Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 16, Virginia Triple Crown
Start: May 10, Mile 698.1
End: May 10, Mile 719.4
Hiking early in the morning I see a sign on the ground made from sticks and leaves. 700, it proclaims, marking 700 miles from Springer Mountain. Handmade mileage signs are one of my favorite hiker traditions, a way to celebrate mileage milestones with other hikers, each sign unique -- the pine cone one, the rock one, the sticks and leaves one. A pet peeve of mine is inaccurate markers, although the rise in popularity of GPS apps has made these more rare, thankfully, also curbing the proliferation of a duplicate mileage markers.
Right around the 700 mark, the trail greets me with a riotous explosion of flowers. My favorite are the lady slippers, bright pinkish purple flowers lining the trail.
I meet a ridgerunner who tells me that she's on the lookout for spray painted signs. I tell her I haven't seen any, and she says that someone has been defacing trees, and she might just crouch there by the 700 marker like the Lorax. She tells me that there was a yellow lady slipper near the road the other day. "I'm sure it's gone by now though, someone probably picked it." I hate to imagine that this is true, but I know that with her perspective on the behavior of trail users, she's probably right.
When I get to Dragon's Tooth, one of the three wonders of Virginia's Triple Crown, it is early enough that I am the only one there. The rock seems to rise straight up out of the ground like a sinking ship, and though I've been here twice before, I've never attempted to climb it before. I scramble up the steep rock with my pack on, having to set my poles down halfway up. I make it within a few feet of the small, rocky knob at the pinnacle, but decide not to scramble across the last slanted, exposed few feet, content with the view from where I am.
After climbing down the steep rocky trail from Dragon's Tooth, I walk down the road to an unacknowledged fourth wonder of the Triple Crown, the Catawba grocery. I charge my battery and buy a few marked up snacks. I see two other hikers there who look familiar, Goodfellow and Smiles, and it takes me a little while to realize that I saw their YouTube channel before I started my hike. There real life personalities seem identical to their vlog ones, an easy going, happy-go-lucky attitude that I envy. I watch as Goodfellow stuffs his face with pizza from my grocery, and then sits in a dazed stupor, looking much like how I felt after my large dinner the night before. "I want a time-lapse of you sitting there digesting while everyone else moves around you," I tell Goodfellow. "Yeah, I'll probably be here for another half an hour," he says gazing off into the distance.
From the grocery it is off to McAfee's Knob, variously claimed to be the most or second most photographed spot on the AT. A picturesque rock ledge outcropping with a conveniently located second spot to photograph from, the Knob is an easy day hike away from one of the more populated regions of the trail, but impressive in its own right.
I get Pancho Plinko to take a photo of me with my camera, and then ask if he and his friends, the self-proclaimed Slumber Party Backpacking Club, want me to take a picture of them with the big camera. "How would you get them to us?" asks Two-fer, reluctant to move from her comfortable seat. "We could devise some kind of electronic code," I suggest. The others convince Two-fer, and they all stand out on the ledge for a shot. "Okay now everyone shift to the right," I joke as they stand by the precarious drop. "Now let's see some handstands."
The final VA wonder is my favorite, Tinker Cliffs. I have timed it perfectly to camp there for sunset, and though I saw the sign back at the road advising to camp only at designated areas, I have no intention of following it, the cliffs being my favorite campsite from 2011. I see Inchworm and Tag Along eating dinner near the cliffs. They tell me there planning to push onto the shelter, and I tell them I'm going to set up camp nearby. When they pass my tent 15 minutes later, they decide to stop as well. "I know we're not supposed to camp here or whatever, but it is a nice spot," says Inchworm. I glance at my watch, "I'm pretty sure that at 8:11pm they start opening it up to first come first serve," I say, and they laugh.
I find almost the exact same spot for the Triple P that I set up my Hexamid 10 years ago, and find the same ledge that I sat on while photographing that earlier evening. The spot is just as beautiful as it was, the trail winding by the very edge of the steep cliff with views down into the valley, but though I'm here a day earlier than before, it is colder and windier this time, and after a few minutes of sitting and watching the valley, I head back to my tent.
It is a lovely stretch of trail, the cliffs and all of the rest of the last 20 miles, rocks and views and varied terrain, and I've been lucky with the weather, and with arriving on a weekday when it is not packed with day hikers. It is a gift from the trail that I sorely needed, and as I settle in for the night, cozy in the Triple P, I am grateful and content.