If It's Not Snow... It's Possibly Worse
I opted for the second of the two possibilities, trying to save money and prevent boredom.
That day we were all being very slow about getting out if town. Hot Springs is a tough place to leave. We had been given all the junk food snacks we could carry, fresh cookies and fruit, and free homemade ice cream. Six of us had sat in one of the hot mineral spring tubs, five if us completely naked because very few hikers want to sacrifice a dry piece of clothing for the sake of decency. And of course afterwards we had a late lunch at a tavern by the French Broad River.
Finally, a little after 4pm, we all began to hike out except for Movie Star, who told us to go on ahead because he was going to change his shirt. That was the last we saw of him because he didn't make it up to the camp site 9 miles up the trail that we had planned on staying at. Even we who had left together were still setting up our tents in the dark.
The next day I was out of camp early and only Wild Blue and Duffle Miner were on my tail. We knew rain was coming in but we hadn't extracted the ice. Miner and Blue caught up to me 2 miles from camp at a shelter as I was lamenting the bad weather, knowing I had to go 18 miles to make it close enough so my mom could pick me up the next day. Due to the cold, I set out in a hurry after grabbing some water and didn't give them a proper goodbye, and even much less of one for the guys who had still been in their tents when I left where we camped for the night. I didn't realize I may not see them again.
That day I pushed out 18 miles in icy rain, sleet and wind. I must have been nearly running. Even in the muddy, slippery conditions it still only took me from 8:30 to 3:30, fairly early for a full days hike. I didn't stop for lunch besides to pound a snickers bar at another shelter before passing on, which I am sure is where most the guys stayed that night.
I stayed at the next shelter down the line, leaving the guys an official goodbye note in the shelter log there. By pushing that far, I was only 9 miles from a road crossing my mom was going to collect me at. An easy half day.
Someone in the shelter I was at that night mentioned a couple signs taped on the walls of the last shelter back, where I had eaten a snickers. The signs said some thing about watching for vomit around the shelter... The person who spoke of it called it "ominous". Even worse, the night before the guys and I had camped with two girls who were heading back to Hot Springs to "regroup" after one had caught a stomach virus and another had broken a tent pole. They said everyone 20 miles ahead was puking and pooping. I told this to the rest of the folks in my shelter and we all took a moment to be thankful that we were not sleeping in that shelter.
Upon waking up and forcing myself into the frozen clothes I had taken off the day before, I set out into the still miserable weather to meet my mom. The shelter that I stayed in didn't get any service so I had not been able to tell her the exact plan. I had given her two options a few days before and after the torturous day of hiking I had just done to get there, I was terrified she may not come. Running low on cell battery, I finally got a text and a call out to her. She was on her way already. I would beat her to our meeting point but I was so relieved that was coming. After only a day and a half on the trail, I already needed to wash the mud off of all my clothes and dry them out.
And I was way past ready for a hug from my mom. It had been a month since I'd last seen her. Sometimes I am in the head space where I just want to hike and get miles done and stick with the great people I am with. But the time had come that I was ready to see her and take a bit of a break. It was a good thing I did...
She picked me up in a gravel parking lot and we headed to Asheville, about 30 or 45 minutes away. I showered, did laundry, ate food and slept in a bed. Then, at around 2am, it hit me... the stomach virus. Off and on for the rest of the night I was in and out of the bathroom. By morning I was weak but at least I was able to stay in bed. I have spent most of today in bed and am hoping I will be back to full functionality tomorrow so I can get back on the trail.
So far I have heard that both Wild Blue and Maineiac have suffered a rougher sounding version. Unfortunately, those poor guys are still out on the trail, not lucky enough to be in a hotel with a close by toilet. I still haven't heard from Duffle Miner, Genie, or Movie Star. I hope they are fairing well enough if they have caught the bug.
It is always one things after another on the Appalachian Trail...