Today it rained. Except for some brief showers in the early morning hours of the fourth day, it's been dry throughout the trip.
Hiking doesn't stop when it rains. You've simply got to gear up, put your head down, and plow ahead. As thruhikers say, "no rain, no Maine."
Our threesome of last night grew by four after we'd turned in, as a group of four college students showed up under the guidance of their headlamps. They quickly settled in, and we all spent a fairly restful night.
By morning the wind had picked up and fog had rolled in. A sudden burst of wireless connectivity provided me with a weather forecast: a 90% chance of afternoon thunderstorms, starting around 1-2 PM. With about 17 miles on the docket, that meant I needed to hustle.
The first 6 miles went smoothly, but then came a 6-mile stretch NOBOs had been warning about, with ascents up Thundee Miuntain and a stiff ascent over the exposed ridge of Rocky Top.
By the ascent of Thunder Mountain, the rain began in earnest, and on went my hat, rain jacket and pack cover. A steep and rocky trail made matters even more unpleasant. But as I hit the top of Thunder Miuntain, the rain eased, and I was able to traverse the exposed ridge lines with nothing worse than gusty winds and sheets of fog and mist whipping by.
Eventually I descended to the Spence Field Shelter, the last reliable water source until Fontana Dam. I tanked up with a full four liters and made the decision to push on while the weather held.
The weather quickly turned back to sometimes heavy rain, but now I had the advantage of the best trail I'd seen in the Smokies so far - well graded, smooth, and sandy. I quickly knocked off the three miles to the next shelter and called it a day.
After a change of clothes and a hot mealI had time to get organized for the morning and laze away the afternoon in my sleeping bag, sipping hot tea and listening to football on my radio.
So ends another day on the trail. Tomorrow should be a fast downhill to Fontana, a shower, then the drive home to sleep in my own bed for the first time in almost two weeks. Can't wait!