Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taking the Flat-Landers to the Top of the World

My brother and his girlfriend just visited for a few days. I asked him what they wanted to do; he said they wanted to hike. They're from Louisiana-- where I'm originally from as well--and you don't get good hiking in the flat, marshy land of the mother country. . . er. . . mother state? I proposed a short, fairly easy hike that's nearby. It's about 3/4 mile to a viewpoint that overlooks a gorge and waterfall. My brother said no, he wanted to do McAfee Knob because he'd seen pictures of it on my Facebook.

I've lived in the mountains going on nine years now, and we do a fair amount of hiking. This summer, Tucker and I hiked a lot with a some friends. Two women and three kids, and we can tackle a trail like nobody's business. We have to slow ourselves down to take in the scenery, because we've finished trails and said, "Wait. We're done? What happened to the hike?"

The five of us hiked McAfee Knob in early August. It's about 3.9 miles up and 3.9 miles down. Surprisingly, it's the down that really gets you. It's the down that made us avid hikers sore and caused three of my toenails to turn black. It's the down that risks your ankles and makes you wonder whether the view was worth all the work. (It is.)

It was a tough hike for the flat-landers--especially my brother's girlfriend--but they made it to the cliffs. They made it to the top of the world.

Here are some highlights from our adventure.

Early in the hike, my brother proved two things:

1. Flat-lander or no, he could still scale a pretty decent rock.

2. Good shoes overcome a lot. My Wal-mart hiking books were clearly not made for climbing. I didn't learn this until I was halfway up this rock face and sliding rapidly back down. This is a picture of me calling "QUICK! Take the picture now, I'm coming down!"

My brother is taunting me with his $130 running shoes that were BOSS on this hike.

 After a few hours of hiking, a couple hundred (or thousand) stone steps, and the sighting of dozens of squirrels, one shrew, and a bee, we made it to the top.

 My brother broke through the tree line and stood on the cliffs. "It's worth it," he called back to his girlfriend. I think the jury's still out on whether she agreed with him.

The flat-landers posed for a picture on one of the most photographed spots in Virginia. Please notice they wore all black. In the woods. During hunting season. "We're like hiking ninjas," my brother said. "We're giving the impression that we just came out here to rob people."

Then my brother took a pic of me. I'm actually a bit afraid of heights, but when I'm on the cliffs, I seem to forget that. I think it's the hiking high. A quick truck up 3.9 miles causes endorphins to do something to your brain. You become . . . not quite invincible, but something more than you were when you took the first step at the trail head. Looking at the pictures and remembering this later, I usually image all types of terrible things that could cause a person to toss over the edge.

We explored the cliffs for a few minutes. Meaning we walked across narrow cliff ledges like the one pictured to the right. It's not quite as daunting as it looks in that picture. The narrowest point of rock outcropping is still around 3-feet wide, I'd guess. Still, not the perfect walking path for someone with my history of stumbling, right?

Here's an odd fact: I can't be trusted to carry laundry down the basement steps without falling, but you strap me into a pair of hiking boots and put me on some rocks, and I tend to do fairly well. My brother responded to this observation with, "In your defense, your steps are terrible."  (We live in a four-story A-frame, counting the basement, and there are a lot of narrow, steep staircases. This may not be a house we can grow old in. . . )

My brother, on the other hand, may or may not have fared as well on the rocks.

We texted this picture to my mother with the caption "When Sam almost fell."  She knows us both too well. Her response was:

"I hope this was staged."

And then, we gathered our bags and our empty water bottles and our nearly full bladders and we hiked down. On the way down, we did battle with a snake.

But that's another tale for another post.

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