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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

McAfee Knob: Going 1,400+ Feet Up Yours, Parkinson's Disease

McAfee Knob has been on my bucket list of hikes for years. I've tried to figure out how to get to it for ages, but a few weeks ago, I felt that it was in need of being done, so my wife Heather and I got her done (cue Larry) by getting a Roanoke trip planned for the weekend!

We've been known to travel cheap (though we once did go to Sandals Jamaica), but our stays in Virginia on the A.T. / Shenandoahs are legendary in worrisome places. Frankly, I'd feel safer draped in donut glaze in Bear Country, but alas...

For instance, in 2008, we thought we had blood on a chair from some ritual killing! I'm not sure if it was, but yeah... That said, at least we were rewarded with rising clouds from the valley when rain cleared after breakfast ended.

This time...

Letting the "fix" job on the AC (above) speak for the room, we'll give a borderline room condition of 1.5 stars, barring any other misadventures.

Plusses - the AC worked, the shower worked + had enough hot water, the beds were relatively soft, windows intact + not cracked, fresh Oompaloompa-sized towels daily, and there was a TV (though we didn't watch it).

Minuses - no working pool despite being advertised, urine-smelling elevator that made scary noises, cops arrested someone on Labor Day, phones didn't work, lousy breakfast, inspection failure notice on the hotel office door, and lots of outdoor hall passage puddles / funk.

This leaves said hotel with a .43 star rating (calculated much like baseball's Wins Above Replacement stat - unless you have a degree in economics, you can't figure it out, nor can you figure out the inconsistency between raters).

But this wasn't about a hotel. It's about kicking back against life's challenges and feeling awesome (and sweaty) when it's all over.

The good folks at Hiking Upward list this mountain trail at 1,740 feet of elevation gain. The map shows 1,400+ feet, but there was a little up and down to play with. We also took the fire road up and down, so we're closer to 8 miles than 9. In the end, we hiked a section of road that was "manicured," but the main vertical part was where it reconnected to the Appalachian Trail for the final 1.3 mile walk through. There's no skimping on that; 1,400 feet is 1,400 feet.

Appalachian Trail complete-ists will talk of having to step on every single white marked speck of trail to get credit for the trail. We are not AT purists, so we took the fire road.

I get the purity of the thru-hike sport. That said, what I like about hiking is that I either CAN reach the top or I CAN'T. I'm not creating a short cut, i.e. leaving a blemish to do it. I'm not getting fireman carried up to the top. I've laced up my Keens, steadied by Black Diamond trekking poles, filled my Camelbak backpack with lots of water, and I'm walking it.

Hike your own hike. Go your own pace. Have fun. Be safe.

This is a place where help only matters so much. There is no "grade inflation." There's no subjective. There's just me and a mountain. Either I make it or I don't.

While I'm there, I need to:

Watch out for snakes and bears.

Carry enough water.

Be prepared for the heat.

Don't think; know.

Hypherhidrosis ya' all. That extreme sweat condition that plagues people with Parkinson's.

Dystonia ya' all. That twisted foot pain that plagues people with Parkinson's.

Zombie ligament ya' all. The ACL repair job my wife got after her hike in Icebox Canyon (see link) that saw her push out 2 miles of desert rocky canyon in pain, without tears, but with help (see link).

Toughest hike I ever witnessed.

And there we were, getting ready to hike McAfee on Sunday morning.

The alarm went off at 5:45 (way too early in the morning). We were going to go Saturday, but the weather wasn't set to cooperate so we took in the zoo and the star over Roanoke. They're both at Mill Mountain Park. I recommend them to you. By the time we got moving, it was hot (approaching 90°), which is a no no for hiking. We called the hike, but surveyed the trail. Tomorrow was another day.

While sitting in Moe's doing the Americanized Mexican thing, we realized we made the right call.

The next day, we hit the trail at 7AM expecting cooler temps and a less packed parking lot. We got the former, but not the latter. That said, shade on the uphills and a 70°, though humid beginning beats 90°. Off we went.

Some people hike with their kids in this kind of weather in the afternoon. Some people take very little water with their kids on this hike. Some people eat Tide pods, too. Remember what our good friend Ed Viesturs said: "Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory."

You can never take too much water or potential gear for heat and distance.

Really. Don't be a statistic. Enough said.

Between us, we had 11 bottles of water, food, gear, and everything except a way to find my wife at the top, who was off and running as I took photos, poking around on the trail.

Eventually I did find her (well other people found her). She was just at a different overlook (there are 2 with a path connecting them). I just didn't see the overlook sign at the top. I did see the other signs, but yeah... missed that one and ended up on a different overlook. When it was pointed out on the way back, I did clearly see it. I'm blaming it on a mix of exhaustion and no glasses (yeah...).

The first peekaboo vista looks like this:

Please note: when the commonwealth of Virginia is hooking you up with a sea of cloud cover lifting off the valley floor, you say a thank you prayer to the hiking gods.

That said, you don't take it in too much at the peekaboo because there's a distance to go to get to the real, and that's all vert and rock, friends.

But you're not here for the story of how to get to that, so let me give you the goods.

Our journey took just over 5.5 hours with a serious stop at the top (half hour).

The point here is that we did. We didn't set records, but we did. We had fun. We stayed safe. I kicked back at Parkinson's and my wife did her first big hike since April 2015 when she took out her ACL in a back country fall.

Prior to that setback, Heather did the frozen waterfalls of Ricketts Glen, the frozen waterfalls of Ithaca, a 30 foot rappel of Sand Run Falls, and frozen Glen Onoko (pictured). This wasn't all she did, but these were her signature hikes.

Way back when, we used to hike a lot, but then zombie ligament and Parkinson's. Both of them change lives, but here's the point. We can sit around and whine about what we can't do (I'm stage 2, so I'm slow with foot cramps and I run hot and sweaty) or we can enjoy things the best we can (sometimes old, sometimes new). It's not about being a Tough Mudder 24/7 let alone 1 day of 365. Sometimes, it's just about being us and enjoying what we can do while we can do it. And when we witness others do it, we need to celebrate them. On that note:


Godzilla and King Kong are out there to mess with tomorrow, so live well today. You don't know when you'll have another chance.

When you do, give it your all. Celebrate your success. Celebrate other people's success. Share love. Say no to the hate.

All those people who want to tell you what you can't do...

All those who want to rain on your parade of accomplishments...

All those who just don't get that life is for living...

Show 'em what's what and then remove them from your life.

Give them 1400+ vertical feet to almost 3200 feet OR enjoying whatever hobby that makes you who you are.

Get out of bed and choose to be you instead of a condition or an insult or a negative feeling.

Winning is done when you "stand up next to a mountain and chop it down with the edge of your hand."

Don't let other people drag you down and "Harrison Bergeron" you. Let your life shine. Never be less to make someone else feel more. This goes for anyone who wants to compromise you.

You've got it in you. I know it. Find it and share it. Take back your life.

Thanks for reading!

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