I leave mid-afternoon to hike up the Horse Rock Trail. This is the fastest way to the ridgeline of the Black Mountains, gaining 4,000 feet in elevation in 2.7 miles to summit Celo Knob. It is also the trailhead closest to the cabin my parents are building just up Shuford Creek and I plan and wearing a footpath from the back door of their cabin that parallels the slope of the mountain and spits out onto the trail.
From the moment I step onto the path it is a game of bets. The day is about sixty percent over, I tell myself – because if May 5th started at midnight then we are fourteen hours into a twenty-four hour day. There is a sixty percent chance of showers today according to Ray’s Weather and we have already had rain. Somehow I use this to rationalize my attempt to summit Celo Knob, which looms in the clouds high above my head.
I make it to just below Horse Rock and the soft rain turns to total downpour. The trail is so steep at this juncture that when I lift my knee to take another step it is only one foot from the ground. The grade must be at about thirty percent and the trail quickly turns to mud beneath my feet.
Out of breath, I find shelter under a hemlock and try to dry off a bit. Immediately there is a chill on my skin and I burst out of my raincoat, add a layer of fleece, then back into the raincoat and top it all off with my dad’s old wool hat. My feet crunch on the dry leaves below the hemlock and for a moment it feels as though I am in belly of Mother Nature herself. Thunders pounds all around me like the grumblings of her belly. I glance in the direction of the trail to see that it has completely morphed into a stream of running rainwater, like the blood feeding Mother Nature’s muscles.
My shelter holds up fine but I grow anxious as the thunder continues and the rain doesn’t let up. I zip up from waist to head, resigning to get soaked from the waist down and not even bother with my rain pants. The old soccer shorts I have will suffice and my gortex hikers (without gators) will hold up for another half mile before succumbing to the constant exposure. With one big heave I am off the side of the mountain, this time heading down the trail, and have given up all hope of a summit.
The return hike is slow and careful and I loose my footing twice, lucky both times that I catch myself in soft piles of mud and leaves instead of the rocks and exposed, bristly tree roots. I cross sections of trail that were completely dry on my way up that now hold two or three inches of standing water. I may have grown up in the rainy state, but when it rains in North Carolina it means business – the good thing is that it’s usually a warm rain, which is why I don’t feel particularly at risk even though I am pretty soaked.
Slowly, my body warms up again and I feel myself relax. The thunder is behind me, not directly overhead anymore, and I know I am hiking safely down. My feet squish and gurgle in their shoes and my shorts cling to my legs awkwardly like a limp skirt. But my core stays dry and my head is warm which is what counts for a short day hike. Along the way I see an orchid, three different kinds of trillium, edible white and purple violets (whose leaves I munch on, drinking raindrops as I chew), salamanders, and newts.
I may have lost my bet and failed to summit, but spring is abundant here and that is all I need. I give in to the water and don’t even bother skimping around puddles or walking on the edge of the path. Playfully, I finish my hike and take mental note of my wealthy state of mind. The mountains are rich with water and I have been swimming in them all afternoon. Oh, the abundance.