I usually awaken each morning in darkness but remain in my sleeping bag until I sense first light. I could tell the temperatures had dropped significantly overnight. I stayed inside my warm bag for another hour. It was 9:00 o’clock before I had eaten breakfast and packed up. Not a great start but today though quite cold was at least sunny. The goal was 16 miles to Hogback Ridge Shelter. When planning this latest section of my journey, I was pretty optimistic on how many miles I could cover each day. Maybe too optimistic. The terrain was quite formidable in the early going. My legs had not been asked their opinion but always had their say. Reality has a way of rethinking any plan, thank goodness the Trail is understanding. With no set timeline it was good to know I had options. To reach my goal I would have to climb Little Bald Mountain and then a little more to Big Bald at 5500 feet. The climbing began immediately, my legs lost interest just as quickly. I would walk awhile hoping it was just a matter of warming up. I didn’t know it just yet, but by lunch the plan would change. The higher I climbed the colder it got.
Fortunately there were some nice views along the way which always adds some warmth to the surroundings. The wind speed picked up as well, adding to the already cold temperatures. To make matters worse I hadn’t brought any gloves. I mumbled to myself “at least it wasn’t raining”. At one point I thought it was snowing. There was snow falling yet there was not a cloud in the sky. I learned later that it was soft rime ice. A thick frost that can be hard or soft depending on conditions when it is formed. This was light and fluffy. The winds and sunshine combined to allow it to shake free and fall like snow. It was beautiful and amazing! It also served as a reprieve from my negative thinking. this morning!
Just Before Bald Mountain Shelter I met some north bounders who had spent the night on top of the mountain. They were cold, wet and miserable. Their water had frozen and were very eager to get off the mountain. Seeking warmth, I had lunch with another hiker inside the shelter. Like me he was eating mostly trail mix for lunch. Mercury and Every View stopped by for water and a snack but quickly moved on. I took a longer break then usual and downed some cheese and peanut butter hoping the rest and calories would improve my energy and put some spark in my legs. It did not. I knew when I left the shelter another 10 miles wasn’t happening. It was 2:00 o’clock. I started thinking about options.
Big Bald lay just ahead and I looked forward to seeing it despite the cold. Amazing unobscured views in every direction. Up this high everything had turned brown and with the wind and cold temperatures despite the sunshine there was definitely the feel of winter. I stopped long enough to appreciate humbly, being able to experience the wonder of it all!
Eventually, my now really cold hands were begging to leave. I happily headed down the mountain. Once away from the wind and at lower elevation things warmed up noticeably. Surprisingly I caught Mercury and Every View who had stopped for another snack and were plotting their next move. We chatted and looked at the available hostels. They were inclined to keep moving and left me to decide my path. With cell signal at this spot I was determined to make a decision. I decided to call Mother Marian’s and see if they picked up at Sam’s Gap five miles away. It was a little after 3 when I called. I was elated when they said I could be picked up at Street Gap only 3 miles away. On the way I caught up with Mercury who has more trouble going downhill then up. She is a very steady hiker who covers long miles each day. I hope that in time I can change my style to be more like hers yet retain my ability to fly downhill. I told her of my plan and when we reached Street Gap Every View was waiting. We had to walk a quarter of a mile down to meet the shuttle driver to Marians. My legs were toast but I felt relieved and looked forward to a warm shower.
Marian’s Hostel was unlike any I had been to before. It was in the basement of their house and had all the amenities you would expect when staying with relatives. Included with the stay was a wonderful breakfast of fresh eggs from their 8 chickens on the property. I also had dinner with them and Marian is a great cook! She and her husband were wonderful hosts. Indeed it was like visiting family. Mercury even said it was her favorite hostel on the whole trail. The next day my legs still seemed extremely sore. I decided to zero here and forego any hiking to give my legs an additional day of rest. I did go for a 2 mile walk just to stretch my legs without the pack. Gears and Theory showed up that night and I made even stronger friendships with them. I can’t emphasize enough how much this journey continues to teach me. Even though many things don’t turn out as planned, it always turns out just fine. In fact it’s as if everything is just the way it was meant to be. The great people I meet, the wondrous things I come upon, even the thoughts that pass through my mind, have all shaped and pointed me in the direction that I’m suppose to travel. Tomorrow would be no different. The journey as always continues…