Fiddling and the ER: Our Trek Through Southern Virginia

As anyone who has hiked any distance on the AT knows, it’s not all butterflies and chipmunks. Most days are fairly predictable, if not downright boring, filled with endless tunnels of rhododendron, miles of annoying rocks, and nothing to see but trees. So after a time anything that breaks the monotony, no matter how small – a turtle, an unusual mushroom or flower, even a power line or gravel road — becomes a source of interest or awe. Our last three weeks in Virginia followed this pattern, consisting of mostly routine hiking with a few highs and lows thrown in. Here’s a recap of our trek.

The Lows


The emergency room in Pearisburg. Don’t get me wrong.  Any time you can get in and out of an ER on a Saturday night in just over an hour is nothing short of miraculous.  So the Carilion Clinic in Giles County was great. What wasn’t so wonderful was the fall (and subsequently infected wounds) that landed me there, along with some mysterious rashes and welts. But armed with two antibiotics, Prednisone, ointments, and a prescription antihistamine, I was soon back on the trail.

The path down Dragon’s Tooth.

Dragon’s Tooth. I know.  Some of you actually enjoy rock scrambling, but you people are insane. Seriously, this is not hiking. Climbing down steep rocks is terrifying, not fun.

Eating a big bowl of ice cream the night before a hike. I should have known better from my long-distance running days, but somehow I thought ice cream wouldn’t cause the same gastrointestinal distress before a hike.  I was wrong.

Grayson Highlands.  I fully expected this to be a highlight of our trip.  But after hiking for hours over tedious rocks and tree roots, we arrived at the park to find it filled with barking dogs, people with radios blaring, and children running and shouting from atop the rocks.  There wasn’t a pony in sight.

An interesting mushroom.

The heat. Hiking in 90+ degree weather is brutal.  Add in Virginia’s sweltering humidity, and it made for some truly miserable days. I’ve never been happier to be back in my air-conditioned house.

The highs

Albino deer. She might have been leucistic rather than a true albino; we didn’t get close enough to see her face.  But spotting an all-white deer was definitely amazing. And since we rarely see any wildlife aside from squirrels, it was a high point of the trip.

Wolfe’s BBQ in Marion. This was a great restaurant with its wooden floors, bluegrass music, and real Southern food — fried okra, spicy collard greens, coleslaw, ribs, and brisket so tender we didn’t need a knife.  Given the mostly abysmal food along the trail (which I’ll talk about in my next post), this place was a delight.

The Keffer Oak

The Keffer Oak. You’d think I’d be sick of trees by now, but there’s something inspiring about one that’s over 350 years old. I was thrilled to see it.

McAfee Knob. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this much-photographed location, but it really matched the hype.  The views were incredible from there.

Old Time Jam at the MacArthur Inn in Narrows. We were lucky to be in town the night of their weekly Old Time Jam, which they hold in the lobby of the hotel.  We spent several pleasurable hours listening to a dozen musicians, young and old, playing foot-tapping bluegrass classics. And even though I didn’t get my flat-footing lesson (I’m looking at you, Al!), it was a fun event.

Old Time Jam.

The people.  Judging by the abandoned farmhouses and declining towns, there’s a lot of poverty in Appalachia.  But the people make eye contact with you and smile. They stop you in the grocery store aisle to find out who you are.  They’re highly patriotic, rightfully proud of their beautiful region, and are always willing to help.  In short, mountain people are nice.

And that’s what keeps us returning to this strange adventure, the chance to connect with people and discover what their stories are. Stay tuned for another episode of ours.


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Comments 6

  • Jack Hadley : Jul 8th

    Love your pictures

    • Gail Barrett : Jul 8th

      Thanks, Jack! I just use my iPhone so it doesn’t do the closeups well, but overall it has worked fine.

  • Gary Abraham : Jul 8th

    You are one outstanding lady and it has been a gift to know you and John. Have a wonderful life as it looks like you already have. Your friends. Gary & Rayeann Abrahan.

    • Gail Barrett : Jul 8th

      Thanks Gary and Rayeanne. I’m glad you’re enjoying our stories. This hike is pretty hard for us, but we figure it’s better to keep moving. If we sit around too much all our aches and pains feel worse!

  • nina brigou : Jul 8th

    So true, long distance hiking is not always a walk in the park… For me the feeling of getting through those hard parts was amazing though. I felt so helpless at times, but somehow made it through whatever was going wrong and ended up feeling incredibly. It usually makes for good stories too 😉
    Loved the pictures in this post!

    • Gail Barrett : Jul 8th

      I agree, Nina. It does give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment, even though it seems overwhelming at the time. Congratulations on your hike! Most people have no idea how difficult this trail is, so it really is something extraordinary to do.


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