It was the third week of my 4-week road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway and I was at my last major city, Roanoke (Virginia). I had a lot of activities planned, but I was most excited about my hike to McAfee Knob. It’s one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail – the world’s longest hiking-only footpath. And I was eager to hike a section of this famous trail!
My husband and I started hiking at 9 am. The humidity was stifling, and I was dripping sweat within 5 minutes. Not before long, we reached an information board detailing the hike (7.6 km or 4.7 miles to McAfee Knob), water sources, and warnings. My husband pointed to a picture of a black bear and a statement about bears being prevalent in the area.
“You didn’t say there were bears on the trail!” he said with a stern look.
I told him not to worry. I had read a bear safety article and reassured him that I knew what to do.
In reality, I had no idea. I had never come across a bear while hiking. But I didn’t want to miss out on this hike because of an unlikely scenario.
I took a picture of the board to further ease his hesitation, and we continued.
Despite being a well-trodden trail, rocks and tree roots were popping out of the ground at every step. My eyes remained fixed on the trail so I wouldn’t trip. I was so concentrated on not tripping that when I stopped for a drink of water I realized I was engulfed in the forest. All around me, tall gangly trees stretched to the sky.
The Appalachian Trail is often called the Green Tunnel, and I, now, could see why. It looked like a scene out of a fairytale from the Brothers Grimm, but not as creepy.
I turned to my husband and jokingly said, “What if I hiked the Appalachian Trail?”
He paused, looked at me, and said “Why not?”
Surprised by his instant support, I began to ramble off the statistics about the hike.
“It’s a 3524 km (2190-mile) long hike that takes, on average, 6 months. And, of those who attempt to thru-hike, only 25% finish.” I said with a questioning tone in my voice.
“So, do you REALLY think I could do it?” I asked.
He replied with an emphatic YES!
Again surprised, I thought about his ‘yes’ while I made my way through the thick forest.
If I was honest with myself, I had been longing for another adventure since I returned from my 4-month backpacking trip in South America 2 years ago. I missed the challenges of long-term travel, the outdoors, and hiking every day. Before this Appalachian Trail idea, I had bounced around a couple of possibilities. I thought about climbing the Seven Summits, backpacking Europe, or driving the Mongol Rally. But none of these options grabbed or wowed me. I was looking for an adventure that was both physically and mentally challenging. And hiking the Appalachian Trail fit those criteria without emptying my bank account.
But, as usual, my apprehensive self needed to think.
The trail was, now, starting to climb. It was muggy and the thick humid air made it that much more difficult. As I walked, I envisioned myself hiking the Appalachian Trail. The actual thru-hike would be a different story, however. I knew it would not be an easy task. There would be days without a shower, torrential downpours, risk of lightning strikes, and worst of all black bears. Thinking of all these potential risks made me question whether I would be able to handle the 6-month trek. As self-doubt began to deter me from this new idea, I turned the corner to face what I feared most – a black bear.
Adrenaline immediately shot through my body, yet I was paralyzed with fear. There was not even an arm’s length between us.
I took a deep breath and slowly backed away. My legs were trembling, but I knew I had to remain calm if I wanted to avoid an attack.
When I reached a safe distance, I said, “Go away bear, go away. Please.”
My husband who had been 10 minutes behind me, approached and asked what I was doing. I pointed to the black bear who was starting to walk away. As we carefully watched its every move, I recounted verbatim the bear safety article I had read. I emphasized that we needed to remain calm, speak in a loud low voice, and avoid eye contact.
After an agonizing 10 minutes, the bear meandered off into the forest.
“Well, coming across a bear is not so unlikely, is it?” My husband said.
I gave a half-smile and said, “I guess not!”
With 30 minutes left to McAfee Knob, I thought about my encounter with the bear. I was more prepared than I thought. I was able to handle myself without any prior experience. If I could do that then maybe I could hike the Appalachian Trail! It would be challenging, that’s a given, but if I prepared in advance I would be fine. Not only that, but everything and everybody was telling me to do it. I had the support of my husband and it lined up perfectly with my job. It couldn’t be a more perfect time.
The dirt trail transformed into rocky terrain. The trees turned to brush and before I knew it the forest opened to give the most magnificent views of the Catawba Valley. I had arrived at McAfee Knob.
As I stood looking at the valley below, I pictured myself arriving at this point while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“What an adventure this would be.” I thought to myself.
I took a deep breath, and as I exhaled, I heard my husband in the distance.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yup! I’m ready to do it!” I said confidently.
“No, I meant for the picture,” he said.
I smiled and said, “Yeah that too!”
Life has a funny way of telling us we are ready. More often than not we (or more I) invent situations that prevent us from taking on a challenge. When what we really fear is the unknown. It’s an easy out. But, if there is one thing I’ve learned, you have to face your fears head-on. Never underestimate what you are capable of because you might miss out!
My plan is to hike the Appalachian Trail in March 2023. The next few months will be intense, but I am looking forward to the challenge. And I will be brushing up on bear safety knowledge…in case of another unlikely scenario!
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Hope you enjoyed reading about my upcoming hiking adventure. Here are some other hiking stories I think you might find interesting.
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Have questions about hiking to McAfee Knob or my next adventure? Send me a message in the comments below!
Interested in more hiking tips? Check out my other posts for more hiking tips.