Gary and I have the maps spread out at breakfast and are planning the day. In the small hotel where we are staying, the owners name is Sandip Patel. He tells us, ” I'm fixing to get Y'all another pot of coffee.” It's all I can do to keep from falling off my chair! The mix of India and Southern drawl is so wonderful!
The weather forecast is not good. Over an inch of pounding rain is expected and then a strong cold front to follow with plummeting temperatures. Gary really is a weather wizard and looking at the radar track, he estimates I have a few hours of reasonable hiking.
I set off in full rain gear in just a light mist. It makes sense to hike a four mile bit of Trail that crosses under Interstate 81. Easy flat, low elevation but still beautiful.
I absolutely love bog bridge walkways! They can be really slick though. I once saw Gary do an amazing “Yard Sale!” That's when your feet shoot out from under you, you fly tail over tea kettle and your backpack spews stuff all over the place. Not a pretty picture but fortunately he was unhurt.
Skunk cabbage in the wetlands.
And the first Bloodroot bloom I've seen! These four miles were so quick, after lunch we decide to drive to another four mile section. Quite a bit higher in elevation and much cooler now, Gary dropped me off and I set a brisk pace for myself to warm up and hike to the top of the ridge. Where it is really cold, very windy and sleeting! And I don't seem to have my gloves and stocking hat that were in my pocket. I know better than this… I synch my raincoat hood tight, pull my fleece sleeves over my hands and hustle. Heck, it's only four miles, no stops this time, not even to unwrap a chocolate or for a map check. I just want to get down the mountain where Gary will be waiting for me in a nice warm car.
Partnership Shelter, famous on the Appalachian Trail because you can order pizza delivered by calling from the nearby Mt Rogers Visitors Center. WHAT? I'm not supposed to pass this shelter and headquarters! WHERE AM I?
I am really lucky. The Visitors Center is open and I go in, get warm and look at my map. I have hiked four miles in the wrong direction! To get to Gary, I would have to hike four miles back up the mountain, hike an additional four miles over the ridge, now in the snow, which is coming down hard and at 2:30 in the afternoon. I have no water, no food and not warm enough clothing. Not a good idea. Our cell phones have no service–can't call, can't text. No way to let him know he sent me off in the wrong direction. He's expecting me about 2:30. When I don't show up he will start up the Trail hiking towards me. And won't find me.
Aaarrrghh. The lady at the Visitors Center is very nice and absolutely no help at all because she is totally clueless. She says, why don't I just spend the night at the shelter? She's used to ThruHikers. I have no backpack, no daypack, no sleeping bag. NOTHING at all. It's going to be 23 degrees tonight! Not to mention Gary, frantically waiting for me. She tells me they won't deliver pizza after 2:30. Can't get a shuttle to come for me. Can't call a cab– they don't exist. I consider trying to hitch. I could hike to a fairly decently travelled road but would have to convince my ride (if I could get one) to drive miles into the mountains on the forest service road, if I could even find that road. Of course, I also don't have a penny in my pocket to offer anyone.
I am safe and warm, at least until 4:30 when the Visitos Center closes. I may have to tackle this 80 year old lady–Visitor Center Volunteer, grab her purse, take her car keys, and drive off in search of Forest Road 670. One thing is certain, she will not be leaving here, without me with her. No way, no matter what. I am so frustrated in trying to solve this problem before Gary gets seriously worried about me. Now it is after three o'clock and I am wracking my brains. I see a man driving a white truck up the road and I bolt outside waving my map, an obviously deranged woman. He stops! Warren is his blessed name, and he agrees to drive to the spot where Gary is fishing, find him and lead him back up here. I could cry with relief.
I have so many amazing stories from having hiked the Appalachian Trail. I won't tell this one often. I'm too embarrassed. When Gary finely arrived, he was shocked. He was getting concerned that I was late. He had no idea that I had hiked north instead of south. He had barked at me earlier for questioning a direction on the way to the Trail Head. Truly, this could have ended so much worse. On most hikes, I would have finished my hike in the middle of a vast woods, not at a Visitors Center. If that had been the case today, I would have been very, very cold. I don't even want to think beyond that. I have learned a good lesson. I think Gary has too. Probably not about barking at me, though.