When we are not camping we often forget how much we love our hammocks. Our comfortable, warm, little cocoons. However, once again on the Appalachian Trail we are in the rain and have to pack up and run. No chance for small talk in the morning, just packup, get the rain gear on, and hit the trail.
Can you remember the movie Groundhog Day? Where Bill Murray was living the same day over and over again. Setting up and breaking down camp in the rain was feeling a lot like this. Mother nature would turn on the rain just in time for us to get out of the hammocks. Don’t get me wrong we were in love with trail life so far. However, the constant rain and dropping temperatures were limiting Missy and I’s communal time. I hike a little faster then her so I would be a little ahead on the trail most of the day. I would take breaks so she would catch up and relax together throughout the day. But at camp with all the rain, we would run to our hammocks and see each other in the morning. This had never been an issue before because we would normally just yell to each other from our hammocks on other trails. I know, imagine that in your head. The two of us yell-talking from hammock to hammock. But out here with other thru-hikers we would just be waking people up. So at this point we are just not spending enough time together. After all I did not start the adventure of a lifetime with my wife to only see her a few hours a day.
After packing up in heavy rain we left Black Creek Campground. The ground below us resembles a tiny flowing river, each step was directly into thick muddy water, by the time we saw our first white blaze of the day my shoes were waterlogged and I could feel the water pushing through my toes every time my feet hit the ground. But No Worries, I am still smiling with every step. Missy once again was starting the day under her umbrella which we are now calling her dome of delight.
We decided to take an early break at Gooch Mountain shelter for a reprieve from the rain. We saw our first ridge runner; these are employees of the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservatory) to assist hikers and help preserve the trail. She said we were the only ones she had seen that were dry. Everyone else she passed in the last 2 days looked like drowned rats. Oddly enough that made my morning, somehow we were surviving the rain better than others. Maybe we do have this.
As we ate 2nd breakfast, yes what a wonderful diet thru-hiking is. We started to discuss the impossible. The weather forecast is calling for continued rain and the temps are dropping from the low 50’s to the low 40’s. Maybe it was time for Missy and I to talk about the unthinkable. We both knew what was about to happen, how could we let it come to this. Yes, we were going to buy a tent!
This would give us the communal time we are looking for each night. Neither one of us had slept in a tent since we were a child. When we got into backpacking a few years back we started in hammocks for the extreme comfort they offer; as I have had serious back pain for most of my life. Are we really going to be ground dwellers? At this point in our hike even in the rain, we just could not get enough of it, we loved the A.T. However, the only issue we had is not seeing each other enough, which seemed crazy on a couples thru-hike. So after a long break, almost in our own misbelief, it was happening. We were getting a tent. From the shelter to we hiked to Gooch Gap to be picked up to be taken to Neels Gap, to Mountain Crossings to buy a tent. It still sounded so odd to say; we were going to be ground dwellers.
We got dropped off at Blood Mountain cabins, which we reserved to get us out of the rain, and to be able to tent shop next door. As hikers do, we emptied our packs and hung our wet gear all over the cabin to dry. After turning the cabin into what looked like a refugee camp, we headed to Mountain Crossings to buy a tent and accessories.
The staff was amazing there. They directed us to get a Big Agnes Tigerwall UL3 tent and NeoAir lite (R3.2) for me, a NeoAir Therm (R5.7) for Missy. The Tigerwall is Big Agnes first real attempt at a competitive lightweight tent. It is a 3 person tent, well if you want to sleep elbow to elbow. But perfect for the two of us and some gear laying around. Total weight is 2 lbs 8 oz. Over the next 4 months this tent became our happy home.
We headed back to the cabin to flip each piece of drying gear. As we approached our cabin, we saw a single hiker walking out of the office into the windy, cold, and rainy forest looking defeated. Jean wanted a cabin to get out of the rain, but they were all booked. It was an easy decision, we took her in and offered her the loft of the cabin. Seeing the smile on her face was so amazing. She was a retired mail lady hiking the AT. We sat around and bullshitted for hours about how the trail was going. She was an amazing person.
Jean left early in the morning. Rain stopped and it is a beautiful day. Mountain Crossings was having its annual hiker kickoff so we went up there to enjoy free food and music. I have to say, feeling the sun on our faces and eating real food was an amazing feeling. Back at the cabin I did a bunch of video editing and, Missy tidied up the place and made it look like a cabin again.
As crazy it may sound, we spent the night practicing setting up and taking down the tent, after all, we were looking at rain for the next 3 nights. We each had two Tony's frozen pizzas and only in the first week of our hike, it already tasted like gourmet food. We leave as tenters, ground dwellers, it seems so odd to us.
Our last chore for the night was sending our bottom quilts and hammock gear back to my mother in South Dakota. I kept joking to Missy that it felt like a betrayal to send the hammocks away. All of that comfort being packed into a box and shipped away. But without any doubt we both knew it was the right decision. We needed to wait out the heavy rain together in a tent and not in different corners in our hammocks. We needed to be able to unwind after a tough day of hiking and listen to a podcast together. We will be hammock campers forever, however I think on long distance hikes we will always dust off our new tent.
As we packed up our gear to hit the trail again the following morning, we came up with our favorite saying on trail, Mother Nature always wins. Wet and rainy again we got back on trail with the temps plummeting. We are leaving to go back to Gooch Gap and battle this rain in our new tent.