July 4. We woke up a little before 6…the cook was in the kitchen making breakfast for the guests and we needed to clear the dining room. We packed our gear and put the benches and tables back in place. Another hiker with singing skills was asked to sing America the Beautiful at 6:30 to wake everyone up and get them ready for breakfast at 7. It is interesting to be around a ton of people who paid high dollar to rent a bunk here in the hut. We are so used to being around thru-hikers all the time so this is a unique experience to be so close to people from the “real world” while still being on the trail. After everyone had breakfast while us thru-hikers sat out on the porch in the rain we were invited in to eat the leftover oatmeal, eggs, and coffee…it was great! When everyone cleared out of the hut Rafiki and I scrubbed and squeegeed the bathroom floor and helped the other hikers sweep and make the bunks. Around 9 AM, and after 2 cups of coffee, we were done and headed out on the trail. The rain had pretty much stopped and we made decent progress down Crawford Notch. We crossed the road and headed up Webster Cliffs, which turned out to be a very tough trail. The boulder climb straight up took me 2 hours to do 3 miles…painfully slow! Once up we had some great views and headed up to Mizpah Hut and the Presidential Mountain Range. We hit Miizpha at 4 PM and found 3 other thru-hikers there waiting for a work for stay. We decided we would move on the 5 miles to Lakes of the Clouds, one of the biggest huts, and only 1.5 miles from Mount Washington! Only 5 miles…not too far. When I came up the first climb to Mount Pierce I heard thunder and could see clouds forming in the distance. At this point it was either go back where I came from or push on. I decided to push on, Rafiki was a little ways behind me. As I climbed higher the thunder got louder. Meat had been telling me about a book he read recently about how people die in the Presidential Range…I was also thinking about a lady I got water from a few weeks back. She was telling me about the Presidentials…she said the locals know to be below tree line by 2 PM, and it was closing in on 5. She said that she has seen trail signs that were hit by lightening that exploded a good 300 feet in all directions. She also said she has friends up here who bring down the dead bodies of hikers killed in storms. She was pretty intense and I wasn’t sure if I should believe everything she said…but regardless, the storm was moving in fast now and I was freaking out! I started to see lightening, the thunder grew, and the strikes got closer. I was on an exposed ridge closing in on 5,000 feet above sea level and I had two metal poles in my hands…not a fan! I started trail running and eventually stopped to dump out my water bottles…no extra weight! One bottle had my soup in it…dinner! No matter, I needed to be light! This was the most scared I have been on the trail, I don’t know how I did it but I made the uphill 5 mile section in under 1.5 hours. I came around a ridge as the rain started and saw the roof of the hut and ran! I shot into the hut at 5:30 and asked about a work for stay, golden! I was sweating, tired, and thankful I survived. I got water and sat on the bench with 2 Southbounders, another NoBo, and Smiling Joe…I hadn’t seen him since the Smokies! We all talked and 30 minutes later Rafiki rolled in…he had run too and the storm had engulfed him in the cloud. He said he could only see 10 feet ahead of him and when he was freaking out he about ran into the wall of the hut…made it! Once Rafiki arrived the guests were served dinner…88 guests, it was packed! After dinner I talked to several people and met a couple who are hiking up Katahdin in 2 weeks and they said if I am there at the same time they would drive me back to Boston if I needed a lift, that was cool! The program for the night was Smiling Joe and the Southbounder in a question/answer session with the guests. All of the thru hikers were introduced and the guests started asking questions. I headed to the kitchen and started doing the dishes. After the program we were all given the extra food for dinner, potatoes, peas, cake, and more. After dinner quiet hours started and most guests went to bed. The staff was enjoying the 4th of July with some choice adult drinks…lots of choice drinks. We were offered the “dungeon” downstairs under the hut. We got down there and it is the emergency bunker room…with a few bunks. I thought I would prefer to sleep upstairs but if we did we would be woken up at 5 AM…and downstairs we could sleep in a bit. I settled into the to bunk and passed out. It had been a tough day, 1.5 miles from Mount Washington, and we spent the 4th of July in the Presidential Range! It was a 19 mile day, spent the night at the Lakes of the Clouds hut at mile 1,850, 333.5 miles from the end!