From Damascus to Pearisburg
When I finally left Damascus, I decided to take the Virginia Creeper trail, just for something a little different. It roughly parallels the AT for something like 12 miles, and is a relatively level path, lightly graveled. It’s a former railroad bed, named for the “Virginia Creeper” train that used to carry lumber along a 30-something mile stretch, and now used as a biking trail. So I was continually getting passed by groups of families, as well as some single riders. Every so often, I’d cross a trestle over a river, and would periodically come to a small parking area with a map and a restroom. To my surprise, there were many campsites along the left side, and I stopped at one after hiking about 6 miles. I hadn’t left Damascus until about 5:30 PM, so wanted to stop before it started getting really dark. While I have set up my tent by headlamp, it’s not something I prefer to do. Anyway, so the campsite I found had a fire-ring and a picnic table, along with a garbage can, for some reason.
When leaving the next morning, I passed a sign shortly thereafter telling me that I had actually been on private property! Oh, well. I hadn’t seen any houses or anything nearby, so I hadn’t even thought about that.
I hiked about 12 miles or so that following day, until I found a beautiful campsite by a stream that I decided to stop at. It was overcast when I woke up the next morning, but I was hoping it would just be cloudy, so I didn’t bother putting on my pack cover and rain gear. I had barely enough time to dig it out when the first drops started falling- and then the sky opened up. The rain was torrential- to the point that the trail was a running stream. My boots got completely soaked, gore-tex lining or not, and it got cold enough that I wished I’d had my down jacket on. I hiked almost ten miles in this, mostly uphill, until I saw the sign for the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to take a side-trip to the summit in the pouring rain, so I continued on, keeping an eye out for the shelter that was supposed to be just ahead. I saw a blue-blazed path to a privy, and then the Thomas Knob shelter came into view. I’d foolishly hoped that there would be no one there, but it was completely packed, with a Boy Scout group and several other hikers seeking shelter from the storm outside. There was barely enough room for me to put my pack down! Eventually, the rain stopped, or at least lessened to the point that the Boy Scouts (or their troop leader) wanted to leave, so a whole bunch of kids descended the ladder to the upstairs loft and the shelter emptied enough that I could sit down for a bit.
This is when I met Chaos, and his dog Eve, along with a couple of weekend-hiking girls. We made coffee and hot chocolate, and decided to stay the night. I made a spot upstairs, while Chaos and the girls stayed up late, playing cards and listening to his radio. Over the course of the night, the wind blew so hard that I began to worry about the roof; the gusts had to be at least 60 MPH. It sounded like a hurricane!
When I awoke the following day, it was still cold, windy, and rainy. I decided to stay a while to see if it would clear up, but it never did, so I ended up staying another night. The girls left, but Chaos and I stayed with a couple of other weekend hikers that showed up. We just relaxed, dried gear in the brief periods of sunshine, and eventually played a little bit with the wild pony that showed up at the shelter. She looked pretty old, given the raggedness of her coat, but was friendly enough. She just sort of hung around, eating what grass there was, and occasionally a sock or two that was too close to the edge of the picnic table!
It was still windy that night, but not as bad as the night before, and it fortunately only rained a little bit. Sleeping close to a metal roof in the pouring rain isn’t fun. The next day wasn’t exactly sunny, but I didn’t want to waste yet another day there, so I took off, along with Chaos and Eve. We hiked about 11 miles to the Old Orchard shelter, but passed through Grayson Highlands State park along the way. We saw a bunch of wild ponies, which I thought was really cool. There was a campsite we passed, with probably ten of them just standing and lying around. A few foals, their mothers standing next to them protectively, and one stud lying on the ground. The dog got a little too close to one of them and got kicked in the side- but fortunately the kick connected with one side of her pack, so she wasn’t hurt at all. When the stud got to his feet, we decided that that was probably a good time to leave! That day, we hiked 5 miles, stopped at the Hurricane Mountain shelter for an hour or so to wait out a rain storm, then continued on until we got to a side trail to the USFS Hurricane Creek campground. We took the side trail, then took the road up a couple of miles until we arrived at Dickey Gap and VA 16. I was trying to get to Marion, VA, so that I could get insulin at the Wal-Mart.
This was a long road-walk away, but we shortly managed to get a ride to Sugar Grove, VA, which seemed to consist largely of a gas station/restaurant. From there, it would have been another 9 miles to Marion, but a couple of women that had been at the gas station offered us a ride into Marion, so we didn’t have to walk that far along the road. When they dropped us off, we were in the historic part of town, and the only lodgings around were a $160 hotel! We ended up walking through town about 2 miles or so to the place we had been looking for (conveniently located about a half mile past the Wal-Mart), which cost us $20 each for the night. I got the insulin, and Subway, a few re-supply items, and went back to the motel. There was a huge storm predicted for the following day, and I let Chaos talk me into one more night there, which was foolish as it was mostly sunny the entire next day. But, I got laundry done, and found a Taco Bell, drank some pretty good coffee, and just relaxed some more. Chaos, for his part, remained inside the room for most of the day- with the shades drawn- because he “didn’t even want to look” at what a nice day it was.
The next morning it was, in fact, raining, but it stopped by 11 or so, which was when we left the motel. There was a shuttle service that brought people around Marion for 50 cents, so we took that to go the 6 miles to the Mount Rogers park headquarters and the Partnership shelter. That shelter has not only 2 floors, but showers as well. I’d been looking forward to getting to it, but since I’d already taken a shower and it was only 1PM or so, I decided to continue on. I’d gotten more than a little sick of Chaos at this point, so when he said he was going to stay for a half hour or so to “see if the weather got any nicer,” so I pretty much took off.
Sitting Bull, Grandma, and Medicine Man were already at Partnership when we got there, and I’d hoped that Chaos would talk himself into staying another night. I ended up going about 12 miles, past the next shelter (Chaos had, for some reason, sent home his tent), and found myself a nice campsite. I was awakened the next morning by the sounds of people talking as they passed me, but didn’t actually see anyone. I did see Eve, though, as she came right up to the front wall of my tent and looked in at me! None of the people passing knew what my tent looked like, apparently, so they just continued on.
I arrived at VA 683, and Atkins, VA, a very small town containing only 2 gas stations, a restaurant, and a motel. It was almost 8 when I arrived, and I saw S’mores almost immediately, sitting outside a gas station. We spent about a half hour talking, and she told me that she and Imagine were sharing a room at the nearby motel. I didn’t particularly feel like hiking in the dark, so I decided to stay, myself. Plus, I wouldn’t run into Chaos this way either!
The next morning, I had a late breakfast with S’mores and Imagine, and hung around for a while since I had cell reception there. I hiked about 4 miles, and ran into Imagine and S’mores again, at the Davis Path campsite and privy. This was a wooden platform upon which a shelter had once stood, until burning down a couple of years ago. Now, it’s a campsite. I stopped for a bit, then continued on to a campsite I found by a stream 8 miles farther along.
Pretty early along the next day, I came to a pavilion that a church apparently owned, along with a Boy Scout troop leader who offered to take my trash out for me. I gladly game him the little bit that I had, and kept going until I came to the Chestnut Knob shelter, a nice 4-sided shelter with a door on top of a mountain. It was packed, though, so I only stayed a few minutes. I saw S’mores and Imagine again, along with Medicine Man, Sitting Bull, Grandma- and, sleeping on one of the bunks, Chaos!
I eventually stopped at the Davis Creek campsite, after a long 18-mile day. This was along a blue-blazed path, .5 miles off the trail. It was all downhill, along switchbacks, but I was pretty low on water, so I didn’t have much choice. When I got there, it was essentially a small grass platform cut into the side of the hill, but with a beautiful view down into some fields with cattle grazing.
I left pretty early the next morning, dreading the climb back up to the trail, but it ended up not being nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe the music I was listening to helped. After about 8 miles, I came to a road and a stream, with a campsite a little bit past it. This campsite was apparently heavily used by locals, as there was an easy chair set up in front of an old TV set with the glass missing from the tube, and an old laptop sitting inside it. It was a strange sight! I kept going another 2 miles or so, and found a small campsite right off the trail with just enough room for my tent.
The next morning I hiked about 4 miles until I came to US 52, which led to both Bland and Bastian, Va. I headed towards Bastian, and thought I’d take the road to Trent’s Grocery, which had camping, showers, and laundry, for really cheap. I was using Google maps for this, and it turned out to be extremely inaccurate. I’d expected to walk at least 12 miles along the road, but it turned out to be more than 18! After a few miles, it started to rain, hard, soaking my boots and every part of me that wasn’t covered. This lasted for over a half hour, but I was less than a mile away, according to my iPhone. Finally, a pickup truck pulled up alongside, and asked me if I needed a ride. I got in, but told the driver that I was going to Trent’s grocery, which was less than a mile away. He laughed, and said that it was more like 8 miles! He gave me a ride, though, so I arrived at about 5 PM. Just as it stopped raining, and the sun came out!
I was the only hiker there, and I paid for a camping spot. This was down a short gravel driveway. There was a large clearing, containing 8 mobile homes, all of which were covered and empty. There were a couple of picnic tables, too, and plenty of grassy area for me to set up my tent. I pitched it, unpacked, and then made my way over to the concrete building containing two showers/bathrooms and the laundry room. Well, the showers didn’t work at all, nor did the washer. I walked back to the store (Trent’s grocery was essentially a gas station with a deli) and told the girl behind the counter about this, and she thought that the owner had been working on the water. She thought he’d fixed it- but apparently not. So I washed my clothes in the nearby stream, and put them in the dryer, which fortunately worked. I had electricity to charge my iPhone and Kindle, sodas, Gatorade, and plenty of snacks. So it was OK. I stayed up pretty late reading by the light from the laundry room, and finally went to sleep around midnight.
The following day, I took the road 2 miles or so until I got to the Dismal Creek Falls. The guy who’d given me a ride to Trent’s grocery had suggested this- the trail from the store went up a hill and back down again, with no views, and I might as well just skip it and see the falls. Plus, I could pick the trail right back up from there. So that’s what I did. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t find the AT from Dismal Creek Falls. I was trying to get to the Wood’s Hole Hostel, which was 15 trail miles away from where I’d stayed the night before. I checked Google maps again, and saw that the road that I was on seemed to go almost directly there, so I decided to take that. After a couple of miles, I lost cell service completely. I came to an intersection, with no signs, and wasn’t sure exactly which way I was supposed to turn, so I flagged down a passing pickup truck and asked the driver which road I was supposed to take. He told me to head to the right, so I did. After another mile or so I came to a closed gate across the road, with a sign that said “foot traffic only”. Well, the driver of the truck had mentioned a gate, although he’d said it was open. I continued on a mile or so, but then started to worry that this road would go another 30 miles for all I knew. I had no maps, and no clue about what was around. I knew I was in the middle of a national forest, and unlikely to see a whole lot of traffic, so headed back the way I’d came. I made it back to the spot at which I’d seen the truck, and took the direction I hadn’t before. Shortly thereafter, the same truck came by from the other direction. There were two elderly men in the front, and two women I the bed of the truck, sitting on a mattress. Apparently they’d been to see the falls! They said they were heading past the hostel, though, and offered me a ride there. As we were driving, I realized that, again, Google maps had been incorrect, and it was a LOT farther than I’d thought it was going to be! But I finally arrived, and headed up the driveway.
The road… err, trail… to Damascus
I stopped at Sam’s Gap, and was really glad I did. My friend Glenn had to go out of town the night I got there, so I had his cabin to myself that first night. I spent it reading out on the porch.
He got back the next morning, and we hung out for a bit, drinking coffee and talking. In the early afternoon, a chef who is opening an organic restaurant came over to buy some shiitake mushroom logs, so that he could grow some himself. I walked around with them while Glenn told him all about what is involved with farming mushrooms. I learned a lot!
Later on, we went into Asheville, got something to eat, and picked up his son Taylor. His girlfriend came back to the cabin with her kids, and we hung out there a while. Later on, I went up to the house with Taylor to watch a movie, and he and I slept up there.
I left the following morning, and continued on towards Irwin, TN. I made it to the shelter at about 6 PM, but it was pretty crowded- so I decided to keep going a couple more miles. Unfortunately, it started raining shortly afterwards. I kept thinking it was going to stop, but it didn’t, and in fact came down really hard. I set up my tent in the rain, getting soaked in the process, and eventually managed to go to sleep.
It was nice and sunny when I woke up, and I continued on into Erwin, arriving at Uncle Johnny’s hostel at about 2 PM. I unpacked my stuff in the bunkhouse, and hung my soaking tent on a laundry line. A couple of times during the day though, it would start pouring, then become sunny again, so my tent ended up not drying until the next day. There was a shuttle into town (about 4 miles or so) at 6, so I was able to get some surprisingly good Mexican food, as well as go to the Dollar General and a grocery store. When we came back, I just hung out with a few other hikers, read a while, and finally went to sleep.
The next morning, I went in to town again for breakfast, and waited while others went to get beer and to the post office. We came back, and I packed up most of my stuff, but waited around for the all-you-can-eat pizza place that the shuttle went to for lunch.
I’d thought there were a bunch of people going, but it ended up just being me. Uncle Johnny dropped me off at 12:30, and said he’d be back at 2. Well, ok, I thought that would be a bit longer than I needed, but I had my Kindle. At 2:20, I figured they were just running a bit late. At 2:40, I began to be a bit concerned. At 3:00, I started asking directions back to the hostel. I guess it was about 3 miles. My phone was back at the hostel, charging, but the pizza delivery girl offered to let me use their phone. I called, and said “I think you may have forgotten about me.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, we’ll have someone there right away!” Sure enough, someone came and got me. When I got back there, all the other hikers had left- so I finished packing up and took off. I guess I hiked about 10 miles or so until I found a campsite.
The next day, I decided to stop at the Greasy Creek hostel, as they had “a well-stocked store” according to my book. It was supposedly .6 of a mile off the trail, and downhill on some old logging roads. I was pretty low on Aqua-Mira water treatment drops, though, and Uncle Johnny’s didn’t have any. Well, neither did this place. When I was almost there, this dog started barking at me, and I heard a voice saying “Get ‘em, boy! Hiker trash!” Apparently, the neighbor despises both the hostel owner and hikers, and actually goes up into the woods to remove her signs, or to place new ones that say that the hostel is closed, etc. It was a strange place. It seemed like the woman really wanted me to stay, but I just had lunch and hung out with Nate and Lauren, a brother and sister whom I’d met at Uncle Johnny’s. They’d stayed the night before there, and were getting ready to leave. We left together, and hiked back to the trail. By the time we got back up there it was getting late, so we stayed at the Clyde Smith shelter, which was about 2 miles away.
I was the last to leave the following morning, and made my way downhill to a road, TN 1330, where I met a guy sitting in his truck who was waiting for a hiker attempting to break the women’s record for a supported thru-hike, which is something like 47 days for the entire AT. She was hiking 48 miles that day! He gave me some water from a cooler, and told me that the climb I was about to undertake up Roan mountain was “definitely in the top 15 worst climbs on the entire Appalachian Trail”. I really wish people didn’t feel it necessary to share their opinions on these things! Maybe AFTER I do the climb they could tell me what an awful climb it had been, but not before! Anyway, so, yeah, it wasn’t fun. 4040 feet at the road to 6217 feet at the top, over less than 3 miles, with the sun beating down most of the way. I got to a parking area at the top, which had a bathroom. I was not happy to find the bathrooms locked. However, there was a working water fountain, so I refilled my Camelbak and my water bottles. I ran into Nate and Lauren again there, and we found a plaque at the site of the Cloudtop hotel, which had been torn down in I think 1920. There was also a chimney for the caretaker’s house. We hiked to the Roan High Knob shelter, which at 6285 feet is the highest shelter on the AT. Nate and Lauren were staying there, but I decided to keep going as it was only about 4PM when we got there. I made it another 4.8 miles to a campsite with a water source, right before the next shelter.
The following morning, I hiked past the Stan Murray shelter, and came to a sign for the Overmountain Shelter, a converted barn that sleeps like 20 people and that had been highly recommended for the beautiful view of the mountains. I didn’t go to it, as it was .3 miles off the trail and I didn’t plan to stop for the day as it was only noon. I saw it though, from the next hill and got a couple of pretty good pictures. Anyway, after abut 7 miles, I met another hiker, Fireheel, who was trying to get to US19E by 5:00, as there is a hostel there that provides a free shuttle into town to a restaurant with 40 flavors of ice cream. We hiked together for a while, but I ended up getting ahead of him, and made it to the hostel just in time. It was a bed and breakfast, but there was a bunkroom for $20/night. I decided to stay in my tent that night, which only cost $8. We rode in the back of a pickup truck into Roan Mountain, TN, and I went to Subway rather than to the restaurant as it was a barbecue place-not very vegetarian friendly. I DID end up getting not one, but TWO ice cream cones. They were unable to add 2 flavors to one cone for some reason, so that made a perfectly good excuse as far as I was concerned. I hung out with everybody at the hostel, and then stayed pretty late the following day, just reading and drinking the free coffee provided.
When I finally left, it was probably about 1PM. I still managed to hike almost 10 miles, finally stopping at a really nice campsite next to a stream. Along the way, I ran into a couple who had been there the night before, and I told them that I’d been hoping that there wold be a store at the hostel, as I was running dangerously low on Aqua-Mira drops, and had in fact been rationing water. There had been a store at the hostel, but all that they sold were food items like oatmeal packets, sodas, etc; no Aqua-Mira. As it turned out, this couple was only hiking until the following morning, and they had a filter for their water, but had Aqua-Mira as a backup. They gave me the brand-new container, and said that they would surely get me to Damascus; I thanked them profusely, and told them that what they had given me would last me much farther than Damascus!
So, problem solved! I’d stopped at three hostels in order to find this stuff to no avail, and a couple of kind souls ended up giving it to me for free. I don’t know why I’d even worried. This kind of stuff happens all the time out here… you worry about running out of something, and then find it in a shelter, or having someone give it to you. That night I made a large cup of hot chocolate, just because I could!
That next day the terrain was either flat or downhill, so I ended up hiking 17 miles until I got to Dennis Cove road, and the Kincora hiking hostel, at which I was expecting a food package. This was Saturday night, and the package wasn’t there, so I decided that I’d wait there until Monday. It was only a “suggested donation” of $4/night, with beds, free laundry, free showers, a kitchen, a nice porch outside to sit, etc.
It’s run by Bob Peoples, a long-time trail maintainer and all-around great guy. He gives free rides into town every night to the IGA grocery store next to which is a Little Caesar’s pizza place. I’d gotten there too late for the shuttle that first night, at about 7:30, so just sat around talking to other hikers. I DID get some McDonald’s fries though!
I knew there wouldn’t be any mail on Sunday of course, so I just hung out all day. I got some pizza that night though!
On Monday, I thought for sure that my package would arrive. But it didn’t. Thinking that the post office was operating with its usual efficiency, I decided to wait one more day for it. Kincora was a nice, relaxing place, with good people, and a really nice atmosphere. Plus, it had everything a hiker could possibly want… laundry, shower, free trips to town and all. Nate and Lauren showed up, and we spent quite a while talking and hanging out.
On Tuesday, with no package delivered, I decided to call the post office and see what was going on. I had a tracking number, but the automated system at the USPS told me that “Tracking and delivery information was unavailable for the tracking number provided.” I called the local post office, and the guy there told me that the package had been delivered the day before… to Knoxville! And not only delivered, but signed for, along with a number of other packages… apparently at a large business of some sort. He told me that he was going to research this, and to call him back the following morning. Great… another day. By this point, I was getting anxious to leave. But I had to wait, so I went back into town again… this time we went to Subway, as we were all getting sick of Little Caesar’s!
Bob Peoples is such a nice guy. There had been a hiker at the hostel the night before, whom I hadn’t thought was the nicest guy. He had lost his camera somewhere. That morning, he’d woken everyone up as he bellowed into the phone to the poor person at the IGA store that he’d called, thinking he’d left it there. He’d taken 3 and a half out of 4 sleeves of Nate and Lauren’s Ritz crackers without asking, and had left the hostel after checking Bob’s truck twice for the camera, along with the entire grounds.
Apparently, Bob had found the camera on the front seat of his truck as soon as he’d opened the door. So he dropped us off at Wautaga lake while he hiked 3 miles to the shelter that the guy claimed he’d be at. Well, he wasn’t there, so Bob brought us back to the hostel. The following morning, the guy called Bob to tell him that he was now at the lake we’d been at the evening before, so Bob drove back out there to give the guy his camera. Definitely above and beyond the call of duty, and even of reasonable expectation!
I called the post office back that Wednesday, and the guy there told me he’d talked to the post office in Knoxville, and they were going to attempt to retrieve my package, and have it shipped to wherever I’d like it to go. Bob suggested a town about 200 miles north, that the trail goes right into. So they shipped it there for me, or will as soon as they get it for me. The irony is, that town seems to be a wonderful place to resupply, since there is a Dollar General store, a grocery store, and even a Wal-Mart. Oh, well. At this point, I’m not optimistic as to whether or not I’ll see the package, so worst case I’ll at least be able to get more food!
We all left the hostel (finally!) and hiked about 2 miles until we arrived at Laurel Fork falls. Then, we took a side trail to a road, and went to the post office so that I could mail a couple of things home that I no longer needed, like the legs to my zip-off pants, my fleece hat, and my sleeping bag liner, and Lauren could send some film canisters home to be developed. I thanked the postal worker for all his help with my package, and he told me that he was really interested to see the label, and to see what had happened. He said that they had put an APB out on my package.
We went from there to a small grocery store so that we could get sodas, and then stopped in a bar/restaurant to get some lunch. Afterwards, someone there offered to give us a ride back to the trail, and we continued on. We got to the Wautaga lake shelter, and met Imagine there, who’d we’d seen at the hostel. He, Nate, and Lauren all set up their tents, but I slept in the shelter since I was the only one in it.
The next morning, I stayed there until about 11:30, drinking my coffee and reading. I finally left and walked over the Wautaga Dam. That was an awful walk, because, although it was on a road, there was no shade, and the road was pretty steep. I was really glad to get back into the woods, and under the cover of the trees.
Shortly thereafter, I began to hear thunder. After a few minutes, I decided it was probably wise to put my rain gear on, even if it was still mostly sunny. Almost as soon as I did, it began raining, and raining hard. Then the hail started. I was still a good mile and a half from the shelter, so I had little choice but to continue on, while I was pelted by half-inch hailstones. They actually hurt my hands that were gripping my hiking poles. I was pretty low on water as well, and was watching for a stream I was supposed to cross on the way to the shelter. I somehow walked right past it, and made my way through the river that the trail had rapidly become. My boots became completely soaked and heavy; they seemed to weigh at least 2 pounds each! I arrived at the shelter before I knew it, at which point the rain naturally stopped.
It actually became sunny again, as if nothing had happened. It got chilly though and was less than 65 degrees, according to my watch thermometer. Imagine already had his tent set up, as did Nate and Lauren. There was also another tent set up there, with a couple that was section-hiking inside. So I stayed in the shelter by myself again. I thought about setting up my tent, but the thought of it raining again during the night and of having to carry around a wet tent wasn’t too appealing.
The next morning, I left pretty early, as I didn’t have enough water for coffee or breakfast, and in fact was completely out. The trail from the shelter down to the stream was .3 mile down a really steep trail, and I’d heard from several people that it was a really tough climb. The next section of the AT was pretty flat, though, so I figured I could hike the next 3-4 miles without water.
I got to the campsite with the water source, and found Imagine already there. As it happened, the water was really close, for once, so I refilled, and hiked another 11 miles to the Double Springs shelter, for a total of about 15 miles that day. Along the way, I hiked through some beautiful fields, and along relatively flat terrain, which was a really nice change.
At the shelter, only Next was there, and I’d assumed that no one else was coming, since it was after 7 when I got there. This, however, proved not to be the case, as another 6 people showed up shortly thereafter. That night, there were 5 of us in the shelter, with another few people tenting. This was fine, except that the following morning several people got up at 6:30 AM and began talking and laughing as though there was no one around for miles. So, I got up as well, slightly irritated.
I was again the last to leave (there was plenty of water for coffee), but I hiked almost 20 miles that day, arriving in Damascus, VA at about 7:30. I went to Dave’s Place, a hostel run by the Mount Rogers outfitters, which had been recommended by Bob Peoples at the Kincora hostel.
There’s another hostel in town, called The Place which was only $4/night, but apparently people have had things stolen there, as there is no caretaker. Dave’s Place was $10/night according to my book, and had a locking door. When I got there though, the outfitter’s at which I was supposed to check in was closed, and the guy who was helping out at the hostel told me that I could sleep there, but that he couldn’t give me a key to the room as they were locked up in the outfitter’s, as were the clean towel. Also, it was $23/night! So I didn’t get a key, I didn’t get a towel, and paid far more than I expected to. At least I had my own room.
The following morning, I got up at about 9 and walked over to The Place, to check it out. It seemed fine to me, so I brought all my stuff over there, and indeed haven’t had any problems. There are something like 8 rooms in the place, so I chose a room on the second floor with a missing doorknob. You can still open it though, so I left my stuff inside and shut the door. People came and started filling up the other rooms, but I was by myself the first night I was there. The second night, there was a section hiker there, but only one roommate out of a possible 5 isn’t bad. I stayed there again last night, and once again had the room to myself.
Tonight will be my last night in Damascus, but Nate and Lauren have moved in for their last night out on the trail before going home to Chicago, so I will be among friends.
All in all, I have really enjoyed Damascus. It does look like a ghost town compared to the way it was during Trail Days, but that’s ok; there is a Dollar General store, a good coffee shop, a really good restaurant, and even a grocery store. Everything a hiker could possibly need.
It will be a little strange, and sad, leaving tomorrow and not hiking with Nate and Lauren- but I’ll meet new people, and I’ll know that I am on my way to Harper’s Ferry, where Amanda will come down and meet me. We will spend a day or two there, and I’m sure have a great time.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is simply no way that I am going to be able to complete a thru-hike this year. Conventional wisdom dictates that you have to make it to Harper’s Ferry by the 4th of July in order to make it to Maine and Mount Katahdin before the park closes by October 15th.
Well, Harper’s Ferry is 530 miles away, and there is simply no way I’m going to be able to get there in the next 3 weeks, no matter how gentle the terrain may be. So my plan is to meet Amanda there, then go home to Connecticut for a week. Then, she will drive me up to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and we will spend a day or so there, until I continue north, to Vermont, New Hampshire, and finally Maine.
I have already hiked the section between Great Barrington and Harper’s Ferry, so at least this way I will finish the trail. I will be a “2,000-Miler”, rather than a “thru-hiker”, but that’s ok.
It still counts, as far as the Appalachian Long-Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA) is concerned. I’m hoping to reach Katahdin before October 7th, so that Amanda and I can make it to ALDHA’s annual “Gathering”, which this year is being held in North Adams, MA.
Then, I’ll be able to go up on stage and receive a patch and a 2,000 miler certificate. I’m really looking forward to this, to my surprise. In the meantime, I have over 500 miles to go before I reach Harper’s Ferry.
After Trail Days
Well, I made it that 14 miles to the last shelter before Gatlinburg, and the following morning hiked the last 4 miles to the road crossing. I got there at about noon, and attempted to hitchhike the 15 miles into town. After about 20 unsuccessful minutes of this, another hiker came up and asked me if I was waiting for the free shuttle. Free shuttle? I’d known about a $30 shuttle, but not a free one! He told me that it was supposed to arrive at about 12:30 or so, so I went to wait for it with a few other hikers that had stopped for lunch. Well, 12:30 came and went, as did 1:00, and by 1:15 we were wondering what was going on. I had, as usual, “No Service” on my phone (thanks, AT&T), so someone (with Verizon) called the Nantahala Outdoor Center store in town. They operate the shuttle, and informed her that it left at 3:00, and should be there by 3:45 at the latest. Having no desire to wait almost 3 hours in the cold wind, I went back to try to get a ride, and an older couple immediately stopped. As I was getting into the car, the hiker who’d told me about the shuttle came up and asked if he could come, and we all headed in to Gatlinburg.
They dropped us off on the main road, and I immediately started looking for the motel in which I’d planned to stay, as it was $30/night and they had laundry. When I got there, the first thing I saw was the “For sale” sign, and the second was the pool. The empty pool. But, they were open, and I got a room. After taking a shower and washing my clothes, I headed out into town. Gatlinburg was not quite what I expected. Described as “a tourist mecca” in my guide, it was an unending succession of ice cream shops, fudge shops, places to buy funnel cake and candy, all manner of hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Really not my bag. But, there was a large outfitter (the NOC), and a Subway, and places where I could get soda, and especially coffee. I stayed there that first night, and the following morning it was absolutely pouring rain, which wasn’t supposed to let up (and didn’t) until the following morning. So I stayed an additional night.
That next day, it was really quite cold, and there was a “hard frost” warning for the city and surrounding areas, with expected temperatures in the low 30′s that night. Now, since it’s generally 10 degrees colder for every 3,000 feet in elevation gain, I figured the temperature in the mountains (at 6,000 feet) were going to be absolutely frigid. I found out later that it got down to about 16 degrees that night at a shelter, with people knocking sheets of ice off of their tents. So I stayed a third night, figuring that it was probably the wise thing to do. If I never have hypothermia again, I think I’ll be just fine with that- and for those counting, I’ve been hypothermic three times. $30 was worth the warm room