Day 15: Nighthike (Dicks Creek Gap- Plumorchard Gap Shelter)
I could stand it no longer. I had to make miles whether my knee was ready or not. The problem was, it did not seem to be ready at all. In fact, it seemed like everyday I was off my feet, the tighter my legs and knees became.
Pulling on my knee brace, I hobbled up the stairs to load my car, ignoring my reservations. By the time my Asheville friends had arrived, everything was loaded up and ready to go. In fact, it was a little late already. We got moving in our 2 cars towards Franklin, NC, where we would later drop my car and continue down to Dick’s Creek Gap in the other car.
After getting a late start, having lunch, getting gas, etc… it was a little late to be starting on the trail at 5pm. Luckily, the clocks had recently “sprung forward”, so I had an extra hour of daylight to hike in. I left my Asheville friends behind as I started my warm-up hike in the late afternoon sun.
One foot, carefully, in front of the other. Slowly, carefully, repeat. I know at some point I would have to turn on my headlamp if I wanted to sleep in a shelter that night. It was a little more than 4 miles and I simply didn’t have enough daylight. Concentrate. Be careful.
Shortly before dark, I sat down for a snack and map check @ (XXX). To my disappointment, I still had XX miles to go until I reached the first shelter. Pulling out a cliff bar and mini-slim jim, I started munching. Being off trail for 6 days robs you of your trail legs and stamina. In a daze, I look up and see a dark-colored dog way up the trail. I look hard for a hiker, but no one is in sight. Double-checking to ensure I wasn’t seeing things, I looked for the dog again. Now he was approaching the campsite. Slowly. Carefully.
I’m not sure if it knew that I had spotted him. I was sure he could smell my food though. I waited for him to come out from behind the last tree but he lingered at the edge of the site. Just out of view. Surely, he was mounting his final attack. I braced myself, though I had no idea what I would do. My hiking poles were stuck in the ground yards away.
After a few tense moments, a voice broke the silence. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” The dog appeared and bashfully looked over its shoulder at its owner, who had just appeared around the corner. Though the jolly, middle-aged hiker was calling HER name, she casually walked over, totting her doggie backpack, and gave me a good once over. She even stopped to smell my hand, which I had offered in hopes of making a fast friend.
She walked back to the edge of camp just in time to join her owner as he made his way over, already profusely apologizing for his dog. He introduced himself and his companion, but my mind had already returned to making it to the shelter. I made some friendly conversation, as he was more than happy to talk my ear off. I loaded up my pack all the while and was on the trail within minutes.
Darkness fell quickly. First, everything is still visible, but bluish in tint. Then grey. Monotone. Then the shadows start to creep in. And your eyes start to play tricks on you. Its very difficult to perceive the depth of each step. To recognize and then avoid each obstacle. Time for the LED headlamp.
With my Ipod Nano now playing tunes in my ears, I didn’t feel the rest of the hike. I floated there on a wave of the new found energy. With just a small spot of light to guide me, I didn’t so much look for the white blazes, as followed the contour of the trail on ground. The Trail has a certain look in the light of a headlamp, the way it casts a slight shadow on either side.
When I arrived at (XXX) Shelter, it appeared there were only 2 guests in the double-decker. The up-stairs guest was awake and journaling by headlamp. The lower-tier guest looked to be trying to sleep, already wrapped up in their sleeping bag. As I dropped my pack and began to unpack, the upstairs guest started some friendly conversation. The basics: “Where are you hiking in from”, “Are you thru-hiking”, “What’s your trail name”, “When did you start?”
I had just finished explaining why I had taken 6 zero’s when the lower-tier guest sat up. “Who is that?” she asked. Instantly, I recognized GI Jayne’s friendly voice. I put my light in her face and teased, “You don’t recognize this voice?”
“…Birdman? Is that you Birdman?” still shaking off the drowsiness from her nap.
“What’s up, Jayne?!” I said, smiling broadly.
“Birdman! I seriously never thought I would see you again. I was sure you were through the Smokies and halfway to Maine already. Sue is here. She’s going by Giggles now. We should get her up!” she poured on loudly.
It was only then that I realized that there was an additional loft right above my head. I coule see the feet of a couple sleeping bags and some gear hanging up. The whole time, I thought their loft area was just a roof on the table/ dining area of the shelter. Oopppsss…
Jayne and I seemed to realize our mistake at the same time and quickly quieted back down to a loud whisper. She joined me for a late dinner and wed talked into the night about trail gossip and whatnot. I was so glad to find her, of all people, on my first night back on trail.