Six miles in to a seven-miler, The Day Hiker pauses, daisy-fresh, atop Cold Mountain.
Maybe it was the perfect day for hiking.
Maybe it was that, especially on hikes that involve a fairly long drive, Gail worries about leaving her (still-recovering) dog home alone.
Maybe it's just what it is.
Whatever the root, it somehow became clearer on this day: A hike of less than eight miles is not really a hike for The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All; it's more like a skim, maybe, or a glide.
This wonderful walk – up the switchbacks to the open space of 4,022-foot Cold Mountain, then down and then back up to reach the 4,059-foot, wooded summit of Bald Knob – is not especially hard, but were I walking alone, it would be a good, solid hike. Drafting behind The Day Hiker, I have no choice but to join her in making it something less, something which, at the end, does not leave you with that good, heavy, having-hiked feeling.
The Day Hiker, confronted with this perspective, reacts of course with pshaws, no-ways and "OK, I'll slow down," as opposed to my reaction that we make sure we up our general mileage back to the way it used to be: More like 10, if not more.
That, no doubt, will be a week-to-week debate.
In the meantime, whatever your perspective on distance, the AT and other trails in and around the Mt. Pleasant National Scenic Area are spectacular enough to shorten the real distance every time, even if Bald Knob is no such thing.
Appalachian Trail from Hog Camp Gap south to top of Bald Knob and back. 7 miles.
How to get there: I-81 Exit 188 on U.S. through Buena Vista; left on Va. 634 and then right on Va. 755/FR 48 to the parking area at Hog Camp Gap.