Big Miles and Big Adventures
Part way through day 56 it occurred to me that instead of getting into Daleville in four days I could get there in three and spend an extra day at the coffee shop—it would only require my two biggest days yet right in a row. What the hell, I thought, it would be good to test myself. So I geared up for 23.5 miles over some stunning ridgeline.
After lunch (where I selfied above) thru-hiker Raphe (real name) caught up to me. We started chatting and turns out he’s a fellow poet. I asked him lots of questions about the MFA program he did and discussed writing as a career. A couple hours passed easily until he fell behind. I kept trucking all the way up to the Audie Murphy monument near where the famous war hero’s plane went down on the way to a film shoot, or something like that.
I pushed well past dinner time (with great effort) until I found some flat ground beside an overlook. Ate ramen and mashed potatoes with yet another brilliant sunset.
The next morning I made my way to the iconic Dragon’s Tooth. The sharp, boulderous, and hilly terrain kept me far behind schedule. A long day ahead. A group of kids were up on the tooth, forshadowing the weekend traffic I was about to encounter at the yet more iconic McAffee’s Knob.
I pushed as far before lunch as my stomach would allow, then ate an extra poptart thanks to the day of supplies my pace was saving. I was munching away when up walked none other than Heaveyweight, our hiking buddy from way back in the Smokies! He had just taken a few days to visit his alma mater Virginia Tech. Talking with Heaveyweight made the rest of a rough hike pass way faster, just like Raphe had helped out the day before.
Blasting through a few legions of tourists we finally got our classic photos on McAffee Knob. Weather providing, every thru-hiker has one.
And even better we passed well beyond the tourists for our photo on Tinker Cliffs, the cover for this post. At Tinker I was happy to also catch back up with Firestarter (Will).
At along last I finished my 45.5 in two days at Lambert’s Meadow Shelter! There I met some hikers who had always been a day ahead of me: Wild Thing, Superman, and Hercules.
The next morning I hiked into Daleville and settled into Mill Mountain Coffee, and it couldn’t have been better. A local gave Firestarter and I each $10 “for our journey” so we bought some damn good espresso milkshakes. We played a good chess game on their board, I wrote blog posts, and the manager even chatted about backpacking gear with us. When I came back the next morning they gave me a free coffee and a sample of an EVEN BETTER chai milkshake. The place roasted their own coffee in a big machine right beside me. Highly recommended.
But it turned out the adventure wasn’t over. I brought my pack to the town park where there was free camping, but I never got to set up my tent. Hercules was set on watching a hockey game and I agreed to go with him. We started for a pizza joint reportedly nearby, but as darkness fell, miles passed, and we couldn’t get a hitch, we walked into a gas station. After the girl behind the counter looked at me like I was some kind of scary maniac a guy offered a ride to the rather distant pizza place. When we arrived the game was playing behind the window—but the door was locked. They closed early. Fortunately there was a sports bar right next door. We sat down and there was the Capitals game up on the screen. The Caps won, we had some beers, but how to get back to our backpacks miles away down a highway?
The place emptied out and the bartender didn’t have a car. We were stumped. Then a guy came back in for a hat he forgot. He was too drunk to take us to the park ( . . . ) but he’d take us back to his place to crash in his guesthouse! Fortunately we did not crash on the road and ended up drinking with him and his friends learning about his passion for boating and “fishin’ for Muskies.” It was a religious experience for him, wrestling a Musky into the boat.
In the morning he did in fact take us back to our posessions (untouched and intact) in the park. I have to admit, it was a challenge not to let my practical fears get the best of me that night; but I went with the flow and the current led me home, as it tends to.
A photo of Firestarter about to eat an epic sandwich:
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