Hiking

To McAfee Knob… and beyond

Ideal Home

There is an expectation that once you heft that backpack and set foot on some dirt-strewn path that you are on your way to a destination. The destination may be far, impossibly far, but still, each step leads you closer. All around you, trees and wild flowers and scurrying animals and Nature extend father than you can see in an overwhelming vista of unexplored terrain. But you are in a well-marked corridor that allows you to be a part of all this without getting lost. Rather than limiting, this corridor is a reassuring tether.

I knew my hike along the Appalachian Trail would not be a direct march from Springer mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. There would be detours into town for rest and resupply, side trials to interesting views, the possibility I would need to bypass sections for one reason or another. This is a good thing. If the thousands of hikers that start the Trail each year all follow the same path and make the same stops, we would congeal into a monotonous, slow-moving conga line. But I couldn’t have predicted how circuitous my route would become.

 

Appalachian Trail map with a detour

The really long red squiggly line is the Appalachian Trail. Background map used with permission from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

 

I couldn’t have predicted that I would be on my way to meet a friend I hadn’t seen, or spoken with, in nearly two decades.

Before I started this hike, I never would have seriously considered spending several days in a strange place. And relying on some guy I hadn’t seen in nearly two decades for food, transportation, and a place to sleep? No way.

However, several weeks of casual banter via Facebook somehow evolved into an unscheduled detour. This friend, Chuck, was going to drive several hundred miles to pick me up from the Trail so we could spend two days together.

I faced the anxiety this caused with an intensity that any veteran Avoider would be proud of.

 

***

 

Despite my mental foot dragging, I eventually ran out of days to put things off. Chilly May mornings gave way to a June sun that pushed the temperature past warm, deep into the scorching end of the spectrum.

Sun burns I could deal with, but my mind began to overheat. I realized that I didn’t have answers to several questions that would probably be relevant. What is Chuck like after so many years? Is the woman I see him with in Facebook pictures his wife? Where does he live exactly? What are we going to do for 2 days?

An otherwise beautiful stroll through pastures and rolling hills became a grueling trudge as I struggled with the most pressing question: What the hell did I get myself into?

 

An unexpected oasis in Virginia

I hitched from the trailhead to a tiny town called Newport, which gave me plenty of time for a snack before Chuck showed up. Slumped contentedly on a shady sidewalk in front of the town grocery/market/post office, I laid out my fresh-from-the-rack row of corn dogs. A pile of Snickers, Doritos, and 3 beautiful bananas stood ready to reinforce as the dogs disappeared. There was Gatorade.

My anxiety faded into the background along with my Hiker Hunger. It’s a little easier to face an uncertain future with a full belly.

A lonely Snickers, the final remnant of my snack, stared up at my mouth longingly as a beige Clinton-era Land Cruiser pulled into the parking lot.  Chuck hopped out. He was the same guy I remembered from our halcyon days in Cheyenne. Except bald, bearded, and beefier. We went straight for the hug. Goofy grins on both our faces.

He’s loading my gear as I find a home for Snickers in my cargo pocket.

“You always did find a way to get someone else to carry your gear without feeling like they were doing you a favor.” He’s laughing. This is gonna be just fine.

 

***

 

Relative to my hiking speed, we raced through semi-rural Virginia. Dilapidated homes surrounded by car carcasses and well-manicured lawns flew by at dizzying speed. We were shouting over air that blasted through open windows as the miles and memories transported us back to simpler times. Times when our biggest hassle was pulling guard duty on Friday night. And the really dark days were still in the distant future.

Chuck and I slipped into familiar roles. His was to corral my ego, the more brutally the better, and mine was apparently to provide endless stores of fodder for him to practice with. He had no trouble highlighting a dependence on hair spray to maintain my adorable coiffure, or pointing out that my taste in music was as lame as my nonexistent biceps.

“So where exactly do you live?” I eventually asked. “I stalked you a bit on Facebook and it looks like you either live in Virginia Beach or in Cumberland State Park. Either would be great with me, but if we’re going to Virginia Beach, I’m going to need to make some wardrobe adjustments.”

 

“You’ll see.”

 

If I had to describe an ideal setting for a home, now I can just say, “Chuck’s place.” His home is actually inside Cumberland State Park, so trees, lake, beach, hiking trails, no traffic, no school bus routes, no neighbors broadcasting their volatile marriage. But, just a short drive away, you’re in Richmond, with all the important big-city stuff. Like food.

Ideal Home

This is what Chuck’s place looks like. I may have taken a few artistic liberties, but it feels real to me.

 

A 2-day detour from the trail turned into 4. Rebecca (his wife), a fastidious shopper and meal organizer, introduced me to vegetarianism. Maker’s Mark and ginger ale lubricated our nights until we were too drunk to play a card game called Skip-bo (despite any evidence to the contrary, I totally didn’t cheat). I knew, after sufficient training, when Chuck let me play The Door’s “Rider’s on the Storm” via the largest (and meticulously alphabetized) Vinyl collection I’ve ever seen, I was part of the family.

 

Epiphany on McAfee Knob

Getting back on the trail took some getting used to. The landscape didn’t blur past at 70 mph while I watched from the passenger seat anymore. I felt each rock and root, heard a squirrel scurrying up a nearby tree, noticed that flower was missing a petal. Several days of gorging and lazy living helped me put several pounds back on, but now I had to carry those pounds. I was working for my miles again.

My hiker legs didn’t return for duty until I reached McAfee Knob.

McAfee Knob, likely the most photographed vista on the Appalachian Trail, is an enormous rocky outcropping that juts out into open space. When viewed from just the right angle, it’s exactly like one of those infinity pools, except with rock instead of water, and your sweat is what’s making you so wet.

Crashpad and his wife 2-pack arrived shortly after I did. We shed our packs and lay down on the rocky platform, looking out over a vista that revealed an endless series of ridgelines that kept going until they merged with the horizon. No one said anything for a while. We’re going to have to hike all that, I thought. Then, We GET to hike all of this.

Later, we shared handfuls of wild raspberries that Crashpad harvested along the way. Then, we took turns capturing adventurous-looking poses on the edge of the precipice. I stood with one leg up in the air, both arms raised, hoping I looked like I was about to jump, but probably looking like a hairy version of the Karate Kid with a cool hat and pink sunglasses.

 

I could do it you know. I thought as I looked over the edge, I could take that leap into forever. Normally when I think things like this, internal klaxons go off, warning me that I’m back in dangerous territory again. But this time, it was different. I wasn’t depressed and contemplating ways to end the pain.

At that moment, I was sitting around a table with Chuck and Rebecca, drinking way too much bourbon and listening to the Doors; my belly was full of raspberries shared with new friends; and I was in the middle of a 6-month backpacking adventure that included views like this. Views that reminded me how much “out there” was out there. The same views that showed me I could be part of all this too.

 

All I had to do was take the leap.

 

McAfee Knob

69 Comments

  • Reply thoughtsnlifeblog January 25, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Another great story and great illustrations.

    Not related – I wrote a post on blogging legally -i would like you read and comment because i am trying to undrrstand what we bloggers should do on that front. Ps i think your work is great from writting to illustration and you should copyright it…

  • Reply thoughtsnlifeblog January 25, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Copy write on each post

    • Reply Gabriel January 25, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      hmmm Its necessary to copyright each post? I thought copyright applies to all content on a website.

      Guess Ive got some homework to do, because I spend quite a bit of time creating these posts and sketches (sure its a lot of fun, but still).

      • Reply thoughtsnlifeblog January 26, 2017 at 4:25 am

        Well see this where i am not sure. I copyright every where.

  • Reply Steve Adams January 26, 2017 at 3:58 am

    Great post, Gabe. Really glad that you chose to take that leap.

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 5:03 am

      Thanks Steve. Glad you did too!

  • Reply philosophermouseofthehedge January 26, 2017 at 7:15 am

    A short leap can turn into a great dance.
    Being outdoors is the best refresh and retool.
    (You do have a copyright notice at the bottom which is good. Some choose to have a copyright tab with a statement to make it very clear to poachers. Some say you should put a CR notice in the middle of your post to slow reblogs/cut and pastes without permission. I’ve found there little you can do to stop many idea thieves – make sure you get ping backs activated so you can get a head’s up if you are linked to – and then follow up and visit the sites to check it out/maybe leave a comment about it’s yours/copyrighted marked and you can either ask for a takedown (WP has a section on that), ask they not use your material without permission ( some people don’t mind apparently which makes it hard on the rest of us) and insist you name is on the piece and that your words aren”t scrambled up – they are still yours – and the format/images are as you planned them. It takes effort and can get ugly. Depends on what you want to do. Some immediately back off and cooperate as they know it is wrong – others continue…hopefully without your work.)

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      It’s funny, copyright protection wasn’t something that I’d devoted a lot of attention to. At worst, I’d assumed that a student under pressure to turn in a marginally acceptable paper for remedial english might steal a story or two, but now that I’m famous (hehehe), I better devote some time to ensuring my ducks are lined up.

      Thanks so much for the information, and for stopping by!

      • Reply philosophermouseofthehedge January 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm

        It’s not a big deal if your blog is casual writing, but if you have bigger plans, maybe not post those pieces if you want to truly safeguard them

        • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 6:58 pm

          I’m having way too much fun to stop now!

  • Reply Didi January 26, 2017 at 8:07 am

    The paragraphs about the internal klaxons touched me. Beautiful.

    Not long ago i stood on an edge in Dead Horse Point State park looking down 2000 feet. I felt the wind, saw the sun reflecting like 1000 shattered mirrors in the Colorado River deep below.
    I felt so alive.

    Later in the car I got silent as I was overwhelmed by what i felt. I mumbled it was strange, more to myself than to the person next to me. I got a bit emotional. “Are you afraid of heights?” Was the question the person next to me asked. I stared out of the window. “No i always was afraid of me”, i replied.

    And now i stood there, no alarms, no fear of being on the edge of such a cliff.
    I felt alive and realized i didnt need to feel afraid anymore.

    Keep continuing exploring the things behind the leap!

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      Didi! Thanks so much for the comment, and for sharing. This is one of the reasons I love putting these stories out there. I get to spend genuine time with people like you!

      These epiphanies have an amazing way of sneaking up on us when we’re trying our hardest to hide from them, right?

      • Reply Didi January 27, 2017 at 12:24 am

        Thank for your kind words.

        Yes they come unexpected. But I learned to just let them come when i’m surrounded by people I trust, as those epiphanies make me grow as a person, get further in my journey and make me stronger. Although I can’t help questioning myself afterwards what the other people might have thought.

        • Reply Gabriel January 27, 2017 at 7:32 pm

          Another excellent point Didi. For the longest time, I, like many, thought that being vulnerable is what happened when I got too weak to hold my facade in place. Now, I recognize that it takes so much strength (and courage) to be vulnerable.

          You’re a warrior Didi. And it looks like you’re winning the battle!

    • Reply Didi January 29, 2017 at 4:45 am

      I never saw vulnerability as a weakness and always found people who dared to open up brave.
      I just was , and still often am not, in a position where i could do that. When you let the facade go and let epiphanies come its important to have at least one person you can trust and that supports you. You need to be in a safe environment.
      I had the bad luck of having 5 years in my life with more happening than most have in their lifetime. I couldn’t afford to be vulnerable.
      Sometimes you have to stay strong as thats the only way to survive and pull yourself and others through.
      Although its sad that when I needed it I often was pulling myself through, alone.

      So when you have someone you “dare” to be vulnerable to and who gives you time and space to open up, be very gratefull.

      • Reply Gabriel January 29, 2017 at 7:30 am

        Absolutely Didi! And so glad to hear that you are no longer in that place where you had to “stay strong” all the time, and that you’re around those you feel comfortable being vulnerable with!

  • Reply Sheri @trail2peaktheadventurouspath January 26, 2017 at 8:54 am

    “Views that reminded me how much ‘out there’ was out there…” Love that line. And I’m glad you put yourself ‘out there’ by writing and sharing this story.

    I’m happy to know that you’ve transformed (expanded) your dark-places idea of the “leap.” You’ve shown us your new-found realizations that it can mean so many things… rekindling a past friendship, exploring a physical landscape that takes its toll on your endurance (body & mind), & navigating through the churning courses of your thoughts and the deeply hidden recesses of who you truly are. Love it.

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      yes, Yes. YES! You probably can’t see it right now, but I’m sporting one of those goofy grins. You get it. You’re a hiker too!

      Sheri, this was such an eloquent comment, and so accurate. Leaves me wanting even more. Fortunately, you’re only a click away!

      Thank you

  • Reply When Stories Attack January 26, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Wow. Sounds like you’re really living the life. Congrats on taking the leap!

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Hehehe. We’re just getting started here. Plenty of leaps left to take. (spoiler alert: I don’t always land on my feet, but I look totally hot in blood stains. It brings out the pink in my sunglasses…)

  • Reply Writing to Freedom January 26, 2017 at 10:03 am

    This is a wonderful story Gabe! You have a gift for telling a story and I love your digital art. Thanks for stirring my imagination, hunger and desire for more adventure- maybe even on the Appalachian. I traveled, hiked and camped all over the country in National Parks, but very little in the east. Maybe because I grew up in the DC area and was wanting to explore new worlds. 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks so much! I really enjoy your blog, so your feedback means a lot.

      One of the (many) great things about our trails is that they are always there, waiting for us when we’re ready. And I have to admit, writing this post woke up my itch to get outdoors again as well.

      • Reply Writing to Freedom January 26, 2017 at 5:05 pm

        Sounds good. I’m way overdue and have never done an extended hike, only day hikes.

  • Reply Lori January 26, 2017 at 10:46 am

    It’s great that you took that time to spend with an old friend. Connections are as important as being “out there.” Thank you for checking out my blog.

    • Reply Gabriel January 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Spending time with Chuck and Rebecca was such an unexpected bonus to an already amazing adventure on the Appalachian Trail. It’s ironic that some of my favorite moments happened while I was “out there.”

      And thank you for stopping by here as well. Feel free to come back whenever you’d like. I’ll be sure to leave the light on.

  • Reply Scott (aka Dad) January 26, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Gabe, That’s another great story. I love to hear about all your adventures. You are doing such a great job of carrying us along with you through your writing. I can see such a great storyteller coming into his own. Keep up the good work.

    • Reply Gabriel January 27, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      A great storyteller coming into his own… I like that. Like that a lot!

      I know I shouldn’t get gushy, but can’t resist. Whether I need a ski buddy, or a safe cave to hide in until the world learns to play nice again, or a father to guide and support another series of unlikely adventures, you’re there. Thanks Dad!

  • Reply Barb Knowles January 27, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Like your other posts, beautiful artwork combined with an interesting tale. I feel like I’m there. FYI Paul at thecaptainsspeech.wordpress.com (one of my favorite blogs) posted yesterday and asked people to recommend interesting blogs to be checked out. I linked to your blog, Gabe ?. Maybe you’ll get some visitors.SHOUT OUT lol.

    • Reply Gabriel January 27, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Thanks for the compliment Barb, and for making me famous!

      Since you obviously have amazing taste ( 😉 ), I’ll definitely check out Paul’s blog when I get a chance.

      • Reply Barb Knowles January 27, 2017 at 7:50 pm

        It’s worth it! He’s a great sports writer, humorist and post.

        • Reply Gabriel January 28, 2017 at 7:45 am

          Just checked him out. Thank you for the recommendation!

      • Reply Barb Knowles January 28, 2017 at 5:36 am

        I just wrote you a long response and we lost power for a few minutes. Poof! It disappeared. What I basically responded was….my daughter has been bugging me to write about this because she loves the photo of me with the black phone. She didn’t know the party line story, though.

        • Reply Gabriel January 28, 2017 at 7:46 am

          I’ve been having a really hard time with computer/ blog stuff recently too. I thought it was because I’m trying to rebuild this website. Glad it’s not just me here.

          • Barb Knowles January 28, 2017 at 7:53 am

            There can definitely be quirks. I changed the whole format of my website about a year ago and it took a while to get it set up the way I really wanted. I want it to look appealing but be user-friendly. I think I have it now.

          • Gabriel January 28, 2017 at 7:55 am

            hehehe I’m giving myself 2 weeks, then I’m calling in the calvary.

          • Barb Knowles January 28, 2017 at 8:00 am

            WordPress has a wonderful tech department that can help with anything. Well, not with the Appalachian Trail….

  • Reply Monica January 28, 2017 at 12:38 am

    You sure are a creature of habit. So glad you ‘re beginning to see the benefit of getting out of your comfort zone occasionally. To learn from experience, to conquer the fear of unknown! To evolve!

    • Reply Gabriel January 28, 2017 at 1:13 am

      Thanks Love! I’m going to have to up my game. You all are far more eloquent with your comments than I am with my posts.

  • Reply restlessjo January 28, 2017 at 4:23 am

    Leaves me with a smile on my face and a warm feeling. 🙂 I’m generally regarded as quite an extrovert but that’s not how it feels on the inside. I get in a terrible ‘what if they don’t like me’ angst over reunions or meet ups, and often wonder why I put myself through it. Because it’s great! That’s why 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel January 28, 2017 at 7:47 am

      Ha! We’re samees!

  • Reply Michelle Malone January 29, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Riveting piece, and I love your artwork as well! Consider it pure joy to find a way out of the darkness…may you always find your way! May blessings abound! <3

    • Reply Gabriel January 29, 2017 at 9:58 am

      So glad you enjoy! Feel free to stop by anytime.

  • Reply the incurable dreamer January 29, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Amazing story, Gabe! You are so talented and each post you write inspires me! Thanks for sharing! ?

    • Reply Gabriel January 29, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Wow! Thank you so much, and this is exactly why I’ve come to love blogging so much. Connecting with amazing people such as yourself and (hopefully) making a meaningful contribution. Love it AND love your blog!

  • Reply Miriam January 29, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Hi Gabe, I loved your story and got totally immersed in your hike with Chuck and his wife, in fact your writing made me feel as though I was right there with you. Your love for the outdoors absolutely shines through as does your talent for storytelling. Great stuff! ?

    • Reply Gabriel January 29, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks Miriam! Both for following and for the compliments.

      • Reply Miriam January 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm

        My pleasure.

  • Reply rgayer55 January 30, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Beautiful artwork, and well written post. It was like a casual conversation.

    • Reply Gabriel February 3, 2017 at 2:53 am

      Russel, I’m pretty responded earlier, but in the process of rebuilding my blog, it appears that several comments were lost.

      Anyway, I can’t resist a chance to respond to a compliment, so I’ll say again… Thank You! And hope you feel free to stop back by anytime the mood strikes.

  • Reply KuminKueche February 2, 2017 at 11:33 am

    What a wonderful story! I really enjoyed reading it, your writing style really pulled me in! & by the way, your digital arts are amazing 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel February 3, 2017 at 3:05 am

      Thank You very much for the compliments, and for stopping by!

      I suspect I’ll only get better as time goes by. Here’s to hoping that we get even better at pulling you in!

  • Reply Arionis February 4, 2017 at 5:04 am

    Awesome post. I did a day hike to McAfee Knob a couple of years ago. It was spectacular! I had a similar experience standing near the edge and looking down, thinking it would be so easy to step off in to the vast expanse. It’s quite mesmerizing.

    Were you on the trail last Memorial Day? We did trail magic at Reeds Gap (near Devil’s Backbone Brewery) on the Blueridge Parkway. It was loads of fun.

    Thanks for letting me experience it again through your words.

    • Reply Gabriel February 4, 2017 at 8:32 am

      I WAS on the Trail on memorial day. However, I was hiking with a friend in Grayson Highlands (Southern Virginia).

      You’re SO awesome for providing Trail Magic! I hope each and every hiker you met reminded you of this, but just in case, I’ll say it again… You’re Awesome!

  • Reply RMW February 4, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Great story and beautiful artwork

  • Reply candidkay February 6, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Isn’t it funny how life hands us detours for a reason? That little nudge that makes us do something unexpected–and the results do what they are supposed to:). Love that you took a chance!

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      I am as well. And I suspect that these pivotal moments become the character building blocks that help shape us into that better version of ourselves we are all searching for.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Reply YellowCable February 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    That is a great adventure and your drawings are wonderful!

    • Reply Gabriel February 8, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      Thank you so much, both for the compliment and for following along. I’ll do my best to keep adding a little color to your visits.

      In the meantime, love your blog! Look forward to following you too.

  • Reply bravojoy February 14, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I love this! I have always been interested in doing at least some of the Appalacian Trail. I’m a new follower – did you (or are you) walk(ing) the whole thing? Or how far did you go?

    • Reply Gabriel February 14, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Glad you stopped by!

      I completed my AT thru-hike last fall. But it will take at least 6 months for the blog to catch up. Hope you’ll stop back by for updates. I’ll do my best to make it worth the trip!

      • Reply bravojoy February 15, 2017 at 6:43 am

        That’s so exciting! I sure will!

  • Reply alecharper February 15, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Wonderfully written! If you are still in Romania, consider camping at the Weisensee in southern Austria (eastern shore). No powerboats allowed. Spent my summers in that valley as a kid. Cheers.

    • Reply Gabriel February 16, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment and for following!

      This Spring (or early fall) my wife and I will be hiking the Camino de Santiago, but it looks like there will be plenty of time during the mid-summer to check out the Weisensee. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Reply The Hook February 24, 2017 at 8:39 am

    You’re living an existence most of us can only dream of, Gabe.
    Good man.

    • Reply Gabriel February 24, 2017 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks Hook,
      So weird that so many comments are ending up in spam folders recently. What’s up with WordPress!

  • Reply rugby843 February 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    These paintings are marvelous!

    • Reply Gabriel February 25, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Thanks!

    Now it's your turn to play!

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