The Windfall

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

April 15, 2018

Destination: Helveys Mill Shelter Today's Miles: 13.50

Start Location: Jenkins Shelter Trip Miles: 593.40

Trail Magic map just before highway 52 and Brushy Mountain Outpost
The nighttime temperature only dipped down to about 60, so I never really even zipped my sleeping bag up. It was my warmest night yet.

I kept the foot box of my bag zipped to keep mosquitos off my feet and keep them warm, then just slept in my clothes (permethrin treated) with the bag pulled lightly and partially over my body and my bug net on my face. I slept fine that way. I expected to wake to rain, but instead the skies were just ominous. As we all readied our respective breakfasts though, it did feel like a downpour was coming. I had my usual breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. I also had pop tarts with Jif Maple and a honeybun because, well, I’m Hungry Cat. Sauerkraut and I still had the plan of trying to find a place to camp at or near Brushy Mountain Outpost, and with that in mind I hit the trail. 

The morning was a little eery at first. Nature tells me when a storm is brewing. When the birds stop singing in the morning, it’s because they know what’s coming. If the mosquitos aren’t out and they should be, something is up. It started to drizzle a little bit. I had my pack cover on and my rain gear ready, but I was still hiking in shorts and a t-shirt. It would start to rain a little, then I would turn a corner and it would stop. In some ways it was perfect hiking weather because it never really rained to the point that I got saturated. My body heat would evaporate the moisture as it accumulated.

While it was overcast, there were still some views here and there of the valley below, often shrouded in beautiful puffy grey rain clouds. Sauerkraut caught up with me and we hiked together, determined to reach the outpost so we could figure out what came next. As we got closer to town, we stumbled on some trail magic just before a road crossing. It was bottles of water and a nice, hand drawn map of surrounding amenities! We were excited about the water because we had carried in extra, but if we camped near the outpost we would probably need more. The map also ID’d the location of a trash can at the road crossing - bonus!! I took a picture of the map. We passed a huge cell tower and my AT&T service immediately went to full reception, a rarity on the trail. The path then took us down a winding dirt road. As we turned a corner we saw a church and a building next to it with people outside, presumably for Sunday service. Then we saw a small white building, and before I could read the sign above it Sauerkraut said “it says ‘Yes, we’re open’!” What?!?! I was skeptical as I had just called yesterday and they had confirmed they would not be open, but we practically ran down the hill. We had to see. We headed to the door and, sure enough, there was a neon “open” sign glowing its enticing red glow. I thought I might cry. 

To the right of the building was a covered pavilion with picnic tables and a trash can, so we set our packs and trekking poles/stick there and went in. Oh, sweet heaven on earth! What were the chances of the outpost being open? A voice piped up, “I’ll be with you shortly,” and I saw a gentleman in the back making something. I turned around and saw Wallace sitting in the back. He had just eaten a burger and was working on his fries. The shop had drinks and snacks and basic resupply items. I just wanted to have a meal and maybe take a snack for later. When the proprietor came to the front, I told him I had called yesterday and asked him why the nice surprise. He said he had been thinking about testing out Sundays now and had seen Wallace standing around, so he figured he would open the store up. I guess he also knew a few more of us would trickle through since I had phoned him. Once again, and in a very unexpected way, the trail provides! I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with Texas toast as the bun, a side of Cajun fries, and a strawberry cheesecake milkshake. I also got a V8 and a Dr. Pepper. We sat down at a table with Wallace and started to eat. The food was amazing! I downed my burger in no time, then polished off the fries and the milkshake. I ordered another milkshake. It was that good! Outside the rain had begun to fall. It was pouring and the wind was adding a nice, powerful slant to the rain. A flash of lightning accompanied what seemed to be buckets of water falling out of the sky. I worked on my second milkshake and contemplated the timing of leaving. MacGyver, Apollo and Skutch had shown up and the couple ordered some food. The rain seemed to let up a bit, so I put on my rain gear and decided to head out. The others weren’t far behind. We all headed to Helveys Mill Shelter, just about 2 miles from the road. The nasty storms were supposed to continue, get worse, and then drop some snow later. And that’s exactly what happened....

The trail left the outpost and followed the road down to an entrance into the woods, where a flooded, muddy creek separated us from the trail continuing on the other side. Hmmmm..... the water wasn’t just muddy, it was road runoff chemical spill muddy, with a weird milky hue to the brown. Hiking through that might dissolve your legs!  I looked upstream and saw an area where the bank was close enough to jump. I called to Wallace, who had caught up with me, and as I did I heard a “kersploosh!” I looked downstream and saw Wallace with one leg up past his knee in the stream. Noooo! I hopped across and made my way back to the trail. He was already walking up ahead. Sometimes you get to a point where you are so wet it just doesn’t even matter anymore.

I hiked on and the rain continued to fall. My rain jacket and pants were saturated, and I was going as fast as possible so I didn’t really care about getting wetter anymore. Later I would discover that I had left my pit zips down. Whoops! I slammed on the gas and finally got to the shelter. When I arrived, there were two Budweiser beer tall boys sitting on the shelter floor as trail magic. Wallace rolled in and, knowing he was a beer drinker, I pushed them his way to share with Sourkraut (I just found out after all this time that he spells it “Sourkraut!”). As we started setting up camp, the snow started. Of course it did! The trail is funny like that. But, in a way, we need the challenging weather to truly appreciate the really beautiful weather. Later that night, those of us in the shelter heard a sudden SWOOSH of wing flapping. A wild turkey flew down into a tree near the shelter. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was hoping to go inside. Everything was wet - my socks, shoes, pack, but I was dry, warm and comfy in my sleeping bag.

Today I was grateful that the rain started late, but also super grateful that Brushy Mountain Outpost was open! I’m grateful we had a shelter to weather the storm, and for the good company of other hikers. Turkey, I would have let you roost next to me if you really wanted! Is that weird? I don’t think so....

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