Hi everyone, A-Town here. This time I’m checking in from Damascus, VA. That means I’ve finally finished my Virginia section hike, as I like to think of it, and am less than 5 miles from starting my Tennessee section hike. I started thinking of the trail like this back in Massachusetts, when it set in how long I was going to be out for and I needed boosts of encouragement every week or so when we got another state done. I remember meeting a hiker from St. Simons named Romeo just north of Harper’s Ferry, and he was describing how long and drawn out Virginia would be. Luckily I had a lot of things getting me through it, like people coming up to visit, some famous trail sections, a zero partway through, and trips to buffets in 3 different towns. The state was really long, and I’m glad to be finished, but it had a lot of good stuff along the way. Honestly, Shenandoah NP is renowned for its hiking trails, but I think my favorite part of the state has been the last 70 miles or so.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because there is other important news, the first piece of which many of you already know. Two days after my last post from Daleville, Vanilla Thunder, retired from the trail for the rest of the season. Our first day out from Daleville was no less painful for him than the days before his rest and doctor’s visit. Before taking a few days off, he was upset about the possibility of leaving the trail. However, after having tried all he could to remedy his feet without significant improvement, he was much more at peace with his decision to leave the trail. Before he left I remember him saying that he has a lot of other things in life that he still wants to do that involve his feet, and that though he enjoys backpacking, it isn’t his passion as is cycling. Although it is unfortunate that we didn’t get to complete what we set out to do together, I could tell that it was harder for him to enjoy the trail for the last few hundred miles and it wasn’t fun seeing him in pain like that. In the end, hiking nearly 1400 miles straight is still a huge accomplishment. And the trail will be there in the future if he ever wants to return and complete it in sections.
V.T. was joined in his departure by our other hiking partner at the time, the Hiking Dude. So for the past two weeks I’ve been hiking somewhat alone. It has been a whole new experience being my own sole motivator and being wholly responsible for every aspect of the hike. Although I don’t mind hiking by myself, sometimes it is nice to have someone to talk to or just be around at camp. Other times, I really hope no one else is at a shelter and that I’ll have the whole thing to myself. I guess it just depends on the day. Luckily, I had Margaret to hike with for 3 days – she arrived the day after Dad left. We had a pretty good time, despite getting only one decent view for three days. Thursday was spent mostly inside a cloud, with the rain soaking us off and on from lunch until we finally trudged shivering into a shelter on the VA/WV border. Friday was sunnier, although the fog and mist kept our clothes from drying out overnight, but we at least made it to Pearisburg where we caught a shuttle to Woods Hole Hostel. The hostel, which is only 0.5 off the trail, was where we had planned to end our hike before the rain slowed us down. The 1880’s log cabin is unbelievably cozy inside, which was augmented by the home-cooked, organic, family style meals that the owner fixed using stuff straight from her own garden. It was an amazing place and one of my top 3 favorite hostels on the trail so far. Anyway, it was a nice place to end a soggy hike so that Margaret could get cleaned up and get a good meal before hopping on a flight back to Texas. I wish the weather had been better and that she could’ve seen some prettier trail, but she got to experience the gritty side of backpacking and had a good attitude the entire time – one of the most important things you can have on the trail.
Since then I’ve been trying to finish Virginia as fast as I can, because it has been long. Near Marion I met a former thru-hiker named Duke who told me that his favorite parts of the trail were the first 500 miles and the last 500 miles, saying that “everything in between is just work.” Well so far he has been right. The last few days have been beautiful, partly due to the nice weather (high 60’s and very sunny all day) but largely due to the most beautiful stretch of trail I’ve seen since leaving the Whites: the Mt. Rogers high country. Yep, this is the place that is home to Grayson Highlands State Park and the legendary wild ponies of the trail. I’ve never been a huge fan of ponies, but I always welcome the sight of wildlife (I also caught sight of a skunk, a coyote, a couple of bear cubs, and a few cattle that graze with the ponies). The grassy meadows atop the mountains in this area were once used to graze cattle and now afford huge views of the surrounding area. I mean HUGE views. It was refreshing to hike through there, and it reminded me of why I love being out here on the trail. I don’t have a lot of time left out here either, with only 470 miles left to Springer. That means less than 400 miles until I’m back home in Georgia.
That being said, I’ll be heading out of Damascus tomorrow and hoping to get to Erwin, TN, in about a week. I expect to be getting to Great Smoky Mountains NP in the first few days of October (ordered my backcountry permit today), and finishing up in less that 4 weeks. See you guys soon. Another post to follow with a few pictures. Thanks for reading.
P.S. – Just weighed my pack on a seemingly-accurate scale here at the hostel, for the first time since Boiling Springs. 20 lbs, without fuel, food, or water (the last of which I usually don’t carry anyway). I think when we started it was at least 28 or 29. Of course, I’ll be gaining a pound or two in a few days when I pick up my cold weather gear from the Hampton P.O.