My goal for the day was to reach the end of the Pinhoti Trail and the beginning (for me, at least) of the Benton MacKaye Trail. Originally, had I followed the original road walk described in my directions, I'd end the day six or seven miles down the Benton MacKaye. Not knowing where I was or how far away that trail was, I hoped to simply reach the Benton MacKaye. That would still put me within easy distance of Springer Mountain by the 16th.
The day started cloudy and stayed that way for pretty much the whole day. Eventually the trail reached the Mountaintown Trail, which thrilled me to no end since my data sheet had a line marked "Begin Mountaintown Trail" and I felt confident that my directions were now on course with the trail I followed. I now knew where on the trail I was, and the end of the Pinhoti Trail was another eight or so miles away.
I figured that would put me at the end of the trail--my minimum goal for the day--at close to 4:00. If the storm held off until later in the day, I thought, I could be in camp with my tarp set up before the first drops of rain hit me. And oh, would that be awesome!
So I hoofed on, reaching the northern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail a little before 4:00 that afternoon where it intersects the Benton MacKaye Trail. Despite the threat from the weather, I took a couple of pictures of me at the junction, then backtracked a hundred feet or so to a nice little place just off the side of the Pinhoti.
Knowing severe weather was in the forecast, I picked a high point a couple of feet up from the trail where it would be impossible to flood and strung my tarp between two stout trees--the better to hold my tarp in place if the wind really picks up.
It was an excellent location, deep in a valley and surrounded by trees where I would feel safe from the passing thunderstorms. When I know thunderstorms are in the forecast, I like to camp in low-lying areas rather than on ridgetops for obvious reasons. I also like to be surrounded by thousands of trees so they can protect me from severe winds and so I'm not camped under that single, solitary tree you always hear about. Nope, I want there to be thousands of 'targets'--the safer to hide out in.
So I was rather pleased with how well this campsite fit my criteria. My only complaint, and a minor one at that, was that I didn't see any water nearby. But I already filled up all of my water bottles not knowing if I'd be camping near water, so that wasn't an issue.
I set up camp and cooked a fine meal of rice, bean, and cheese burritos--finishing up just as I heard the first of the thunder in the distance. "The rain is near," I said to myself, and I quickly cleaned up the mess from dinner before it arrived.
The thunderstorm arrived with a fury, and a hard rain pounded my tarp, but I relaxed underneath reading the book I picked up in Dalton. No problem for me!
The storm passed by, but seemed to do so in a series of waves, each more severe than the previous. The first thunderstorm passed and the rain settled into a light drizzle before the second onslaught started a few hours later, and a third wave hit well after midnight with a crashing percussion that made my ears ring. From flash to boom, only a second or so elapsed. Unable to sleep, I stared at the roof of my tarp and timed the lightning to the thunder, more often than not thinking to myself, "Damn! That was close!"
The last of the thunder passed by, however, and I finally went to sleep for good. The next morning, a light rain continued to fall, but I decided to wait it out for a couple of hours. The weather forecast predicted no rain for today--clearly wrong at this point--but I figured the chances of the rain stopping soon were better than average.
And the bet paid off. The rain stopped within an hour or so, and even the tree snot had stopped falling by the time I broke down camp.
I put on my dry clothes (except the socks and shoes, which were still wet from a stream crossing late the afternoon before), proud that I managed to spend the entire storm under the protective cover of my tarp. I couldn't have timed things better.
I followed the white diamond blazes, though at this point, I didn't know exactly what direction I was walking anymore. I was located north of Springer Mountain, so I'd have to hike south at some point, and I would be heading south on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
Most of the morning, the trail stayed well in the woods, but by afternoon, it started following dirt roads and meandering through a community I'd later identify as Cherry Log.
As far as road walks went, it isn't bad. The roads weren't busy and no loose dogs came after me.
At one point, I filled up a couple of water bottles from a stream that looked like it came in away from where the civilization was to make sure I'd have plenty of water overnight before reaching camp.
Water, I thought, seemed dicey at best here because of the civilization. Who knows what chemicals people were using on their lawns or houses, so I picked water up from a creek that--from my point of view--seemed to come in from above the civilization, but I couldn't be completely sure. I picked it up in case I would need it, but I hoped to replace it with a better source before the night was over.
As I started picking up my pack, a car driving by stopped, then backed up several feet to me.
A woman leaned out the window. "Do you plan to drink that water?"
"I hope not!" I replied, "But I will if I have to."
She leaned out the window with a small half-liter bottle of water. "Take this. Don't drink the water."
I took the bottle and thanked her, and she drove off into the sunset. I kept the water I picked up anyhow, however, since I needed a lot more than half a liter of the stuff, but I was glad to at least have that little amount of known safe water.
I stopped a few miles further, seemingly in the middle of Cherry Log, at a shelter. The shelter was in a strange location, with houses in view all over the place. I couldn't even find a place to pee that was completely out of view of all the houses. The shelter was much more public than I expected, but it was still a step up from stealth camping between houses.
A nice creek ran passed the shelter, but decided I liked the water I picked up from the questionable stream better than this creek which I *knew* ran through plenty of civilization.
I pulled on all my layers of clothes and prepared for what already was becoming a very cold night.