I was awake at day break, and really felt quite rested as I managed to get a good night’s sleep – in spite of being woke in the middle of the night by the crackling of a tree branch and the low, rumbling of thunder that followed. My friend Rick Hom, also an avid and much more accomplished hiker than I, would later surmise that it’s our simple instinct to survive, the millions of years of evolution as a species that trigger our senses in moments so unfamiliar to us. Perhaps buried within those millions of years of evolution, the sound of the thunder is instinctively familiar, and why it was easy to drift back to sleep afterward? Maybe hidden beneath the rush of previous day, my body was actually trying to tell me something?
I casually, well as casually as you possibly can while lying on your back in a two-person tent, changed out of my sleep wear – the Smartwool thermal bottoms and t-shirt had more than done their job, as I stayed perfectly warm and comfortable overnight in the lower 70 degree temperatures – and into my hiking shirt and shorts. I slid on my shirt and shorts, instantly reminded of how damp they still were from the day before, as I asked myself “Did this shirt really smell this bad when I took it off last night”? The fresh, dry pair of Darn Tough wool socks seemed to balance out the small chill I had and I told myself “You know you’ll warm up once you get moving”.
I was excited to be starting my second day on the North Country Trail, and based on the three miles I had covered the evening before, I was looking forward to putting in a good fifteen to twenty miles on the day. Little did I know that the trail had other plans for me?
Just as I started to eat breakfast, an Oatmeal Raisin Clif Bar, I heard it again – the crackle of thunder rolling through the trees. This time it wasn’t way off in the distance, low and rumbling, but much closer, and happening much more frequent. I knew that the weather forecast called for isolated thundershowers, but up until now, I had been fortunate enough to miss them.
No time to waste! I put on and laced my trail runners, yep, still wet and muddy from yesterday, then proceeded to quickly deflated the air mattress and pillow, tossed my sleep wear back into the dry sack, squeezed out the excess air, sealed the top, rolled it down as tight as possible, and clicked the sack closed. Next came my pack, which I retrieved from the tent and placed next to the trunk of a nearby pine tree. Breaking down the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 was even easier than setting it up. I carefully placed all of the stakes in their respective bag, rolled-up the fly, the tent and then the ground cover placing them all, along with the poles, back into their bag. Double-checking the area to make sure I had not overlooked anything, I then put a few snacks in the belt pocket of my pack, put the 1-liter Smart Water bottle, now ¾ full, back into my pack side pocket, and then placed the other items into my backpack. I could hear the rain coming, distant, but approaching fast. I reached into the front mesh pocket of my pack, pulled out my Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket, and literally just finished zipping it up when the rain began to fall.
I’ve read a number of reviews and blogs that tell you regardless of how well your rain gear is rated, when you’re caught out in a storm, you’re going to get wet. What started as a simple drizzle, accompanied by the pitter patter of droplets hitting the leaves in tree tops, soon gave way to an absolute deluge of rain, pouring down with a roar. As I looked up at the sky to try and gauge the cloud cover, all I could see were small pockets of darkened clouds in between the branches of the surrounding pine trees. From out of nowhere, the quiet of the Ottawa National Forest was suddenly disrupted by a bright flash of light, I counted “One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-Mississippi, Four-Mississippi, Five-Mississippi” and then came the loud boom of thunder. “Less than a mile away” I told myself, “we’re not going anywhere”, and I sat down next to my pack to keep myself as small and grounded as possible. The rain was cold now, and I reminded myself “You’ll warm up once you get moving”.
The storm may have only lasted 15 minutes, 20 minutes tops, but when you’re alone, in the woods, waiting out a thunder storm, it may as well have been an hour. It certainly felt that long, and I made sure I kept track of the time in between lighting strikes and the echo of thunder. Without a doubt the storm had passed and was now becoming more distant. Then just as spontaneous as its arrival, so was its departure. The only difference from before and after the thunderstorm was now everything was wet. I was already wet so that didn’t matter. Sure the items stored inside, safely tucked away in their dry sack, were still dry, but my pack was wet now too. And so was every inch of the trail lying in wait.
I grabbed the Garmin inReach Explorer, unlocked the screen, and sent a message to Andrew:
Good Morning! On my way from here.
Kelly Williams sent this message Sun 7/1/2018 7:46 AM from: Lat 46.681573 Lon -89.411373
Do not reply directly to this message. This message was sent to you using the inReach two-way satellite communicator with GPS. To learn more, visit http://explore.garmin.com/inreach.
I re-attached the inReach to its clip strapped to my pack, then hoisted my pack up and onto my back. With the click of the belt and chest clips, I walked the 10 yards back to the North Country Trail, turned right and continued heading West.