Day 64

Monday April 18. Mile 809, 12.64 miles/day

Don’t that trail look rough and rocky? Don’t that path look long and steep? Don’t Hot Feet look the sweetest, when he’s in the tent asleep? That’s a paraphrase of an Emmy Lou Harris song from Blue Kentucky Girl. It was often playing in my head as we knocked out some tough climbs over the past 10 days. It’s all good and prepares us ready for whatever comes ahead.

April 9 started with a climb up Peters Mountain, a total of 4436 feet in elevation, and 18.2 miles to the Laurel Creek Shelter. The storm we dodged in Pearisburg had dropped a couple inches of snow at the higher elevations.

Jeez, when will winter end? Somewhere around AT mile 685 northbound, April 9, 2022.

At one point that morning, we got separated, the first time on the trail. Scott missed a white blaze marker and wandered about 20 yards off trail, caught his mistake, and returned to the trail. He expected to but didn’t see me or my tracks in the snow, so he waited, then went back a ways. Meanwhile, I hike on, getting a little worried because I don’t see his tracks, but sure he was ahead because he always was. Well, long story short, he hiked forward and asked some hikers in a shelter if they’d seen me. “Oh yeah, she passed by about 40 minutes ago.”

As often happens after cold fronts, the next day dawned clear and warmed pleasantly. It felt like spring had arrived, we were wearing our summer clothes and enjoying the sun. For the next few days, we put in 11-hour days. On this day, we started at 7:00am and made 19.4 miles with 4088 feet in elevation by the time we made camp at 6:30pm. The last mile was forest duff and really easy on the feet, unlike the day before. We pitched the tent in a ridge clearing where we could watch the sun rise on one side and set on the other.

Daybreak, April 11, mile marker 694.6.

April 11 was another 11 1/2 hour day and one of the hardest for me so far. It was only 18 miles but with 3589 feet of elevation gain and a lot of rock scrambling on the way to Dragon’s Tooth, one of the AT Triple Crown Peaks in Virginia. Hot sun and flies buzzing around added to the challenge. Because the Triple Crown is popular with local hikers, the Catawba Shelter was already full when we got there about 7:00pm. We quickly pitched the tent, made dinner, and settled down for the night. One peak down, two to go.

Day by day, trees and shrubs are displaying their glory. A shuttle driver said these purple blossoms are called “red bud.”

This was the trail on the way to Dragon’s Tooth, a jagged peak sticking up from a tumble of limestone.

Internet image of Dragon’s Tooth. I’m sure inquiring minds would want to know what it looks like.

The rock scramble the day before made me wary of what we could expect the day we bagged McAfee Knob, the most photographed point on the AT, and the Tinker Cliffs. As often happens, reality was not nearly as difficult as my anticipation. It was a fairly easy day of 17.8 miles, 3386 feet of elevation gain, and a relatively benign trail surface of crushed gravel and embedded limestone slabs. Very few pointy rocks. We got to our destination, Daleville, about 5:00pm.

Josh Sutton took this photo of us, which is a little pixelated because he was too far away. Still, it shows we were actually there, feet dangling over the edge.

The view from McAfee Knob.

At the Knob, we met Josh and Cassie Sutton, who hiked the AT last year with their then 5-year-old son, Harvey, aka Little Man. They live in Lynchburg and were doing the Triple Crown. I recognized them because I watched youtube videos of the Triple Crown to get an idea of what to expect. I didn’t watch attentively or I would have known about the dreaded Dragon’s Tooth. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Josh, Cassie, and Harvey Sutton, the family who hiked the entire AT in 2021, McAfee Knob.

Tinker Cliffs.

The view from Tinker Cliffs.

April 13 was a short day, just 11.5 miles from Daleville to the Wilson Creek Campground. We had to buy food and some gear before getting back on the trail at noon: a sun hat and hiking shirt for me, light weight hiking socks and camping gas for Scott.

That’s Scott headed for the Super 8 in Daleville. The AT crosses US Highway 220, a four lane zoom-zoom.

At the campground, we met another quasi-celebrity, Jay, a video blogger who started the trail at the end of January. Editing and posting video blogs takes a lot of time, which is why we caught up with Jay. We watched his posts before we started to get a sense of winter weather.

Video blogger Jay, doing his stuff on the Blue Ridge Parkway after leaving Wilson Creek Shelter.

The hike to the privately owned Middle Creek Campground was only 17 miles and 2904 feet elevation gain. The prospect of cheeseburgers and a shower drew us in.

On the way, we encountered more trail magic in the guise of Rhonda from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. She wants to make the hikers’ hard journey a little easier by giving them cold sodas, tangerines, bananas, and protein bars. She asked me how old I am. Sixty-three. She’s only 60 and muses about doing more hiking herself. She should probably quit smoking first, that might make it a little easier.

Rhonda, from White Sulphur Springs, WV. Of course I told her we had a town of the same name in Montana.

The shuttle that brought us to Middle Creek Campground. We figured the campground itself might be a little raggedy, so we opted for a tent site and not a cabin. Wise choice.

On tax day April 15, we faced 5531 feet of elevation gain, but just 14 miles to get to the Thunder Ridge Shelter. The weather was pleasantly breezy, to chase away the flies, with clouds and sun. We arrived there first and set up our bags inside the shelter. Fellow hikers arrived as we prepared our usual meal of instant mashed potatoes with extra protein from chicken and cheese.

Signs of spring on the way to Johns Hollow Shelter.

The guillotine, a rock formation northbound on the way to the Johns Hollow Shelter.

A coffee and tea break has become a ritual in our hiking day. This was on the way to the Johns Hollow Shelter.

The temperature was dropping so we got in our sleeping bags. About 7:30pm, Fresh Ground showed up. He’s the guy who drives his food truck along the trail to feed hikers. He was checking the shelters to see where the hikers were clustered.

This was double acting trail magic. We were almost out of food and planned to resupply at a hostel in Glasgow the next day. However, a hot breakfast plus free snacks from Fresh Ground meant we could stretch our rations to hike two more days and resupply in town when bad weather was supposed to hit.

The next day we stopped at Fresh Ground’s food truck parked on the Blue Ridge Parkway for scrambled eggs and bacon and blueberry pancakes. We stuffed some peanut butter wafers and fruit in the side pouches of our pack belts and away we went for 16.5 miles to the Johns Hollow Shelter.

The Johns Hollow Shelter was aptly named, situated on a slope that blocked the wind.

We were the only customers which was a little spooky. Other hikers had stopped in Glasgow at the hostel, a 3-bedroom 1-bath ranch house with bunks for a bunch of hikers. We’ve figured out that $35/person to share one bath is not good value for a married couple. Motel rooms are often $70 or $80 but with your own bathroom.

I was a little leery of the shelter, because a hiker had posted a note the week before in the Far Out app about a man living there who heard voices and said he had a microchip in his eye. He wasn’t there, but he left a couple pages of incoherent notes in the shelter register. I lay awake watching the moon rise and listening to some crazy bird off in the trees. Eventually, I succumbed to the Sand Man.

The next day, April 17, we did our second 20-miler to the Blue Ridge Parkway trail crossing at Mile 809, hiking from 6:30am to 5:00pm. The conditions were favorable: a decent trail surface with fewer rocks than other days, sunshine and cool breezes to chase away the flies. It didn’t feel like 5775 feet of elevation gain, so maybe I was psyched about the prospect of beating bad weather ahead.

We hit this marker right after our coffee-tea-lunch break on Day 63, April 17.

We hiked for some miles along Brown Mountain Creek which had a sign about the history of the area. Being the fast hiker, Scott takes time to read the signs while he waits for me to catch up.

The Brown Mountain Creek Community of freed slave sharecroppers had a settlement in the area after the Civil War. They raised tobacco, oats, wheat, and corn and paid 25% of their sales profits to the landowner, if they owned the horses. If the landowner furnished the horses, he got 50%.

The sign says, “This community disbanded in the early 1920s when they sold their land to the Forest Service.” Scott says, the sign leaves out questions about the blurring of the fate of the sharecroppers. When the land was sold to the Forest Service, he doubts the sharecroppers got a dime because they weren’t the landowners. The sign implies the sharecroppers benefitted from the selling of the land they did not own.

Scott’s inquiring mind wants to know. Why is the second stick figure smaller? Why is the smaller person in back? Why are two stick figures necessary at all? Wouldn’t one figure convey the point?

At the parking lot we saw a cooler filled with Gatorade and sodas. In a few minutes our shuttle driver drove up. Hikers call him Mithrall the Guide, after the magic chainmail that saves Frodo’s life. They hold him in that kind of regard. He brought us to the Motel 6 in Lexington.

The forecast for April 18 was dire: 100% chance of rain and snow most of the day in Lexington, snow and sleet at higher elevations. Our hike out of Lexington feels a little like Groundhog Day when bad weather forced us off the trail in Hot Springs, North Carolina; Damascus, Virginia, and Pearisburg, Virginia. We’ll see and let you know.

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Jackie McKennan

Jackie McKennan

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Jackie is a freelance writer loving life in western Montana. She retired to the state where she was born and raised after 29 years in the Foreign Service.