Day 52: Not Raining But Still Wet

The Return of Gus

Gus is back on the trail. His hair is short enough to let us find ticks and the forecast called for no rain. Despite the lack of sky juice, the woods provided plenty of tree juice and the meadows chipped in buckets of grass juice, so we both got pretty wet in the morning. We’d mostly dried out by late afternoon though.

The Debut of Northstar

Even better, Northstar was on the trail today too! She finally felt well enough to walk a bit, so we met up at VA 630 and walked to the Keffer Oak together. The Keffer Oak is reputed to be the largest oak along the AT in the south and may be 300 years old. I agree, all those qualifiers take away some of the potential “wow,” but it was definitely a big tree.

My dad always referred to big trees as “huggin’ and chalkin’” trees because you’d need two pieces of chalk and long arms to hug your way around it when measuring the circumference. He’d describe certain large women using the same phrase, but those were different times.

I enjoyed walking with Northstar far more than seeing the big oak. She sees so many things I walk right past and sees them with a poet’s eye. The plant ID app was busy trying to keep up with all the mosses, lichens, and tiny flowers she noticed. My favorite was called Fan Clubmoss. Not Fanclub Moss or Fan Club Moss. After the Keffer Oak, I hiked on with Gus, planning to meet up with Northstar at Trout Creek in the afternoon.

A Little Bit of Everything

Today’s hike was a nice mix of meadows, woods, climbs, creeks, and ridges. I met Jellybean, a YouTube vlogger, at the top of the first big climb. We’d both stopped to look at the view, a rarity after three straight days of being socked in with clouds and rain. I’d met her briefly on the long climb out of 19E back in North Tennolina, and know a lot of the same hikers, but had never really spoken.

After that, I walked six miles along the spine of Bruiser Knob Ridge, the highlight of which is a mile-long section with dozens of weird, six-foot high rock cairns. The FarOut app says they were built by farmers a hundred years ago, but no one knows why. The lowlight of the ridge walk was climbing over miles of sloped, exposed, slippery bedrock. Gus had no problems, but my knees and feet were throbbing by the time I reached the descent off the ridge.

Fords and Climbs

Gus and I stopped for lunch after fording the mighty Craig Creek, another stream with a washed-out bridge the Forest Service had posted warnings about. I crossed at a riffle and got one foot a little wet, though the meadow grasses did a more effective job earlier in the day. Gus jumped in and swam across, and then insisted on a game of stick-fetch-and-shake-off right next to me as I ate lunch.

In southern Virginia, anytime you find yourself at a paved road crossing or a sizable stream, you can be certain there’s another steep climb in your future. Sure enough, the AT crossed to the next ridge, which required a 1,700-foot climb up Brush Mountain.

As I slogged up the steep trail, I realized my climbing has changed over the last two months. Unlike the climbs back in Georgia, I now spend less time thinking about the distance to the top, false summits, and where I’m going. I just walk. I’m also getting better at estimating how far I’ve gone without looking at the map. I just go into my head and grind it out.


Brush Mountain is also the location of the Audie Murphy Memorial. Murphy, one of the most decorated soldiers in World War II, died in a plane crash nearby. Someone had decorated the blue-blaze path to the monument with American Flags, as yesterday was Memorial Day.

A group of hikers were just packing up as I approached the side trail to the monument, and I was surprised to see Wheels and Shamrock in the group. Jellybean tracks Shamrock on the FarOut app, and had told me that they were 20 miles ahead with plans to be in Roanoke in two days. But they’d taken a zero in Blacksburg and slowed down a little when Shamrock’s son joined for a section.

We had a nice reunion before they hiked off while I visited Murphy’s shrine. When I left a few minutes later, I found Wheels’ croc (shoe) lying on the trail, so I hurried ahead to catch them. I caught Shamrock and one of their new friends, Navigator, and had a nice chat with them. But Wheels earns her name. I didn’t catch her until she stopped for trail magic at Trout Creek.

Taking a Break

Northstar was waiting for me at Trout Creek. She’d booked a stay in Roanoke for our 40th anniversary tomorrow, when we’ll take a zero. I’ve logged 141 miles and about 30,000 feet of climbing over the last eight days. I need a day off.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: VA 42 (Mile 677.7)
  • End: Trout Creek (Mile 696.7)
  • Weather: Overcast and cool
  • Earworm: Spotify to the rescue
  • Meditation: Mt. 5 (still, so much to chew on)
  • Plant of the Day: Fan Clubmoss
  • Best Thing: Gus is back on the trail
  • Worst Thing: Slick rocks on Bruiser Knob Ridge

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Comments 4

  • Charlotte : Jun 1st

    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY “The Incident ” and “Northstar”. So glad Northstar that your van is back in your possession. Enjoy your celebration 🍾

    • Jon : Jun 2nd

      Thank you!

  • thetentman : Jun 2nd

    40 years is no joke. Congrats to both of you. You are both very lucky to have each other.

    Great post.
    Enjoy the rest.

    • Jon : Jun 2nd



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