of his employment, at the Department of Environmental Protection in Connecticut, as well as his own clock-repair business. He seemed very proud of his inherited trade of clock-repair. He's trying to decide if he's going to go into engineering or medical school. He's leaning towards med school, mostly because there's a lot more job satisfaction as a physician than as an engineer. He, too, has been having a lot of knee troubles. He's been taking prescribed dosages, four times daily, of 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen. That's an awful lot, especially compared to my daily 200 milligrams.

The mice squeaked around a bit, poking their nose into some of Sven's belongings, but they didn't give me any trouble. It would be a cold night.

Song Stuck in my Head Today: Dave Matthews Band, "People, People"

Miles Today: 14.5

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