Day 55: McAfee’s Knob and a Bear – Does it Get Any Better?


We boondocked at the VA 311 trailhead parking area, a popular starting point for locals wanting to hike to McAfee’s Knob. When it comes to parking the van, we’ve adopted the policy that if we don’t see any signs say we can’t park overnight, we assume that we can. So far, that’s worked for us, and we haven’t gotten the midnight knock that Vanlifers dread.

I’d thought about getting up early and trying to catch sunrise at McAfee’s Knob, but frankly, I was too tired to get up that early after a late bedtime. But I might have been the only one. The parking lot was jammed when I started at 6:30 am, after having been only half-full last night. Someone told me at least 50 people waited in line to take their McAfee Knob ledge picture at dawn.

I saw at least that many tents near the summit and as many hikers coming down during my hike up. I also saw a jog-stroller parked outside a tent. I guess you’re never too young to start a thru-hike.

McAfee’s Knob

Except for climbing on the Katahdin Summit sign with your trekking poles held triumphantly over your head, a profile shot on the potato chip ledge at McAfee’s Knob may be the most iconic photograph on the entire AT. I’ve been waiting 20 years to stand on that ledge. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance.

I almost walked right past the turnoff. A nondescript blue blaze marker points the way through the dense, chest-high brush off the main trail near the summit. I guess I’d expected a more well-worn trail and a little more fanfare. Or a crowd. But I got none of that. Despite the sunrise crowd I’d heard about, I had the ledge pretty much to myself. I actually had to wait for a day hiker to show up to take my picture.

I almost got a little emotional standing on the cliff, under a crystal blue sky with a nice breeze in my face. What a great setting and view. What a perfect day. But it could have been overcast and raining. Something about putting your toes on the edge of McAfee’s Knob makes you feel like a thru hiker. Like you just might make it to Katahdin. Like you belong on this trail.

Hiking to Tinker Cliffs

Just after leaving McAfee’ Knob, I saw bear #4, a small one. He was big enough to be on his own, but small enough to evoke thoughts of cuddling him, rather than being eaten by him. He ran off too quickly for a picture, and then did the same thing again a few minutes later down the trail. McAfee’s Knob and a bear. Could this day get any better?

I got passed by a day hiker between bear sightings. I don’t get passed often, so I thought about trying to keep up with him, but he was 40 years younger, had long legs, no pack, and was built like an ultra-marathoner. I had no chance. As he disappeared down the hill, in the distance up ahead I saw the hiker who had tried to catch me on the last climb of the day yesterday.

The guy looked back at me, and I thought I saw a flash of recognition before he took off with a determined stride. Today’s hike was 20 miles, so I had no capacity to race, but I do have that competitive streak. He disappeared quickly, but I saw him whenever we hit a straight stretch with decent visibility. Every time, he’d look over his shoulder, see me, and accelerate.

Eventually, I caught him as we started to climb towards Tinker Cliffs. He was leaning over his poles, breathing hard, and smiling sheepishly as I walked past and said, “You’re a speedy hiker, my friend. See you on the next descent.” But I never saw him again.

Tinker Cliffs

Tinker Cliffs get none of the fanfare given to McAfee’s Knob, but I thought the views were better, with more space to spread out and find a quiet spot all to yourself. I found a good one and sat down with my feet over the edge and my back leaning against a rock and had an early lunch. I young hiker stopped by, pointed out a serviceberry bush next to me, and offered me one. We had it cleaned of ripe berries in minutes.

When I got up to leave, I met another thru-hiker who wanted to have the what-a-small-pack-you-have discussion. As usual, he proceeded to tell me that I wasn’t getting the real thru-hiking experience, though he tried to be nice about it. I explained that for me, my choice was between doing a supported hike or staying home, as leaving my wife behind for six months just wasn’t an option, but I got no traction with him.

I was crushed. His opinion of my hike means so much to me.

Hiking to Daleville in the Heat

By noon, temperatures reached the mid-80’s. In Arizona, that’s a nice winter day. Except for the humidity. I guzzled all the water I could and ground out the miles, grateful for the shade of the long green tunnel and the wisps of breeze whenever I got near any kind of ridge.

I took a break at “The Monolith,” a bedrock knob reminiscent of the Dragon’s Tooth, but without the view. I was too hot and tired to climb it. But it made a nice back rest.


Northstar was just pulling up to the VA220 crossing when I walked out of the woods. She had the air conditioning cranked up and had put a Gatorade in the freezer for me. Sweet.

We’d heard that Troutville Trail Days was happening just down the road, but got there and found that Gus wasn’t welcome. What? Parks are for dogs, not people. Several people at the gate encouraged us to just go in and make them throw us out, but I’m just not that confrontational. Plus, there weren’t that many exhibits and we had other things to do.

One of which was trying to get new tips for my trekking poles. I’d tried to get them in Roanoke, but the outfitters there were useless. One sold only clothes (Walkabout) and the other told me to go to Daleville (Roanoke Mountain). The folks at Outdoor Trails in Daleville were very friendly and helpful, but were out of Black Diamond tips. But they did offer to let us boondock in their parking lot, which we did, mostly because it was right by the trailhead and a Krogers.

Catching Up at Krogers

We parked outside the Krogers for the afternoon, with the doors open and Gus leashed up so he could enjoy the grass on one of the parking islands. We had a lot of people drive slowly by or stop to look in the van, which happens more than you’d think.

At one point, I looked up to see a guy carrying a grocery bag staring in. As he said something about hiking, I recognized the voice but not the face. It was Machina, now beardless, 20 pounds lighter, and rebranded as “Chopsticks.” I guess he got tired of explaining the “Deus Ex Machina” thing.

I’d thought he be in Pennsylvania by now. Apparently, he had taken a double zero at the Super 8 next door. Wheels, Shamrock, and bunch of others were there too.

How Are You Holding Up?

He asked how I was holding up, which I thought was an odd question. But when I thought about it, I realized I was tired. Bone tired. Muscles and joints tired. When I’m hiking, I feel great. But if I sit down for any length of time, I move like an old man when I get up.

And not just “that was a long day tired.” I am cumulatively tired. I need to think hard about that, as I’ve got an aggressive itinerary the next two weeks. More on that tomorrow.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: VA 311 (Mile 710.5)
  • End: Daleville VA (Mile 730.3)
  • Weather: Sunny and hot. Thunder & light rain in late afternoon.
  • Earworm: Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown
  • Meditation: Mt. 6:1
  • Plant of the Day: Silene Coronaria (a flower)
  • Best Thing: McAfee Knob
  • Worst Thing: Hot & humid

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Comments 6

  • Russ Hobgood : Jun 6th

    Hi Jon. I cleared McAfee Knob off my bucket list a while back too. I was in the area to see family and took the morning pilgremage. Got the pic and then walked up about 50 yards and took the picture facing west, it is spectacular. Saw no bears. My daughter sent me a McAfee Knob tee shirt; been there, done that, got the tee shirt 😎. Shame about Walkabout, I usually find my bits and pieces there. Take care, best of trail luck to you. Take extra Snickers into the Priest & Three Ridges Wilderness. Oh, check in at Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro, they are pretty well stocked.

    • Jon : Jun 6th

      Sound advice!

  • thetentman : Jun 6th

    You need more bacon cheeseburgers. They alleviate tiredness, but it helps if you can grab a nap. Beer helps too.

    Also, HYOH.

    Great post.


    • Jon : Jun 6th

      Indeed. HYOH.

  • Mike Nixon : Jun 7th

    “I was crushed. His opinion of my hike means so much to me.”

    That made me LOL.

    Stay safe & strong.

    • Jon : Jun 8th



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