Week 5: Days 34-38; Erwin, TN, to Damascus, VA

Day 34

It dropped well below freezing overnight, and with our group split in two, neither Achilles nor I was quick to get ready. Despite the cold the morning, it was beautiful and sunny. The terrain has leveled a bit, and we made quick work of our morning walk. I stopped for a quick break on a bench to enjoy this view.

After lunch I hiked for awhile in tandem with Minnesota, a girl from St. Cloud. I saw an old cabin with its own little lake filled with tadpoles and salamanders. Near Laurel Falls the trail runs through a canyon nearly flat, making the walk easy and the views amazing. At the end you hit the falls below.

A few miles farther, I walked to the shelter to again only find a single tenting spot. I backtracked down the hill to a flat gap in the valley next to the river where Minnesota was already setting up camp. My group arrived shortly thereafter, after partaking in their 4/20 festivities at mile marker 420 at 4:20 p.m. In essence it was the pot head trifecta. I’m not a drug user by any sense, but it is prevalent on the trail. On the bright side, they all had the munchies, and Hampton was only a 2.5-mile walk.

We donned headlamps and wound our way through the valley to the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. After finishing six chicken strips, two cheeseburgers, fries, and a drink, I calculated a 2,000+ calorie meal. Still hungry, I walked to the adjoining gas station and grabbed some candy and a honey bun. I also packed out another cheeseburger to eat for breakfast. We walked back in the dark, but I chose to not use my headlamp. A quarter of the moon was visible, and my eyes had adjusted, so it wasn’t really necessary. It was a fun day even though only 16 of our 22 miles walked counted.

Day 35

The river rapids outside my tent were loud but made for nice white noise to sleep. It was already starting to get warm when I set off, so I didn’t have to wear many layers. I found the third time hiking this stretch of the trail to be my favorite. Our large climb of the day was Pond Flats, but the switchbacks on it made it much easier. The remainder of the day’s terrain was a mild roller coaster only rising or falling 500′ at the extremes. We had a quick second breakfast break at Watauga Lake, a huge recreational lake created by the dam. A lot of dams in this area were public work projects the government did during the depression to put people to work. Shortly after lunch we crossed the dam itself.

Despite the huge lake in the valley, water was rather scarce on this section of the trail, and I ran out about 1/3-mile to the spring. Others didn’t time it so well and were pretty dehydrated when they arrived. Like animals on the Savannah, we refilled, cameled up, and pushed on. I stopped at Iron Mt. Shelter, a huge flat-ish area on the ridge line. It made tenting easy, as there were literally hundreds of viable options, but it made using the bathroom difficult, as there was no cover and you have to walk a long way to get out of site. Achilles joined me, but the other three in my group stopped a few miles prior due to getting tired. I made supper near the shelter, as Napoleon was at this site. The guy is incredibly entertaining. He speaks in monologue and metaphors, so it’s like listening to a modern-day Shakespeare crossed with hiker trash.

Today we strolled 23 miles, bringing our new total to 451.7/2199.7.

Day 36

I woke up early and was still second-to-last to leave camp this morning at 7:30! People are clearly making a push for Damascus and want to eat their supper in town. The sky was overcast, making the day cool, and the terrain was relaxed compared to the last 400 miles, making the day a nice one to be out in the woods. A few miles from town I crossed the TN/VA state line!

Three states completed and 11 to go! Sadly Virginia is the largest state to walk through, harboring one-fourth of the trail alone at over 500 miles. The Virginia blues hit a lot of hikers, as they don’t get a new state for some time. As I walked into town, I spotted Jackrabbit at the park. I told him I was staying at “The Place,” a hostel run by the Methodist church in town, for a very cheap rate. He tagged along and stayed as well. I met up with Achilles, Napoleon, and Deluxe at the hostel, showered, and then we all went out for supper. I’m glad to have pushed into town tonight instead of stopping short, as the wind was again picking up and the sky was turning gray. Either way I was just happy to be warm and dry!

Today I walked 26 miles for my second-longest trail day. Now I am at 477.7/2199.7 miles.

Day 37

We opted to eat at Mojo’s for breakfast, and it didn’t disappoint. I had a fantastic spread of French toast and bacon. After breakfast we went to a few outfitters and then walked the AT portion through town to catch us up to our stay for the evening. The AT actually is on the front sidewalk of our hostel for the night, so we dropped our packs here and walked around town.

Damascus has a really neat veterans memorial shaped like a large wheel (they are huge into biking here) where each spoke is a different service branch adorned with the names of locals who served in those branches.

I swung passed the post office to pick up a package some friends had sent me and then ran into Flyballs, Franklinstein, and Rampage on Main Street. They said our group was a few minutes behind, and we all decided to go to the diner for lunch. Now a massive herd of eight hikers, we ate glorious food and invited the other three to crash with us in our cabin for the night.

Most of the day in town was spent eating, drinking, showering, and doing laundry. It was great to hear the stories from the other three, as they are all triple crowners or completing it this year after they finish the AT. Our hostel gave us scrubs to wear, and I forgot how wonderfully comfortable they are. I kept mine on until after breakfast the next day, which has earned me a new trail name. Though I’m no longer Prophet to my group, I shall remain so on this blog as my new name isn’t incredibly appropriate for all readers. We’ll just call me Dr. from this point on. 😉

My group is exhausted and is planning to 0 again tomorrow. I’m torn about staying with them or hiking forward and not wasting time, but I remember that this trip isn’t about the ending and getting back to society; it’s about the adventure and friendships I’m making on the way. I opt to stay with them another day to stay together. It’s not worth it to me losing great people to do a few more miles.

Day 38

Today marks my first double-0 day. I find myself incredibly anxious to get back on trail, but I have some things I still need to do. First I need a few more pieces of gear, a summer bag liner, trash bag to line my backpack, and possibly a hat. I need to send a bounce box forward that has food and some extra gear in it. Finally I need to write this entire post. I generally do them all in one sitting using my personal written journal as an outline.

We all went to Mojo’s for breakfast again and then to the outfitter. I found a liner and a hat I liked, and then we headed back to the hostel. We packed up and headed towards the post office to send our packages forward. I put about 2 pounds of gear in with a 4-day food resupply. My pack is getting lighter, and in about 70 miles it should drop 2-3 more pounds! I’ll then be at about 25 pounds with a 4-day food/water supply, which is about 15 pounds lighter than when I started! Even though we don’t bring much when we hike, it’s incredible to see how much you STILL don’t need!

After I got my errands taken care of, we went to a different (my now third) hostel in Damascus. This evening we are staying at the Virginia Creeper Lodge, which is incredible. It has two mirrored full kitchens with a huge common area with six different private rooms with full bathrooms. The outside has a covered deck and is right over the river. It feels way too nice for us to be here. Chili Dog is taking advantage of the kitchen to cook a huge meal for about 15 hikers. He’s making a huge stir fry with witch cakes and an apple cobbler for dessert.

We have a big bacon, eggs, bread breakfast planned as well. I’m ready to get moving again, but nights like this make the trip all the sweeter and so thankful to be out here.

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