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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Oh Weather!

We are now at mile 542, just outside Atkins, Virginia. Our travels since Damascus have included many days of rain and lots of slippy, slidy mud. The trail had so much flowing water that we joked we were hiking the Appalachian river, rather than a trail. On our second day back out, we climbed Whitetop mountain, about a four mile climb, which has a large bald (grassy, treeless bare top). Starting out the weather wasn't too bad, although colder than one would expect for May, and it was raining lightly and a little windy.  Right before we got to the top, the winds started to pick up. We met up with some other thru hikers Quohag and Oreo who had been ahead of us. They warned us that the winds were about 55 mph at the top. They had left their packs on the other side and come back to assist Quaker since he was behind us and they were concerned about him crossing the bald without assistance in the high winds. Little did we know what was in store for us at the top. Our first steps were shocking with the difference in wind, rain, and temperature. The closer to the top we got, the worse the weather became.  The rain/sleet/ice we were pelted with was unlike anything I've experienced before. These were not 55 mph winds. I've stood outside in category one hurricane winds. This was worse. We had to literally inch our way along the trail while digging our poles in and struggling to stay upright. Keith was blown over when he took a misstep on a rock just as a huge gust of wind blew. We were blown several feet off the trail constantly, and although we knew it was only a couple hundred yards to the other side, I was very scared we would not make it across. We later discovered that the winds were 80 mph sustained, with 100 mph wind gusts. By the time we finally made it to the other side, everything was soaked through and we were freezing. We debated briefly about waiting for the others, but decided we couldn't be sure how long they would be and we were risking hypothermia if we didn't keep moving. We found a spot to set up camp (pic below) about a mile or so further and set about quickly putting up our tent and getting into dry clothes and warming up. We worried about the others but later learned that they went past us another mile to a trailhead/parking area where nine hikers huddled in a small bathroom while they waited for hours for someone to pick them up and take them into town. We spent the next day in our tent while it rained. The experience was the lowest point of our trip and more than a little disheartening. However, the following day we set out again, reaching Grayson Highlands State Park and a treat that made up for the previous misery. Right after lunch, we came across a herd of wild ponies, including two babies, who came right up to us and licked the salt off our sweaty clothes. We were rained on yet again, and cut our day short to spend the night in the closest shelter with a group of others. A couple of pics below show the interesting food combinations hikers were putting together that day. In one, there is peanut butter and honey on one half of the tortilla, and salami, cheese, chips, and hot sauce on the other half. Yum. 
We hiked a fourth day in the rain, which oddly, ended up being our first 20 mile day. The next day, we finally saw sunshine and our spirits improved greatly. We came into the Mount Rogers visitor center where we had burgers and fries delivered, which really made the day. We are both losing weight (Keith way too much) and try to eat as much as possible since we burn about five to six thousand calories a day. 

Our section into Atkins was one of the prettiest so far. We had moderate terrain through green meadows full of wildflowers and smelled fragrant trees and flowers the whole way. Thankfully, we made it into town right before the rain started again. We are warm and dry tonight and ready to start out tomorrow in the sunshine. 

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