I had an extra supper in my bag, so I cooked turkey with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables for breakfast. The brothers-in-law left in light rain, but soon it was pouring. Two men who had camped near the shelter got caught in the downpour as they were taking down their tents. They holed up with me in the shelter and spread their tents out to dry. One of them called his wife to ask if she could give him a weather report. She called back and said the rain would stop at eleven o’clock followed by partly cloudy skies with rain returning at three o’clock.
The rain stopped on schedule, and I hit the trail. I gained twelve
hundred feet in elevation over the first two miles up to the bald at
Snowbird Mountain. The view was hazed over with clouds. There was a
funky-looking FAA radio tower at the top. It was all white. The office
had a flat round roof, like a big plate was sitting on it, and on top of
that, the tower was shaped like a giant bowling pin. From there, it was
downhill the last five miles to Standing Bear Hostel. The latter part
of the weather forecast was also accurate: at three o’clock it poured,
soaking the insides of my boots again. Alongside the gravel road leading
to the hostel, a creek churned furiously and overflowed its banks.
Pizza was coming out of the oven when I got to Standing Bear Hostel. Vincent, the caretaker, handed me a slice and gave me a tour during a break in the rain. The compound’s buildings—rustic, tin roofed, built with rough-hewn lumber and poles—were from a century-old farmstead. Everywhere was evidence of an artist and craftsman working with his hands behind the scenes—wagon wheels and rusty farm implements, rock gardens, log benches arranged for fellowship. There was a well-stocked commissary for backpackers. I dropped my gear in the bunkhouse and washed clothes—the old-fashioned way—with a washbasin, washboard, and wringer behind the camp kitchen.
With little warning, a cauldron of brown-and-gray clouds swirled over the compound and unleashed a deluge of sideways rain. It felt like tornado conditions, but it passed quickly. I took a ride with Vincent to a convenience store for a BBQ sandwich and chocolate milk.
Back at the hostel, I sat at the kitchen table with Vincent and three young hikers, playing the house guitar, which was missing a string. A pop-top served as a pick. We passed the guitar around since everybody could play. One hiker, Forager, said he ate snails on the trail and suggested it was best to cook them in their shells. He wasn’t called Forager for nothing. Light on money, he had been staying at Standing Bear for the past week under a work-for-stay arrangement. I went to the bunkhouse a few hours after sundown.
Next Day: Enter Great Smoky Mtn. Nat. Park
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