Day 48: Dismal, Spooky, and Mind-Blowing


The AT follows Dismal Creek for nine miles after crossing VA 606 at Kimberling Creek. Dismal? More like delightful. When I started at 7:15 am, I could see my breath. The woods, still wet from last night’s rain showers, dripped, and dampened the morning sounds, creating perfect hiking conditions.

The trailed followed, crossed, and re-crossed the creek dozens of times on little wood footbridges, sawn half-logs, or steppingstones. When the valley’s vegetation thickened enough to keep me from seeing the creek, I could still hear it, especially near the mis-named Dismal Falls, a wonderful ledged cascade that plunges into a swimmable pool. What a lovely walk.


As always, I hiked alone for the first few hours. The trail may not have been dismal, but the weather was – overcast, windy, and threatening more rain. Alone in the deep, quiet, chilly woods with a storm coming. The perfect setting for a mystery.

On quiet mornings, the woodpeckers make a knocking sound that is eerily reminiscent of the gurgling velociraptor sound in the Jurassic Park movies. Every time I hear them, I peer into the brush expecting to see a pack of them hunting me.

When I left for the AT, my daughter warned me to look out for “skin walkers,” which in the southern Appalachians are called “Cryptids.” She generally keeps me informed about such things, like zombies and other weird ways to die in the wilderness.

Specifically, she told me that Appalachian cryptids lure their victims by imitating a baby’s cry, so if I hear it, DON’T GO LOOKING FOR IT. According to the legends, she said, “if you went toward it you have a mark on your back because they know you can hear it.” I remain skeptical.

But this morning, I heard a baby crying in the woods. Some might question whether the wind creaking the dead trees made the sound, but after I heard it, my hair stood on end for a full minute. That might be explained by my not washing my hair for a week, but that’s when I saw a man standing in the trail who completely disappeared a second later.

When I walked up to where he’d disappeared, I saw the sign to the Wapiti Shelter. That’s right, the place where two hikers were brutally murdered in 1981. So, I did what any sane hiker would do. I took a break, had a snack, checked my email, and looked up the murder account. Wapiti Shelter has pretty good cell reception.


Yesterday afternoon, when Northstar picked me up, we decided to check in with the Van dealership to see if they’d made any progress figuring out the ignition issue. Recall that two mornings in a row, Northstar couldn’t get the van to start. After the second time, she went to a dealership who did some sort of scan that indicated a manufacturer’s defect in the “radio frequency hub module” which lets the key fob talk to the ignition.

We called at 4:15 on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. They’d had the van since Tuesday morning. Have you ever had your car serviced? Then you know what’s coming.

They had not even looked at it. And they had lost the paperwork describing the problem. They thought they’d get a chance next Tuesday, after the long weekend. The service manager must have sensed our displeasure because she called back 15 minutes later and said that it had started just fine. In fact, she said, the mechanics had been able to start it every day without any problems. (But hadn’t they lost the paperwork explaining what the problem was?)

It blows my mind how so many people in the service industry don’t understand that their job involves “service.”

Catch 22, Anyone?

And since the van started for them, there would be no error code in their diagnostic program, so they couldn’t do a warrantee repair. And no, they couldn’t use the error code found by the other dealership (who wasn’t authorized to do factory defect repairs) because…  reasons that could not be explained to customers.  So, we could leave it all weekend and they could try again on Tuesday, or we could come pick it up today before they closed at 6:00 pm.

I explained our situation, how Northstar is often waiting in remote places without cell coverage, and that our hike depended on having the van, but she wouldn’t offer any options or advice. She had clearly checked out for the long weekend.

Northstar called our dealer back home, who outlined how badly this dealership was performing on what was a very straightforward repair, and advised us to take it somewhere else. Plus, he said, the starting problem needs to go through a “drive cycle” to be diagnosed because starting it successfully resets the error codes. Leaving it at the dealership without driving it would be pointless.

The Good News

The good news is that we have the van back, and that it will eventually start, even if we have to sit and wait an hour or so. Once that happens, we can take it somewhere, get a new diagnostic scan, and start the process over again. In the meantime, Northstar has brushed up on her Garmin Inreach skills, pumped up her bike tires, and vowed to only park where she has solid cell service.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Kimberling Creek (Mile 610.2)
  • End: Sugar Run Road (Mile 625.5)
  • Weather: Overcast & chilly, weather’s coming
  • Earworm: My son made me an EARworm-killing soundtrack. Sweet tunes.
  • Meditation: The same son sent me a heart-warming text with instructions to meditate on it.
  • Plant of the Day: Woodpecker logs
  • Best Thing: Dismal Creek. Also 15 miles in 5 hours.
  • Worst Thing: Ghosts and Cryptids

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Comments 7

  • Harry Poppins : May 28th

    Manly Wade Wellman wrote some wonderful stories about supernatural Appalachia. The Silver John stories are my favorite.

    • Jon : May 29th

      I’ll check ’em out. Thanks!

  • thetentman : May 29th

    Well, at least your feet start every morning. Do not tell them Pa is coming.


    • Jon : May 29th

      Shh. My feet have been told PA will be no worse than AZ.

  • Ray : May 29th

    Hi Jon.
    Here is a hack for the push button ignition.
    When you are ready to start the van touch the key fob to the ignition switch and hold it there while pushing the start button. It works for me anytime my fob battery dies or I have other issues.
    Take care

    • Ray : May 29th

      Sorry….ignition switch = start button. Basically push your start button by using the key fob. My first email seemed unclear.

      • Jon : May 29th

        Thanks Ray! We’ll give that a try!


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