Day 42

Day 42

The end of our sixth week on the trail! Almost 500 miles!

We woke alone in the Saunders shelter, just as we had gone to sleep last night. The two section hikers were making breakfast at the picnic table and the sun was shining brightly into the shelter around Tandem’s tarp. We woke, packed, and started water for coffee and oatmeal. Tandem prepared a combo of oatmeal and quinoa, which she experimented with the first time by cooking it, rather than hydrating it. It didn’t take long to cook, so simply hydrating it next time may work.

The section hikers were kind enough to take our trash on their way south to Damascus. We left the shelter at 9:15 for our 18.6 mile hike to Thomas Knob shelter. We made good time for the first five miles rolling along our last section of the Creeper bike trail.

While on the bike trail, we passed many Scout packs and troops biking. Near the back of one Pack, we passed a Tiger Cub who had fallen and cut his knee. His mother and Den Mother were caring for him. They stopped the bleeding, but I sensed that they lacked band aids. I offered them one, which they gratefully accepted. They were surprised to hear that we were AT thru hikers and how far we were going and for how long.

We crossed the Luther Hassinger Memorial Bridge and it reminded me if the trestle bridge on the Silver Comet Trail in Atlanta. We reached the Lost Mountain shelter by 12:30 but pushed on another mile to US 58 in case there was any trail magic going on. There wasn’t, so we had lunch there.

Then came the first long climb of the day up Whitetop Mountain, an elevation change of 2175 feet over five miles. I was slow up this one due to talking to all of the Scouts and leaders coming down the hill. I also ran out if water and had to grab some from a stream.Week_6_015

Near the top of Whitetop is Buzzard Rock. Since I’m Buzz, of course I got a picture there!

Then it was downhill to VA 600, and again, no trail magic. However, I saw the Appalachian Trail sign that is currently my background picture on Facebook and took a selfy with it.

Then we started our other long climb of the day to the top of Mount Rogers the highest elevation in Virginia with an elevation change of 979 feet over four miles. Just as we got started, a fighter jet flew over our heads really low around the mountains. It was so cool!

We stopped halfway up at 18:45 for dinner in Deep Gap. I think that every state has a Deep Gap on the AT. We were back on the trail at 19:30 for our last 2.3 miles. We hiked up to the top of Mt Rogers and got a great sunset shot.

We arrived at the Thomas Knob shelter as it was getting dark at 20:15 and found only four in a two-story shelter that holds 16. We got a side in the bottom to ourselves and learned that many of our hiker friends are .7 miles ahead partying Mexican style. Tandem and I decided to stay in the shelter, despite seeing a mouse running around it, and to get up early to catch up with their hungover selves in the morning.

Tomorrow we get to see and interact with the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park. We will probably do 16 miles tomorrow to Hurricane Mountain shelter.


Day 41

Day 41

The morning after a zero day in a town is typically depressing only because we spend a lot of time with town tasks and don’t really unwind. Then when the morning after comes, we suddenly just want to get back on trail.

I woke and showered and found Tandem already up and out on the porch of Dave’s Place talking to Flat. I changed clothes and bought a box of cereal and 1/2 gallon of milk for us to enjoy while we packed. Tandem didn’t have an appetite after drinking beer and being up late the night before, so I bagged the rest of the cereal for trail food and offered the remaining milk to Flat, who took it.

We finished packing and found out it was raining outside. I ran the room key over to the Mt Rogers Outfitter while Tandem got hair bands from the Dollar General store, and the rain had stopped by the time we were back together.  We loaded up to hike the AT through town and stop at the last retail stores.

After deciding that we had enough food, we headed out down the Creeper bike trail until the AT took a left turn up some stairs. On the stairs there were four full Mountain Dew cans. As we walked up the trail, more Mountain Dew was placed against random trees. We learned later that a thru hiker coming through later in the day had consumed his very first Mountain Dew from a trail angel, so his buddies were treating Week_6_013him to more.

The Creeper bike trail can be used to bypass seven of the nine miles out of Damascus, but we chose to be “purists” and stayed on the AT up onto the hills above the Creeper. We did that even in heavy downpours and thunderstorms. At one point, there was a detour back to the Creeper to skip a long-time washed out bridge, but we got right back up the hills after that.

At seven miles, we turned hard left and hiked straight uphill on steep switchbacks to the top. We made it to the Saunders shelter by 14:00. There were familiar faces there, all repacking their packs and heading out to the next shelter in six miles ahead. We had planned to stay at Saunders, so after they left, we cooked a warm meal of pasta and mashed potatoes. We cleaned up and set up our beds, including Tandem’s tarp over 1/2 of the shelter opening. There were a pair of weekend hikers in tents far behind the shelter.

Tandem crashed after dinner at 18:00. I talked with the weekend hikers while they cooked at the picnic table by the shelter. They are nice guys who hike together often. Later, I found a touch of AT&T signal, so I checked for nearby Geocaches. There were three and an Earthcache at a large pink rock. I found all four of them.

When I returned to the shelter, Tandem was still asleep and there was a fire going. I joined the guys at the fire and they shared a cup of cider. We talked about each other’s recent hiking experiences and Philmont. No one else stopped at the shelter out of Damascus. I turned in at 21:00 to write this blog.

Tomorrow will be better weather and hiking more up than down. We are looking forward to the upcoming easier terrain of Virginia.

Trail Towns

From Bennett’s blog:

Trail towns often keep thru-hikers going. They’re where you pack 4 hikers & their gear into one room in order to pay $10/night. They’re the place you immediately locate an all you can eat buffet. In towns you walk around solely in rain gear so you can wash all 8 pieces of your dirty laundry at once. Towns are especially important for resupplying trail food, relaxing your feet, and grabbing a beer. So, of course, towns are hiker heaven.

Read More

Day 40

Day 40

A zero day on Damascus! I woke early for a 9:00 doctor’s appointment at the Stone Mountain Clinic in town to check my infected left foot blister and a three-week-old, non-healing deep cut on the face of my right thumb. I showered again and returned to the room to find Tandem preparing to go hang out at Moejoe’s Trailside Coffee House.

After she left I installed my new pack belt, which was difficult to do. The REI Flash 62 pack is actually an external frame pack with a lightweight metal frame, which has ends in the pack belt. So, to swap belts, the frame had to be pried from the top shouldering pack corners and thenWeek_6_012 slid up the body of the pack far enough to release the also strapped and velcroed belt. The reverse actions to add the new belt were as tough.

Once that was done, I went around the corner to my doctor appointment at the clinic. The nurse took vitals, including my weight at 180, down 5.5 pounds since I started hiking. The doctor checked my sores and prescribed steri strips for the thumb and a prescription antibiotic ointment for both. The swelling is already down on the left foot blister.

On the way to the coffee house, I found a virtual and standard Geocache. Tandem was with a few other hikers enjoying coffee and chatting. I ordered a peach, mango, and banana smoothie with whip and a blueberry muffin. After that, Tandem and I did our food purchase at Dollar General. Our food bags are full and ready for at least four more days on the trail.

We used one of our Blue Blaze 10% off a large pizza coupons on a to-go pepperoni pizza. We enjoyed it on the porch at Dave’s Place with our one dollar sodas from Dollar General. While there, I met the pair of thru hikers that are the Philmont musicians I had heard about. We discussed Philmont experiences, favorite camps, and our mutual Philmont friend, Clifford Eade.

After reading some of her book on Ted Turner, Tandem took our laundry to the Hiker Inn for a $5 laundry service charge. My new pack belt has a zipper pocket and an optional strap-on spot for the other side. I shopped both outfitters for the best add-on and chose a good size pouch, which will hold trail snacks, candy, and gum. I installed the pouch and repacked my pack. With the new larger belt, the pack rides well off of my shoulders now.

I also fixed a water flow problem between my water dromedary and my Sawyer Mini water filter with a tube replacement and flushed the filter as well.

I found a couple of more Geocaches later in the afternoon and ran into some unique ducks on the way back.Week_6_011

Most of the hikers then went to Hey Joe’s for a Mexican dinner and to be entertained by the the musicians from Philmont. They performed for two hours for tips, beer, and food.

After dinner, I took a walk around town while most went to the Damascus Brewery, which is only open Thursday through Saturday evenings. I grabbed some ice cream from the Dollar General before it closed and enjoyed it on the porch at Dave’s Place as the sun set. After that I crashed and slept from 20:30 to 02:00. I woke when Tandem returned and decided to catch up on three days of blog writing.

It is now 05:00 on Friday morning and I am going back to sleep. Checkout from Dave’s Place is at 11:00 and heavy rain is expected early. We’ll do 10 miles today in the afternoon uphill to the next shelter.

Days 38 & 39

Day 38

Once again, staying in a shelter means that everyone wakes at the same time. We woke at 7:00, packed, ate, and were on the trail by 8:00. We left after most of the shelter dwellers but before those in tents. We made great time over the first 11 miles, covering them in 4.25 hours due to improving terrain. At one point we saw a White Tail deer bound across the trail 100 feet in front of us. We paused in case there were any others.

When we got close to TN 91 it started to rain, so we threw on rain gear and pack covers. A bit later, we found an orange trail angel metal box with some drinks left, and we each had a cold Coke. At the road, we got lucky and found shelter under the roofed parking lot sign for the trail, which paid off when it started to pour rain.

Fifteen minutes into our lunch, we were surprised by trail angels pulling in to reload the orange box. They open their trunk and offered us snacks and sodas. We each took a Mountain Dew and a couple of honey buns. Since I was full, I mine in my food bag. Several other hikers showed up, so we gave up our dry spot and hit the trail again by 13:00.

Week_6_006The next few miles were across farm land and into the woods on pretty level terrain. Sometimes the trail followed an old fire road, which wasn’t too steep on the uphills. Our rain gear became optional as the afternoon went on, but I left it on for warmth against the low blowing wet clouds. It stayed cloudy all afternoon. I even took a video of the trail and the low, creepy visibility.

We stopped at the Double Springs shelter for a quick break and logbook signing. That is when we saw our first mouse. It was running back and forth up high into holes and cinder blocks. Tandem tried to get a picture of it, but other hikers showed up, so we left.

Tandem went ahead since it was all downhill the next three miles to US 421. She was trying to get the tail end of another trail angel’s food. I met her at the road with no food but a new bandaged blister. We had 4.8 up and down miles left to go to Abingdon Gap shelter.

Within two miles of the shelter, we saw signs of another recent controlled burn of the forest floor. We arrived at the shelter in time to grab two of the remainingthree spots. Davinci grabbed the last spot. The other three hikers in the shelter were not through hikers but section hikers, which irked me, since other thru hikers showed up in the misty weather and had to set up their tents.

For dinner, we had mashed potatoes with shrink wrapped burger, plus Ramen. I had three honey buns for dessert. After the bear bags were hung, everyone turned in by 20:30.

The weather for our nine/ten mile downhill hike into Damascus, VA, tomorrow is sunny and cool. We should be in town before noon to check into a hostel and pick up our packages, including my new REI hip belt!


Day 39

An easy day.

In the Abingdon Gap shelter I woke up first, at 6:45, due to my excitement on going into Damascus today — and because the shelter faces the early sunrise! I grabbed my gear and packed on the picnic table away from the sleeping hikers.

Tandem was soon up, and after a cold breakfast of the rest of my honey buns and banana chips, (basically emptying my food bag) we were off for the 10 mile, mostly downhill hike into town. We left at 7:45. I was happy for the good weather after the drizzly day yesterday. After 7.5 miles we crossed the VA state line. Our fourth state!

The real downhill run started shortly before that point, so for the final two and a half miles I told Tandem to take off, while I hiked favoring my infected blister, which only hurts going downhill. I was passed by Joe Bird and Davinci while I enjoyed a slower pace and listened to my music.

I reached Damascus at 11:15 and was greeted by a welcome sign, which I walked through after taking a selfy. Week_6_009Damascus is a small town of homes with thick groomed green lawns, parks, the Virginia Creeper bike trail, Laurel Creek, retail locations, and the AT, which passes right through it for more than a mile.

I followed the trail through a park past the relocated retired Deep Gap shelter, which I learned later is actually the location of a virtual Geocache. As I approached a kids’ playground, I saw Tandem enjoying a swing in the warm sun. She jumped off and joined me for the rest of the walk into the center of town.

We walked down Laurel Ave past hostels, B&B’s, stores, and houses. We evaluated hostel conditions and costs as we walked along, actually going into Dave’s Place and Crazy Larry’s. We continued to the north end of town to the Sundog Outfitter. Both of our new pack belts had arrived via drop shipments. We were elated!

We discussed the hostel choices and chose a private room for $20 per night at Dave’s Place, which is operated by Mt Rogers Outfitters across the street. Carrying our boxes and packs on our backs, we went back south on the AT along Laurel to Mt Rogers. We were lucky on timing and got the last room, #3. It has a double bed made of wood with a pair of cushion pads on it. It is the largest room, has a lockable door, and a back door, so we were happy. Showers are free.

We checked in and unpacked. We went for lunch at Joe’s Place, which is a great new Mexican restaurant. All if the restaurants in town are hiring for the huge Trail Days event here on May 10-15 when most through hikers come here off the trail to camp and party. There is no alcohol served or sold here, just beer at restaurants and convenience stores. There is a brewery.

After lunch we showered and previewed what food we could restock with at the Dollar General on the same block. The church next to the Dollar General has a sign to “PRAY FOR DENIAL OF DOLLAR GENERALS BEER LICENSE”. We hung out later on the front porch of Dave’s Place and relaxed with other resident hikers, including Flat and Davinci.

Toward the end of the day, we made a run back down to the Sundog Outfitter to see if our care package from home had arrived. They had just locked the door but let us in anyway, and the box was there! We carried it back through town and opened it in our room. It was like Christmas! There was food and the second quarter of the A.T. Guide, covering from here to Harpers Ferry, WV.

We joined other hikers at the Blue Blaze restaurant for dinner. We had 12 at our table and more hikers at other tables. There were issues with the delivery of our beer orders due to a new, inexperienced server and problems with the restaurants new portable ordering devices. We hikers entertained ourselves by drawing on the parchment paper on the table with markers. The younger hikers also drew ancient symbols of various meanings, like peace and harmony, on their faces.

This lack of service caused us to wait thirty minutes for our food order to be taken. Then the food came out thirty minutes later, one plate at a time, two minutes apart.

The portable ordering devices didn’t do separate checks, so we all had to settle up at the bar. Once they sorted it out, we had to pay separately for beer and food. For our trouble, we all received a free on tap beer and a 10% off coupon for a large pizza.

We settled back in our seats to continue drinking and played three games of Spades to 300 points with Rain Pants and Mio. We actually closed the restaurant shortly after midnight. Virginia doesn’t allow beer to remain on tables in restaurants after midnight.

What a day!

Days 36 & 37

Day 36 – Sunday, April 20 (Easter)

One of the best things about waking in a shelter is the fact that everyone gets up when the first one does. We all woke today at 7:30 and packed together. Joe Hawk left first, followed by the trio of Ace, Max, and Frankie, then the pair of 19 and Bubba. Tandem and I lingered, enjoyed our breakfast together alone, and left at 8:30.

As usual, right out of the shelter was a climb. In fact, we climbed for most of the day, with a variety of ups and downs. I watched the guide book too much today. We crossed several roads of different types, and making great time, covering nine miles in 3.5 hours.

We stopped for water at mile 408.3, shortly after passing Joe Hawk on a memorial metal bench with a view. We stopped for lunch at noon in the Moreland Gap shelter at mile 410.5. We had caught up with everyone from the shelter the night before at some point in the nine miles. We took an hour to enjoy our lunches and the sun, and everyone else had left or passed by before we started hiking again.

On the way down the hill to Hampton, TN, I took my third big fall over a root, which cut up my left leg pretty badly. After applying first aid, we headed on down to Dennis Cove Rd/USFS 50. We had a decision to make about the rest of our day. Our original plan was to stock up on food at the Black Bear Hostel then hike on to a shelter or campsite a few miles in. Due to my injuries, though, we opted to take a nero at the Black Bear hostel.

I was able to shower and clean my cuts. We also shopped for trail food and food to microwave for dinner. I had two steak and cheeses and a pizza bread. We watched the videos Road Trip, Road Trip: Europe, and Vertical Limit with the other hikers, including 19 and Bubba. Before the store closed, I got an ice cream sandwich and a freebee mini Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that another hiker had left in the freezer.

After evening activities, I called home to wish Karen a happy Easter. Tandem talked to her also, while I went to the bunkhouse and started this blog. Happy Easter to everyone that I missed seeing today. We hope to do about 20 miles tomorrow.


Day 37

We woke early and planned to leave at 8:30. I took a second shower to clean my leg wounds, which are doing well and drying up. After changing into clean clothes, I grabbed some breakfast foods and joined the others in the hiker lounge where they were watching the Fast and the Furious DVD.

Week_6_001At 8:20 we loaded the packs in the hostel van and the grandfather drove Tandem, Divinci, and me to the trail half a mile away to start hiking toward Laurel Falls. At the start of the trail section there was a sign for southbound hikers telling then that Springer is 404 miles away. That sign is actually outdated, since we were 416.5 miles from Springer at that point.

I had researched a couple of Geocaches and their hints so that we could search for them early on the trail. Tandem found the first one, a micro, under a creek bridge. I signed the log and returned it to its hiding spot. Before getting to the falls, I found the other cache in a rock crevasse. Tandem took a plastic bracket to wear on the trail.

The Laurel Falls were beautiful, and it was nice being there without a lot of people around. There were a couple of artists drawing the falls and a thru hiker in a hammock along the river right after the falls. We took pictures and headed down the trail. We had an 1800 climb in 2.5 miles and then back down the other side.

We reached the bottom at Watauga Lake at 13:00 and decided to stop for lunch. While eating, a trail Week_6_004angel couple drove up and pulled out a large cooler of sodas and four types of sugary treats, including honey buns, a hiker favorite. I had Mountain Dew Red Zone and root beer along with all four treats. We talked with them as other hikers showed up.

We said our thanks and completed sending updates, since we finally had AT&T signal. We enjoyed the two hour break and were the last hikers to leave. The trail angels offered us departing treats, so we took four more honey buns for the trail breakfasts.

Week_6_005The next nine miles were around the lake and 1600 feet above it to the Vandeventer shelter. A couple of miles before the shelter we filled up with water, since it is difficult to get to from the shelter and there is none to be had for more than four miles once we leave in the morning. We arrived at the shelter around 19:15, having hiked 17.3 miles. We chose to stay in the shelter due to rain coming early tomorrow. We had red beans and rice on tortilla shells again for dinner, a new favorite.

After a sparsely populated fire, we settled in at 21:30. Our plan is to reach Damascus in two days, going 22.7 rainy miles tomorrow and about nine downhill on Wednesday morning.