About 20 students met up at the Northstar Ministry Center at 10:00 a.m. to head out for a day of hiking at McAfee’s Knob and an early dinner at The Homplace. Each student received a new Connect t-shirt, designed for both guys and girls, individually, although there may have been some swapping for each other’s shirts because various students like the other gender’s shirt colors as both were great!
After establishing drivers, our group made the 40 minute drive to Catawba, where we would begin the hike. Even the drive down the back country road of VA-785 between Montgomery and Roanoke Counties made for a beautiful drive to take in the countryside where the mountains and the valley seemed to roll. Not to mention this provided the beginning opportunities of great conversation and invested friendships.
We arrived at the base of McAfee’s Knob and hiked up the mountain as one group. It was a beautiful, chilly day–perfect for a day of hiking. Our Connect group was booking it up the mountain, where we made it to the peak in about two hours! It became very clear though, especially at the peak, that the cold weather only cut even more with the strong winds that were blowing that day. As evidence of this, small clusters of the students in our group were even huddling together to stay warm from the cool wind that seemed to cut right to our core at times.
But, WOW, what a view McAfee’s Knob has to offer! Being one of the most photographed points on the Appalachian Trail, according to Hiking Upward, hikers get to take in the entire Catawba Valley and can even see downtown Roanoke as you wrap around the side of the peak. There was even an unexpected surprise at the top–a couple who had hiked on their own to the peak had just become engaged when the boyfriend (now fiance) wrote in large lettering in a field in the valley, “Will You Marry Me, Steph?” That was pretty awesome for our group to see!
Quite a few of our students had never made the trek up McAfee’s Knob, but we believe it made some new fans of our students that day. We ate whatever snacks or lunch food we had packed for ourselves, and then made the trip back down the mountain.
While the snacks and packed lunches during the hike held our group over, the hope of an amazingly delicious meal at The Homeplace was what everyone’s minds were set on that afternoon. Just a mile away from the base of the mountain, this iconic restaurant is a prime spot for an evening, southern-cooked meal. But we weren’t the only ones who made the choice to eat there that evening.
We arrived almost ten minutes after the doors opened that day, but our wait time was almost an hour and a half! So what did we do? Some when tout to the large open field in front of the restaurant to throw Frisbee. Some went inside to stay warm. Many decided to rest and even take a quick nap. But when the table was set, our name was called, and it came time to eat, The Homeplace did not disappoint. Fried chicken, roast beef, country ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits with apple butter, and cobbler… YUM! And the best part? It was all-you-can-eat! Can I get an “Amen!”?
Our group made the trip back to the ministry center from there, where our Staycation day ended and the students went back to their homes. With all the planned fun that was had during the hike and dinner, the most significant part of each student’s time may have been the individual and personal conversations. From the car rides there to the hike, dinner, and rides back into town, hours of conversation were had and, most importantly, relationships were built and invested in which we hope and pray will extend far beyond that one day of hiking.
Personally, I got to meet and get to know many different students that I may not have known as well otherwise. In particular, when we got to hear several students’ backgrounds and testimonies of how God has been at work in their lives and how God is growing them today, it was a great encouragement to everyone involved as brothers and sisters in Christ. The significant conversations and great laughs that were filled throughout the day were what truly made for what was an awesome time of fellowship and investing in relationships between students and Northstar’s college ministry.