Awoke this morning in Mike and Susan’s newly built cabin just one mile from the AT on the edge of the 150,000 acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. It’s way up at 3,500 feet bordering Federal Wilderness. The view is spectacular, and there are no light visible in any direction at night.
A single solar powered light and an oil lantern illuminate the small cabin. It’s one open space on the bottom floor with a standing room loft that has a couple of hammocks strung up for sleeping.
I met Mike in 2011, when we both worked at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth at Trail Days. Don was the major sponsor of both my Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trail thru-hikes. Don believed in me. He poured encouragement, cash, and gear my way in 2010 and 2013.
Mike is an avid winter camper and made the trip to the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in Vermont the past couple of years. I liked Mike then and hoped to spend time with him in the outdoors for sometime. That’s happening right now!
Don and Mike share a love for mules. This part of Tennessee is one of the two major areas of the USA that celebrates the mule as a viable form of wilderness travel, and as a work animal.
Mike’s spot of heaven borders the Mount Rogers Wilderness, and is a stunningly beautiful situation. He harvested the trees to build his small off-the-grid cabin from white pine from the family farm, with his cousin milling the lumber for the cabin at his sawmill across the street from Mike’s actual house at a ridiculously low price.
In just two years, Mike and his wife Susan have created a sanctuary here that is heated with a wood stove, appointed with an outhouse with one of the best views in the Eastern US, and is supplied with crystal clear spring fed water that gushes from the slopes of Mount Rogers, at 5,700 feet, the highest point in Virginia.
My stay at Mike and Susan’s was the crowning event of my week of hiking and mountain biking in the Damascus, VA area.
I slept upstairs in the loft, sleeping one night in a hammock and the other on a lush pad on the floor.
I got to use a vintage metal bedpan, giving me an authentic cabin experience. No traffic sounds, just owls hooting in the night. It was in the 30’s both mornings when I woke up. Guthook is now likely fighting the cold under his 48 degree quilt.
Mike and I share a love for the same type of music- old time Americana, brought to us this weekend by a superb local FM radio station hosted by a fellow with a drawling Appalachian voice that was so thick I only caught half of what he said.
The other treat for the weekend was the southern food that Mike’s mother, Susan’s mother, Mike, and Susan prepared for us, mostly cooked on the wood stove.
The mainstay of the fresh food were the ramps that Mike, Susan, and I harvested. Ramps are a type of wild leek that we dug up beside one of the streams on the north side of his property.
The first night Mike and I ate them raw with home-made sauerkraut and sausages. The rest of the weekend, I ate picked asparagus, hummus, salsa, shelled beans, relishes, zucchini bread, tenderloin, berry muffins, free range chicken eggs, raspberry bars, coconut cheese cake, and several other scrumptious examples of local, real food. Oh, yeah- we went through a few growlers of artisanal beers. Most of the time, there was ancient soulful music echoing through the cabin as the whole deal was going down.
I bought a trail guide to Mt. Rogers and a High Country map at Mt. Rogers Outfitters.
I’ll be back!
A huge shout out to Susan and Mike, and to Don for hooking us up.