AT 2012 (Thru-Hike)

Rainbow Lightning

Earlier this week, while sitting in the waiting room at the neurology department, waiting for a lumbar puncture that still hasn’t happened, I was thinking about the woods. Specifically, I was thinking about one of my favorite memories from the AT, which, surprisingly, I’ve never written about here.

One afternoon in late June, I arrived at the much-anticipated Jim and Molly Denton Shelter in Northern Virginia. Not only did I find a gorgeous shelter, picnic table, and pavilion, but I found a whole slew of familiar faces. It felt like a trail reunion – and at a great location, even if the shelter’s solar shower wasn’t working. Who needs showers, anyway?

As some hikers I’d known for the last several hundred miles built a campfire and cooked hotdogs, I made my dinner and listened to trail updates. On the shelter’s large deck, I then began working on my GRE flashcards, which soon became a group activity. We were all guessing definitions and laughing and sharing stories and teasing one another and gawking at a Vogue magazine by headlamp-light, utterly puzzled about a world we clearly weren’t part of. It was a perfect evening.

At least until the storm hit.

As Quiver, his family, and I were laying out our sleeping gear in the shelter and others were setting up tents in the clearing, distant thunder began rumbling in the air. In the next few minutes, as I got out my journal and began recording the day, the distant rumbles became not-so-distant. Soon, flashes of lightning lit up the sky. And, this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill lightning – it wasn’t even that sort of spectacular long white lightning that you see in nature documentaries. I’m not sure what in the atmosphere made the streaks of lightning appear this way, but they looked green and purple and just colorful, like rainbow lightning. Everyone stood on the deck, looking up at the sky in awe.

Until the rain came.

The warm, stiff summer breeze became an impressive, mighty wind, and the clouds opened up, letting loose a deluge of fat, hot raindrops. I scurried back into the shelter, and the tent campers took shelter in their sil-nylon.

Until the trees began falling.

As the winds continued to gust, the sound of crashing trees began filling the air. At first, the cracks and thumps were distant, but then a few sounded from nearer the clearing. In the next half hour, tent campers began fleeing their homes, either for safety or because their wind-collapsed tents left them no choice. The shelter and pavilion were soon crowded, as we huddled around waiting for the storm to end.

In time, it did, and then we slept.

To be continued…