I hiked a mile or two to a paved road, following it uphill a half mile to Cheaha State Park and the highest point in Alabama.
My main reason for the detour was to call Amanda and my mom and let them know my whereabouts (and the fact that the dreaded road walk was, at long last, over).
I also needed to resupply some snacks for the next few days, though I could have made do with the meals in my pack in a pinch.
I left my pack outside the camp store, not really expecting anyone to steal it (the thing reeks and there's nothing of particular value in it), but I'm always a bit leery of leaving it unattended anyhow and this time was no different.
So while walking through the camp store looking at their selection, I'd peek out the window on the door whenever I passed it to make sure my pack was still there which is when I first noticed a man who seemed to be checking it out. A little TOO closely.
He saw me through the window, and I nodded briefly, and assumed he was wondering if the pack had been abandoned. I let him know it hadn't, and I was still keeping an eye on it with the nod.
He came into the store almost immediately and asked if the pack was mine and who I was, explaining that he was T-back and thru-hiking the Eastern Continental Divide Trail from Key West to Newfoundland.
I knew exactly who he was, because I'd been following his registry entries for the last 1,500 miles! He's the thru-hiker I mentioned earlier in my blog entries that was a week ahead of me (as of the Florida/Alabama state line) and I wanted to catch up to but figured I never would since he was so far ahead of me.
Well, I caught up to him, though I hadn't wished on these particular circumstances. He explained he got caught in a rockslide nearby and was recooperating from it. He had called a taxi and was waiting for it when he noticed my pack.
He'll be getting off the trail for a couple of weeks to see if his back improves, but seems certain he'll no longer reach Canada. At least not this year, which if he has to take a couple of weeks off the trail, would definitely have been a challenge to pull off.
T-back went outside to wait for his cab, and I finished buying snacks, a replacement bottle of mouthwash, and a pack of quart-sized freezer ZipLocks.
While restocking my pack, T-back and I continued swapping war stories, and I was amused to learn that he had also followed the false orange blazes shortly before White Springs that I had.
He hadn't been bothered by the police on his walk, except for in the keys when trying to camp illegally. (I guess I was better at being stealthy than he was, but it did help that I'd set up camp in the dark.)
He theorized that perhaps my problems with the police were because I had a scruffy beard while he kept himself clean-shaven, and it's not a bad theory. People didn't think him as suspicious as myself and didn't call out the police on him. Maybe. We'll never know for sure, except that he hasn't had the problems I have with them.
His taxi arrived and whisked him away, and I put on the pack and hiked back down to the trail. I still planned to reach Springer Mountain in 18 days.
I didn't even consider going the extra bit to climb to THE highest peak in Alabama. I had miles to do, and as far as high points go, Alabama isn't really something I'd go bragging about being only about 2,400 feet above sea level.
The trail went downhill, not a big surprise considering most trails do that when you start at the highest point in the state.
It was, however, much more gradual going down than the steep climbs from the day before and I was making excellent time.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon, however, I heard the first rumble of thunder. Rain, I knew, was close at hand. I dropped my pack and pigged out on snacks--may as well eat while I could because eating in the rain later would have been much more challenging--and drank down all the water I could.
Within the hour, I was walking through sheets of rain. It would start and stop, then start up again with varying intensities. At least I had most of the day in dry weather.
More pleasing was that the trail largely stayed off the ridges and tended to keep towards valleys and gaps where I felt less exposed to the lightning. That ridge line from the day before would have been absolutely hair raising had I been up there in this weather!
Despite the rain and my detour to Cheaha SP, I made it about 22 miles for the day, stopping just before the trail crossed I-20. I stopped relatively early at 5:30 for a couple of reasons.
One, I was sick of hiking in the rain. Two, I wanted to find a place to camp that was near water, in a valley, and at least a mile away from pesky roads. And when I saw the perfect location, I had to stop.
I set up my tarp in a drenching rain, and I can't think of any other time I had ever done that. I've taken down a tarp in the pouring rain, I've been under my tarp in a pouring rain, and I've set up the tarp on the wet ground immediately after a pouring rain, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember an instance where I set up the tarp while the rain came down in buckets. Always something new, I guess. =)
Normally I don't cook in the rain--it's usually a hassle--but I had a heck of a lot of dinners in my pack and wanted to lighten that load by one.
I picked the simplest dinner of them all--mashed potatoes. Quick and easy to make, and by far the easiest to clean up. I let the two cups of water boil just out from under my tarp since I didn't much care if my pot got wet in the rain (I'd have to clean it afterwards anyhow!)
I switched into my dry camp clothes, and enjoyed my nice, hot dinner--having some M&Ms for desert.
It's quite dark now. I type this now from under my tarp with the time approaching 8:00. The rain is coming down in buckets, though it had slowed down for much of the last hour. It's coming down HARD at the moment, though, with flashes from lightning lighting up the sky and thunder echoing through the valley.
I'm happy, though. I'm full, I'm dry, and as Eddie Rabit once said--I Love a Rainy Night, I love to hear the thunder and watch the lightning light up the sky....
But I do hope it stops by morning. *fingers crossed*