So I lingered in the shelter longer than I normally would before hiking out the next morning.
I wasn't especially excited about the hiking, though. The day was beautiful and cool, but there would still be quite a bit of road walks which generally do nothing but depress me. As far as road walks go, it wasn't bad. Dogs didn't chase me along the streets, the roads weren't busy, and no policemen questioned me, and the surrounding terrain was quite nice--but I was thoroughly sick of road walks and dreaded them.
The trail got back into the woods after a few miles which I much appreciated, but I knew it was only temporary and that the trail would return to road walking later in the day, so for most of the day, I just felt blah. I wanted the hike to end.
When the trail returned to road walking, I stopped at the Riverside Restaurant for a late lunch, arriving 15 minutes before they closed. The restaurant wasn't open from 3 to 5, and I actually surprised myself by arriving before three. I'd been walking sluggishly because of my funk and didn't think I'd arrive before they closed.
Not that I needed to eat there--I still had plenty of food in my pack--but I liked the idea of sitting indoors and letting others cook a real meal for me. The one perk to road walking that I actually liked. =) I'd have still traded it away to have stayed in the woods, however.
By the time I left, ominous clouds had started blowing in. The weather forecast called for rain today the last time I had checked, and it looked like it could start at any time.
The trail entered the woods once again, and looking through my data sheet, it appeared my last road walk was now behind me. Nowhere were there instructions to turn on such-n-such road, or to follow a road. Several places it mentioned where I would *cross* a road, but nothing to suggest I'd actually have to follow one, and when I got off that last road, my spirits soared.
"No more &&@^!@# @&!%#ing roads!" I shouted with glee. =) What a relief to finally be done with them.
My pace picked up and I hiked a couple of more miles to a gap on a ridge with a spring nearby.
The wind was bitterly cold and surprisingly strong, so I set up my tarp alongside a log that could act as a wind break. I piled on all my layers of clothes and slipped into my sleeping bag. It was getting darned cold out, and my gut instinct told me this might be the coldest night I'd ever spend on the trail and a good test for the 20 degree bag I picked up after getting out of Florida.
Near sunset, I heard precipitation hitting my tarp. Frozen precipitation. I wasn't sure if it was actually snow or just very small pieces of hail, but there were only trace amounts of it and I put it out of my mind, curled up reading The Bourne Legacy until about 10:00 that night.
I stayed warm throughout the night, and the next morning I lounged around late not wanting to get out of my sleeping bag. "Damn cold!" I thought. "Damn cold."
Then the precipitation started again, this time I could see it was small flakes of snow swirling through the air. Nothing that stuck, but it seemed like Mother Nature wanted to remind me that it was cold outside.
Eventually my bladder forced me to leave my sleeping bag, then I quickly broke down camp and started hiking just to get warm.
The snow grew thicker as the morning progressed, then turned into small pellets of hail which did not immediately melt upon hitting the ground like the snow was doing.
But my spirits soared. I was having FUN again! =) I sang Christmas songs to myself and watched the snow flakes twirling through the air. It's like I could watch the wind itself rather than just the effects it has on the objects it connects with.
By late morning, some of the snow and hail started to collect on the trail, and my feet would make a satisfying 'crunch!' with each step.
The snow was something of a surprise to me since it was never in the weather forecast I saw. Rain the day before, yes, and bitter cold starting today, but it was supposed to be sunny and cold.
But I was glad for the snow. It was new, exciting, and different. I told Amanda before I even started my hike that there was a good possibility it could snow on me at least once once I reached the mountains in Alabama. I knew it could very cold in April in those mountains, and planned for it with warmer camp clothes and the new 20 degree sleeping bag. I was ready, and I was glad that extra preparation could be put to use.
And I much preferred the cold and snow to rain. I hiked all day without an umbrella, more wet from sweat than from the precipation.
And, I thought, I should reach Springer Mountain the next day. My hike was nearly over. The theme song for Rocky ran through my head between Christmas songs as memories flashed through my head. Walking through water, hiking through fire. On roads and trails, over mountains and through air force bases. And now the trail had one last challenge to throw at me--snow.
The snow did stop briefly a couple of times during the day, to melt off before continuing again. But for most of the day, it came down in varying intensities.
I stopped for the night at Bryson Gap. There weren't any significant logs to block the wind or snow, so I carefully set up my tarp perpendicular to the wind, put on all my layers, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I expected another cold night.
The weather forecast, when I last checked it in Chatsworth the week before, predicated tonight would be get down to 30 degrees. That was in low-laying Dalton, however. I figured up in these mountains, it was probably 10 degrees colder than that, perhaps even in the high teens. Definitely a new record for the coldest weather I ever camped in.
But I stayed plenty warm during the night. With my old 40 degree bag, however, it would have been a truely miserable night. As far as I was concerned, that bag paid for itself these last couple of nights.
And tomorrow--if all went well, I'd be standing on Springer Mountain.