AT 2017: Day 21, Groundhog Creek Shelter to Kale Gap

I told Althea that treachery was tearing me limb from limb

Today was only my second day back on the trail after being off for eight days.

I could have expected it would take time to readjust to trail life. I should have known it would be hard to return to a hiking routine.

But I would never have predicted I'd question why I was hiking this trail.

I did, and that worried me.

DateMonday, May 1, 2017
WeatherRain with gusty wind, then sunny late in the day
Trail ConditionsNearly perfect, with only a few steep ascents
Today's Miles13.9
Trip Miles261.1

Rain pelted the tent a couple brief times overnight, but I got a good night's sleep.

The temperature remained warm, probably in the upper 60s, so I slept in my 50-degree quilt. It was comfortable.

I woke up just before 6:30 a.m. and started packing right away, hoping to beat the morning rain that was in the forecast.

Though it started to rain again before I finished packing, I didn't start the day in a foul mood.

Nevertheless, as soon as I resumed hiking I began to question what I was doing, wondering if it was what I wanted to do.

From the day I left Springer Mountain, I've asked myself every day, "Are you enjoying this?" And every day the answer has been, "Yes."

Until today.

My answer wasn't specifically "No," yet still, I didn't have a quick, affirmative answer as I always had before.

Maybe I was just in a funk because I had recently spent time enjoying the comforts and conveniences of home, but this was a new emotion for me.

Seeing blooming trillium didn't brighten my mood as I continued on the trail.

I wasn't sure I enjoyed the hike anymore. I wasn't ready to quit, but I had a hard time seeing myself continuing for several more months, all the way to Maine.

I began getting annoyed by normal things I came across on the trail. Why did the trail maintainers cut a step in this blowdown? Why not just cut it completely to keep the trail clear?

The hiking wasn't difficult in this section. Ascents and descents were gradual, but everything was wet from the off and on rain.

Most annoying was an empty box sitting near a road crossing. At some point it held trail magic for hikers, but now it was just trash on the trail.

Then everything changed.

As the trail began to climb Max Patch, the rain began to fall harder. Reaching the open bald, a gusty wind began to blow.

Views from Max Patch can be a wonderful 360-degree panorama of mountains, but not today. The trail up the 4,629-foot mountain became muddy and slippery. Walking was more difficult as wind gusts reached up to 40 miles an hour, blowing the rain sideways.

And I was loving this moment, the views, the challenges, the experience.

This was why I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Instead of annoyances, I was seeing interesting things, like how the blowing rain made trail markers wet only on one side.

This has long been for me a favorite spot on the trail. The bald was originally cleared for grazing livestock. In the 1920s it was kept clear so that planes could land on the mountain. The National Forest Service now mows the peak in the summer so that it doesn’t become overgrown with shrubs and trees.

On the other side of Max Patch the trail entered a long tunnel of rhododendron. By this time the rain was tapering off.

Soon the sky was clearing and the sun quickly dried out the trail.

Then as the trail followed a stream I noticed a scent I had never smelled in the forest before. It was spicy and fragrant, like I had just walked into the cosmetics aisle of a department store.

The scent would come and go, and took a few minutes to identify it.


The rain and sun had brought out this amazing smell.

Late in the day the trail went over Walnut Mountain where there was a small meadow. Not far on the other side was Walnut Mountain Shelter.

One Pole was at the shelter. I had met him a couple weeks ago at Rock Gap Shelter on Day 9.

It was cold and blustery at the shelter. With the days growing longer there was still plenty of daylight remaining, so I decided to get water and cook dinner here at the shelter, then push on until I found a more comfortable place to camp.

After hiking for less than a mile I found a campsite at Kale Gap. It was a nice, flat place to pitch my tent.

The first spot I chose to pitch my tent seemed ideal until I happened to notice a large tree leaning over the spot. Not wishing to be crushed in the middle of the night, I selected another spot.

I didn't add much to my mileage for the day by continuing to hike after dinner, but the location was more pleasant.

By now, all of my doubts of wanting to hike had vanished. I was in this thing for the long haul.

I told Althea I was feeling lost
Lacking in some direction
Althea told me upon scrutiny
That my back might need protection
I told Althea that treachery
Was tearing me limb from limb
Althea told me, now cool down boy
Settle back easy, Jim

From "Althea" by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.