A Near Mangling and the Kindness of Strangers

April 22, 2018

Destination: Stealth Campsite at Mile 723 Today's Miles: 22.90

Start Location: Stealth Campsite at Mile 700.1 Trip Miles: 723

Shane and Melissa - Hikers and Trail Angels at McAfee Knob
I slept like a baby last night. I woke up early at abut 5:30 and tried to be efficient about getting breakfast going and packing up camp.

I was on the trail hiking just before 7. The morning sunrise over the ridge was gorgeous, so I stopped to take a few pictures. The first point I would pass by this morning was Dragons Tooth. Well, I did pass by it. Somehow I missed the side trail for it. Oh well! I was so focused on the technical hiking i guess.... I didn’t even realize this until I was at McAfee Knob, just figuring that it was Dragons Tooth that I climbed down and that was why I didn’t notice it. That was not the case. The climb down from the side trail to Dragons Tooth, however, was very technical. It was more like bouldering, and at some points there were steel bars drilled into the rocks to provide footing. One wrong move here and I could be toast! I went very slowly. After I finished climbing down, the trail became a tad easier, but remained technical in some places until I got to the gradual descent to VA route 624 road crossing. A lot of hikers go to Catawba Grocery from this road, but I did not need to resupply at this point. I pressed on. I did stop to text my wife. I joked with her that if I had a fall bad enough to where I required a feeding tube, to please try and see if they can get a nice wide tube, ideally the diameter of a gutter drain spout. I can’t imagine dealing with hiker hunger and only having a food tube the size of a straw - madness! I need something you can roll up a whole pizza in and use some kind of ramrod to get it down into my stomach. Anyway, she agreed that if that scenario were to play out, she’d see what she could do. 

At some point i was in he woods and low on water, so I was trying to read some notes in Guthook about an upcoming water source. I looked up from my phone and there in front of me was a Doberman pinscher. It was not a happy and cheerful dog; rather, it was like some kind of demonic forest spirit from a horror movie. I just looked up and it had appeared out of no where, snarling and barking. My blood went cold. This seemed like a dicey situation. It had a collar on, but no one was around. It advanced and lunged closer snapping, but did not move in to bite me. I kept repeating “it’s ok, it’s ok! Good dog, good dog!” The dog did not like this. I had forgotten, too, how large Dobermans are. This dog could easily jump and knock me over. The dog kept snarling and barking and for a minute I thought “maybe I can give it a cliff bar....” I reached towards my hip belt and the dog started to come in at me. Nope! I reached away, the. Raised my trekking poles up a bit, trying to make myself look bigger. Then the nightmare got worse. ANOTHER identical looking Doberman came bounding over barking and snarling. I thought I was toast. They started trying to flank me, rushing in behind me until I spun to face them. I wasn’t going to go down without forcefully using the tips of my trekking poles. And then yet ANOTHER dog went bounding by. They all had collars, and yet no one was around to call them off. The third dog was some other breed and just kept running South. Ultimately, I think that dog saved me because the Dobermans became slightly more interested in it than in eating me. They circled around behind me and I spun around to face them, slowly walking backwards north down the trail. They ran south. I hiked quickly but quietly to get away, my heart pounding out of my chest. I honestly did not think I was going to make it out of there without getting attacked. I stopped at the water source, quite shaky. I have had trouble with loose dogs before, but this was probably the worst potential situation I have been in - 3 unfriendly dogs and no one else around. A hiker passed by heading south.  l called to him and warned him about the dogs. He said he hikes there regularly and has seen the dogs before and had similar issues. I tried to put it out of my mind and hike on, but for the next mile I was paranoid they might come back. They did not. Maybe they came after me because, at the end of the day, dogs chase cats. Who knows why....

I hiked past an old water wheel in a brook adjacent to the trail. I made my way down to the next road crossing and parking lot for McAfee Knob. It was quite the scene! I was jam packed with cars. The knob is a popular site because it is so iconic yet easy to reach. You can actually skip most of the AT and just walk up a forest road to see the knob. I walked to the end of the parking lot and saw Far Far standing with a couple of other thru hikers. I hadn’t seen him since just after our delicious breakfast feast at Mountain Harbour. Turns out he had taken a bad fall on the descent down from Dragons Tooth. His hand was all swollen. The whole story sounded really scary. I was glad he was ok, though his hand looked really bad. A bunch of hikers went to a restaurant about a mile and a half from this road crossing called The Homeplace. It is said to be quite good, but I decided I would rather get up to the knob than lose a good chunk of the day for a meal.

I started the climb up the hill to the knob. I was actually relieved that there was an easy trail to the knob for anyone not white blazing because it made the AT path a bit more serene. I cringed before the split off as a guy came down the hill with a boombox on his shoulder blaring music. He was talking about what a good core workout he was getting. I worked my way up the hill and past the two shelters before the Knob, which are in pretty close succession. I made it to the top. 

The views at the top were breathtaking. It was a clear day and it really was a heavenly view to behold. I saw one person go towards the edge for a picture at the knob. There were a handful of folks sitting around and enjoying the view, but no other thru hikers. I approached a girl sitting down and asked her if she might help me take a few photos. She asked if I was a thru hiker and I said yes. She was super cool and agreed to assist, as well as take some with her camera. I went out on the knob. This was it!! I had been waiting to have this experience and get this photo.  I hiked big miles over the last few days to make sure I got here with decent weather. I stepped out to the edge. Then I sat down with my legs over the edge. With my pack still on, it was a little awkward. I pictured myself tipping off into the abyss. Cats land in all fours right? I tried not to get woozy and just enjoy the view. It was incredible! 

When that was done, I walked over and thanked her profusely. I asked their names - her name was Melissa and his was Shane. They were from Lynchburg and were out for a few days of backpacking. I later learned that it was Shane’s first real backpacking trip. This was exciting news! He said he was really enjoying it so far and was ready to do more. Awesome! Is always fun to talk with people when they are first getting stuck into something new and exciting. There’s a certain energy and intoxication to it that I can relate to. It was awesome to see him enjoying his first trip. He told me e brought too much food, and of course my response was “better too much than not enough!”, thinking back to my day of starvation trying to hike to Mountain Harbour.  As we talked, another thru hiker named Wandering Dad showed up. Melissa helped him take pictures as well. I sat down and ate my lunch and chatted with them for a while. They said they had met Tennessee the other day and gave him some food. Sounds like I might run into him again soon. I haven’t seen him since Mountain Harbour. Melissa and Shane then continued to trail magic me by giving me some delicious snacks and taking all of my trash off my hands, which at this point was a pretty full gallon  bag of trash! They were super cool and I couldn’t have been more grateful to meet them and for their kindness. As they left the knob I had a “oh yeah, duh” moment. I had been pushing and planning to get to the knob today and I was worried about the weather and getting a good photo. None of that really mattered. In the end, the trail always shows me that the true experience, the real essence of the trail’s magic, comes through experiencing the completely unselfish, kind acts of strangers. Meeting these amazing people and engaging with them - feeling what it feels like to receive that kindness - that is the real gift. So yes, I do have pictures on the knob and I did upload two if you want to see them, but did not post them in this entry. I posted the picture of Melissa and Shane instead because they, among other people, really made my day and my McAfee Knob experience exhilarating. That’s real trail magic! Thank you both!!

I chatted with Wandering Dad a bit, finishing my snacks. A girl walked by with a Labrador puppy that had the silvery grey coloring of a Weimaraner. I have never seen a lab that color. He came over and licked my feet, which I was airing out. Poor dog!!!! Dirty, nasty clown hiker feet! I hope he lived through the evening. Speaking of other cool people who made my day, as Wandering Dad and I made our way along the trail and down from the knob, I ran into a couple heading Southbound. It kills me that I can’t remember their names because it was something clever such that each of their trail names together was a word or phrase. It’s been on the tip of my brain but I can’t remember!!! Anyway, she said that she reads my journal and wished us both luck on our hikes. I’m always amazed when someone I meet in person is reading my journal. It’s a surprising and very cool experience, and sometimes I still can’t believe that people enjoy reading my mental notes and ramblings on my trail experience. I’m super grateful for the support. I’m hoping you will comment in my guest book to remind me of your names - I’m sorry I forgot!

Just around the bend it happened again! I ran into a guy named Carlos coming southbound who shouted out “hey, are you The Cat?” He said his friend Steve was back a little ways. They were out for a section hike and Steve was enjoying reading my journal and thought, based on my updates, that he might run into me on the trail. That he did! WD and I walked a little farther and I saw a guy coming uphill and shouted “are you Steve?!” I told him I was Hungry Cat and Carlos had clued me in that he was reading my journal. It was fun and, again, just really cool to meet someone on the trail who is supporting me just by way of reading my ramblings. I took a picture with Steve, which is posted in my gallery. Steve and Carlos, it was awesome to meet you guys! I hope you enjoyed the rest of your hike!

I was pretty much on cloud nine by the time I got to Tinker Cliffs. Tinker is like McAfee Knob, but with more expansive cliffs and views. It’s absolutely breathtaking and some of the best views of the trail so far. Is also a bit less hectic than the knob. I was thoroughly impressed and stayed there a while to enjoy the views. 

I hiked on to Lambert’s Meadow Shelter, but decided to push closer to Daleville to stop for the night. I filtered extra water there to carry with me. WD showed up at the shelter and decided to stay. He said he was staying in Daleville tomorrow at the HoJo in case I wanted to take a quick shower and clean up after resupplying and before hitting the trail. This was an awesome offer! We exchanged numbers to connect tomorrow and I headed out. I ended up camping about 6.2 miles outside of town. I ate a red beans and rice Knorr rice side and went to bed completely exhausted. 

Today I was grateful for so many things I could basically write a book, but mostly I was just grateful for the kindness and support of others and to be able to see that first hand on the trail. I was also grateful I didn’t get eaten by a wild pack of dogs! That would have been an interesting end to this journal though! My trek continues on though and I will eat eat EAT in Daleville tomorrow, resupply and then punch out. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow starting sometime late morning. The weather looks really wet through Wednesday. Spring is coming though! The days feel a bit warmer and I can see the green on the trees slowly creeping up from the valley, gradually ending higher and higher in the tree line. Mother Nature is going green!


#1: Check out the “promposal” photo in my gallery from Tinker Cliffs. I said yes, but there was no one there to hear me. Now what am I going to do about my dress?!

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