It was the best of days; it was worst of nights. We hit the road, avoided our surrounding poison ivy field, and after a few miles we found Funky! He, in usual Funky style, was eating a breakfast of dry oatmeal straight from the package. Soon after, we were a tramily again (tramily, as one may infer, is a portmanteau of trail and family).
With the tramily back together, we could expect some magic. After ten miles of catching up on Funky's time dodging rangers and rain in the smokies, we met Ka-Bar. He's hiking as the Toys for Tots coordinator for Franklin, North Carolina (where we were a hundred miles ago). He's a former marine who tore his calf in the Smokies on March 17th. Today was one of his first days back on the trail and he was shooting for ten miles on the trail. Spoiler, he nails it. At around mile 13, we found some well established trail magic. Hikers from 2016, Soda Pop and Pony Boy, had set up some of the best trail magic we had ever seen. A tent with a grill. Hikers choice of burgers, sodas, beers, hot dogs. Turbo, a guy who got his name from moving critters like snails off the trails, said hello after our initial meeting on the shuttle from Gatlinburg. We saw Tater Tots, Rocket Power, and Nighthawk as well. Soda Pop and Pony Boy shared some wisdom from their own thru hike. Georgia WAS hard, the White Mountains will be worse, and the Virginia blues are real. That's it boiled down, but the words were more than that. We carried on towards Max Patch which we heard was beautiful and held even more trail magic.
Max Patch was a new scene on the trail. At this point, we haven't gotten many panaromaic views of the mountains and hills we had crossed. Max Patch offered surround sights, which was an especially welcome relief after being closed in by clouds for a week. Shortly after the summit we found a strange yet well thought out trail magic. A box of bananas, a box of oranges, and a collection of Ziploc bags with a day's worth of food. In each bag was a balloon with the reason for the offering. They were dedicated to Matthew Curtis Wetzel 1986-2017. After all, if you hike this trail, you aren't hiking for just yourself, you hike for those who can't. Still, a mile after this, we found the most spectacular trail magic of all. A group hikers from 2014, introduced to us by Coma and Loba, put on a show like none other. When we got there, a cooler of sodas and beer blocked the path. Fifteen or so hikers from 2014 throw a huge bash every year, for the whole weekend, to provide tons of food and drink for every hiker that passes by. They said their real goal was to get hikers to stop, talk, and take a zero at their camp. It was very tempting indeed. Their quesadillas were delicious, their sodas and beers plentiful, the trail snacks endless, it was almost like they were sirens to stop us from continuing. But after nearly an hour (and Ka-Bar caught us again and took the group up on their tempting offer and decided to stay along with Duckfart, Turbo, Rabbit, a new fellow Two Sticks), we continued on. Tenacious and Nighthawk hiked on to the next shelter, just a mile away. We ran into them soon after and waved hello. Tenacious yelled a merry "go with god" in Spanish, to which Emily and I responded with a cheery "das geht mir am Arsch vorbei."
As we rolled on, the rain picked up and the three of us poncho'd up. Tyler in teal, Emily in bright green and Funky in forest green. The rain continued to increase in insanity. We walked by figures at a camp who waved to us. But we didn't stop. We were certain the rain would let up soon. But it didn't. It got worse..way worse. Our shoes were filling fast with water. Our socks were squeaky and squishy with rain. Our ponchos tried to do their best but their best wasn't good enough. The rain was winning. Our thought remained to keep going until the rain slowed. But we finally decided to stop when the rain didn't seem like it was going to. We searched for a decent spot and found a giant boulder that Funky thought he could use as shelter. There were large and plentiful spiders, but it seemed otherwise clear. We set our bags down on the relatively dry side of the boulder and tried to set up the tent so then we could move it to a flat area in the woods while keeping it dry. A nice thought. But by the time we were done setting up there were distinct puddles in the floor of the tent. Luckily we didn't have to make dinner thanks to the trail magic, but we did have to use our cooking gear to bail out our tent. Finally, we huddled up only under Tyler's synthetic sleeping bag since it would hold up better in the wet then Em's down. We yelled goodnight to Funky and bunkered down for the long night.