Interstate 81 to Cove Mountain
The Hiker In Your Backyard Camp to Lunch For Dinner Camp
AT miles: 25.7
Total miles: 764.9
Elevation change: 6368ft gain, 5679ft loss
My relationship with the wind is relatively simple. I’m not a fan. I think that wind turbines are awesome because they look cool and are amazing examples of some extremely interesting engineering. And while it is far from perfect, the concept of turning wind into usable energy is tickles my fancy in so many ways. Yep, wind turbines are awesome, but besides that, the wind is not my friend. I am not a wind turbine. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rather than gaining energy, over long periods of wind exposure, I instead lose it. A constant wind wears me down both mentally and physically, if I’m resisting its chill. With today being day three (or is it four?) of persistent, biting wind, I was feeling it, a wind fatigue deep in my bones. Constantly fighting a blustery battle with its icy chill had been old for a while already. In the end, I was up to the task and the hiking was smooth, but I’m a mountain person, and mountain people don’t like wind. Leave the wind for the turbines and boat people.
The restful night of sleep next to the rumbling white noise of the interstate was exactly what I needed. When the sky brightened, bringing with it the optimism of a clean slate, I felt rejuvenated even if I could have snoozed for a couple more hours. It was frigid outside my quilt, so I remained bundled until the last possible moment, and even then, I did as much of my packing from inside my tent as possible. You guessed it, the wind was blowing ice outside.
Despite the bright sunshine, I was stiff with cold when I got hiking just a few minutes after being so toasty. I hiked out wearing my wind jacket and my fleece, a combination that I reserve for the coldest conditions only. I moved my frozen joints as fast as they could go in an effort to warm up, and some gentle uphill helped me to do just that. The trail was surprisingly pleasant so near a major highway, with a manicured lawn and purposefully placed trees to wind between. I crossed under a double underpass, then turned back into the woods, pointed north. Goodbye, Daleville.
The trail wound through some private property easements, and I pulled off my fleece on top of a particularly steep lump in a pasture. I looked at the views, catching my breath and feeling a revitalizing coolness on my back. A few trees were beginning to blossom, splashing dashes of delicate color on the otherwise gray forest.
The first climb of the day was actually also the big climb of the day, though I didn’t know it at the time. Well graded switchbacks and morning legs made it an easy affair, and I made good time up the mountain. I zipped up my jacket fully on the shady side, then let out a little steam when the trail switched slopes to one bathed in sunshine and out of the wind. I ate my third and final frozen burrito as I climbed, thinking that I should have bought four.
For the final half, I hiked with a bonafide Virginia hippie. I enjoyed my conversation with the recently retired Troutville local immensely, hearing about his adolescent adventures of rubber tramping across the eastern seaboard, and his escapades in Europe as a young man. He was one of the most honest, kind hearted, genuine, and funny people I had met so far, so I was grateful that he let me pull him along for a couple miles. Before I knew it, we were at the top and parted ways with a fist bump. He turned to the shelter, and I headed down the trail, my breath puffing in the bright cold as I moved fast to stay warm.
After checking the elevation profile, I pulled my fleece on over my jacket. I had a lot of flat and downhill up next, and the wind was blowing, bringing with it the chill of the Arctic somehow. I wasn’t going to tough it out today. I challenged myself to get sweaty.
Uncharacteristically, the AT dropped from the ridge to meander into and out of small drainages of many creeks, some flowing, others dry. I wasn’t complaining though. The low route was easy and out of the wind. Curry Creek was a gorgeous cascade, then I hoped up and over a short way to the next, and the next. The wind howled through the trees high on the ridge above, but I stayed warm down below, tucked into the folds of the earth.
At the final crossing, I lost my footing on an invisible ledge and tumbled sideways into a thigh-high pile of dry leaves. I wouldn’t have guessed that depth from looking at it, which was why I fell in in the first place. After the initial surprise flicked off and I realized that I was unhurt nor sitting in a creek, I chuckled and wallowed awkwardly attempting to get my limbs below me. It was a helpless, uncoordinated feeling and made a good run for my favorite moment of the day. I kinda wished someone had been there to see it.
I stopped for lunch at the shelter halfway up the next climb. It was sunny and mostly out of the wind so I was even able to stay warm and relax a little bit. I ate bite after bite of sourdough drizzled with mayo, the most basic interpretation of a sandwich. I ate some other things too, but always came back to the bread. I cut myself off before I got too full to hike, appeasing my voracious appetite with a square of dark chocolate to finish things off. I hiked out, feeling fine and torqued up, ready for the afternoon thrust.
The trail soon joined the Blue Ridge Parkway, paralleling it for many scenic miles along what I can only guess was part of the fabled Blue Ridge. The trail and pavement crossed one another numerous times as we flip-flopped over the ridge, only meeting temporarily at scenic overlooks, complete with scenic views, signs, benches, and trash cans. I especially enjoyed the Peaks of Otter information board, which validated my confused curiosity about the name itself. Apparently no one knows exactly why those high peaks, or “ottari” in Cherokee, are so named. This feature on my AT wall map back home was at face level, so it was a question that I’d pondered for well over a year at this point. It looked like I would need to keep pondering.
Another overlook had a box of Clif bars resting against the trail sign, and the next one had a trash can where I deposited the wrapper left over after I scarfed my free bar greedily. One thing all the overlooks had in common was the wind. The gale gusted across each treeless saddle with such ferocity that walking straight was darn near impossible. I staggered across each empty paved parking lot to the next stand of trees as quickly as I could, thoroughly chilled by the time I got there. Fortunately, half of the time, the trail worked around the protected side of the ridge, giving me a chance to thaw out in the sun and from my exertions.
The benefit of the cold was that I made great time along the reasonably flat trail. It was rocky for short sections, but we were back to crumblier, sticky granite that gave me more confidence in each footfall than what I’d had on the limestone of the past couple weeks. My mind worked creatively, writing draft after draft of things that will never be written. Turns of phrase, prototype descriptions. For the most part, I moved along the trail, disconnected and miles away mentally from the rocks and the wind, cocooned in a warm coat of my own woven fantasies.
I gathered water for the night at the final road crossing of the day, and made quick work of the adjacent climb. From there, it was an easy cruise to camp. I followed the ridge down as it twisted back on itself before completing the s-turn back North. An overlook at the final bend gifted me with a tremendous view all the way along the Blue Ridge back to Daleville. McAfee Knob stood like a black gumdrop, silhouetted on the horizon. Days of hiking spread before me in brilliant sunshine. That view combined with my memories of walking all those dips and climbs brought me to a place worthy of my favorite moment of the day. Even the wind seemed to take a deep breath with me. A final look, and I turned to find camp.
Less than two miles further along the ridge, I found the sunny spot that I was looking for. It was reasonably protected from the wind too, so I knew that I had found home when I saw it. I lay back, enjoying the warm light glowing through the wall of my tent. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d pitched in direct sunlight, and it felt goooood. After a restful session of cold weather sunbathing in all of my layers, I returned to my best food to finish the day strong. More sourdough and mayo. More cookies. I threw in some peanut butter chia tacos too, for good measure.
The wind had worn me out all day, sometimes forcing me to a different world mentally, but it had all worked out in the end. I was still here, 25 miles further north. I’d even seen some pretty cool things between there and here. What was coming tomorrow, I didn’t know. However, I did know that it would all work out. Just like today and the day before that. Wind or no wind. Sourdough or tortillas.