Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

God’s Thumbprint

Day 56
Location: Laurel Creek, VA 615
Miles hiked today: 14.3
Miles from Springer: 574.2
Miles from Katahdin: 1602.0
Elevation: 2450′

Red was gone in the morning when I woke up. I had to put him outside of the shelter (which is a rare, four walls and a door type) because he was just too crazy and ran around trying to get into people’s food. Tied up he wasn’t much better, as he started to bay. (You know, that wavery hound-dog baying). So out he went, and he bothered a guy in a tent outside for about 2 hours. It wasn’t too cold, but was plenty windy so I figured he’d find a spot to bed down in the woods.

The guy in the tent said he saw him at about 5:30 in the morning, but nobody saw him after that. It was actually a huge relief not to have to deal with him, as I had taken it upon myself to keep him out of everybody’s stuff and feed him. Those two things alone required my full attention and all four limbs, so there wasn’t much time to take care of my own chores. I took my time in the morning eating and getting packed to go, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that we hadn’t seen the last of Red.

Chestnut Knob shelter has a very commanding view of an area called Burke’s Garden, which is a huge crater-shaped depression bordered on all sides by a high ridge. The valley is filled with farms and dotted with barns and houses, and the AT follows one of the ridges on one side. This was the Vanderbilt’s first choice for their Biltmore estate, but supposedly they couldn’t get the landowners to budge so they ended up building it near Asheville, NC. The nickname for the valley is God’s Thumbprint. We were fogged in pretty good at the shelter, but it cleared just long enough for me to get a glimpse, and then later on I got another look at it from the ridge. What a beautiful area this is.

I was right about Red. At a place called Davis Farm campsite I heard some hikers coming up behind me, and right at their heels was Red, the coon dog. They already knew my name, because someone had told them the story about how I was trying to get Red back to his owner. I was both relieved that Red was going home, and annoyed with the amount of effort it would take. But before I could get a leash on him, he ran away again! He took off after the two guys, (who I heard later were doing 30 miles each day and started at Springer Mountain on May 10th. At that rate, they’ll be done in 70 days.) but at least we now knew where he was. They said they found him travelling south that morning on the other side of Chestnut Knob shelter, which means that he was actually on his way home. But of course, he’s not trying to get home, so he followed the first hikers he saw.

I finally caught up to Red at lunch. A bunch of the guys who were at the shelter last night were eating lunch at the next shelter up, and Red had found them. They had fed him some food, and he was fast asleep, just as content as he could be. I immediately put him on a rope and tied him to the shelter, which he didn’t seem to mind and even seemed used to. From there on, Red and I were close buddies. He seemed happy to see me, and actually cooperated for once as I was figuring out his new leash.

We had five miles of trail to go to the nearest road, and I planned on walking him down the road until I found some people that could take Red and I back to the farm he came from. I was thankful I had a map, as I could pinpoint exactly where Red lived. Red was very difficult to walk with. He is very strong, and pulls as hard as he pleases on the leash. He is also constantly sniffing and stops randomly to double-check some bush or rock, or to pee on trees. The rope I had wasn’t very long, so this meant that when he wasn’t pulling me along he was abruptly stopping right in front of me to pee on something. When we got to the road, there was a stream on one side and he never gave up trying to get into that stream, even after I let him down there a few times.

We reached a small community and I tied him up at the church while I went around to talk to neighbors. The first guy was very old, and past driving age so he couldn’t help me. The second guy had a very low opinion of stray dogs, and I thought for a second he would offer to shoot Red on the spot. He actually called the Sherriff to come pick him up, but their animal control officer was off duty today. I didn’t have a problem with Red going to the pound, as long as we could contact the owner. However, as only I knew how to get to the owners house and had no phone number, this didn’t seem like a good idea. Finally after about an hour of going house to house and navigating Red down the highway, I found an extremely nice guy named Mike who didn’t hesitate for a second to take Red, as he thought he knew the area where the owner lived and my description of the farm was just what he remembered. Either way he promised to get Red home, and even feed him table scraps that night! I was so thankful to get Red into good hands. I got a real sense of peace from Mike, that he would take it from there and my part was done.

It felt good knowing that I had done a big thing for Red, and possibly saved him from the pound or worse. He’s a real nice dog, but judging from the amount of attention he’s recieved his owner doesn’t strike me as a dog owner that will bother to keep Red from running off again. I hope he at least gets him a tag with a name and phone number on it. I’m pretty sure that Red has the run of the place back home, and all he has to do is cross the little creek and he’ll be back on the trail again. I wonder how many days until he catches up with me?



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