My Walk in the Woods, Ch 5

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Five (May 7th-14th)

Day 30: (VA)  10 miles from Abingdon Gap to Damascus, VA Hiker’s Inn

An unremarkable ten mile stroll brings me out of the woods and onto a sidewalk leading under an arch and into a small city park. I have just entered Damascus, VA “The friendliest town on the trail”. Damascus is a favorite stop for hikers and is best known for hosting an annual four day festival, Trail Days, which begins next week.

In the center of town is a quiet neighborhood containing lovely homes with big porches and neatly trimmed hedges. One in particular has a large guest house and a sign welcoming hikers to the Hiker’s Inn. After registering at the main house, I take my gear around back, passing several hikers lounging in the shade on lawn furniture. I drop my pack on an empty bed and assess my surroundings. The rooms are clean and there is a large sign on the wall of the common area emphasizing the strict No Alcohol, No Noise policy.

I spend the day exploring main street; especially the post office (to pick up mail), library (to use a computer), laundromat (duh!), outfitter store (to stock up on energy bars and gels), and ice cream shop (to consume creamy calories).

Back at the Inn I meet a bearded pirate from Portland, OR named COOKIE MONSTER. He makes no secret of the fact he is funding his hike by selling pot laced chocolate chip cookies. I spend $40 on a dozen brown blobs in a vacuum sealed package. Late in the evening my friend UPHILL arrives after hammering out a 33 mile day to get here.

Day 31: (VA)  16 miles from Hiker’s Inn to Lost Mtn Shelter

Get up, shower and out the door before anyone is stirring. At the edge of town I see lights on at a farmhouse style restaurant In the Country. I choose a table covered in red and white checkerboard and marvel at the brightly colored folk art on the walls. Locals chat me up while I stuff myself with the hearty Country Special breakfast.

Once out of town, the white blazes take me to a wide and level rail to trail conversion known as the Virginia Creeper Trail. Eventually the AT breaks away and begins to climb. After following a cascading creek, I stop to rest when I come upon a trail work crew taking their lunch break.

In the afternoon I find the Lost Mountain Shelter and decide to stop for the day to relax before the big climb tomorrow. Clouds gather and it begins to rain as I boil water for dinner rehydration.

Day 32: (VA)  17 miles from Lost Mtn to Wise Shelter

It is a struggle to get motivated in the fog and drizzle morning. Today I climb an ancient volcano, the highest point in VA, 5729 ft Mt Rogers. Afterwards I stop for lunch at Thomas Knob Shelter where I meet more hikers. During lunch the weather improves for a much anticipated walk across the jagged landscape of the Grayson Highlands. I see 8 feral ponies and one foal on this memorable traverse.

Easy hike down to Wise Shelter which I have to use since No Camping is allowed here. BTW: Cookie Monster’s pot laced cookies were a bust (caveat emptor!). I ate 6 yesterday and 6 today and got nothing more than yummy chocolate chip goodness.

Day 33: (VA)  20 miles from Wise Shelter to Trimpi Shelter (tent)

It rained last night so it is a foggy, drizzly morning. Not much in the way of scenery but the sun emerges later to dry gear out. An hour after lacing the shoes I am about to cross a rural road when I am called over to a roadside camp. Apparently three young men with their dogs have been sitting around a campfire all night drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. They invite me to sit at the fire and have a breakfast PBR. By the time I get back to the trail I have a better buzz than I got from the cookies.

Day 34: (VA)  17 miles from Trimpi Shelter to Chatfield Memorial Shelter

As I am walking I notice the Rhodys and Magnolias are really blooming out creating a wonderful, aromatic tunnel of white and pink.

I meet an interesting fellow named SOJO. Before hiking the AT he was a serious runner who completed 219 marathons and 10 hundred mile ultramarathons. He has run a marathon in every state 3 times and run in every continent twice. He also happens to be a very fast hiker!

Thunderstorms are forming before I reach the shelter at 4 pm and there will be more showers tonight. It turns out I am the only one staying at this shelter. I believe all the other hikers stopped at the Partnership Shelter a few miles back because it has a shower and a phone to call for pizza delivery.

Day 35: (VA)  18 miles from Chatfield Shelter to Knot Maul Shelter

Cold and windy am but not much rain. Easy walking down to I-81 (Atkins exit) and a convenience store where I buy their entire stock of Little Debbie’s Cherry Pie. Across the street I order a cheap second breakfast at a big Red Barn Restaurant.

Later I catch up with NOAH JOHN and SOJO. We spend the day hiking across grassy green fields using an assortment of step stiles to cross barb wire fences between farms.

Day 36: (VA)  19 miles from Knot Maul to Jenkins Shelter (tent)

Finally a beautiful, sunny day with great views on Chestnut Ridge. At a road crossing I meet a khaki clothed “official trail supervisor” who reluctantly offers me a PBR from his private stock. However, it is not enough to get me through a tough afternoon of ridge walking and I BONK severely. When I check my feet at camp this evening I have open sores.

Day 37: (VA)  12 miles to I-77, 3 mile walk along freeway to Big Walker Motel in Bland, VA

Overcast and mild with gentle terrain for 12 miles to the crossing of I-77.

I have been thinking of the Trail Days celebration since leaving Damascus and realize it is a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed. But how do I get back? Step one is to get three miles down the interstate to find cheap lodging in Bland. From there I can regroup and plan my next step.

It is quite disturbing to walk the shoulder as cars whiz by at 70 mph. Stupidly I believe it is easier to walk backwards, watching them approach, and try hitchhiking. I end up back walking most of the distance before giving up and pounding the cruel asphalt until I reach the aptly named Big Walker Motel. I learn later that hitchhiking is illegal on the interstates but okay on the on ramps.

Across the street from Big Walker I’ve got a convenience store, a Dairy Queen and a Subway. I pick Dairy Queen for a late lunch which includes a tasty blizzard. Back in the room I shower, clean gear, call spouse, watch TV. For dinner its Subway and beers in the room. I borrow a sharpie from the front desk and get some cardboard from the trash dumpster. While watching TV I make my hitchhiking sign. It is hard to fall asleep because I am excited about tomorrow’s adventure.



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