Day 65: The Right Path

Good Sleeping Weather

Last night was deliciously cold. It had been a while since I pulled out the long johns and pulled up the covers. I left the wool socks in my clothes sack because Gus has been providing foot-warming services. We have an agreement. He gets the window well in the van, and my feet go on his back.

We’d parked ten feet from the AT, so I was hiking by 7:00 a.m. Northstar barely stirred when Gus and I left to chase the morning mists. I do love walking the trail while everyone else sleeps. I didn’t see another person until 10:45 a.m. As a matter of fact, after seeing almost 50 people yesterday, I didn’t see more than ten hikers today.

Perfect Walking Weather

It was a perfect morning for walking alone. The air had been freshly cleaned by yesterday’s rain, the wind had mostly dried the grasses and brush along the trail, and the night’s chill hadn’t yet burned off. Walking is best when you’d need your puffy if you stopped, but just your edges are cold while you’re moving.

Happy to be rid of the fog and rain, the woods put on a spectacular show. Ferns blanketed the forest floor, their fronds sticking out every which way, like a tow-headed nine-year-old’s hair at Saturday morning breakfast. The tree canopy let in just enough light to dapple the ferns in alternating bright sun and deep shade that gently shifted patterns with the breeze.

A strong breeze rustled the trees’ upper canopy, though the air at trail level barely moved. A chorus of invisible birds sung their greetings up there, chasing away my earworms. Occasionally, birds dropped down to dart in front of us in a flash of red or yellow, before disappearing as fast as they had appeared. Even more rarely, one landed on the trail ahead of us, bring Gus to attention though even he seemed to know this moment was not for chasing the wildlife.

On the Right Path

In a world of constant stimulation, the trail through the southern Appalachian woods is a place of constant soothing. The chilled greens and damp browns clean my mind and bring me peace. White blazes on dark brown tree trunks appear periodically to tell me I am on the right path. Most assuredly, I am on the right path.

Side Hill Trails

Side hill trails may be my favorite, and not just because they hug the contours, making the walking easy. Along a side hill traverse, I can see deep into the valley below where there ought to be bears foraging. I can also see into the upper canopy of the trees below me, which give me glimpses of the birds I usually only hear.

But most of all, I love the way the side hill trails rhythmically sag downhill like powerlines between towers. Gravity would pull the trail completely downhill if it weren’t clothespinned in place by anchoring trees, too deeply rooted to be bothered by Newton’s formulas.

Everything about the trail was soft today, at least until I reached the top of the day’s climb at The Priest. The path was soft and smooth, almost like a rubberized playground surface. Recently cleared of overgrowth, Gus and I could often walk shoulder to shin, catching each other’s eye as I told him about what he was seeing.


Today’s milestones included Spy Rock, a lookout that promised 360-degree views and mostly delivered. We stopped for an early lunch and water at the viewpoint. I drank what I brought, and Gus sampled the rainwater trapped in bedrock depressions, which we call tinajas in the Southwest.

Next up was The Priest Shelter, where thru hikers fill the shelter log with confessions of their trail transgressions. I poured Gus a bowl of kibble while we waited to read the log and add our own sins. But when the hiker sitting next to me lit a cigarette (inside the shelter), we decided to finish our climb up The Priest (mountain) and left him to the confessional.

I confess my impatience with such behavior and that I make up names for hikers that don’t introduce themselves. Like Smokestack, who I left puffing away in the shelter. And the Witch, who passed me yesterday again without so much as a nod. Fortunately, it was too cold and wet for the snakes she’d sent my way the last two times I saw her, though I kept a sharp lookout anyway.

After we summited The Priest, we had a punishing four-mile, 3,200-foot, rocky, steppy descent that pounded my knees and ankles and had me counting the miles until we met Northstar at the Tye River.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Salt Log Gap (Mile 817.6)
  • End: Tye River/VA56 (Mile 834.4)
  • Weather: Sunny, cool, breezy.
  • Earworm: Just the wind
  • Meditation: Mt. 12:36-37
  • Plant of the Day: Ferns
  • Best Thing: Camping at the trailhead, out at 7:00 am
  • Worst Thing: 3,200-foot descent off The Priest


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Comments 10

  • Roz : Jun 15th

    I enjoy the adventures of Jon and Gus with a coffee each morning! Thank you for the efforts it takes to keep journaling.

    • Jon : Jun 17th

      My pleasure! Thanks, Roz.

  • Homeward : Jun 15th

    Glad to read the joy, peace and contentment in your post. Sometimes the trail is so good in the morning that you don’t even notice the dozens of spiderweb that sprang up overnight (but not often 🙂).
    Take care.

    • Jon : Jun 17th

      How do those spiders do that? Amazing productivity!

  • Chris : Jun 15th

    This was such a a pleasure to read; beautiful writing and funny too. You’ll have to let us know about future run ins with the witch and smokestack!

    • Jon : Jun 17th

      Will do. Love them both.

  • Smokestack Buak : Jun 15th

    Enjoying you write ups. Sorry about smoking un the shelter, I should know better.

    • Jon : Jun 17th

      Haha! Smokestack, is that really you?

  • Mike Nixon : Jun 20th

    Great, descriptive writing, well done, sir!

    Stay safe, and may God bless you & Northstar.

    • Jon : Jun 22nd

      Thx, Mike. He certainly has.


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