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Day 36 19 Miles
Hiker feed! About 4 miles out from the Hiker Feed I saw a pink sign that had charging station, hamburger/hot dogs, porta potties, drinks, and more. Sign me up! I’m skipping lunch and am going there. Hiked the 4 miles and was all smiles. I got two plate fulls and pasta salad and some fruit and a soda. Got a chance to talk to some older section hikers at my table and they were asking me why I was hiking the trail and whatnot. It was kind of hard to communicate since I’ve been hiking by myself for some time but I managed. After gorging myself and meeting a few other people I said my goodbyes/thank you and headed 8 more miles down the trail to Partnership Shelter, one of the nicest shelters on the trail with shower, sink, privies, and garbage can even. The hike was easy but I kept thinking about people I miss back home and how it would be nice to just say hello in person. Finally made it to the shelter and there was even more trail magic. A guy by the name of Porkchop showed up with chips, cold sodas, Gatorade, and other snacks at the entrance of the Mt Rogers Visitor Center. I even got a hitch from him into the town of Marion to the Walmart for my next resupply to Pearisburg and even back to the visitor center along with a guy named Nature Boy. It was a pretty interesting drive into town to say the least but I was thankful for the ride since the local shuttle wasn’t working on the weekends and the holiday. What a magical day full of trail magic. This has been a pretty sweet section so far. I think I only opened my food bag once today which has never happened. Thanks to the local church in Troutdale for putting on the Hiker Feed it was much appreciated and needed it for my morale.
Day 35 16.1 Miles
Awoke at the sound of Crazy Korean alarm right next to my ear and then the chaos of people stepping over me to use the bathroom and leave the shelter. First ones out were the college students then I headed out right after them after saying goodbyes. First couple miles were a bit cloudy but eventually the sun finally poked out and it was truly amazing. I was one happy person. The views were beautiful looking northward and I also got to see some wild ponies. Haven’t seen them in over a year and they looked the same as always. Near lunchtime around Wise Shelter I had a chance to dry my clothes and tarp out and the ponies came upon all of us and started to attack Tropicals tent and tried to eat her lunch and whatnot. It was kind of comical but they became a bit scared and we all had to chip in to scare them away.
I left in a jiffy to get out of the pony mess and the rest of the day was really good hiking. Passed through the remainder of the Grayson Highland State Park and crossed over some stiles with beautiful views in all directions. Cranked out some tunes and listened to my audiobook for the remainder of the day until getting into Hurricane Mtn Shelter for the night. All smiles all day because of no rain. Oh and I crossed over 500 mile mark today if you are counting.
Day 34 12.2 Miles
Took down the hammock in the rain and then painstakingly put the wet shirt and socks on from the day before. Oh joy! I might have screamed a little bit after I put my wet socks back on. Hiked out of the shelter as quickly as possible to get warm again. First climb of the day was Buzzard Rock where it was super exposed and cold up ontop. On the way I caught up with Blue Bunny and we hiked the rest of the day together into Thomas Knob Shelter. Learned that he worked for a construction company back home, has a couple of kids and is trying to make a career change in his life and that was one of the drivers for him to be on the trail. Grabbed a bit of lunch at Elk Garden under the Privy roof before hiking up to Mt Rogers.
Once we arrived at the top after about 4 miles the rain and wind picked up aggressively. The shelter was already full of people, but I was determined to find a spot. Climbed up to the second level where there were already 10 people and asked if there was a spot available. There was thank goodness!! I grabbed my SOL Escape Bivvy ( man I wish I had my quilt back right now) and sleeping pad and plopped them down to claim my spot. Got to meet a hilarious character named Crazy Korean and Huck as well as some other college aged students out for a weekend trip. I added 2 packs of Ramen to Crazy Korean Mountain House dinner and he happily boiled water with his Jetboil and we shared dinner. It was a nice gesture and I did not have to get my alcohol stove out and burn down the shelter in the process. Before you know it 3 other girls showed up and we ended up having 15 people on the second floor of the Shelter and 9 on the bottom with a total of 24. In the book the shelter only slept 18 so I’d say we were booked for the night. Didn’t really get much sleep that night but I kept warm and dry as the storm was brewing relentlessly outside.
Day 33 15.8 Miles
More rain again today, this time it was off and on with isolated thunderstorms. Left Damascus around 10 after packing up my stuff, resupplying at the Dollar General, and eating a Subway sandwich up the trail near Sundog Outfitters. All of the local restaurants including Hey Joes, Old Mill, Mojos either weren’t open or don’t open till later. Mojos gave their employees the day off since Trail Days was crazy. Through the first part of the day the trail ran parallel to the famous Virginia Creeper Bike Trail the switchbacked up to Saunders Shelter which was a quarter mile off trail. Grabbed some lunch and met Tropical and maybe her boyfriend? Her name is Tropical because she is from South Florida and grows all kind of tropical fruit from mangos to bananas. After they left the Blue Bunny arrived as well as B-roll, I hadn’t seen him since he named me Whippersnapper back at Double Springs Shelter in the GSMNP. What a pleasant surprise!
And then the rain started and did not really stop until I got to the next shelter. It rained so hard that the trail had many rivers gushing down them. I need a boat. Feet soaked and everything else I made it into the next shelter where it was full, the Trail Day party slacker group was there in full occupancy of the shelter so I quickly set my hammock up before the next episode of downpours. Just in time. Got out of my wet clothes and into my “dry” ones and hunkered down inside my tarp to make Mac and Cheese just before nightfall. I hope this rain holds off tomorrow, but hey it builds character out here.
Day 32 27 Miles
Rain all day. Decided to push 27 miles into Damascus, VA to push the body and to see how fit I really am. Oh boy was I tested. Was going to stay at Abington Gap Shelter but decided to push the extra 10 miles into VA. Kind of a poor decision but I completed it and feel very accomplished. Got into The Place which is a hostel in town ran by the Methodist Church and honestly was so stiff after sitting for 15 minutes that I couldn’t really walk. I was cold, wet and exhausted. Really thankful for dry place to stay and a roof above my head out of the elements, I cannot overemphasize that. Couldn’t even grab any food in town because every place was closed, so I just sat in the Hostel and ate bars and honey buns then took a hot shower and went to bed on the wooden barracks that were provided by the shelter. I honestly can’t believe I’m still alive after that, hopefully tomorrow I can walk again. That was the most I’ve ever backpacked in a day and I will probably never do it again, lesson learned.
Day 31 15.7 Miles
Well I couldn’t really sleep last night because I fell asleep on a slab of oaken wood in the kitchen area of the Hostel to stay dry. Not a real good decision. Ate the continental breakfast the hostel provided of donuts, bananas, and cereal and said my goodbyes to Speakup (hope I get to see him again) and hit the old dusty trail once again. Terrain wise the trail was relatively flat crossing over Watagua Dam and paralleling the lake but my mind was in so many places, missing my girlfriend and Tom and also what to do job or career after the trail.
I’ve spent several days with Tom and I don’t know when his back problems will heal to see him again. But the trail does goes on and I will meet other people along the way, the trail always keeps that promise.
When I got into Iron Mountain Shelter I met some folks that I met a few weeks ago (Tupelo Honey, One Pole, and Blue Bunny) as well as a few newer ones, mostly southbounders after Trail Days to catch up on the miles they missed to get to the festival. Overall there was a lot on mind and my new Brooks Cascadia 12 trail running shoes were giving me some fits on the back of my heels as if my feet were bruised. Hopefully it’s just a breaking in kind of thing and the next couple days everything will be alright. Cooked some Mac and cheese for the night with a Nutella tortilla side and called it a night. Got an extra piece of bacon from Pappaw who I just recently met the night before at Boots Off hostel.
I was quite exhausted emotionally after today and I’m looking forward to getting some sleep even though I had the last three days of zero.
Day 30 Another Zero Day
Well I took another Zero day. Due to the relentless rain in the morning until 11 and Toms back hurting again I decided to just take it easy and take another day off the feet. We played chess, went to Subway to get lunch, cleaned up some gear, caught up on some blogs and emails and just took it easy. Ashlie left around 9 at night after I cooked some Ramen to head back to Knoxville. She will be dearly missed.
Tom said he won’t be able to hike tomorrow so it looks like I had to say goodbye to two people that I care dearly about in my life. Tomorrow will be a fun day hiking solo again.
Day 29 Zero Day
Awoke to another Trailer Days hollering (I was pretty close to yelling shut up at that point) and then proceeded to get AYCE pancake breakfast for $5 at the OneWay Ministries building alongside Ashlie. It was good to get some food in the belly after not eating that much. Afterward, Ashlie wanted some “good” coffee so we walked up to Mojos near the Sundog Outfitters waited in line for like 30 minutes and finally got our beverage.
We were really exhausted from last night from lack of sleep so all of us decided to beat the heat and to get away from Trail Days for some air condition and for some Chinese Buffett. We pretty much saw everything we wanted to see at Trail Days and we aren’t big partyers so I thought it was a good move. The Chinese Buffet in Elizabthton was delish with sushi and ice cream for dessert. Afterward we drove a few minutes to Johnson City where we all three kicked back in the AC and watched the new Guardian of the Galaxy at the local movie theater. I am Groot! Haha It was a really nice change in pace. Went to Walmart afterward for a short resupply and headed back to Boots Off Hostel for the night where we cooked hotdogs over an open fire and talked about Everest expedition and Jon Krauker book. All in all, Trail Days was fun but I think I like my peace and quiet with some trusted close people even more.
Day 28 Zero Day
Drove into Damascus for Trail Days in the early afternoon and set up our tents in Tent City for around $5. Lots of hikers already here and lots of booths set up. Some of the major backpack companies including Gregory, Osprey, Granite Gear had repair booths if you had any rips or tears or any other adjustments needed for your pack. There were also many free shower stations and free laundry services set up in and around Tent City sponsored by local churches. We decided to head down to the town park to scope things out and to also grab some food from the nearby vendors. So many hikers from all parts of the world. There were even dudes dressed up in dresses preparing for the parade tomorrow. Some of the many vendors included Big Agnes, Hennessy Hammocks, ZPacks, Gregory, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Farm to Feet, Darn Tough, and Ibex to name just a few. After eating and walking around a bit we headed back over to Tent City to take a short nap and to get out of the heat. It was a super humid hot day and it felt awesome to get under my tarp and get some shade. Also, Speakup back was hurting him so it was good for him to get some rest since this is our zero day and everything. Nightfall came fast and the noises became louder. A group a couple tents over kept yelling Trailer Days and whooping and hollering. The noises became louder and we all three didn’t get but a couple hours of sleep that night. It was rough going. I really don’t know why we stayed in Tent City. Oh well it was still an experience that’s for sure.
Day 27 16.6 Miles
The morning was relatively flat with a few ups but overall it was fairly easy. After crossing Dennis Cove Road the walk down to Laurel Falls was gentle and I got a chance to talk to a few section hikers on the way. I ate some lunch at the falls and waited for Speakup to arrive. Since his back has given him problems the last couple days he decided to go for a short swim around the falls in hopes that it will help him out.
We quickly crossed a few large bridges over Laurel Creek and then had one more small climb up and over Ponds Flats and then down into Hampton. When I got to the top of the mountain Tom yelled hey I found a beer in the spring up here. Some trail angel hiked up to the top of this isolated peak and placed a Blue Moon Belgian White in the only water source at the very top. We were both pumped and we shared it happily! The best trail magic I’ve received thus far. Instead of disliking the uphills now we joke that there might be a cold beverage on top.
We arrived at Boots Off Hostel around 5 with an entrance of two guys taking a tree down with a bobcat. They offered us a cold beverage again and we happily accepted. Got to see Gizmo and Blaze and also Tonya at the Hostel. Gizmo and Blaze are trying to the Damascus Dash tomorrow which consists of hiking 42 miles in a day from Watsgua Lake to the town park in Damascus for Trail Days. Kind of an insane undertaking if you ask me, but they said they want to see how hard they can push their bodies. Later on we loaded the owner of the hostels Explorer with about 7 hikers and went into town for a Subway, McDonald’s, and Gas Station run. I ordered a footlong chicken bacon ranch sub with a soda and woofed it down in a hurry before my girlfriend showed up that night. It was really good to see her, I hadn’t seen her since Gatlinburg days! I introduced her to a few hikers, set up her new Big Agnes Copper Spur tent and then called it a night. Trail Days tomorrow!