AT Days 108-111: Virginia’s “Triple Crown”


Wow – I love this photo of me on McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed places in the AT! This spot was definitely the highlight of the Virginia Triple Crown portion of the trail. Here are the daily details:

Day 108 – Wilson Creek Shelter to Route 220 Daleville (11 miles)
Day 109 – Route 220 Daleville to Catawba Shelter (18 miles)
Day 110 – Catawba Shelter to Stealth Campground (18 miles)
Day 111 – Stealth campsite to Laurel Creek Shelter (19 miles)

Donner forces a nearo in Daleville

I closed my last post by describing my disappointing exit from Middle Creek Campground, where I didn’t get any “town food” at all during my entire two-day stay. Daleville offered a few dining options that could help. And the thunderbolt helped make the decision to stay in town:

  • Thunder from my still hungry stomach! You may recall that when I left the campground, I only had PopTarts to eat for four meals. I was so ready for real food!
  • The night before I had weathered some violent thunderstorms in my hammock. On day 108 more were added and the weather forecast indicated them for the afternoon. It would be wise to end my day early.

As I wound my way down the path into town, I was greeted by a surprising sign of progress!

I hadn’t realized I was at the 2/3 completion point and it felt great!

After checking into the Super 8 and tossing my backpack into my room, I made my way to Three Little Pigs BBQ, a local eatery with great reviews. I started with two $5 appetizers – buffalo rind and fried pickles. You can see how big they were… And they were delicious!

My pulled pork appetizer was also very good, and my favorite IPA from the craft beer selection was Pernicious from North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing:

And after a stop at the Outdoors Store for gas and a refill at Kroger, I made it back to the hotel just before the storm hit. phew!

Start of the Triple Crown

Virginia’s “Triple Crown” consists of three unique mountain attractions located within a 25-mile radius of the AT:

  • tinker cliffs
  • McAfee button
  • dragon tooth

These are also very popular day hikes and I met many casual hikers walking through this area.

The day 109 hike out of Daleville would still be rocky and ledge filled before Tinker Cliffs, but I wouldn’t see any views at all. Dense fog obscured everything for the first six miles:

But the weather cleared off Tinker Cliffs. I found the geology of the cliffs themselves as interesting as the view. These cliff floors resemble Mayan temple structures:

And the view of the cliffs was so beautiful that a group of turkey vultures would not budge to give up the best spots on the ledge:

A long ridge and some up and down hikes got me to McAfee Knob a few hours later. I mentioned earlier that there are many day hikers here – I owe some gratitude to the young day hiker who enthusiastically grabbed and snapped my iPhone as I posed on the ledge. I also really like this enlarged shot he took:

Just a quick note about the sim I’m posing on: it looks super scary, but it really isn’t. The ledge extends far to the right (out of the picture), so it’s very wide and flat. There is also another part of the ledge on the left where the photographer is standing. A small cutout between them creates the “hanging in the air” effect. It’s a bit of an optical illusion – but takes great photos!

Drachenzahn – but first a pizza!

On the morning of the 110th day (after another series of nightly thunderstorms) I awoke to the pleasant sounds of two owls calling each other back and forth. It was a touch of the Northeast and it was very welcome!

My original hiking goal this morning was to hike the 8 miles down to the Catawba Grocery, a supermarket known for good pizza. A 12-inch bacon pizza later, I walked back up the ridge to climb Dragon’s Tooth, named for the interesting rock formations on its ridge.

As it turned out, climbing the summit became my MMM that day. Climbing with hands and feet near the summit was the most challenging terrain I had seen since Katahdin and it was fun to win the fight. At the top the rocks were interesting but less fascinating than the climb up in my opinion.

That night I would avoid staying in a low-lying shelter that looked wet and buggy. Instead I would drive another five miles and camp at 2700 feet in a hidden spot. I find the air much better for sleeping on the ridge. I also find my trail name “High Road” very appropriate.

Brain games I use when hiking

Some of you have asked me, “How do you stay motivated and engaged with AT hiking for 8 to 10 hours a day?”

There are a few tricks I use to keep myself focused every day:

One is to always have a “next milestone” to work toward. It could be a creek where I can get water, or a peak, or a road junction. Find out how far away it is and estimate the time to get there. This gives me a short “deadline” that I can reach quickly. And it’s a great motivator to smash your estimate! Repeat this over and over again. I usually aim for something 2-5 miles away.

What I also do on long climbs is celebrate small wins on the way up. Usually the hardest part of a climb is the work you have to do to reach the ridgeline. Usually this is a steep climb from a road or river. I call this difficult part “winning the ridge” or “GTR”. Here are some of the silliness I include here:

  • With the GTR, I often raise both bars in the air and say “GTR”!
  • When you are GTR, you are often GTB (win the breeze). In this case I say “GTB” and add an extra shout or two.

And there are endless variations:

  • GTMR – win the morning ridge
  • GTEODR – win the ridge at the end of the day
  • GTLR – win the small ridge (for a big climb where there are multiple GTRs)
  • GTSR – conquer the summit ridge

you get the point Incidentally, I’m not limiting the success of this strategy to just wandering through. I believe you can approach big projects, business challenges, and personal goals with the same basic approach: minimize and celebrate!

Ride the ridges south

On Day 111, I spent much of the day on 3000-4000 foot ridges, which suited me well. Keep me away from the heat, bugs and webs!

The early morning retained the breezy coolness of the previous night and allowed for a pleasant hike to a memorial site.

The monument honors Audie Murphywho died in a plane crash nearby in 1971. I didn’t know his name, but in addition to his military accomplishments (below), he became a well-known actor later in life.

A few other sights on Day 111 were passing an eastern continental divide,

and the Keffer Oak, a 300-year-old tree believed to be the oldest on the AT.

Ah, but none of these would prove to be Day 111’s MMM (Most Memorable Moment).

A massive moon

While lying in my hammock at Laurel Creek Shelter, darkness crept in as I blogged on my phone. I looked up and saw a strange light in the forest to my right. It looked like it came from the privy. Could someone have installed a solar light on this one? Maybe – I’d seen all sorts of interesting twists in secret design.

But over time the light became stronger and rounder and shone brightly in my face! Yes it was the moon and it was so low and full! And it slowly rose into the sky, lighting up the night to incredibly bright levels. It was the MMM of the day.

I leave you all with this image of the wide Virginia skies over an AT pasture.

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