April 21, 2018
Destination: Stealth Campsite at Mile 700.1 Today's Miles: 23
Start Location: Campsite at Mile 677.1 Trip Miles: 700.10
When the day started today, I had a vague plan of walking just far enough to make sure I could get to McAfee Knob tomorrow by early afternoon. I never intended to camp right at mile 700, let alone another “.1” to make my mileage for the day even.
Sometimes things just occur. In the morning I first woke at 5, then got out of bag finally at 5:45. I made breakfast (e.g. boiled water for my coffee). It was a beautiful morning! Between 5am and 7am, the temperature continued to drop until there was a nice frost on the ground. It must have gotten down just to freezing. I was in shorts and a t shirt, but slapped my rain jacket on to keep warm while my body caught up and warmed up itself. I also wore my buff under my hat, and my gloves. I’ve found my head and hands to be the most flexible way to manage my body temperature. I’ll often hike without a jacket, but still have gloves on. It wasn’t so cold that it was debilitating; it was just cold enough to invigorate me. I said goodbye to my lovely temporary dwelling spot and headed north.
I walked through another pasture and happened upon a deer grazing off to the side. It froze in place and stared at me in what seemed to be either fear-laced curiosity or curiosity-laced fear. The breath from its nostrils clouded the air in front of its face, just as my breath must have shrouded me. I tried to reach slowly for my phone to take a picture. It was enough for the deer, which bolted back to the nearby tree line and disappeared. Around the bend I saw three rabbits foraging in the taller grass of the meadow. It seemed that even the woodland creatures were excited to get an early start to what would be a beautiful day. Under their breath the rabbits probably took one look at me and whispered to each other: “short timer!”
I crossed a road and there was an old chimney in a rather sketchy looking parking lot. The Canadians passed by me last night and said they were going to camp there. Yikes! It was a little sketch for camping. I started up the hill and saw them at a much nicer spot with a fire going.
I kept climbing and first passed by a broken down old shack. I got kind of a cool picture of it in the morning sun. I walked through more pasture, and there in front of me was a roughly 300 year old Keffer Oak. It’s said to be the oldest tree in the southern portion of the Appalachian trail. Apparently there is an older tree in New York that we will see later. It was pretty spectacular to see such an old tree. I liked thinking about what that tree has seen over 300 years. A revolution. A civil war. Wagons to automobiles. More than I will see in my life! I took a few pictures of the tree, trying not to get the nearby power lines in my photo. I felt bad for the tree having to look at those lines every day.
The trail headed away from the pasture and climbed up Sinking Creek Mountain where there are a series of old and very large cairns, apparently constructed there by early farmers for navigation purposes. Not too long after this, I arrived at a marker for the Eastern Continental Divide. This one is fascinating to me. Streams on the east side of Sinking Creek Mountain flow into the James River and the Atlantic Ocean, and those on the west side flow into the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. I like thinking about the origin of water and it’s final pooling grounds. I stopped at Niday Shelter for lunch and there was a weekend hiker resting there as well. I dried out some gear, kicked off my shoes and ate. I didn’t get the guy’s name, but while we were chatting he said he was hiking south to McAfee Knob. I told him I was hiking north to McAfee. He got really quiet for about 5 minutes, and then told me he realized that he had parked at Dragon’s Tooth, which is south of McAfee Knob, and then hiked in the wrong direction! I felt for him because not only did he have quite a ways to hike back, it was also something I could definitely see myself doing. He trekked off no doubt frustrated! I headed downhill to grab water from the water source, put on some more sunscreen, and headed out myself.
Next was a long, albeit nicely graded with switchbacks, climb up Brushy Mountain. At the base of the mountain I saw and took a picture of a bunch of what my mother would later identify as Dwarf Irises that looked like Rock Garden Irises. At the top of the mountain the trail leveled off and was really just a Jeep road for a while. A side trail lead to a monument for Audie Murphy, the most decorated WWII vet who had died in a plane crash in the area. I took a picture of the monument and thought about how crazy it is that someone can go through so much in a war, being wounded multiple times, survive it all, and then die in a rather statistically unlikely manner, such as in a plane wreck. I suppose it is a good reminder that the order of the universe is not for me to understand.
I started the descent down Brushy and eventually got to a road crossing and parking lot where I saw my weekend hiker friend. He said his car was parked by Dragons Tooth, but that he would stop and camp there as he had already walked 26 miles. I felt bad for him, but he seemed to be taking it all in good spirits. I needed water, but I had a big climb to power through before the ridge leading up to Dragons Tooth, so I didn’t want to carry it. Instead, I did the climb and stopped at Pickle Branch Shelter. This was a little painful in itself because the shelter was 0.3 miles off the trail, and then another 100 yards down a steep hill for water. I met two section hikers there and chatted with them while I got 4 liters of water, drank a liter, and washed some salt off my face and arms in the creek. Climbing out of that shelter and back to the trail with at much water was a little painful, and I was already getting close to 6. I wanted to find a stealth campsite somewhere on the ridge just so I would have an easier day tomorrow getting to McAfee Knob. I walked by a few spots that were quite slanted. Stealth campsite selection has proven to be tricky for me. On some occasions I’ve walked farther than expected to find a site, and so I tend now to scrutinize them carefully before passing them over. It was getting late and the sun was going down. I was dog tired. I asked the trail to give me a sign. Not long after I did, I rounded a bend and surprised another deer that was just off the trail. This one didn’t run. It stood there staring at me. I stared back. For a second I thought it might charge me, but it looked young. Instead, it decided I was tolerable, lowered its head and continued foraging. I had never had this experience before, so I took a little video of the deer. I walked off and it stayed. I took that as my sign and took the next spot that afforded itself. I watched a gorgeous sunset as I hiked into and set up camp, and was poised to see a beautiful sunrise on the opposite side of the ridge in the morning. When I got in my tent, I checked my position on Guthook and was surprised to see that I was at the 700.1 mile mark. It felt like serendipity. The day, the deer sign, the trail, the sunset, had all lead me here. I was exhausted bu feeling in good spirits.
I was grateful for all of the wildlife sightings today, for my legs and body for carrying me through a long hot day, and for the trail for getting me to where I had landed that evening. Tomorrow will be a big day.
#1: I definitely have a lot of good reading material lined up for after my hike! I look forward to checking out how Kokopelli’s section went, checking out Beaker’s journal, and also the rescue entry that was just mentioned the other day in my guest book. Lots of good stuff and it will be nice to have trail-related reading post trail!
#2: While there is a way to get multiple pictures in the body of my journal entries, I think I have only done it once because it is cumbersome and requires some basic HTML entry that is just too much work on the trail for me! I do add lots of pictures though and try to label them in a useful way, so if you are interested they are in my photo gallery.