Day 9: Saddleback Mountain to Popular Ridge Lean To

Falling asleep and waking up here felt like a dream. Before our eyes could even open, as darkness still lay awake in our minds, pure tranquility kept us still. The blanket we slept under was heavy, yet comforting on our worn out bodies. No other sounds broke the steadiness of the stream. Our eyes fluttered awake, bringing to our attention the sun, whose light slowly seeped in through the lace curtains. Our little hut, just big enough for a full sized bed, two wooden chairs and a small bed side table on which sat a oil lamp, was perfect but hard to leave.

We started packing up our things, and we straightened and cleaned up the space preparing it for the next lucky hikers. We walked away from the hut by the river, looking one last time at the sign that hung on the front, “to the poets n’ pilgrims and lovers n’ seekers...” Sometimes when you leave a place on trail, there is a feeling that you will be back at some point. We both had this feeling.

Steve made Garbelly a fried egg and cheese sandwich and had tea and coffee laid out as well as his sister’s delicious coffee cake. Critter was allowed to make her own sandwich, being the picky one and all. And together the three of us just sat watching Milo get in a little bit more sleep before heading out.

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While on trail impressions are often short and sweet, but also there are a handful that pack such an impactful punch of generosity and kindness that it makes our hearts beat. Our brief time with Steve was not dull or lifeless, even though we heard briefly about his story. Spending the summer here at the Hiker Hut taking care of hikers is followed by him spending the second half of the year in India fully immersing himself in their communities. Money for the Hiker Hut goes to these communities in India. And while he has only been running the hut for 8 years he has been going to India for 23 years. He treats every visitor to the hut as if they are cold, tired and hungry. He doesn't ask a lot of questions and he doesn't expect a lot outside of respect and kindness.

As a parting gift he offered us a necklace with the AT logo on it, that his friends make in India. In a way this gift felt needed. We haven't quite felt like we belong on trail yet, but now with a token of the trail in hand, we carried the trail with us. Thank you Steve for the most appropriate and important gift.

If everything he had done for us wasn't enough, he also took us to trail so we didn't have to walk the highway with Milo.

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The hike from highway was nice and well graded. We stopped at a pond, which is more like a lake. And Garbelly and Milo got into a tin boat and paddled around. Rain was moving in. We could feel it in the wind. We started to pick up our pace. As soon as we left tree line, it started to rain sideways and the cold wind picked up. Hail was pelting our faces. We moved as quickly as we could over the top. Clouds were moving in and reduced the mountains around us to shadows against the pale gray sky.

We descended and the climbed back up the Horn. More fog set in illuminating the white blazes in front us. Leading us cairn to cairn. Climbing down the Horn was slippery and dangerous because of the wet rock. We took our time but tried to move efficiently. We stopped for a quick break in between two peaks on a saddle sheltered from the wind and rain by thick trees. A blueberry picking trail. That sounded nice and sunny. A stark contrast to now.

Next up was Saddleback Junior. Climbing down This final peak was the worst of them yet. Wet rock and eroded trail led to very slow moving. The rain had picked up, and the temperature was dropping. Our rain gear began to soak through and the wind pierced our skin. Critters rain pants completely ripped once again, regardless of taping them in town. We were cold, dangerously cold. We passed by H2No and told him we would save him a dry spot in the shelter.

We made it to shelter just in time for the rain to pick up even more. Sitting and staring at the rain we sat numb for a few minutes, longer than we thought, before taking off our wet clothes and hanging them up to dry. We had made it to the shelter by 4pm, too early to stop on any other day, but tonight this was where we would stay. Out of the rain and cold. This shelter was the last place Inchworm, a thru-hiker from Tennessee, had been seen before going missing in 2013. An In Memoriam photo of her in a bright red fleece with a giant smile that wrinkled the corner her eyes, hung in the shelter. The photo had been taken right outside this shelter.

We set up our spot by the time H2No showed up. He did the same by shedding his wet layers and crawling into his sleeping bag.

Milo seemed chilled so we had him all wrapped up in our sleeping bags and jackets. And he was fast asleep.

For the rest of the night, we shared stories with each other as the rain fell on the tin roof. H2No is a great storyteller, sharing stories from his childhood, Hurricane Irma and his beloved and feisty mother.

Our voices slowed to a whisper and we wished each other a good nights sleep. The rain had stopped but the wind shook the water off the trees all night long

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