The spark notes version: don't do it.
Let's rewind a bit. After my first zero day in Hot Springs, I was feeling fantastic--the "I'm young and invincible so let's see what my body can do" fantastic. I've been upping my mileage to over 20 and still feel pretty great. The downside to my newfound endurance is that I've left a really cool hiking group and haven't found a new crew that's my speed yet.
Anyway, on Wednesday, I'm going over Roan Mountain which is one of the last big climbs before you reach Virginia. It is a beautiful day, I find some trail magic halfway up, and I'm taking my time and enjoying myself (singing Taylor Swift of course). After Roan, there's Carver's Gap--a popular place to drive up and go for an easy walk with great views. I meet a few families along the trail and I'm stopping to chat and take many pictures; life could not get any better. One woman asks, "What's the biggest challenge you've faced?" And here's my mistake, friends, I said that I've been able to handle everything so far.
I move on and make my way to Overmountain Shelter (pictured above). I am pumped for this one: a) because the name is similar to Underhill and b) because it's a converted barn. My buddy Rooster and I get there, set up, and then the wind starts. Not a big deal since I'm already at the shelter but you can tell it'll be a cold night. Then as more people arrive, there's talk of rain all day Thursday and maybe even Friday too. People are talking about taking a zero at the shelter but I brush that idea off; when hiking the AT there's going to be rain.
The next morning, the wind was still howling but no rain yet. We were down in this valley so I wanted to get over the mountain before the rain got too bad. As I take off, you can see these clouds just flying by at crazy speed. I'm climbing up and up and the wind isn't letting up, it's starting to push on my pack a bit. Still, I'm enjoying myself so I sing at the top of my lungs and howl with the wind as I go. But the thing is, I keep getting higher on this exposed bald and as I do, the wind is only getting stronger. It's still not raining, but clouds start whipping by so fast that I'm getting pelted with bits of ice. As clouds close in, I can only see about 10 feet ahead and behind--I have no clue how far I've gone but I know that I'm in a bad spot.
You know how sometimes in cartoons they show a bird blowing backwards in the wind? That happened! It blew so hard the sometimes it was hard to take a breathe and my glasses actually iced over. The wind was so strong that it actually LIFTED me with my pack and threw me 6 feet. It was insane and I was terrified.
I huddled behind a rock for a bit and did a quick check to make sure I wasn't bleeding and hadn't lost any gear. I debated trying to wait it out there but it was so cold that I needed to keep moving or risk hypothermia. I crawled for a bit, but the ground was so cold that it wasn't worth it. Finally, I bolted from rock to rock for a total of 5 frighteningly unforgettable miles.
Once I hit the forest line and was off the ridge, everything was fine again. The wind was blowing overhead but it was as if the whole ordeal had never even happened. Well, maybe that's not entirely true--there were dozens of fallen trees. Thick trunks snapped across the trail and you could tell these were fresh. One hikers phone alerted him that 80 mile per hour winds were in the area and I believe it!
Eventually, I got down to a road and had the choice of pushing on 9 miles to a shelter or going to a hostel. I'm pretty happy that I continued onto the shelter because it ended up being a nice easy hike and I want to get to a hostel my uncle recommended for Friday night. Also, there's something about not retreating to modernity after an ordeal like that. But if anyone asks me what my biggest challenge has been, I'll now have a clear answer!