There was no point in making an early exit from my tent this morning. It was raining and I had no where to go for a while. I stayed inside and reorganized my gear.
I wasn’t planning to get back on the trail until Stick returned from his historic railroad conference. He texted me at 8 a.m. to say he was leaving Johnson City, Tenn. I calculated he would arrive between 10:30 and 11:00, so I could wait until at least 10 a.m. before I took down my tent.
When I did, I moved to the garage to wait and eat freezer pops.
As expected, Stick arrived at Four Pines Hostel just before 11 a.m. He was driven here by his friend, Patricia.
She had offered to pick him up last Thursday to drive him to Johnson City, and now today she drove him back to return to the trail.
Shortly after they arrived, Patricia took us the short distance back to the trailhead.
The rain continued to fall, steady but not heavy, as we began hiking.
From the road where Patricia dropped us off, the trail made a short drop before beginning a long and easy path to a large pasture.
As we climbed a small hill, we discovered the trail was blocked by about a dozen steers. In that large and wide-open pasture, they were all huddled together in one spot, which happened to be where the trail crossed.
We politely asked them to give us room, but they arrogantly ignored us. But we were insistent, so then grudgingly they separated to give us just enough room to pass by.
Apparently permanent trail easement agreements mean nothing to cattle.
The trail continued, crossing a road and then on to another large, rolling pasture.
From there the trail began to climb up a ridge. It wasn’t a big climb, but some large, exposed rocks made this section much like the ridge before Dragon’s Tooth.
Just before 2 p.m. we reached the high point of the ridge. The view from here might have been nice if it hadn’t been so rainy. As it was, it was only a reminder of how wet we and everything around us was, so we just kept on walking.
From the top of the ridge the trail descended a couple hundred feet to Virginia Highway 311. As I was crossing the road I saw a truck coming up to the pass, so I hurried to get across.
On the other side of the road was a small wooden footbridge, no more than three feet long, that spanned a drainage ditch along the road. As I stepped on the bridge, my foot immediately slipped from under me and in that instant I fell flat.
I wasn’t hurt, but the fall reminded me again how easily that could happen. One minute you’re moving in a good pace and the next you’re flat on your back.
I decided to slow down. At this point I had hiked only a third of the Appalachian Trail. In order to finish the whole thing I need to stay injury-free.
I’m sure the steady, chilly rain had a lot to do with it, but we didn't see anyone else on the trail today. That is, if you don’t count those trail-hogging cattle.
Before we left the hostel this morning we decided we would stop at Catawba Mountain Shelter. That would make for a short day, but would put us in a good position for reaching McAfee Knob early tomorrow.
There was a reason for this. McAfee Knob is the site where every thru-hiker wants to have a picture taken. It’s an iconic spot on the trail where a rock juts out over a steep cliff.
By stopping early today, we can reach that spot early tomorrow when the light is better for a photograph. According to the forecast, the weather should clear tomorrow.
In fact, just before we reached our campsite near the shelter, the rain ended. We arrived at 3:30.
The campsite was a short distance from the shelter and just under two miles from McAfee Knob. As early as it was, we could have easily continued on and reached it, then found a campsite on the other side before dark. We both wanted to get a good picture on the knob, though, and today was just too dreary for that.
Slowly a few other hikers began to arrive as we prepared dinner. They were the first hikers we had seen all day.
Soon after I went to bed, a whip-poor-will decided this was a good time to loudly proclaim its presence.
Nature can be so uncivilized sometimes.