AT 2017: Day 42, Chatfield Shelter to Knot Maul Branch Shelter

Search for where the rivers end, or where the rivers start

Open meadow

The rain that fell most of yesterday had stopped around midnight. Everything outside my tent was still dripping wet when I woke up.

Though I had resolved to stop pushing myself as hard as I had been, I can’t say that was why I took my time this morning to get moving and back on the trail.

The truth is, I was slow because I dreaded putting on my still-very-wet shirt. By this morning, it was also a very-chilly shirt.

There are few things in my hiking life I hate worse than putting on a cold, wet shirt.

DateTuesday, May 23, 2017
WeatherCloudy and a little drizzle in the morning, then skies gradually clear to partly cloudy; high temperature in upper 60s
Trail ConditionsLittle elevation change for first six miles, then easy ups and downs; some maintenance needed
Today's Miles19.3
Trip Miles558.7

Most of the other hikers at the shelter left before me, but two hung around and I chatted with them as I took down my tent and packed up. They were River and Lost, who arrived late last night after I had gone to bed.

Muddy trail

Much like my shirt, the trail was soaking wet as I began hiking just after 8 a.m. Though muddy, the trail was easy to walk because there wasn’t much elevation change.

Flat trail

The nearly-flat trail and cool air made for a pleasant walk. When drizzle began to fall it didn’t dampen things too much.

Power line

For the next hour of hiking the trail rambled through rhododendron thickets, over a couple streams and a gravel road, before coming to an opening in the forest. Here, it passed under a large power line.

Power lines are an intrusion more common than I might wish for. This one was unusual, though, and not in a good way. As I walked under it I heard an especially-noticeable hum. It was unnerving.

House near power line

Nearby were a couple nice, large homes. I wouldn't want to live near that power line, I thought.

Trail magic sign

A short distance from here the trail entered a meadow. A weathered old sign was nailed to a tree. It advertised trail magic.

Normally you wouldn’t see a permanent sign promoting trail magic, but this was a different circumstance.

The crudely-painted lettering was difficult to read, but I could see it said the trail magic was ahead in a school, not your usual spot for trail magic.

Settlers Museum of Southwest Virginia

Before reaching the school, the trail passed an old farmhouse, which is now part of the Settlers Museum of Southwest Virginia.

Lindamood School

The school mentioned in the sign, Lindamood School. was another of the museum’s buildings. It was built in 1894.

One-room school

Until 1937, seven grades were taught in this one-room school by one teacher. It’s now furnished with reproduction school desks and a wood burning stove.

Trail magic

The museum’s staff and members of a nearby church have embraced the trail by providing trail magic to hikers. The school building is kept unlocked at all times so hikers can get out of the cold and rain when necessary.

The trail magic included soft drinks, fresh fruit and other snacks, as well as a variety of hiker necessities like ibuprofen and hand sanitizer. There were even dog treats, and it was all free for anyone who needed it.

It was nice to be out of the drizzle and to enjoy some of this kind gesture, so I stayed at the school for about 30 minutes.

Meadows and farmland

Once I left, the trail crossed more meadows and farmland. They opened up long-distance views of rolling hills.

Muddy slide

Thanks to those hills and the rain, the trail became a bit of a challenge as it descended into a valley. Somehow I managed to avoid falling down, but I nearly did when I slid several feet in the mud.


At the bottom of the descent the trail traversed a boardwalk through a marshy area, then crossed a set of train tracks.

Hawthorn bushes

There were also several hawthorn bushes through here.

Approaching U.S. 11

On the other side of the tracks the trail reached U.S. 11 near Interstate 81. A gas station and a restaurant were located here.

I knew Juan Gone, Uncle Puck and Stick were just ahead of me and I looked around to see if they were there, but I didn’t see them or any other hikers. I then walked over to the restaurant.

Restaurant on U.S. 11

Disappointingly, I didn’t see anyone I knew there either. I was looking for an excuse to stop to spend some time with other hikers, but instead, I continued on by myself.

Maybe it was just the dreary weather that was giving me the blahs, but I was feeling lonely.

Interstate 81

The trail continued along the road, passing under Interstate 81. Then it turned away from the road and up a hill into another meadow.

Near source of Holston River

A crusty old sign said a nearby stream was the source of the Holston River, or more specifically, the middle fork of that river.

Many miles downstream from here in Knoxville, Tenn., the Holston ends as it joins the French Broad to form the Tennessee River.

The Holston is named for Stephen Holston, who settled near here around 1746. A couple years after that, Dr. Thomas Walker came through the area on a surveying expedition and named the river after Holston.

Before Walker’s expedition, the river was called Indian River because it flowed into what was known then as Indian country. Few Europeans had ventured this far west. The river was also called the Cherokee River by French explorers.

Davis Valley

The trail continued through open fields.

This area is called Davis Valley and everything around it, so it seemed, was named Davis. There was Davis Path, Davis Hollow, Davis Gap, even Davis Fancy, which some time ago was a small settlement. The name comes from James Davis, who had bought some of the land owned by Stephen Holston.

Re-enter the woods

After hiking for a couple hours in mostly open areas, the trail returned to the woods.

Davis Path campsite

I reached Davis Path campsite an hour later. A nice, log cabin-style shelter used to be located here, but it is gone. It was taken apart a few years ago, and only the platform was left to stand. Then a couple years later a tree fell on that, so the whole structure was removed except for steps leading to the shelter.

A picnic table was still here, making this a good place to stop for lunch, so I did.


Around this time the sky finally began to partially clear. The clouds lifted and broke apart with a few, small openings of blue sky. For the first time in a couple days, shadows appeared on the trail.

One quarter

About 30 minutes after my lunch stop I reached a collection of bark and sticks that someone had formed into a small marker on the ground. It may have been modestly made, but for thru-hikers this was a glorious sight to see. Reaching this spot, we have hiked 25 percent of the trail.

As rewarding a milestone as it was, it also meant three-quarters of the trail was yet to go.

I probably should have focused more my achievement so far, but I kept thinking about all that remained yet to be accomplished. It seemed a bit daunting.

Doable, but daunting.

Flat trail

The ease of the trail helped my attitude. I felt I was cruising along at a good pace.

The clearer, dryer weather helped make the trail seem easy. The trail was climbing on the other side of Davis Valley, but it didn’t feel like much of a climb. For the most part, the climb was so gradual it felt mostly flat.

Another one quarter marker

Nearly two hours of hiking later, I came upon another sign. This one was nailed to a tree and claimed to be the one-fourth point of the trail. It was old and now inaccurate because the miles didn’t match up with the current distance of the trail. That happens because the length of the trail changes every year.

Still, this was another reminder that I had already walked a long distance, so I tried to focus on that.

The more I reminded myself of that and thought less about how far Maine still was, the better I felt.

Another meadow

Soon, the trail again crossed large meadows. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has acquired permanent easements for the trail through this farmland. Although working farms are on both sides of the trail, the footpath is permanently protected by the easements.

I didn't see any cows in the fields, but I saw plenty of evidence they had been here recently. I had to be careful where I walked.


Several times through the meadows the trail crossed fences, so stiles had been erected to allow hikers to go over them.

Near one of these was a stream. I stopped here for water. A hiker named Steam stopped here as well. We talked a bit about the trail before continuing on.

Stile with message for dogs

Reaching another stile, I noticed a message had been painted on a step to help hikers with dogs know how to navigate through the fence. “Dogs go under,” it said. A gap in the fence was provided for dogs to go under.

Another meadow

At 6:30 p.m. I crossed yet another meadow, and this one was the prettiest of them all. The late afternoon sun brought out richness in the colors of the grasses and surrounding trees.

The terrain was becoming more hilly, and though not difficult, the trail was continuing to mostly climb up in elevation.

Trail magic cooler

Where the trail re-entered the woods by a road, I found a cooler that was marked to indicate trail magic was inside.

It was empty.

This put me back in a sour mood, which continued a short distance farther on when I came upon three people camped near the side to the trail. A woman said to me, presumably because of my gray beard, "Hi, Santa."

"Har, har, har," I replied derisively.

I didn't add, "I just missed out on some trail magic, lady. Don't mess with me," but it was what I was thinking.

I reached Knot Maul Branch Shelter just before 8 p.m. Stick, Juan, River and Lost were here when I arrived.

Stick told me Uncle Puck had been having trouble with a new pair of hiking shoes, which caused bad blisters, so he decided to stop a few miles back at a hostel.

The sky was turning dark by now.

When I returned from making a long trek to get water, I learned a bit of drama had been going on at the shelter.

A hiker had passed through and warned everyone of another hiker he said was following behind him. This other hiker was said to be a troublemaker, especially around women. This put River and Lost understandably on edge.

I talked to Juan Gone and we agreed that if he showed up, we weren’t going to allow him to cause any trouble for River and Lost.

I was trying to get my bear bag rope hung before it got dark when a hiker, presumably the troublemaker, came by. As best as I could tell, he didn’t cause a disruption.

It was dark by the time I cooked dinner. Though it had been a long day of hiking, it wasn’t especially strenuous and I didn’t feel worn out. I had taken my time to get here and still, I put in more than 19 miles.

I hadn’t yet found everything I was searching for. I hadn’t yet found a hiking friend. I was still trying to keep a positive and focused attitude,

But I was starting to get the hang of this long walk. More than ever, I thought, I can get to Maine.

Carve your name
Carve your name in ice and wind
Search for where
Search for where the rivers end
Or where the rivers start
Do everything that's in you
That you feel to be your part
But never give your love, my friend,
Unto a foolish heart


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.