Generally speaking, there are 3 options on the AT when it comes time to stop walking for the day. You can pitch your tent, stay in a trail shelter or go off trail and book a motel room. In the last 3 days I have sampled all of these major food groups.
Let’s review. Two days ago I walked 19 miles in continuous rain, periodically accompanied by thunder and lightening. When I got to Rock Gap shelter it was still raining so I opted for staying in a trail shelter to avoid getting my gear wet while I was setting up. Now AT trail shelters are rustic affairs – basically wooden lean-tos. Their claim to fame is that they have permanent residents – rodents (they like the food that hikers bring). Ignoring this fact of shelter life, I bedded down for the night. Somewhere around midnight, fast asleep, I was dreaming that someone was pulling or lifting me up. Was I dreaming that I was a Hare Krishna and was being yanked into heaven by my hair knot? No, I don’t have enough hair for that, and when I abruptly woke from the dream I saw that a large rat, one that any maze running psychologist would be proud of, was actually trying to pull my wool hat off my head. I slapped at him with my pillow and he wandered over to my sleeping companion to my right. Now, did I remain vigilant the rest of the night for his return? Facing the alternatives I just went back to sleep. In the morning I still had my hat so …
Flash forward to the following day. This time it snowed all day with wind gusts and it was cold with a low predicted of about 23° F. As I finished off another 19 miles day I pulled into the aptly named Cold Spring shelter. A hiker (trail name “cur dog”), was very friendly and invited me to share the shelter. Mindful of what had happened the night before, I politely declined and set up my tent in high winds and still driving snow. It didn’t stop till early the next morning and I awoke to snow drifts surrounding my tent. It was so cold that my water bottles had partially frozen. My boots also had frozen shoe laces. But, after digging out the tent and packing up I was rewarded with a glorious day for hiking – still windy but also partly sunny with spectacular views of the mountains.
Finally, at the end of that day of hiking – a 12 mile day – I booked a room at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I showered, washed my clothes and had real food in a restaurant. It felt completely decadent.
There you have it – 3 days, 3 different types of shelters.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring?