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2018 will NOT be a complete wash-out!

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In late June of this year, as the knee on which I had surgery done six years began to hurt in the exact way it hurt prior to that surgery, I feared that another round of surgery would all but ruin my chances for major miles this year. As my last hike -- one that was, by design, ridiculously short -- resulted in LESS pain in my knee, I decided to do some real (for me at least) hiking.

Living in the Philly area means it takes over a day of driving to get to places I've haven't hiked yet, and my responsibilities & scheduled events mean I can barely be gone for six days. That means that, even if I drive rapidly down the interstate, I'll have little more than four days to do hiking. My snail's pace of ten miles a day means I have to choose areas where shelters, or at least good campgrounds, are about that distance apart. And my choice to (1) park my car at Point A, (2) then get a shuttle to Point B, and finally (3) hike back to Point A; means I need to find a part of The Trail were I can do steps (1), (2), and (3) AND have an easy drop-off place at "Point B" AND have shelters about every ten miles between Point B and Point A.
Amazingly, making Point A to be Uncle Johnny's Hostel worked almost perfectly, with Devil Fork Gap being Point B. The catch is that I had to get to Hogback Ridge Shelter on Day 1 of hiking. Doing that would mean ten mile (or fewer) hikes day, while NOT doing that would mean days that this out-of-shape geezer may not be able to easily handle. I did not want to arrive at this shelter without enough time to properly set up in daylight (I'm perfectly CAPABLE of doing so, and HAVE done so a couple of times -- I just don't LIKE doing so), my normal hiking pace is about a mile an hour (yes, that's SLOW, but it won't help for me to PLAN to hike faster than that when I know full well that I WON'T), and the distance from the gap to the shelter is just over six miles -- including a 1600 foot climb. That meant I had to get to the gap by 1pm, which meant I had to get to Uncle Johnny's by noon on Monday. And doing so might not be easy, as I could not start this 557 mile drive before about 1pm on Sunday.
Very blessedly, I was able to do this drive, buy some stuff I needed for my hike, and get to Johnny's just before noon. The shuttle driver was good and ready, and got me to Devil Fork before that 1pm start time I wanted. I started my climb full of energy, feeling pretty good despite the miserable dew point in this area.
Initially, the arrival of rain as I continued my hike up the hill made me think, "Oh NO!" Strangely enough, the rain resulted in me walking even more energetically, as if the falling water reduced the temperature enough for me to not feel like I was about to drop. I got to Hogback well before dark, and slept quite well.
I should mention that I absolute ADORE the bear cables at this shelter, and any other place that has them. Clip your food bad into one carabiner, clip the other carabiner into the hook in the tree -- and you're done! A LOT easier than any bear hang, and without the trash that bear boxes seem to end up getting from trashy hikers.

Hiking through Big Bald the next day was actually quite nice, simply because the weather was bright and sunny, resulting in pretty good views from there. Because I left Hogback at 7:30a, getting to Bald Mountain Shelter before dark was not difficult at all. I got to meet "Merlin" (experienced backpacker), his daughter, and her fiancé -- a trio getting used to the backpacking together. Merlin's a fun guy with which to share hiking wisdom. He slept in the shelter; the other two hammocked. These three offered to share their hot meals, but I was clear that I continue to have no appetite after a day of hiking.

Woke up before light the next day, with the hope of getting started before dawn. The weather had other plans, however -- at about 5:30am the lightning and thunder began, and within 15 minutes it was pouring. I didn't get going till about 7am, which left me confident that I could do the 10.6 miles WELL before dark. As I spent almost an hour drying out my socks & shoes at a bridge just north of Spivey Gap, leaving at about 3pm and knowing I had a mere four miles to go, I felt pretty good.
Then the rain came just before 4pm. And not just some drizzle -- it was coming down in buckets at times. And it didn't stop after fifteen minutes, like thunderstorms often do -- or thirty minutes, or an hour, or even TWO HOURS. It was NON-STOP, heavy rain for the entire hike through Devils Creek Gap, continuing after my arrival at the shelter at about 6:10p. For someone who used to not even hike if there was even a reasonable chance of ANY rain, this was BY FAR the worst storm I've gone through. There was thunder & lightning, but (1) I was going down off the ridge and (2) I counted the seconds between the two and found that time to be eight counts -- meaning the lightning almost two miles away*. Blessedly, the trail was in VERY good shape (THANK YOU, trail crews!!), so I was able to make quite good speed going downhill. I was quite tired after I got to the shelter, with my socks & shoes -- having just been dried out! -- now soaking wet again. I just inflated my mattress, rolled out my bag, and actually began a nap before anything else. Merlin's trio arrived just before 7pm, and the rain FINALLY stopped shortly afterwards. Merlin's soon-to-be son-in-law ate a Twinkie{R} for the first time in his life, I had some coffee just to prevent excess cooling, we all worked together to start a small fire ("Camping television," I called it, and the others agreed), and we were ready for sleep by 9pm.

No surprise if anyone is curious -- water is flowing QUITE well at all potential sources along this section.

Needing a mere 6.4 miles to get back to Uncle Johnny's, and knowing it was mostly downhill, I intentionally "slept in" till 6:30am. As there was very good weather, and the trail here was also in good shape (again, THANK YOU, trail workers!), I made good time back to my car. I absolutely HAD to have a shower before I left, which (as usual) lifted my spirits. I got back home by mid-day on Friday, exactly as hoped, as was VERY enthusiastically greeted by Shuttle.

I think I can get a few dozen more miles this year, which is LOT more than I feared I might be limited to. I'll just have to figure out how to do so despite the limitations I noted earlier.

* I'm aware that lightning can strike from well over two miles away, so don't assume safety even if the count is fifteen or more!

Updated 08-11-2018 at 22:41 by GoldenBear