June, 2011 Archives

McAfee’s Knob / Tinker Cliffs area

Brodie and I up on top of McAfee's Knob

McAfee’s Knob was as advertised but we did get up there just in time for a thunderstorm which chased us down the trail to Tinker Cliffs which I found to be even more impressive maybe because of the history associated with it.  Apparently war deserters fled to this area and made a living out of making pots and pans and other metal objects giving them the nickname of tinkers.  You basically rode the cliffs for about a half mile and each rock outcropping offered up a new view of the valley below.

Finally made it to Daleville/Troutville and I got my Country Cookin’ fix.  Nice little stay in town but on my way in I began to have shin issues and since I keep hearing about hikers coming down with cases of shin splints I have to believe that this is coming my way.  It still hurts to this day so this is a very real ailment that will probably flare up from time to time.

Brodie joins the fun

brodie view

My dog Brodie left with me out of Demascus as Sumner was kind enough to meet me up there for Trail Days and make the handoff.  I was nervous about having him with me due to his extreme fear of thunderstorms and extreme aversion to eating regularly.  So far he has been a dream come true as he stays right along on the trail and is eating (as long as I spice up his meals occasionally with crumbled up Carry Out dog treats).  The reaction to thunderstorms was astonishing to me.  The first night we had one he basically lifted up his head from a sleep position in my tent and sniffed around a couple of times and then lowered his head right back down to its original position.  The rain was pounding on the tent and the sky was being lit up with incremental flashes of light but all he did was lay down and he even closed his eyes and slept.  This gave me much more confidence in his ability to last out here.

The issue I have found along the way is that he accumulates ticks at an alarming rate and if they are around him than they are going to be around me.  I have started carrying my tweezers and a lighter in a handy place as I am handling tick removal several times a day and a bunch at night.  This will be a constant struggle throughout the duration of the trip and it will be overwhelming at times but I will hopefully figure out a system before I get to the Northeast as this is where Lyme disease is most prevalent.  The main tick I have found so far in Virginia has been a red tick with a white dot in the middle of the body.  These are called Lone Star ticks.

Demascus, VA

AT 559

Got into Demascus on May 6th and returned again on May 12th for Trail Days.  The first time around I stayed with a couple on Shady Ave named Christine and Brian who I guess Christine dated one of Chutes friends back in the day and someone suggested hitting her up when we were in town.  Thankfully we did as they were both ex thru-hikers and extremely hospitable.  They were right in the center of town and we went around with them and met all of their local friends.  It reminded me of an upstate NY town where the locals were all funky and intelligent but living in a backwoods sort of place.  The weekend before trail days they have a town-wide yard sale so we went over to help a couple set up the night before in a sort of set up party.  We would up meeting JD and Elle, Megan and Dennett, and others and this wound up being a nice core to meet as they were all very welcoming and I would up camping on the river on Megan and Dennet’s property when I returned the following weekend for Trail Days.  Christine and Brian had a shed full of bikes so we were able to get around town with the aid of two wheels.  The brother Chutes got violently sick on the first night we arrived in Demascus and we tried to pinpoint the ailment but could not.  He threw up 9 times from night until morning and was a basic mess the entire time we were there.  He was cold and fatigued and losing liquids from his body at an alarming pace.  We all considered ourselves lucky that we were not hit with the same ailments.  The following night at about 2am I heard more puking followed about an hour later by even more.  The next morning I woke up in Brian’s house to discover that the other brother, Snackin, and our host, Brian, had both succumbed to the same illness.  This was the day we were supposed to leave Demascus but I was basically the last man standing.  I thought for sure that I would be hit by this bug but I took my chances and pushed onto the trail. That first day on the trail I encountered many other hikers who were hit with the same bug and to this day the source of the misery remains a mystery. It actually made me a bit nervous that the bug was still lurking in Demascus for our return trip the following weekend for Trail Days.

Hiked out from Demascus and got out to Atkins and realized that a local church group was offering a shuttle back from that exact spot on Thursday so I holed up at the Relax Inn and headed back into town with a few others at that time. The trip out of Demascus included the Grayson Highlands which is famous for its open spaces on top of a series of mountains with amazing views and wild horses.  The first night I pushed a little too far and would up in no mans land on top of Buzzards Rock with noone around for at least 5 miles.  I knew that I had plenty of time to get up and going in the morning and that my hike that day would not be crowded with other hikers.  I passed the best spring I have seen so far just on the other side of the little forest after Buzzard Rock.  There was this pipe sticking out of a rock in the side of a mountain and the water was gushing out like a fire hose.  It seemed to have a wall of water just waiting to burst out of the earth.  I have come to recognize the variations between the different types of water sources and I could have stayed here all day filling up and drinking this source was so plentiful and clean.  There was a campsite right next to it that had I known about I would have set up right here the previous night because the gushing water would have satisfied my background noise requirement for camping.

The Grayson Highland ponies were basically using hikers and their hiking poles as salt licks and there were a few ponies prancing around getting used to using their legs.  There was one who was particularly pushy and I found out later that he was a kicker who would kick at people if you tried to cut his attention time short.  The next day I passed through a field where there were about 20 grazing cows.  We definitely spent a few days surrounded by large animals. Slept the night alongside a cow pasture so I woke up to the sound of cows after a night of storms and rain.  Hit the NRA visitor center and the lovely vending machine inside where I pulled out a few mountain dews just because I could.  I must have chatted with the lady inside the visitor center for an hour and meandered slowly through the shop checking out the books and the Smokey the Bear patches.

Back in Demascus fresh off the church shuttle I headed up the Virginia Creeper trail toward Megan and Dennet’s place and lo and behold she was working in her garden and there were about half a dozen tents set up along the river in their backyard.  I chatted with Megan for a bit and asked if I could set up and while away Trail Days in their yard.  She said of course and I spent the rest of the morning and the next day helping her and her mom with some gardening.  They were very welcoming and a joy to hang out with.  I planted a very aromatic rosemary bush and will definitely plant one at my own place as soon as I get one.  I also met a cool guy named Zach who was out with a few brothers for a section hike.  They were hanging out and enjoying Trail Days so I wound up hanging out with them for a lot of the time.  I rode down to Tent City where most people were set up but as I entered the gated area I was bombarded by cops demanding that I pay $5 for a wristband in order to be in this area.  I tried to explain that I was just exploring and that I wasn’t staying there but they persisted so I left never to return to this area again.  While in town the local ministry offered free showers in a disaster trailer, free medical checkups, free dinners, free internet access, and many other services.  The shower scene reminded me of a scene right out of an army medical tent.  Dirty and injured people were lounging all over the grounds waiting for their name to be called from a long list.  As soon as the name was called the lucky hiker would jump up and have some sort of reaction.  And once they left the shower they had such a sense of relief.  It was a funny scene because each person had basically the same reaction.

My friend Sumner came up from Florida and set up his tent for the night as well and most importantly he brought along my dog Brodie who will be accompanying me on this trip from here until New York at the earliest.  That night I left my rain fly off and woke up to a soaking tent which was not the best way to depart Demascus but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  For dinner we went to Whistling Pig and had a very accomodating waitress who set us up on the back porch so we could bring the dogs along.  We were alone out there for much of dinner which I had two of.  Earlier in the day the hiker parade dominated the downtown street.  People got all crazy picking out outfits from the thrift stores while water balloons were flying from the spectators.  It was a fun event.  We even had a helicopter flyby which came down low and just above the street.  Got a knit hat from the sewing ladies on main street and other little things along the way.  Sumner then brought me up to Atkins to continue where I left off and that is where the Brodie adventure begins.

Out of TN and into VA

the fake summit at the top of the mountain after Hampton, TN

On our way out of Tennessee and into Virginia we were around Demascus so we passed quite a bit of ex hikers who were out and about up in the mountains around the city.  We got caught up in a group of hikers who called themselves Riff Raff who offered passers by coolers full of beer and slices off a 5 lb log of bologna.  They regaled us with tales of Trail Days past and tried their best to hype up this years version.  They had an awesome one-eyed frisbee catching dog.  Killed some time here and then moved on.

The trail brought us through the incredibly small town of Hampton, TN.  The signs on the trail pointed hikers to a restaurant with hamburgers that turned out to be an all out bar that promoted a mingling of the hiker sect with the partying redneck population of the town and its surrounding environs.  We hung around and mingled in a bar that had stuffed wolved overlooking the action below which included shotguns hanging from the wall just above stuffed deer protruding from the very same walls.  Combination gun rack/ guitar cases and spirited games of cornhole and foosball gave the place its dangerous yet charming vibe. A persistent redneck/ex-hiker who lived next door kept pushing us to come and sleep on his floor.  We were questioning his motives to the point that we decided to seize a temporary moment of dryness in an otherwise rainy night and head up the mountain just outside of town.  The brothers and I convinced Dutch to join us and since he had been at the bar the longest he had the toughest time slipping up the rainy hill as we ascended a steep and slippery climb.  As soon as we got to the base the rain picked up in intensity and we really only had 1/2 hour of daylight before we were going to be in a dark, rainy, climb up a 2,000 foot / 3 mile incline.  Needless to say it may not have been the best idea in the world.  We each packed out a couple of road beers that we bought from the bar and we proceeded to crack one open in celebration when we thought we summited at about 11:00.  This pause gave everyone a chance to realize how cold, wet, and miserable we all were and jubilation turned to desperation and panic as we began to second guess our decision and figure out plans to camp.  We moved on to find a flat place to set up our camp since we were steaily going up with no level ground and at this point we realized that our ‘summit’ turned out to be a continuing part of the climb as we still had some going up to do.  Our headlamps were going side to side at this point as we scanned through the driving rain our constantly changing landscape in search of the flattest area we could find to house 4 soaking hikers.  We finally found something we could use and I had to share my tent with one of the brothers as we figured the tent would be quicker to set up than the hammock and a bit more effective under the circumstances than the hammock.  I am usually extremely adverse to cramming into very close quarters with someone other than a loved one but we were so miserable I offered the tent up and we all ripped off our wet clothes and slid into our dry sleeping bags to get as warm and as dry as we possibly could.  It was the most miserable I have felt thus far and I am so glad that night is in my rear view mirror.

Roan Mountain-the Humps-Overmountain

the blond girl and tree climbers and friend. You can see the gash.overmountain shelter

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This may have been my favorite stretch so far.  The climb up Roan Mountain had you experiencing a very different environment culminating with a stretch of pine trees up top.  From here Carver’s Gap is a beautiful open space with views ahead of the trail swerving up and over the Hump Mountains which bring you through wide open spaces as well as through a forests.

The climb up Roan Mountain started innocently enough until that fateful moment that I passed two hippies who had just climbed up into a tree onto a branch that was hanging over a little cliff.  I waved to them and the blond girl who was standing just below them on my way up to the top of Roan.  Maybe 15 steps beyond this I heard commotion.  Nothing audible and no clear words but I knew something was amiss.  I looked back and noticed the look on the guys face as they looked down the cliff and scrambled to get down the tree.  I also noticed that the blond girl was not there anymore.  I threw my pack down and ran down to the tree and saw the girl laying on a huge boulder in a pile of leaves about 8 feet down.  I slid down the bank and got below the girl so that she wouldn’t slide any further down all the while bracing her until we could figure out the extent of the injuries.  I looked up in her eyes and her face was covered in blood and she wasn’t able to move anything.  I held her in place and began asking her questions to determine the source of the most pain to see what we were dealing with.  Her only concern was that I was on her glasses.  Once I assured her that her glasses were in a safe place i had her slowly move her appendages one at a time.  First she straightened her leg with a grimace and then her right arm and finally when she went to move her left arm she almost cried out.  She basically fell 10 feet onto a slanted rock while attempting to climb into the tree to meet up with the other two guys.  I feared the worst but she seemed to be moving things around.  We were still out on the ledge so once I found out she could function I had the guys try to lift her up over the ledge by grabbing under her arms.  As soon as she got to her feet her eyes rolled back into her head and she briefly lost consciousness so I had to support her body again so she would not fall over the edge.  She recovered pretty quickly but I could tell the pain was excruciating.  We got her up on the ledge, cleaned up the gash on her forehead and distributed her pack weight amongst the rest of us and walked the 3 miles up to the next parking area.  This 3 miles took about 3 hours and we waited in the parking area for a bit.  She wasn’t going to get any worse in her current position and by then there were 5 total people from their original hiking group so I figured that I could push on to my goal of Overmountain shelter.

The section immediately following Carver’s Gap is a series of grassy, bald mountain tops where you can clearly see the path curving ahead of you up and over the mountain above.  The 2 main mountains are Hump Mountain and little Hump Mountain but you have the option of ascending up the Grassy Ridge Mountain top on a side trail which I decided to do.  It was just a gorgeous stretch that I will definitely be visiting again.  I got to Overmountain Shelter after dark so I couldn’t enjoy its view but once I woke up I realized that I was in an incredible location.  When I got there I was so thankful that there was a lone girl downstairs eating dinner who could give me the lay of the land upstairs in the barn area so that I wouldn’t  have to step on the hikers who were already up there sleeping.  The brothers and Trump and one other girl each had their hammocks hung in 1 of the 4 corners of the barn and Pancho and a few other notables were on the floor.  I didn’t want to disturb anyone so I didn’t blow up my sleeping pad so the whole night I felt the wooshing of the wind through the slats in the floorboards.  I woke up and realized what a beautiful setting it was.  Even the privy was overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery out there.  I couldn’t leave the barn so I would up hanging out with Trump until mid-day watching the hikers ascend up the steep bald which overlooks the barn below.  Walking out I found myself pausing about a million times looking back at the barn nestled quaintly in the valley below.  Just a gorgeous valley.

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