AT Day 044: Sunday May 21,  2023

Mile 678.5 + 19.5  miles /31.4 km

Total Distance Hiked: 698 miles / 1123km

Camp – Keffer Oak – Sinking Creek Mountain – Bruiser Knob Cairns – Sarver Hollow Shelter – Eastern Continental Divide – Niday Shelter – VA Route 621 – Craig Creek – Brush Mountain East Wilderness – Brush Mt Ridge – Audie Murphy monument –  VA Route 620 /Trout Creek – Pickle Branch Shelter – Camp 

A: 4175 ft/ 1273 m  D:  4344 ft/1325  m

We were camped by a creek and as it got dark last night we could see lights from nearby farm houses.  This morning we had a mile and a half of to get to the top of Sinking Creek Mountain ridge.  A symphony of dog barking followed  us as we ascended aways from camp. 

We are feeling rested and all the worries about the aches and pains last night and my concerns about my ability to finish this hike disappeared. The power of sleep is amazing.   About 0.3 of a mile from camp we passed a significant feature on the trail.  It’s a 300-year-old oak tree, named Keffer Oak.  It was the most magnificent tree.  I am a tree hugger from way back and I couldn’t resist giving it a hug. My arm span was a mere blimp on its girth. And as I was holding onto the tree, a powerful emotion came over me and tears started to roll down my eyes. A deep profound sadness overwhelmed me, I was not sure where it came from.   

The tree was quite beautiful in it’s grandeur, sitting at the edge of a meadow.  Maybe it was a sadness about this being the survivor, all it’s and cohorts and companions have long been destroyed by humans and disease over the years. Maybe it’s just sadness over personal losses of all kinds. All of this was a bit overwhelming so early in the morning. 

We continue to climb through a cool morning and we even managed to see a sun rise in the sky when we briefly passed  through a meadow. This was our first sunrise on trail that wasn’t shrouded in greenery. 

We reached the top of Sinking Creek Mountain ridge. A cold breeze was blowing on top. It was really quite pretty hiking through here. Stands of an unfringed Phacelium lined the trail.   The  first overlook provided limited views of the landscape in the valley below. But a bit further, along a power line easement, we had much better view of a lush green valley. 

While hiking over the ridge was very easy and peaceful, I reflected on my reaction to the tree. I wondered at what stage do we transcend the physicality of this hike and it becomes something more.  This morning I had a sense that for me today could be that transition. Maybe hugging the oak tree, maybe reflecting on other similar experiences on other trails where I’ve touched that boundary of transcending the physical.  I wandered whether by engaging in these long walks I’m seeking a reconnection once more with that quite beautiful feeling of just being totally in sync with your surroundings.  And connecting with nature on a completely different plane, a more spiritual connection. 

I talked to Hammer about this as we hiked towards a series of ledges with fantastic open vistas of a green valley. 

Hammer recons I’ve just had a bad case of ‘stinkin thinkin’ about this trail so far.  And maybe that is what needs changing.  Maybe he’s right. I retreated back inside my head and hiked on ahead. 

The sandstone ledges we were hiking over were quite sloped and hard to traverse. Especially since our attention was drawn by the open vistas below. The ledges were lined by masses of flowering shrubs.

From the ledges we were back in the woods. We were thrilled to walk over the Eastern Continental Divide where the water that falls from the sky drains 400 miles east to the Atlantic one one side and 1900 miles to the west to the Mississippi River  and the Gulf of Mexico.  

The descent off Sinking Creek Mountain towards Craig Creek was really really quite pleasant. We had some pine forest and pine needles which made for very soft foot tread and then just evergreen forest. The sun was shining and it was a  lovely temperature with dappled light in the woods. All around just a really lovely morning of hiking. 

We passed a couple of day hikers as we approached the road and Craig Creek. The bridge over the creek was out so we did another river ford, crossing the creek in ankle deep water. The cold water was so nice and refreshing on our feet.  

After a long break at lunch at the creek, we started on another  long ascent to another ridgeline. This time Brush Mountain  through the Brush Mountain Wilderness.  The cool breeze and bunches of Laurel in full bloom were a welcomed respite from the climb. I’m still finding the Laurel flowers so beautiful. Such an interesting shape and when a whole bunch is fully open, simply extraordinary. 

Once we reached the top of the ridge we were pleasantly surprised to find a timber bench seat. A short rest and we were ready to follow an old disused logging road for a bit before descending to another road, VA 620. Before descending we took a short detour to a monument to a WW2 veteran who was killed in a plane crash at this location. The Audrey Murphy memorial sure was interesting with visitors leaving all sorts of momentos at the site. 

It was late afternoon when we descended to the road. As we were crossing the road a car drove by, slowed up and offered us a beer.  Man, what timing – if only we were at camp. Anyhow, we accepted and stayed to chat to Jason for some time. Jason lives nearby and likes  to come out in the afternoon to share a beer with hikers.

Interesting conversation, that touched on many topics including my morning ruminations which interestingly Jason brought up. He suggested that maybe we should be more open to magical thinking.  An offer of another beer and I’m sure we would have been convinced to stay and camp there continuing the conversation late into the night. Jason suggested camping by the road as our best option. We declined the offer of a second beer, thanked Jason for the beer and the conversation and headed off to find a campsite. We camped just below a series of switchbacks which lead to a ridge and the first of Virginias Triple Crown features, the Dragon Tooth.