Days 34-35: The Barn, and basically Rohan
May 16th: Ash Gap to Overmountain Shelter
May 17th: Overmountain to Elk Park
After Ash Gap, we hike up and over Roan Mountain. The weather is not good. It rains and rains, and the heat and sun from two days ago feel very far away and disconnected from the present reality of shivering in the wind when we stop for lunch. Eventually the rain stops for the last half mile of a 12-mile day, and we arrive at Overmountain Shelter, known more commonly as “The Barn.”
It’s a massive red barn straight out of a picture book. We roll out our mats in the loft, where you can lose small items in the gaps between the floorboards, and light shines up from the open air aisle below. It’s nice to get to camp a few hours before dark instead of hurrying to get chores done before needing headlamps. Some Smokies friends catch up with us, and it is fun to hang out with them for the first time since Hot Springs.
I begin the next morning feeling a bit frustrated. I strung up all my wet possessions in the loft to dry overnight, and now it takes me forever to find and organize all the still-damp gear. I am almost last to leave. I rush up the first mountain, worrying that Etienne will be as exasperated with me as I am with myself when I finally catch him. It is foggy. I pass one hiker and then two more, and then the views begin to materialize as the morning sun burns through the mist. I overtake two more hikers before catching Etienne where he has paused on a rock outcropping above an open mountain landscape straight out of Middle Earth. He says he has not been waiting long.
The fog never lifts completely, but the clouds blow in and out enough to see Hump Mountain rising relentlessly in front of us and the now-visible slope of Little Hump mountain extending behind us on a scale rarely seen here on the A.T. The mountain is dotted with the bright colors of the packs and rain gear of the hikers strung out in a line behind us. Instead of feeling as slow as I usually do, and especially this morning, I suddenly feel capable and thankful and lucky to be out here.
We come down off the mountain and have a pleasant, quiet encounter with a deer. Then we arrive at Highway 19E and turn left toward Mountain Harbor B&B. There, we discover that the shuttled we planned to take to Damascus has already departed. I’m mildly annoyed. I called yesterday and was told we had until 2pm. It’s only 12:45 and the shuttle is gone, but as they say, “The trail provides.” Less than an hour later, two 2017 thru-hikers named Eleven and Days stop in on their way to Trail Days and offer us a ride. They have a Honda Element with the back seats removed so they can sleep in it, so Etienne and I squeeze onto the floor with all their trail magic supplies. It isn’t comfortable, but it’s fun and serendipitous, and we hand out beer and snacks with them at one of their favorite gaps. Then, we resume the drive to Damascus.