Day 39: Damascus

Day 39: Goooooooooooooood morning Virginia! Hey, this is not a test this is a walking goal. Time to walk it from Damascus to Harper’s Ferry!

Ok, in all honesty that sounded way better in my head with Robin Williams’ voice when I thought of it this morning. Oh well, what can I say, I’m excited to finally be in Virginia. However, I realized today that many friends and family have no idea what Damascus is and why it’s a big deal.

So, let me explain.

First, and most obviously, entering Virginia marks my 4th state along the Appalachian Trail. It’s the state with the most AT miles in it (500ish), and includes some of the best landmarks of the whole trail: Grayson Highlands, Keffer Oak, McAffee Knob, Jennings Creek, The Guillotine, Shenandoah, Big Meadows Lodge, and The Roller Coaster. These are all things you may not know about yet but will see me talk about in the weeks to come.

Damascus also marks a big milestone, as it signifies you are one of the 50% of hikers that did not drop out. Yep, historically, half of the thruhikers each year quit before reaching Damascus. So it’s a great feeling to be on the right side of that average.

Lastly, Damascus is a very symbolic trail town to the Appalachian Trail community. It hosts the annual AT festival called “Trail Days” each year, where more than 20,000 hikers, vendors, locals and other patrons gather to celebrate this 2190 mile scenic walking path. That festival isn’t until mid-May, but many hikers come back to town for it, even if they are hundreds of miles away.

So for all those reasons, I am ecstatic to finally be here. In addition, it means I get a rest day. In planning my thruhike, this was meant to be my first Zero Day of the trip. In reality, this will now be my 4th, but I am happy for it nonetheless. I was overzealous in thinking I wouldn’t need one until now. Even still, the last few days had long miles and my feet could use a break.

They also need new shoes. I’ve worn through my first pair of trail runners, signified by the painful feel of every stone and root I stepped on the past few days. The tread is almost gone and the soles are worn thin. Luckily, for such a small town (814 people according to the 2010 census), there are 3 outfitters to sell boots to hikers. It’s a very common place to replace trail runner shoes like mine, as most only last 400-500 miles. I researched a bit today and picked out a new pair of Salomons very similar to my current pair. These, though, have a slightly stiffer sole, which I wish I had against this rocky/rooty trail earlier.

I started today’s 18 mile hike at 8am, arriving shortly after 3pm. It was a very flat and easy trail, as expected, so I took my time to enjoy it. Last night’s snow put a blanket of white over the world that was silent and untouched, and hiking through it in the sun today was refreshing and exhilarating. With each mile walked, the sun melted more and more of the snow, until it eventually was gone near the Virginia border. Such a great thing to experience.

Because of the easy terrain leading here, many people do a hiker challenge into town called the “Damascus Dash”. This constitutes them hiking 42 miles from the road crossing at Hampton to Damascus in one day. Which typically requires you to wake up long before dawn and hike until dusk. Even at 3 mph, that would take 14 hours to do. In my younger more vulnerable years … I may have considered it for the excitement of the challenge. But now? No thanks. I enjoyed my two day stretch instead. 🙂

Upon getting to town, I checked in at Crazy Larry’s Hostel. Larry is an older gentlemen that runs a great hostel in town and is well-adored by the AT community. He provides a bed, dinner and breakfast for $45, does your laundry, and has many hiker friendly amenities … including (as he calls it) a Smartass TV. I like Larry.

Legs and Ridge are also in town, but at different hostels. I saw one other couple wandering around that I know, but no one else. It is odd for there to be so few hikers here, but I’m currently in a weird void where few other hikers are on my same schedule. I know others will roll in tomorrow, like Jackelope, Ripple, and Leap Frog, but tonight it feels as quiet as the past few days on the trail.

I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow on my day off, but it will definitely include rest, relaxation, and lots of food.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 451.6
  • Start Time: 08:00
  • End Mile: 470.9
  • End Time: 15:05
  • Miles Hiked: 19.3
  • Miles to Go: 1720.0
  • Lodging: Crazy Larry’s Hostel

Day 38: Double Springs

Day 38. Just about the same time I posted last night’s blog, I began to regret my decision of passing up the hostel. The rain that started last night didn’t stop until midday … when it turned to snow. It would have been nice to have a dry bed so I didn’t have to carry wet and frozen gear all day, but oh well. That money saved will go towards tomorrow’s celebration in Damascus.

I honestly thought I left the snow in the Smokies but I was foolish to expect such a change in season so fast. Heck, back home in Minnesota they got something like 8 inches this week. It is actually quite beautiful to look out at though, now that I’m safe and warm in the shelter. And it honestly wasn’t too horrible to hike through either … but it comes with cold, and cold is tough to camp through.

I did best done personal bests today though. I recorded my earliest start (7:55) and my longest distance (23.9 miles), which are both due to the bad weather. I simply want to get to Damascus as fast as possible.

Legs and I started off together and hiked through the bear-frequented area quickly. It was only 5 hours of flat hiking around the lake so went quickly. I secretly hoped to see a bear of course, but didn’t spot even a sign. No scat, no scratched trees, no fur remnants. Nada. I also did not get to see much of the lake, as rain and fog covered much of it. Truly unfortunate, as it looked beautiful last night and would have had countless views from today’s hike.

Ridge eventually showed up at the shelter as well, and none of us were keen to set up a tent/hammock in this winter wonderland. So I am once again huddled in my bag on the shelter floor. It will make it easier to get up and go tomorrow I suppose, so that’s also good. Too cold to say more tonight though, peace out!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start to Mile: 427.7
  • Start Time: 07:55
  • End Mile: 451.6
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 23.9
  • Miles to Go: 1739.3
  • Lodging: Double Springs Shelter