Friday, June 6 – Saturday, June 7. VA624 North Mtn Trail – US220, Daleville, VA (Mile 724.0 since Springer Mountain and only 1461.3 miles to Katahdin)
I certainly didn’t expect to be posting so early, but things didn’t go quite as planned, so here I am. Having had 11 zero days back home and been pampered by my lovely wife, I knew that returning to live as a hobo would be something of a challenge. I also knew that leaving Diane again would be difficult and both those things came to be.
The return flight to Roanoke was for Thursday, which was the last day of my antibiotics. These were pretty powerful, so I had left the wine and beer alone and was glad to get to the end of the course. My initial plan was to hike four or five miles, them set up camp short of McAfee Knob. However, once I was on the way, I decided to ease back into the trip, leaving my first hike until Friday morning. In this way, I was able to return to Joe and Donna’s hostel at Four Pines, Catawba and take in the Homeplace (for the third time), then sleep the night in my tent in their field.
They were surprised to see me and, after explanations and introductions, I met my new fellow hikers. Most people seem to be really friendly on the Trail and these were no exception, so we all headed out to the restaurant as a band of brothers and sisters.
Returning from another substantial meal of fried chicken, BBQ pork and all the trimmings, I decided not to go straight to bed and took my shot at a game of cornhole, a terrific little game that involves lobbing a set of beanbags onto a board, some thirty feet distant. Priding myself on my competitive nature, I was confident I’d soon be teaching these southern boys and girls a thing or two about the game, so I lobbed a few bags and was ready to take on allcomers.
Bama, a young, ex military girl from Alabama said she had played a bit, so I smiled and got ready for the slaughter of the innocent. Unfortunately, the innocent turned out to be me, as this five feet nothing girl wiped the floor with me, 21-0, 21-4. The fact that she was then convincingly beaten by a young guy straight after, confirmed to me that, perhaps, cornhole isn’t my game, so I resumed my position as spectator.
The next morning, after a fairly decent night’s sleep, I set my alarm for 5.30am to really get to grips with my slightly increased mileage “requirement” of 13.3 miles a day. It still took me two hours to get myself sorted out and on the road, though I was heading down the road, back to the trailhead, by 7.30.
I was distinctly nervous about this return and my legs were a little shaky at first, though I made steady progress for the first couple of hours. There was a delightful walk through another meadow and I started to feel comfortable once more, until I encountered this little fellow. He, not unreasonably, didn’t feel inclined to let me pass, so I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and gave him a wide berth to get past. He may well have been harmless, but it is always a jarring moment when you see one of these little fellows.
Welcome back to the Trail!
Shortly after, I passed the 700 mile marker and felt that another accomplishment was under my belt. I’d left the Trail at 698.3, so this was an important milestone to me. I did fairly well and covered about 5 miles in about 2 hours and was just congratulating myself that I was well and truly back when I got lost (again).
I’m not terribly sure how it happened, but I was suddenly going down a wide road that didn’t seem very AT-like. After about a third of a mile, I spotted an information board ahead of me, with a map that showed that I was plugging away down a fire road and that the AT was running parallel but a few hundred yards away in the woods. The two roads were due to intersect about two miles ahead, though it didn’t seem right just to walk on until I got back on track, so I simply turned round and retraced my steps.
This turned out to be fortuitous, as I ran into a really nice guy, Tim, who was out for a day hike up to McAfee Knob, the most photographed landmark on the Trail. Hiking the AT is a very solitary endeavor and, though you get together with people most evenings, you are often entirely by yourself for pretty much most of the day. As a consequence, when you do happen to run into somebody with whom you can have a decent conversation, it is nice to team up, if only for the short time that you spend together. Tim was very easy going and we chatted back and forth all the way up to McAfee Knob. For me, it actually made the hike easier, which is another advantage of teaming up from time to time.
The view at the top is another great example of what this country has to offer in scenery. There were several others there, but I managed to grab a pic in that iconic spot and felt great that I’d been afforded the opportunity to give this whole thing another go.
Tim was heading back down the way we’d come, so I moved on to try to complete my intended 16 miles for the day, though not before I ran into a guy who was out maintaining the Trail. He was lopping off branches just to make my day easier. Think about that. Some people, in many cases, many people, see it as their duty to maintain this gorgeous trail for others and simply get up there and get on with it. I thanked him for the work he was doing and continued on my way, only to hear a huge commotion in the trees just ahead of me. I can’t imagine anything other than a bear that makes so much noise, though I was unable to see anything, yet again.
I had an extra treat a few miles further on, as Tinker Cliffs give you a wonderful opportunity of not just a spectacular view, but also a spectacular walk, taking the Trail all the way along the top of the cliffs for about ten minutes, sometimes deliciously and perilously close to the edge. If McAfee Knob gets all the attention, then Tinker Cliffs is the unacknowledged gem.
I was getting a little tired now and would probably accept that I’d overdone it a bit for this first day back. However, I eventually reached Lambert Meadow Shelter and spent the evening chatting with a group of weekend hikers as we sat around eating, before I set up my tent across the river near a very quiet young man, Bilbo. Apparently, he has hairy feet and is fairly short, hence the name.
This morning, I kept up my 5.30 alarm call, intending to reach 20 miles for the day. I had hardly slept, so the alarm was more a courtesy than anything else. Once more, I was first up but one of the last to leave, this time by 8am and I really got stuck in to the miles. Indeed, after about five miles, I was merrily munching on a Snickers without a care in the world.
As I sat there, my legs slowly “set” and, once I got going again, I was a different hiker, sluggish, with no real pep anymore. I’ve since spoken to Diane about it and she reminded me that the antibiotics were strong and likely still in my system. The blood work had also shown that I was a little anemic, so that may be another reason for the sudden weakness. Also, maybe the 11 day break had taken more of a toll than I thought. Whatever it was, I didn’t feel good and I decided to take a short break at Daleville once I met Bama again and she told me that there were restaurants a short walk from the Trail. The thought of pizza drove me forward and, sure enough, like a mirage, Pizza Hut appeared mysteriously through the trees as I emerged onto the road.
A large meat lovers pizza and two Buds later, I was hoping that I’d be revived and ready for another half a dozen miles at least. It was then that I saw a cheap motel next door and a snooze became more of an attraction! So, checked in, showered and laundered, I think that I may have taken on a little too much for these first few days. Indeed, I’ve just gulped down nearly two liters of water, so I may have been a little dehydrated as well.
My plan had been to get back up to twenty mile days straight away, but I think a more realistic target is going to be 15 milers for a few days at least. I’ve heard of the Virginia Blues and maybe I’m going through them. Whatever it is, however, I feel I’m starting to get back on track and looking forward to the next challenges that come my way.