By Debbie Adams
While most people who live in the Roanoke area are content to view McAfee Knob from the
valley, Tim Lewis has hiked to the summit 500 times– most recently on July 29, with an extreme
heat index of 105 degrees. He took a group along to commemorate the occasion; his dad brought
Lewis is originally from Vinton and is a 2007 graduate of William Byrd High School, where he
was on the baseball team, not running track. He now lives in Salem about 10 minutes from the
trailhead to McAfee Knob. He usually hikes the trail once or twice a week, on average, “between
traveling and wanting to run and hike other mountains.”
He first took up running seriously in 2012 when he and his dad hiked to McAfee Knob training
for the Blue Ridge Marathon. He ran it for the first time in late 2014. He had conquered the
mountain 100 times by March 2017, 200 by February 2019, 300 by December 2020, and 400 by
Lewis has currently run 102 marathons, 2 Ironmans, and 52 ultras (the longest of which was 158
miles) in 37 states and on four continents (North and South America, Australia and in Germany).
His goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states.
Lewis has been working the midnight shift at UPS for 15 years, which has allowed him the
flexibility in his daily schedule to run up to the Knob at sunrise or sunset, whenever he wants to,
“It’s exhilarating doing the same run over and over, but especially once I get to the top it’s truly
a unique experience every time,” Lewis says. “It’s always hard to come down from there. The
view is so spectacular.”
He has hiked and run the trail to McAfee Knob in all types of weather conditions– and even
during a solar eclipse.
“I ran up there six times in a row during a hurricane last year, experiencing 70-80 mph winds at
times. My coldest trip up there was January 2018– one degree and a minus 24 windchill.”
He says the secret to running and hiking in all kinds of weather successfully is a matter of
dressing appropriately. On his first trek to the summit at McAfee Knob in 2012, he was wearing
old baseball turf shoes and carrying his Ironman backpack– no trail shoes, no hydration vest.
Lewis says he has his strategy for running the McAfee Knob trail down pat.
“I have the usual route calculated to a science. I know almost down to the minute about what
time I’ll get up there from the moment I leave the back door. For a typical run up there, I give
myself around an hour before sunset or sunrise depending on how good I think it’s going to be
and weather conditions, averaging around 45 minutes of moving time. So, it gives me about five
minutes of down time to stop and take pictures on the way up and be up there about 10 minutes
early just in case. But with reading the sky and with my procrastination I can alter my pace and a
lot of the times I’ll time it just right to get up there right at the best part, which adds to the
adrenaline rush and runners high.”
Not only is Lewis an incredible athlete, he has gained fame as a photographer as well. In fact,
photography has now become even more of a passion than running. He uses an iPhone 13 PRO
to take photos on the trail.
His photos are often of the sunrises (his favorites) and sunsets at McAfee Knob and have been
featured on social media channels and TV networks across the Roanoke region. He produces a
calendar of McAfee Knob photos each year.
As for how he got interested in photography, “I actually won some photography awards in
Reflections contests in elementary school. But I never did anything with it. Then fast forward to
when I started running McAfee a lot training for races. And especially when phones got more
advanced and I got better at taking pictures, and then more especially once I got good at
predicting when the best sunrise and sunsets will be. Photography became a by-product of being
on my favorite mountains all the time.”
Lewis has also taken up ultra running. His goal is to qualify for the Western States 100-mile
endurance run in California, the oldest 100-mile trail run.
In 2014, he took on the Route 66 Ultra-marathon in Tulsa, Okla., which leads to a tourist
attraction called the Center of the Universe– a little circle you stand in outside of the city. When
you speak or yell, you can hear an echo, but no one outside the small circle can hear it. “I
revisited it after the race, and it really works. No one knows how the phenomenon happens, but a
best guess is some sort of echo from the buildings in the city.”
In 2015 he did the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado, the “most fun race of my life,” although
it’s the toughest marathon in the country and the second toughest marathon in the world.
One of his favorites runs was the Inca Trail Marathon in Peru, labeled as the toughest marathon
in the world.
“It was more exhilarating than it was tough. The scenery can’t be beat, along with the cute
llamas roaming along the course. It was hard to breathe or even make forward progress past
Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,800 feet above sea level. Temperatures ranged from freezing to 80
He says the extreme races make him “feel incredibly alive and that I’m living life to the fullest
when I do them. It’s what makes me the happiest and most fulfilled in life.
“I’m more about experiencing as many things as I can at each new destination than I am about
performance at the race itself. I’m using running as a way to explore the world.”
Lewis says his motivation is just the joy of the sport and being able to incorporate his
photography with it– and just being in nature.
He says he has encountered a lot of wildlife on the trail to McAfee Knob, “mainly because I’ve
done it so many times. I usually see less wildlife here than other mountains since there’s so many
people who hike it. But also, since I tend to go at times that no other person is up there, I have
had some interesting encounters.
“I’ve only seen a handful of bears and snakes in my 500 times up. There’s been plenty of times
someone I pass tells me they just saw one, but I never see it. I’ve heard coyotes up there, which
is pretty rare.
“I had a very rare bobcat encounter during a night training run just 2.5 miles heading south along
Sawtooth Ridge away from the McAfee lot. One of the most unique was a peacock! I didn’t see
it but came really close. Some people just ahead of me got it on video and showed me. I didn’t
even know they were in Virginia and here it was on McAfee. It must’ve wandered up from the
As for encounters with other hikers, “I’ve seen a couple rescues before. Most notable was when
my dad and I happened to go up there a few hours after a guy fell off a few years ago that made
“Back in 2015– my first time running it three times in a row training for the Pikes Peak
Marathon– was actually the worst off I’ve ever felt on the mountain, with nausea at the top from
heat exhaustion. I remember running across a couple and their big dog. They didn’t even make it
halfway up the mountain and it took them the rest of my run just to get it off the mountain. It was
in the mid-90s and humid, and they didn’t bring enough water for it.”
Lewis has also encountered the occasional celebrity. He credits legendary runner Scott Jurek
with “sparking my love for the mountains, the Appalachian Trail, and trail and ultrarunning in
general” when Lewis was still relatively new to trail running. He was able to join and pace Jurek
on McAfee Knob as he was passing through the area.