AT 2017: Day 57, Catawba Mountain Shelter to Daleville, Va.

When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide

The forecast was correct, and our plan to wait until today for McAfee Knob was going as we hoped.

The weather cleared overnight, so it was going to be a good day to get our picture taken on the rock overhang standing above the Catawba Valley.

DateWednesday, June 7, 2017
WeatherSunny and warm, with a nice breeze in the morning
Trail ConditionsAlternating between easy, smooth and mostly flat, with steep elevation changes and many rocks
Today's Miles17.8
Trip Miles728.1

Many people say McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. I don’t know how you would prove that, but still, it’s a popular stop not just for thru-hikers. It’s easily reachable by day-hikers, and everyone who walks here wants their photo taken from the rock overhang.

Stick and I were no exception.

We left camp before 7 a.m. in hopes of getting a brilliant morning sky. The easy, short climb to McAfee Knob was made easier in a few spots by steps carved from the rocks.

It took less than an hour to reach the knob, which was at an elevation of about 3,400 feet. There was an opening here between mountain laurel and other trees and shrubs. This spot didn’t disappoint.

Looking below, we could see the valley, which was a nice view. But this wasn't the main attraction. That was the rock overhang, of course.

We took turns standing on the rock and taking each other’s photos. The sky wasn’t golden yellow as I hoped, but it was a dramatic backdrop just the same.

I said yesterday this was an icon of the trail. Now it had become an iconic moment of my hike.

Standing there on that rock, enveloped by the sky, I felt moved, strengthened and empowered to finish this journey.

On most any weekend day this place would be crawling with day hikers, but at first this morning it was just Stick and me. A few other hikers arrived a short time later, but no one photobombed us.

When the makers of the film adaptation of Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” wanted an impressive and memorable spot for the movie's ending, they chose this spot. Apparently it didn’t matter that the two lead characters of the movie had already walked through Shenandoah National Park, which is more than 130 miles north of here, on their northbound hike.

As much as we would have liked to stay longer, we needed to keep walking because our goal for tonight was Daleville, where we planned to resupply and do our laundry.

The trail continued a short distance along the ledge overlooking the valley, so we delayed our departure a few more minutes to enjoy the view. When we started walking again, about 30 minutes after we arrived, the trail turned to descend from the knob.

We again passed through large outcroppings of rocks.

Then the trail traversed for a short distance through a clearing for a power line before returning to the forest.

The trail continued along the ridge line, but we had to go a couple miles farther before we reached another ledge with a view, this time looking from the other side of the ridge. From here we could see off in the distance Carvin Cove Reservoir, a man-made lake covering more than 600 acres.

Leaving the edge of the ridge again, the trail made several twists and turns, weaving through and over large boulders. The trail designers could have taken an easier route, but it would have been less interesting.

Signs and arrows were necessary, though, to make sure hikers knew where to go.

At about 11:30 we arrived at Tinker Cliffs, another overlook with a broad view of the Catawba Valley.

Stick and I stopped here for lunch. Another hiker also stopped. He told us his name was Scooby.

“When did you go to Philmont?” I asked him. As Scooby was about to answer, Stick looked at me, puzzled and surprised by my apparent clairvoyance.

I smiled, then decided to reveal how I knew Scooby had been to the Boy Scout reservation in New Mexico. I noticed the tattoo of Philmont’s brand symbol on his back.

A couple other hikers then joined us on the cliff. The first was Bubblehead, a section hiker.

Speedy was a thru-hiker, and a speedy one, it would seem.

We told Speedy and Scooby of our plans to share a motel room in Daleville, and offered them the opportunity to share it as well. They seemed interested, so we exchanged phone numbers.

From Tinker Cliffs it was still 10 more miles to reach Daleville, but we continued to linger to look at the amazing views and soak in the warm sun.

Blooming mountain laurel at the edge of the cliffs enhanced the views and made us want to stay longer.

Eventually, though, we had to move on if we wanted to get to Daleville. We didn’t want to waste time.

The farther we walked, the rockier the trail became. This was not a welcomed change because it was slowing us down.

Again looking down from the other side of the ridge we could see Carvin Cove Reservoir, and now much closer than it was when we last saw it.

I was also able to see an unexpected sight, the hotel where Kim and I stayed just outside of Roanoke during Memorial Day weekend. I had not realized until that moment that when we stayed there we could have seen the trail from our room.

It was probably just my impatience at this point, but I was starting to get annoyed by the rocks, though they really weren’t that bad compared to some sections of trail.

Eventually, after the trail descended from the ridge it became smooth and flat again, but it still seemed as though we were going slowly. By now, it was already after 5:30 and we still had a couple miles to go.

Then suddenly the trail popped out of the forest and onto U.S. Highway 220. From there it was just a short walk along the road to the Super 8 Motel, where I had made a reservation.

Scooby arrived several minutes later, and when Stick went down to meet him he checked with the front desk clerk about adding another person to our room. There was no extra charge.

After we had taken showers, we walked about a mile to a shopping center, which had everything we needed.

First, though, we ran into Yard Dart. He was hanging out in the parking lot, waiting for Miss Bobbie to reach Daleville. It was nice to catch up with him.

Then, after stopping at an outdoor store so I could buy a new tank of fuel of my stove, we went to Three Li’l Pigs, a barbecue restaurant.

It was a nice dinner with an unexpected surprise. We learned that thru-hikers get a free banana pudding dessert.

We didn’t even have to tell the waitress we were thru-hikers. Somehow she just knew.

We had taken showers before going to the restaurant, I promise.

As we were finishing dinner, Speedy arrived. We told him where we were staying and offered again the opportunity to share the room with us. He accepted.

Our final stop was a Kroger grocery store before we headed back to the motel to do laundry.

I wouldn’t say that was a glorious way to end the day. Nevertheless, it was a glorious day.

When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide
Throw me over the edge and let my spirit glide
They told me I was going to have to work for a living
But all I want to do is ride
I don't care where we're going from here
Honey, you decide

From “The Road and the Sky” by Jackson Browne

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