This morning, CareFree and I began our return to the Benton MacKaye Trail. We finished packing our packs, loaded up the car, and headed off on a road trip to Tennessee.
Before embarking, I made one final gear change. Now that it is late June instead of late April, I swapped out my Zpacks sleeping bag for the lighter Sea to Summit Spark SP II bag I used on the Long Trail.
CareFree and I left home around 10 am, gassed up the car, and took off. The first sign we were on the right path came quickly: a diamond-shaped HOV lane marker was rather reminiscent of the BMT’s diamond-shaped blaze.
After about three hours of driving (including some stop-and-go traffic on the Washington Beltway (because of course there’d be heavy traffic even long after rush hour), we made our first stop, lunch at a McDonalds near Luray, VA.
At the McDonalds, while standing in line to order, an older man approached, noticing the Pacific Crest Trail System t-shirt I was wearing, and asked if I’d hiked the Appalachian Trail yet. (I said I did, in 2016.) While waiting for my food, we had a brief chat; he’d previously hiked the AT, and most recently, hiked the Tuscarora Trail, a 252-mile westerly bypass of the AT from northern Shenandoah to near Duncannon, PA. The Tuscarora Trail is on my (increasingly lengthy) list of trails to do.
After lunch, we continued our drive south-east, stopping around 4:30 at the Hungry Mother State Park. Still a little tired (after returning home yesterday morning around 10 am from a flight back from California), we had decided to only hike a short trail, and from the map we downloaded last night, picked one that was about two miles long, the Molly’s Knob Trail. However, once we got to the trailhead, we realized it was actually two miles one way, so we wound up with a four mile trail. It was further than we’d planned, but it still turned out well, and we saw quite a lot of wildlife for such a short trail. Almost immediately, we saw a snake on the trail. About five or ten minutes later, we saw a bear off the trail a bit; it ran away once it heard us coming. Later, on our way back, near where we were when we saw the bear, we saw a deer. The deer picked at leaves on the ground until it saw us, then cocked its head as if in confusion as we walked past. Eventually, it got tired of us staring at it, and it ran off into the forest.
It was quite humid today, so once we got to the top of Molly’s Knob, not even two miles from where we started, we were dripping with sweat. From the top of Molly’s Knob, we had a great view of the landscape to the south and west, including possibly, a view of Mount Rogers, the highest mountain in Virginia. We could see rain off in the distance, though, so we opted to make haste off the mountain and continue on our way before the rain reached us. A quiet rumble of thunder sounded, as if to encourage us along.
We made it back to the car in good time, and were back on the road none too soon; shortly after we left the parking area, a bright bolt of lightning struck somewhere less than a mile away. As we left the park, a giant rainbow filed the sky. After we stopped for more gas, we got back on the interstate, and the sky let loose a torrent of rain, greatly diminishing visibility. The deluge lasted only about ten or fifteen minutes, though, eventually calming down to an intermittent light rain.
As we neared Newport, TN, the rain finally stopped. In Newport, we took a break for dinner at an Arby’s. Upon leaving, a fragment of a rainbow stretched up from beyond the parking lot.
We arrived at today’s destination, a Comfort Inn, where we received a surprisingly large room (with an incredibly large bathroom).
Tomorrow, we’ll get up early and finish our road trip at Standing Bear Farm, a few miles north of the Appalachian Trail’s exit from the Smokies — and the northern terminus of the Benton MacKaye Trail. There, a shuttle will take us on a several hour drive back to the Tellico River, where we left off just under two months ago.