To arrive at the roadside parking lot before 5 a.m. to find it practically full and teeming with other hikers unpacking their gear, their snacks and their supplies was encouraging. We must be in the right place.
We entered the still dark trailhead and began to make our journey toward McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Catawba Mountain, Virginia. Definitely one of those life moments when I may not have had too much confidence in our initial plans: to experience the sunrise from the knob. But since we were up and moving, and the execution of our plans seemed to be on track, I was able to relax a bit.
Our flashlights illuminating the trail, we forged along as the route commenced as wide as a roadway before narrowing into that wide enough to accommodate two people walking side-by-side. Eventually, the dark sky morphed into gray and the once hidden trees became silhouetted figures. As the need for the flashlights diminished, we realized we were not likely close enough to our goal of witnessing the sunrise. We had either miscalculated how much time we needed to allow for the hike, or we’d taken a wrong turn. Perhaps we’d even failed to follow a right turn. Regardless, we tucked away our flashlights and pressed on.
The paths alternated among sand-covered, dirt, gravel, stone and root-covered. Some were so narrow we had to, single file, squeeze through the tall grass and weeds on either side. Others were wide enough through which vehicles could pass. Still others were of immovable stones over which we had to carefully maneuver. Often times, we blazed up steady inclines. Other times, we descended the gradual and continuously sloping terrain. Still others, we traversed level ground. Beautiful trees, some already yielding to changing colors, and shrubs outlined our route.
We’d selected this destination, because we not only wanted to find a optimal place to immerse ourselves in the colors of fall, but we wanted to hike somewhere new to us and relatively close to home. The Appalachian Trail, known fondly as the AT, extends from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. We had long read about this 2000-plus mile trail and wanted to experience, if only a section, for ourselves.
Ultimately, we successfully reached McAfee Knob, a peak of over 3000 feet. And, even though we didn’t make it in time for the sunrise, our excitement could not be deterred. The early rising, the climb, the hike and the extraordinary views all delivered a memorable moment.
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)