I'm two weeks into the hike. This past week I went through some severe storms. For four straight days it rained on me. It hailed on me. I got caught on top of two mountains in a lightning storm. The rain's not so bad, but the lightning is, especially on a ridge. From the top of the mountains I had to make a quick dive down into the valley to escape it.
I've seen my first bear. I was coming down a hill and the bear was up to the left in a tree. It heard me coming and it jumped down from the tree and rain away. I wasn't making much noise at all, but this bear heard me and it took off.
I haven't been doing anything special to deal with the bears. The black bears run from you, but in the Smokies, which I've just reached, they're not as shy as in other parts, so I may try making a bit more noise to give them warning.
The highlight so far? The first
week of camping with the full moon. Some of the places
I've camped at night have been absolutely gorgeous. Getting into
I've met lots of
really nice hikers from all over the world:
The hardest thing, so far, has been those storms, especially when I was caught up on a ridge at nighttime. One night, I had already set up my tent and was ready for bed when the storm started, so there wasn't anything I could do. I shook for thirty minutes in my tent. There was a shelter fairly close by, but it was full with a bunch of people who had been partying a little too hard. After the storm passed through I could hear about 7 guys screaming at me to check that I was still alive. None of us had ever seen a lightning storm so intense. So I crawled out of my tent, went up to the shelter where they had a bottle of Wild Turkey, and had a few swigs to stop the shaking.
I've met an interesting collection of people. I've met a lot of people intending to do the whole trail. Statistics say only about 15% will complete it. I met a guy hiking to raise money for a group home for retarded children. And the day of the bad storm I met two guys, Dan and Bob, who were definitely not your typical hikers. I got to the shelter early to avoid the storm, and there they were. They're in the shelter drinking a beer, with a six pack apiece and a fifth of bourbon. Most people do not do the Trail carrying six packs, even when, like Bob and Dan, they're only doing a section of the trail. The storm came through about 11pm, and I went back to bed after sharing a drink with them. About 1am I hear them coming down the hill. It's kind of a steep hill and I could hear Dan falling down the hill. Again and again he'd fall. I lay there thinking "He's going to fall on my tent and squash me." It's not one of the dangers of the Trail I had planned for!