This was a special run made even more special by the company of one of my
Roanoke ultra buddies, Graham Zollman.
As noted yesterday, when Jim decided to go to Illinois for several days to
see his very ill sister, several of my ultra friends graciously offered to do
car shuttles with me so I could continue my adventure run. Thanks to them, I was
able to do about 64 miles in three days, miles I couldn't have done without
Graham was off work today and got first dibs on which section to run. There
are three sections of the AT with fairly convenient trail heads, so I skipped
one section farther south to make it easier on my buddies.
This twenty-mile section, which includes the popular McAfee Knob and Tinker
Cliffs, happens to be the ONLY section I'm doing on this run in which I've
already covered all the miles (several times since moving here last year). I've
done parts of Days 1, 2, 43, and 44, but each of those had miles I've never run.
And even this section had a couple new "relos" (relocations) before McAfee
Knob that have been done since I last ran it during the winter. They're always
tinkering with these trails, from Georgia to Maine!
Graham and I both drove to the end point, a Park 'N Ride lot on US 220 in
Daleville, left one vehicle there, and drove to the start at Catawba Pass in the
other vehicle. We hit the Trail around 8 AM and began the gradual 1,200-foot
ascent over 3.5 miles to the top of McAfee Knob (3,197 feet).
Graham and I were having a fine time yakking it up as we hiked and ran up the
Trail in the early morning fog. Oops, there are some hikers asleep in their
tents. Hope we didn't wake them up!
When we stopped at the Catawba Mountain shelter about 9 AM, we did
wake up at least one young man who was still asleep. We were talking with
another fella, "Praying Mantis," who was sitting up in his sleeping bag when we
got there, but we didn't even know his companion was there until his sleeping
bag moved. I signed the register while Graham and PM talked, then we moved on up
the Trail (and past more sleeping tenters).
Boy, I thought I liked to sleep late! That's one advantage thru-hikers
have over my way of covering the miles - more sleep because they aren't spending
hours every day riding to and from trail heads.
When we reached the top of McAfee Knob I asked Graham to pose for the traditional
photo on the jutting rock hanging out over the Catawba Valley 2,000 feet below.
Too bad we couldn't see anything in the foggy void! This is a popular spot with
thru-hikers and local residents, and a section that is great for running. All
the relos have made the Trail very smooth up to McAfee and beyond - about
fifteen good miles before it becomes more rocky on Tinker Mountain above
On the way to Tinker Cliffs after a descent and another 800 foot climb we met a delightful
young female thru-hiker named "Sunflower" who (appropriately) had a large silk
sunflower attached to the back of her pack. She didn't look like she could move
as fast as she was going. It was all I could do to stay ahead of her walking
uphill. She was doing more miles than usual today, planning to reach her hiking
friends in Daleville by afternoon.
Graham and I sat on one of the rock slabs at Tinker Cliffs for about 15
minutes while we ate a snack and enjoyed part of the valley below. The sky was
clearing and we could see most of the way to Dragon's Tooth to the South.
Sunflower, who lives in New Hampshire, caught up to us before we left. We
were glad she got to see the valley since it was obscured back at McAfee. Those
of us who live near Roanoke are very proud of our scenic mountains and valleys
and great trails, and hate it when thru-hikers miss the views.
That's an advantage section-hikers or day-hikers have: they can better time
their visits to catch good weather and blooms of particular flowers. For
example, today we saw numerous mountain laurels blooming on this section. A
couple weeks ago, the rhododendrons were peaking here.
Sunflower did get good views from Dragon's Tooth and had a fine meal last
night at the very popular Home Place restaurant down in Catawba. Thru-hikers and
locals alike crave the huge buffet meals served "home style" at long tables.
Yum! If you're in the area, they are open only Thursday to Sunday. Hike by on
Monday to Wednesday and you're out of luck.
As we were leaving Tinker Cliffs, Graham spotted a mama deer and her baby.
Neither was afraid of us, and continued munching away on the foliage while I
snapped photos of both.
Graham's got an eagle eye that caught several interesting items today:
two of those little orange-red salamanders I've seen only in North Carolina, a
camouflaged lizard on a rock, and a huge black snake near the end - only the
second snake I've seen since I started this trek. It's been unseasonably hot and
humid in this area this week so the snakes are coming out.
We caught up to two other interesting NOBO (northbound) hikers today. One was
a 30-something guy-next-door kind of fella who goes by the unlikely moniker of
"Get-er-Done." ("Git-R-Done" is the catch phrase for the redneck Bubba comedian called Cable
but this hiker prefers his own spelling of it.)
I'd never heard of Cable Guy, so the hiker and Graham had to explain it to me .
The other hiker was Sawbuck, who I've mentioned before. He remembered me and
joked that he's seen Jim more times at trail heads waiting for me than he's seen
me. I've been trying to catch up to him - and to Warren Doyle's crewed group of
hikers - for weeks, but I'm still several days behind them (since I've skipped
two sections to do this one today).
Sawbuck mentioned that he and some of Warren's group had been ill this week -
but quickly said it wasn't last night's meal at the Home Place!
I'll see Sawbuck again on up the Trail some day. That's Graham on the left
and Sawbuck on the right in the photo below. Sawbuck is not crewed, and isn't
officially with Warren's group, even though he crewed for the group a couple
days back near Standing Indian in North Carolina, when I first met him.
Like most NOBO hikers today, Sawbuck planned to get to Daleville today. It's
a popular stop for thru-hikers because of all the amenities like a motel,
restaurants, grocery store, and outdoors store close to the Trail.
Somewhere along the McAfee-Tinker ridge we saw a metal box which contained
candy (Trail Magic #3) and a note from a man who was doing "pay back" for all
the trail magic he encountered during a previous thru-hike. Graham and I peeked
inside, but didn't take anything. I hesitate to take drinks or snacks that
thru-hikers might need. I always carry enough for myself each day, but they run
Also in this general area was a bright yellow smiley face propped up
waist-high on a large rock next to a tree. Although it looked like a frisbee, it
was painted onto a round piece of wood. It brightened our day, as intended.
On the other side of the rock, at the base of the tree, were the objects
below, arranged like a little shrine. There was a ceramic gnome woods scene (far
right rear in photo below), a china turtle, and a painted rock that said,
"Follow your dreams."
When he saw me taking this photo, Graham quickly reached into his shorts
pocket and pulled out "Blue Hair." I've known Graham for a year, but never met
"Blue Hair" before! He's Graham's good luck charm, found in a cereal box. Graham
says he carries the little stuffed doll in all his important races (Umstead 100,
Massanutten 100, Bull Run Run 50, Hellgate 100K, Laurel Valley 70-miler, etc.).
He paid me a sincere compliment when he said he carried it today because he
considered it a special occasion to be able to share my adventure with me.
Thanks, Graham - that is sweet!
Graham is very careful where he carries Blue Hair after he fell out of his
belt at the start of Laurel Valley. When Graham realized his good luck charm was
missing, he worried about it the whole race. He was very relieved when Mike
Day's wife found it and returned Blue Hair to him at the end of the race. Now
Graham carries Blue Hair in his pocket or pack so he doesn't lose him again.
And he picked Blue Hair up right after I took this photo and put him securely
back into his pocket!
Are ultra runners eccentric? You betcha! So am I, but you already know that,
NO RAIN UP TOP
The last ten miles went a bit slower because the treadway was more rocky
above Carvin's Cove. We didn't have as many views as there are in the winter.
That's another advantage day hikers and section hikers have: if they time
their hikes well, they can get better views during the months when the leaves
We stopped at the Campbell shelter to sign the register; there weren't any
hikers there. I went by the Lambert Meadows shelter while Graham checked out the
composting privy Jim and I helped build last year. He talked with a couple
hikers at the shelter before running to catch up to me.
We got done in about 7:40 hours elapsed time, with 6:45 actual forward motion (lots
of stops to talk and gawk). We could hear thunder a couple hours before we
finished. It was hot enough that I was hoping for rain, but it didn't start
sprinkling until we got back to our vehicle. Graham called Dru at work and she
told him it had rained so hard in Roanoke, about ten miles away, that several
downtown streets were flooded. Graham and I lucked out!
This was a hard run but a really great way to get to know Graham better. He
enjoyed it so much, he's thinking about running with me again tomorrow!