Me on McAfee Knob, Appalachian Trail
This was the year I was committed to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. So, what in tarnation am I doing on the other coast, hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT)? Well, in late August, I discovered that the Wilderness Medical Society was doing a 4-day trip on the AT with lectures in wilderness medicine. I figured that I could use an update on wilderness medicine, and so called up my best friend Dr. Peter Tate to see if he wished to also do it. For him, it meant CME credits, for me it meant having some time with an old friend and getting a sample of one best portion of the AT, a 30 mile segment around Roanoke, VA. Peter bit. So, we were both signed up. I was to fly into Lexington, KY, stay one night in Lexington, and then ride with Peter down to the farm in Stanford, KY, stay two nights there, and head out from there to the conference. I arrived safe and sound in Lexington on 19SEPT and reconnoitered with Peter. The next day, we were off to the farm. Peter was in the early stages of building a new house the last time I was at the farm a year and a half ago. It was now in the nearly complete stages. It truly was a masterpiece, especially considering that Peter did most of the construction himself. He even included a swimming pool which the house wraps around. On the interior, he made certain walls at an angle off of 90 degrees, creating a wonderful character to the house, with the swimming pool sitting at that oblique angle from the house.
Our full day at the farm included an about 7 mile hike through the pastures and woods on Peter’s land. We carried our backpacks fully loaded just to condition our bodies to the upcoming adventure. The next day, we headed out to our group meeting point at a camp outside of Roanoke, VA, called Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing (WAEL). The first and last night of the adventure were spent at WAEL, with the first night in a cabin, and the last night in our tents. Peter drove the Tesla, which seemed to have some software problems on the trip. I also realized that long distances in remote territories are NOT Tesla’s forte. After an uneventful night, we headed out for the trail. We were going to hike the trail southbound, with a starting point at Daleville, and ending at Dragon’s Tooth, then hiking out the Dragon’s Tooth access trail. The first three days all entailed about 9.5 miles of hiking, and the last was much shorter.
Our first night was at Lambert’s Meadow. It wasn’t really a meadow, and there was confusion as to where we were to camp, the instructions suggesting that it was at the cabin, rather than a ¼ mile before that, where most people stopped. I couldn’t help but think of Lander’s Meadow in the middle of section f (California) and a truly beautiful meadow lined by majestic Ponderosa pines. Peter and I and Jay camped in the correct spot, and met Smoking Joe, a NOBO, and in desperate need for food. I had way too much food, so Joe pumped me some water in exchange for a bunch of food. I missed the lecture that evening since it didn’t really start until about 8:30 or later, and I was sound asleep by then.
The second hiking day, Peter and I took off at a leisurely pace, encountering two of the three sites of note in Virginia, the Tinker Cliffs, and McAfee Knob, the third being the Dragon’s Tooth, which we would see our last day. McAfee Knob seems to be iconic of the AT, so both Peter and I were photographed on the knob. Our second night was at John’s Spring. Though named after a spring, this was a dry campsite, and the last real water was at Lambert’s Meadow. We had to watch our water consumption. The site was a little small for the group of 23 of us, there was a shelter there where a few of our group slept, and we all managed ok. The lecture was on bears.
The hike the third day proceeded to have an interest in reaching the next water source, which was about 6 miles out of camp. Since the weather in the mornings was cool, there was not too much water loss, though I was down to my last half liter. We were to camp at Lost Spectacles Gap, a more roomy spot, though also a dry camp. The trail went through some nice meadows, and crossed a road where a short walk led to a restaurant/grocery store/gas station, where Peter and I decided to diverge and seek libations not found on the trail. We brought some beer back to camp to enjoy, and had a great time. Unfortunately, I ordered a hamburger for lunch which was larger than I anticipated, and when Peter and I stopped at a particularly majestic lookout point, I proceeded to throw up half my meal. Oh well. We arrived at camp fairly early, enjoyed a couple cigars, and laid low. There were no lectures, but instead, there was a mock bear attack session, where we had to make decisions regarding the traumatic injuries and administer initial care to the victims. It was a fun venture.
The last day was short, which us waking up a bit later than usual, ascending a rather treacherous portion of the trail to arrive at the Dragon’s Tooth. Arriving back at camp, we picked up our backpacks, and hiked out. We again were able to easily reach the store that we were at a day ago, and picked up a case of beer for the other hikers. We had yet another lecture on orthopedic injuries. The shuttles picked us up, hauled us back to WAEL, and we settled in for the evening. At this time, Peter discovered that his car, which was plugged in to be charged while we were hiking, had now totally drained of charge. After a few desperate measures, he had a tow truck haul him and the car to Richmond, VA. It was decided that with the uncertainty of repair of the vehicle, I would ride back to Lexington with Jimmy, a medical student at U of Kentucky in Lexington. I stayed for dinner, and enjoyed two more lectures, one on water filtration, and the other on Jessie’s thru-hike of the AT. Eventually, Peter arrived back to Lexington (quite late at night), and took me to the airport then next morning, on 28SEPT. I made it home intact!
First, about the WMS adventure. It was enjoyable, and provided me a chance to appreciate the AT for the first time. the WMS always does a first class act in their meetings. The nature of this meeting in the form of a backpack trip was a touch more chaotic. My only wish was that it would have been a touch more organized, with a stronger communication channel from the leaders about what was up, what was going on, and deciding on giving the trail lectures before it got pitch dark. Perhaps a 6 pm lecture time would have been most appropriate. At the time of the evening lecture, “map” sessions reminding us of the plan for the subsequent day would have been in best order. In spite of the problems, the infectious enthusiasm of the leaders for wilderness medicine was most notable. In all, I would call it a most wonderful adventure.
What about the AT? Having just hiked a 1000 miles of the PCT, could I make comparisons? Actually, the two trails are totally different. The strategy for doing them are different, the environments that you go through are different, and the personality of the trail is different. Most of the time, it is easy to get 15-25 miles a day on the PCT. Because the AT is less manicured, you would be doing well to get in 12-18 miles a day. The AT keeps you for the ;most part much closer to civilization, and in the section of the trail that we did, you never seemed to have ever left civilization. The AT is described as a long green tunnel. It is mostly deciduous trees, as compared to conifers for the PCT. The AT has many shelters (about every 8-12 miles) where the PCT has practically none. It seems that one must have a much different mentality when approaching the AT as compared to the PCT. In all, I did not acquire a bubbling enthusiasm to return and do the entire AT. After all, I still have large incomplete segments of the PCT to get done, if I even decide to do them! I will sign up to hike the PCT next year, but may spend most of my time camping with Betsy, and giving Betsy a summer of my life. I may get some cycling in, but plan to not leave home for more than a few weeks at a time. Betsy and I have depleted our Wanderlust, and wish for slightly more simple adventures from here on out. But then, who knows what the future will bring?