Lost Mountain Shelter - Wise Shelter
Virginia is awesome! I've been excited to hike through the Grayson Highlands Sate Park and hopefully see the wild ponies. Not only did I see the ponies, but one of the foals came up to me when I was taking pictures, sniffed my shorts and then proceeded to lick the sweat off of my legs. It was an amazing experience. They are not scared of humans and it was so cool to see them finally after waiting so long to get here. Shortly after that, 2-Step and I had to don our rain jackets becuse the clouds crept in around us and they unleashed the fury. It was a cold rain, but the days hike was almost over and the walk helped keep us warm. By the time we got to camp and set the hammocks up, the rain was on its way out, although the clouds stuck around. The more it rains, the more I feel like we can handle it. That's not to say we enjoy the rain, but it doesn't seem as bad as the first day of rain we had. Someone at the last shelter said we could have rain most of the week, but we'll just see what tomorrow brings and start with that. Another exciting thing about today was that we hit the 500 mile mark!! The shelter we stopped at for the day was right at the 500 mile mark and were were so excited to end our day there. It's been a lot of long days and some not so fun times as well, but we've had an amazing experience so far and we look forward to the next 1,500 miles.
Damascus, VA - Lost Mountain Shelter
After a leisurley morning with my parents and a delicious breakfast of pancakes we finally had to get back on the trail. Several people had told us that instead of following the white blazes (shhh...don't tell anyone!) we should take the Creeper trail out of town and hop back on the trail when they intersect. Since the Crepper is the original route of the AT I didn't feel too bad. And since I got a chili cheeseburger with coleslaw on it, I really didn't feel too bad. Because we had eaten not long before we got to our campsite for the night all we had to do was set up our hammocks and we were ready for bed. Besides the fact that we got to eat at the Creeper Trail Cafe on the way to camp we also got to walk by a river for 10 miles rather than climb two unnecessary mountains to look at more trees. I started out thinking that I would follow every white blaze, but sometimes the side trails are a little more interesting and rewarding. I think it was a first good day back on the trail and I'm excited to see what Virginia has to offer.
Day 35 - 37
5/25 - 5/27
I was so happy to be doing nothing on Friday instead of hiking. Early Bird and I spent a good part of the morning at a coffee shop enjoying the AC. After we started feeling more normal we walked around town to check out the outfitters... There wasn't much and we were pretty disappointed that there wasn't more to this trail town. The Virginia Creeper trail was pretty cool Though...2-Step and I got to ride from the top of Whit Top Mountain to Dmamascus with my parents. Tess came along too and she cruised by my bike for the 17 mile ride. She was amazing and never got tired the entire way down. It was really nice to see my parents. Thank you so much for everything. The country steak was amazing. 2-Step and I really appreciate everything and thanks for the early birthday gift! I'm so glad I got to see you guys, hopefully it won't be the last time this summer. 2-Step and I also got a little taste of what the Grayson Highlands State Park is going to look like. We took a hike with my parents and I'm looking forward to that section of trail. As much fun as town is though I always get antsy to hop back on the trail. I'm looking forward to what lies ahead.
Wilbur Dam Rd. - Damascus, VA
The next morning, after a more than satisfying dinner with Detroit and his girlfriend, Lisa, and our buddy Early Bird, I woke up and started getting ready for my 2 day hike to Damascus. When I was in the store getting some food items to supplement what I already had, Early Bird talked me into skipping the 15 miles I'd hiked countless times before. Instead, I was going to get dropped off with him where he had slackpacked to the previous day. I got excited to be hiking with a buddy of ours and it made the next 2 days seem not quite as long as I thought they would be without 2-Step and the pups. As I was packing my bag, Early Bird was telling me how he was planning on sending some of his heavier cold weather gear home and how he had been trying to figure out how to slack pack to Damascus. At about the same time we both got the idea to leave most of our gear with 2-Step and just hike the 37.3 miles from Wilbur Dam Rd. to Damascus. We called it "The Dam Challenge" With our plans changing every few minutes we didn't even get to Wilbur Dam Rd. until right before 10am. After a photo op with Detroit and his girlfriend, Early Bird and I stepped onto the trail at 10:02. We started out with a quick pace and made it up the 4.7 mile climb to the first shelter in 1 hour and 30 minutes. We signed into the log and set our sights on the next shelter 6.8 miles away. It was good to break up our day into short 6-8 mile segments with the shelters as little goals to help keep the day from being too daunting. By the time we got to the last shelter, it was 5:40 with 10 miles to go. We were just about to the end of our ropes. With just enought time to fill our water bottles and eat a quick snack we were back on the trail with our next goal being the TN-VA border 6.5 miles away. Now I don't know where the time went, maybe we passed through a black hole or something, but I swear that 6.5 miles took us about 2-3 hours. When we got to the border and checked the time we found we had done the miles in only 1 hour and 10 minutes. We couldn't even believe it, but we had never been happier to reach one of our short goals for the day. After a couple of pictures and a snack break we were back on our feet for the last 3.5 miles, which definitely took us just as long as the previous 6.5 miles. In the end, our day took us about 10 hours including the breaks at each shelter that we took to refill water bottles and eat a quick snack. When we finally made it to Damascus we were quite a sight. I could barely lift my legs the last mile, but the thought of beer and food kept me going. We didn't even know where we were going to spend the night, but our top priority was a cold drink and a big meal. By the time dinner was over, I was ready to fall asleep in our booth, but we walked to a hostel called "The Place" and found some bunks to crash on. We both got a shower and even though they didn't supply mattresses we tried to fall asleep on the wood shelves that were the bunks. I guess the hostel figured everyone had camp pads, but we didn't and so our sleep was not comfortable, but I was still excited. We had done 37.3 miles in 10 hours and when I woke up the next day feeling only a little tight I couldn't have been happier.
Mountaineer Shelter - Dennis Cove Road
We were both very tired this morning so we definitely did not rush out of camp. We took our time and tried to figure out a way to get 2-Step to the hostel without having her hike 15.6 miles. Fortunately there was named road only 1.5 miles from the shelter so we slowly made our way to the road hoping that one of our phones would have service. I could tell 2-Step was in pain, but we made it to the road...and we had service!! I called our friend Lisa from Johnson City and as soon as I told her 2-Step and I were on the trail she immediately asked us what we needed. I told her the situation and with a little help from her friends she found out where Walnut Mountain Rd. was and was heading our way. While waiting at the road crossing with 2-Step, I started emptying my pack of all unnecessary items so I could hike the 14 miles from Walnut Mountain Rd. to Dennis Cove as quickly as possible. Soon enough, Lisa pulled up and 2-Step and the pups were on their way to the hostel. Lisa, there is no way we can thank you enough for all the help you provided for us. We appreciate everything and you really helped lift our spirits more than you could know! After Lisa and 2-Step pulled away I put my game face on and set a goal of 3.5 hours for the 14 miles I had to hike to the hostel. It was a very gradual elevation gain with little ups and downs, but I was crusing my way down the trail. I definitely ran just as much as I walked and I got an extra boost when I got to the section of trail that led to this whole crazy idea of thru-hiking the AT (a section I have hiked many times while living briefly in TN). When I recognized that section I knew I was close to the road and I started running down the trail. When I made it to Dennis Cove Rd. and asked someone the time I found that I had done the 14 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes. I beat my goal...and the rain (kind of). When it started raining on the .5 mile road walk to the hostel I could've cared less. I was so pumped about my hiking time and I knew that I was heading to a hot shower and dry clothes. 2-Step was still feeling under the weather when I got there, but she was feeling hungry again so that was a step in the right direction. Detroit was also at the hostel and when he saw me he handed me a cold beer and the microwave burgers I was eating seemed that much better. Since 2-Step could stay in Hampton, TN, I started making plans to get to Damascus a day earlier than we had planned.
Overmountain Shelter - Mountaineer Shelter
This was another long day with rain falling for most of it. There were highlights though. We had a long road walk on an old dirt road that was enclosed on both sides by wild rose and with rain the smell wafting from the roses was intoxicating. The smell alone helped make the rain more enjoyable. Then we got to an open ridge that had the coolest tree right next to the trail. There were so many branches and they extended out from the trunk in all directions and provided the best rain protection around. Although the end of the day felt long, the sun came out and the shelter we stayed at was cool. It had three levels and was perfect for seting up our hammocks. We camped with Detroit and I'll Try (whose unofficial name is "This Sucks So Far"). Things were going good and then 2-Step got the hiker flu. It was not a restful night. We had heard there was a stomach flu travelling up and down the trail and our buddy Mercury had gotten it a few days prior. Now 2-Step was in the middle of finding out how uncomfortable this flu could be. Everytime she woke up that night I woke up too so we didn't sleep much.
Apple Orchard Campsite - Overmountain Shelter
Because we had stopped short again we had to go for the long haul today. The Overmountain Shelter was a renovated barn and came highly recommended. The hike North from Roan Mountain to 19E (a road crossing) was also highly recommended and the end of our day was a climb up Roan Mt. and the beginning of one of the best sections of the trail we've hiked so far. On the way up Roan Mt., we encountered a group of volunteer trail workers building new sections of trail. I thanked them for their hard work, especially since some of them were other thru-hikers who volunteered some time from their own hike to help build new sections of trail. When I stopped to thank them they also took the opportunity to take a break and meet the dogs, exclaiming that they were some of the cleanest dogs on the trail that they'd seen (I was a proud owner at that moment). While talking they found out my trail name and one of them had a joke about a "No Name" brand of toilet paper. The joke ends with a man renaming the "No Name" brand to John Wayne, because its "rough and tough and don't take no s*** off of nobody!" Well I figured since I was rough and tough and don't take no s*** off of nobody they could just call me John Wayne too. So my name has evolved slightly and people accept it much quicker. After that conversation and a new name we still had a few miles to hike so we kept heading on down the trail. When we finally got to the Overmountain Shelter at the end of a long day we didn't even set up our hammocks before dinner. We were excited to realize that we could set up our hammocks on the second story of the barn. There was a chance of rain and if we didn't have to pack up wet tarps in the moring we would be happy campers. Sleeping in the old barn was awesome and the dogs kept the mice on the other side of the shelter. Unfortunately, for the couple that was sleeping on the other side, the mice happened upon a Snickers bar and had a good feast that night anyway.
Curley Maple Gap Shelter - Apple Orchard Campsite
We had planned to hike further out of Erwin than the first shelter, but we took a leisurely day instead. It was worth it. Our plan was to make up the lost miles over the next few days so that we could keep on schedule to meet my parent in Damascus, VA. We tried to hike the 22 miles that would put us back on track, but our packs were heavy and our feet were slow. We stopped short again, and I'm so grateful for that. We had an amazing evening with just the dogs and a bonfire in a clearing that used to be an old apple orchard. We strung our hammocks on some of the apple trees and enjoyed the light show that the fireflies put on for us. It was a good way to end the day.
Erwin, TN - Curley Maple Gap Shelter
We caught the morning shuttle to town and bought food for our next few days. We also got a surprise for any hikers that were at the shelter with us. As we dined on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, we sorted our food and organized our packs to head out of town. The climb away from Uncle Johnny's was steeper than we anticipated and we were cursing our food choices. Our bags felt like they were a couple of elephants riding on our shoulders. The climb didn't last long though and soon enough our 4.7 mile day was over. Then came the exciting part...dinner and dessert! For ourselves, we made a cheesy tuna pasta with some dehydrated red peppers and other green-looking flakes. The pièce de résistance was the dessert though. For everyone to share at the shelter, we brought the ingredients for a no-bake cheesecake, complete with graham cracker crust. It was a hit with everyone and "Ghost of a Flea," Detroit, Mercury, Quiksilver, 2-Step and I went to bed happy, after indulging in one of the most satisfying dishes prepared on the trail.
Low Gap - Erwin, TN
2-Step's first 20 mile day ever! So pumped for her! I don't think she was quite as excited at the end of the day as I was, but when she saw Uncle Johnny's, the pain of the day melted away like a slice of butter on a big ol' pile of flapjacks. We'd visited Uncle Johnny's before, and this was one of the stops we'd been waiting for. We were so excited to order a pizza after we were all cleaned up. Two large pizzas and a salad all found their way into our stomachs. We were bottomless pits and we loved every bite. There was a good crew of hikers hanging out that night. Shout-outs to Detroit, Screaming Eagle, Philly, Early Bird and Sherpa & Lakota (hiker/dog duo). We didn't last long after dinner and our heads hit our pillows pretty quickly after eating.