Twig Adventures

AT Days 83 & 84: The Last 500 & Damascus

Friday Oct 15th 2021, 0630-1620                  
Thomas Knob Shelter to Damascus, SOBO AT mm 1722.4
26 miles
3500 gain, 7000 loss

All the guys (Brian, Wizard, All There and Bojangles) arrived the shelter after dark, so we had a fun time telling pony stories. Early in the morning, I emerged from the shelter to see the mighty light of ten thousand suns challenging infinity. Our position up high and out in the open was sure a change from most nights on the AT. Walking in the dark was thus quite a pleasant experience. We watched the light growing in the east and then sunrise. It was like being out west in the desert.

It was all mostly downhill to Damascus. We dropped a ton of elevation and also passed heaps of weekend backpackers. I was glad to be heading into town for the weekend, avoiding the crowds on the trail. The fall colors and conditions were bringing out the masses. We went through a few more open fields, one with a really cool rock outcrop that looked volcanic in nature…Buzzard Rock.

Sometime the day before we passed the 500 miles left to go mark. Damascus sits roughly at mm 470. It’s easier to count down than up at this point. We planned on the rest of the hike taking 3 weeks, baring too many zeros. But we’d at least planned a zero for Damascus. Mud’s Uncle John was coming from NC to visit and I’d been offered a stay in their hotel room. I needed a lot of time to catch up on things, namely the blog, so this seemed like a perfect excuse to take another day. I like pushing hard early in a hike so that I can enjoy the end more.

As we came down from the highlands, I noted a blue-blaze opportunity on the Virginia Creeper trail that would negate a PUD and bring us past a cafe with ice cream and hot dogs, just in time for lunch. I had a bit of a time convincing Mud of my devious plan but he caved eventually. Hiker hunger always wins out. Plus, I’m apparently the equivalent of Eve in the fable of leading men astray on the path of evil. This is the story that Mud could tell other hikers as an excuse for why he blue-blazed. Recall that I also tempted him into quad blazing a mile with Firewood Angel back in Vermont. Yes, I’m a bad influence on him.

Of course our blue-blaze was the right call. We walked down a lovely wide and flat path that used to be a railroad. The VA Creeper Trail follows the valley of Whitetop Laurel Creek, crossing the riverbed dozens of times on wooden bridges. Apparently it’s one of the most popular bike paths in the world, as there was a constant train of cyclists streaming past us. I wondered how so many people, especially kids, were off on a Friday. A guy told me they had fall break. Everyone was nice and many cheered us on as we walked. We joked about hitching a ride in a kid carrier trailer, doing some bike blazing. Someone might have at least taken our packs. But no, blue-blazing was enough.

The cafe was swarmed but well worth the wait. I ate a hotdog with all the fixins and fries, plus a waffle cone. We saw another SOBO there, Bachus, a guy I’d met at Woods Hole. We all smiled guiltily for taking the alternate…with ice cream all over our faces. It had gotten hot, so I was thankful we weren’t climbing some ridge over another hilltop. We continued on the creeper trail for a few miles, catching glimpses of white blazes off in the trees…the AT paralleled it almost exactly. We hopped back on it for the last few miles, doing one last PUD just for penance. Plus, Mud’s uncle had wanted to go for a hike to meet us on the trail. He’d made it almost 2 miles up the hill when we ran into him. It was nice to finish into town with a new person to talk to.

Mud Lantern and Uncle John

We left our packs in John’s car while Mud and I walked the last mile along the road and into town. It felt necessary to do this little bit since Damascus is an important part of the AT. This is where Trail Days is held, a gathering of thru-hikers in late spring. Of course, such an event is not timed to be inclusive of SOBOs, who have not yet started their hikes. It’s reported to be just a huge party, so I’m not sure I’d care for it much anyway. The one aspect that seems pretty cool is the parade of hikers down main street. We weren’t a parade but at least we could say we did the same walk.

There was a parade of bikers still, many of which were returning their bikes to the numerous rental shops in town. They appear to run shuttles to the other end of the trail so people can ride back to town. That’s why most everyone was going one way, seemingly all downhill. The shops were making a killing this day. The town seemed excessively busy, with traffic and hard to find parking. We met up with John to go to the hotel for showers and chores. He’d had to get a room 15 miles north of town by the interstate because everything was booked nearby. The leaf peepers were out in full force this weekend.

We went to the 7 Trails Grill for dinner (one of only a handful of restaurants). It too was quite busy but we were at least able to get a table right away. I stupidly ordered a salad, which left me feeling hungry and unsatisfied the rest of the night and into the next morning. So much for being healthy. Friday night karaoke started up while several hikers joined us. Pretty much everyone ended up there, including our friends Brian, Mr Bojangles, Wizard, and All There. Finally we all got a picture together. Great fun but I was stupid tired by the end of the night, past my bedtime.

Saturday Oct 16th 2021, zero day (4th one)    

This was a pretty good zero but I still didn’t get everything done that I wanted to. I did replace my umbrella, so that was key. The old one had made it through the CDT, AZT, LT, GET and most of the AT.  But one expects such longevity from a $40 umbrella. The outfitter had an exact replacement but balked at the notion of giving me a 15 percent discount, which is what Six Moon Designs, the company that makes the umbrella, had offered if I ordered it from them online. Oh well, at least I didn’t have to pay shipping….though I was charged a mysterious “service fee” by the outfitter, probably for using a credit card. This seems common in small towns but is annoying since they didn’t disclose it.

A front moved through this day, bringing rain all morning. It was the perfect day to take off. We had a late breakfast in the dinner (slammed of course), where we naturally ran into the other hiker guys. They planned to take 2 zeros so they could watch football all day Sunday. I was sorry to hear that we’d shortly be ahead a day but that’s how it goes. We went to check out several of the outfitters in town but they were all so busy, we didn’t stay long. All the people that were supposed biking were hiding from the rain by shopping, instead. We made a quick stop at the hostel to check out the hiker box, where Mud scored on a partially full fuel canister, an o-ring replacement for his Sawyer filter, Superfeet insoles for his moccasins, and a Columbia down jacket! These were all things he’d been considering buying but I’d convinced him to first scrounge through the town hiker boxes. Neither of us believed he’d find all this stuff in one, especially the jacket! The trail provides. I got some tuna packets and new insoles, plus dropped off my old umbrella in case someone else wanted to try to make it work.

We spent much of the afternoon in the room lounging about. Mud’s mom had sent him Epsom salt, so we each took a therapeutic bath. I haven’t been able to soak in even one hot tub on this journey yet…what a travesty. We went to the grocery for resupply just before dinner. This was a mistake since I was hungry and thus got a plate of food from the deli. We were going to go back to the grill after having a beer at the Damascus brewery but I couldn’t wait that long. So we all got takeaway to bring to the brewery (doesn’t serve food, so BYOF). They had a live band, so it was nice to have beer, food and entertainment. The brewery sits almost a mile outside of town, virtually guaranteeing that no hikers go to it but we had the luxury of a car. It was a relaxing evening and early bedtime.

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