On June 6th, around 2am, I woke up to the sound of my alarm and rain drumming on the roof of the gazebo at The Home Place Restaurant. Those of us who had camped there for the night convened. We had originally planned to wake up, walk back to the trail head and then hike to McAfee Knob for sunrise. Figuring it would still be raining at sunrise, we decided to count our losses and hang out until the rain subsided. I was pretty bummed to miss sunrise at McAfee Knob, but considering it had rained the past four days, I would have been thankful for any clear moment at McAfee that day. Just to elaborate, McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the AT. Stunning views can be seen from the jutting cliff on clear days. Other than the wild ponies in Grayson Highlands, this was probably on the top of my list of exciting landmarks to see along the trail. At about sunrise (go figure), the rain finally cleared up.
A group of us began walking down the road towards the trail head with our thumbs out when I spotted it–a sign that read “Salem 9.” This meant that the town of Salem, VA was located only 9 miles away. I don’t remember him, but my biological father is buried in Salem. I had intended to visit his grave at some point during my trek in Virginia, but hadn’t quite planned out the details yet. As we walked with our thumbs out, I had a feeling fate was trying to catch my attention. I really wanted to hike on to McAfee Knob while the good weather was holding out, but was torn considering how close Salem was to me at that point in time. As I put one foot in front of the other, I decided I would leave the decision to chance. I settled in my mind that if we got a hitch, and if the person just happened to be travelling to Salem, that I would go ahead and redeem my opportunity. Not even a minute after I had concluded that thought process, a nice man pulled over and offered our group a ride. After climbing in and buckling up, I swallowed hard and asked him if he by chance was heading to Salem today. He said, “Well, as a matter of fact that’s exactly where I’m going–did you need to go there?” I responded, “Uh. Ha. Yes sir. Do you know where Sherwood Memorial Park is?” He looked slightly confused as he asked, “Um…isn’t that a cemetery?” He gave a quick, almost understanding nod as I answered “Yes sir, I wanted to visit my dad for a minute.”
When I arrived at the cemetery, the sun was shining brightly. I had only been there twice before and had to wander around a little bit before I found his name. From what I’ve heard he was an amazing person, engineer, and athlete who would’ve been excited about my adventure. It’s been said that he would’ve probably been hiking every step with me. I can’t confirm these things, but I would love to believe they are true. Regardless, I’m glad I could honor and pay respect to him during this journey.
Although he can’t be with me in person, I feel his presence in our shared love for the outdoors. I didn’t have much to offer during my visit, but I left a small pebble I picked up in Georgia along the trail. I also took one I found next to his marker and I plan to carry it with me to Katahdin. “I’ll keep a part of you with me, and everywhere I am there you’ll be.”
Once I had said my goodbyes, I walked to McDonald’s for breakfast. It was there that I realized just how hiker trashy I’ve become. The truth hit me after I had washed some clothes. In the sink. And hung them out to dry. In the bushes. In front of McDonald’s. Yeah…
When it dawned on me, I noticed the judging eyes being cast upon me. I simply shrugged, laughed and continued to hang them out. I mean, it had been raining for days, what was I supposed to do? I was proud to have clean, sun dried clothes. It’s all about the small things in life, afterall.
When I got back to the trail head it was about noon. The sky still looked iffy, but I was hopeful. About two hours later, I finally reached the well known land mark. I must say, the view from McAfee Knob–after four days of awful weather–was absolutely stunning!
I took a few silly photos and enjoyed a snack break while marveling at the view.
Next on the agenda for the day was walking along Tinker Cliffs. I actually think I enjoyed the views from Tinker Cliffs more than McAfee Knob because no other hikers were around, and the trail literally skirts the cliffs.
I descended the Tinker Cliffs that evening around sunset. I was so completely satisfied with how day had played out. My intentions were to continue to hike into Daleville, VA where I would stay for the night and resupply the following day. I stopped at Lamberts Meadow Shelter to cook dinner when I met a group of friendly weekend hikers from Ohio. While cooking dinner, I was able to sit near the fire and enjoy some quality conversation with them–something I hadn’t been able to do lately due to the rain and me night hiking/playing catch up to everyone. I was so contented with the way my day had gone that I decided to stay the night at the shelter and enjoy the company of a wonderful group of folks. Town could wait.
The next morning, the group cooked and shared their bacon and even gave me their leftover snacks! I was extremely grateful for their generosity–thanks again, guys! Your kindness was the cherry on top a very fulfilling 24 hours.
I’ve often heard it said that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I feel like that is commonly proven on the trail. I had planned to hike to McAfee for sunrise, and although I was initially disappointed it didn’t work out, I received much more than I could’ve ever hoped for that day.
After breakfast, I hiked about 9 miles into Daleville where I was reunited with Perk and Howzit! I was extremely excited that four members of our group were finally back together. Success. We only needed to catch Chance and Right On and have some of the others catch up and our group would be complete again.
That evening we all went to dinner and enjoyed some food, drinks and socializing. As a group we decided to stay in town and hike out the next morning. It was nice to catch up and learn what had been going on with everyone. It was kind of like a family reunion–except we actually all like each other. Ha!
Below are some extra pictures from this stretch of my hike: