Welcome to the Thunder Dome

The plan out of Deep Gap camp area was a fairly straight forward 14.7 mile trek to Jerry Cabin shelter. The sun has certainly been a blessing, but not one without its own set of complications. The hike was a toughy. 7 of the 14.7 were over a 12% grade (pretty steep for an extended climb, climbs can be upwards of 18-20% but these are generally brief). Because of the heat, we have planned to incorporate a 1-2 hour siesta at mid day when the sun is hottest. Todays afternoon nap was scheduled for a small clearing called Jones Meadow; marked on Awol's guide at about 10 miles (9.9). Unreal idea. We sat, we ate, a few people had a little creek bath, it was lovely. Novy and I even chose to capitalize on the opportunity to grab some sleep. As 4pm neared and people began to file out for the remaining 4.8 miles, it was actually painful to gather our stuff and shake off the cobwebs for another section of trail. Rob and Pepa chose to get a head start on the group and left about 40 minutes before the rest. As we headed off down the trail after them, we were confronted by an out-of-breath hiker with no pack bearing a message about the trail ahead. Apparently the NC forestry department scheduled a controlled burn for a zone which includes a 3 mile section of the AT. We were grateful for his efforts to deliver this message because there was also word that a park ranger had corralled about 20 hikers in an inconvenient location (not allowing them to pass), Rob and Pepa among them. Because we were already in a place with ample flat ground and a reliable water source, we chose to stay put. Rob and Pepa not willing to add 3.6 miles to their trek by backtracking decided to stay along the side of the trail a few miles ahead. The messenger friend was willing to bring a little extra water along with him to supplement their supply, so I suppose all was well in the end, but I can't deny being a little disappointed that we had to shut it down 5 miles before our destination. This will add 5 miles to our final day into Erwin, TN.

To compensate for our 5 mile shortcoming the previous day, we hiked a painstaking 18 miles to Big Flat camping area on Friday April 12th. Because the group was segmented we didn't see much of one another throughout the journey. We had heard tell of a weather system moving in before the evening so we tried our best to put down some miles before the skies opened up. Upon checking the weather (cell service permitting) we were immediately confronted with a large flashing tornado warning for our exact location (literally, we directly in the middle of the tornado zone). Needless to say this news put a little pep in our step. And it was a good thing too because the first drop of rain hit the ground just as we were attaching the rain-flys to our tents. Dry and warm, we figured we were safe and wouldn't have to face any time on the trail soaking wet. Wrong. So wrong. The thunderstorm which ensued was without a doubt the most intense storm I have ever experienced. Theres something about being a tent that tends to magnify the severity of a storm. By 1AM the lightening strikes would completely illuminate the inside of your tent as though someone had shone a flood light on you. Each strike was immediately followed by a deafening crack of thunder that rumbled on for 10 or 15 seconds a piece. We were scared. Nobody was sleeping. The fear was compounded by the thuds of falling trees. I'd hate to see what a falling 50 foot pine would do to a tent and the hiker sleeping inside. Suffice it to say that hiking my own hike doesn't include being liquified by a two-ton log.

Waking up in the morning, we came to two sobering realizations. One, there were dozens of fallen trees all around our camp site, freshly toppled by the storm. And two, a couple of our hiking compadres had been puking their guts out all night with what we can only assume is the Norwalk virus. For the last week or so we have seen signs of sickness all around. People are getting violently I'll and dropping like flys. The ATC issued a warning to all who venture onto the Appalachian Trail to be very cautious when filtering and treating all water, and to refrain from sleeping in shelters if at all possible. Physical contact between hikers (sharing cigarettes, food, water bottles, clothing etc) is definitely the biggest cause of transmission but we are already compulsively applying sanitizer as though we were surgeons so the blame lies squarely on the water and shared items. As is customary when someone is sick, we took some gear from our friends packs to lighten their load and follow them out to the nearest road crossing. Luckily for us, the closest road crossing happened to be north (the direction we are already traveling... Backtracking sucks) and it was only 6 miles away, about a 2-1/2 hour hike.

Before we even began the AT, the reputation of a trail angel by the name of Ms. Janet had made its way to Portland Maine. We had heard Ms. Janet spends her free time shuttling hikers around, putting them up in her home and generally assisting people hike. We were lucky enough to have Ms. Janet's phone number (as she had given it out to one of the members of our group at Amicalola Falls during the AT kickoff in early March). She agreed to meet us at Sam's Gap (where we were) and drive us to her friend and fellow trail angel's home, Ms. Marian. Janet drives a 10 passenger van with an immense amount of hiker related stickers and flash pasted throughout the interior. She loves hikers. She takes a picture of every group or individual she meets on the trail. This goes without saying, but Ms. Janet had us at howdy. Her van doesn't run on love alone (as she has posted on the dash board) so we were happy to assist the Ms. Janet gas fund with a $5 a piece. Well worth a ride off the mountain, especially when you're puking every other step.

If we thought we loved Miss Janet, we would be infatuated with Ms. Marian and her sweetheart family. Ms. Marian was diagnosed with MS in recent years and as such has had an inevitable decline in social life. Being that she is all but house-bound, miss Marian now brings the company to her. Her son Bobby will run out and shuttle anyone back to the house where the rate is $20 and the house is yours to make yourself at home. Lots of people throw around this phrase "make yourself at home" but miss Marian really means it. The pantry and fridge are open to hikers (although items such as Gatorade, beer and bottled water are all marked with a reasonable price) as well as laundry, showers and transportation to a place where hikers can resupply. Arriving at Miss Marian's was an experience in and of itself. Bobby warned miss Janet that their driveway was a bit steep and perhaps she would be better off letting us out at the bottom instead of trying to barrel up the slope in her Astro. But.... Miss Janet dont play that. She revved up that old van and squeeled her tires all the way up that driveway (which was actually SO goddamn steep) right to the frot door. We broke out in applause. Lots of applause for Ms. Janet's dukes of hazard moves. Because miss Marian's immune system is already depleted, it was only right that Rooster and Pepa stay in a motel down the road where they can be quarantined while they recover. As for the rest of us.... Sounds like we're gunna enjoy the sunshine and a few pops with the miss Marian Family.

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