5/5/21 (9.1 miles, 437.7 cumulative): After spending the night at Boots Off Hostel, I ended up hiking up a few miles to meet back up with some friends. The hike was awesome because I spent the whole morning hiking around Watauga Lake and Dam. The rain did come, and put a damper on some things. But it was still awesome views all around. I just had to hike up to the top of the mountain, so I could then follow the ridge line all the way into Damascus the next few days. This was right when the terrain started to get much more moderate and easier to book miles.
5/6/21 (14.5 miles, 452.2 cumulative): Just a beautiful day with lots of incredible views. Almost to Damascus.
5/7/21 (18.8 miles, 471 cumulative): Made it into Damascus! This area is the first part where the trail is pretty smooth rolling. So a lot of people pushed out a marathon to get into Damascus. I did not. Because that just doesn’t sound fun. Also, it poured and hailed in the morning too. You can’t ask for too many nice days out here.
I ended up taking a zero day in Damascus the next day. I got to eat good food and drink good beer with lots of friends. Also, I guess there is a chicken wing shortage?! I could only order 6 wings from a wing place because of this. And supposedly there’s a gas shortage going on too. Seriously what the heck is going on in the real world…
5/9/21 (12.9 miles, cumulative unknown): A group of friends and I decided to shuttle north 85 miles to hike back south into Damascus the following week. It was honestly a great idea and worked out super well. We had a lot of fun. The problem was, we had to go SOBO (SouthBound – hiking Maine to Georgia). As a NOBO (NorthBound – hiking Georgia to Maine), SOBO’s are the worst. There is this kind of unspoken rivalry and war that goes on between NOBO’s and SOBO’s because each of us is obviously doing it better than the other. So, when I did run into our normal NOBO friends while hiking SOBO, we had a lot of mixed reactions. The people we saw first, who had been hiking a few days to a week ahead of me normally, were all super excited and shocked to see us. It was a nice surprise reunion. But once I caught up to my group who was still hiking NOBO, there was a lot of trash talking and arguing. I was expecting a brawl with some of my closer friends, but luckily I evaded them on trail. So all things worked out great. I made it all the way back to Damascus with no blood spilled. It was cool because I got to see my friends who were ahead of me and behind me on trail.
5/12/21 (16 miles, cumulative too hard to calculate): This was easily one of my favorite days on trail. The night before I met at girl who was finishing up her full SOBO hike from 2020. She had been hiking last fall until it got too cold to hike, and decided to wait till the spring to finish it up. She had a ton of great tips on the hike and future hostels to stay at.
But this morning it started sleeting, so we waited in the shelter until that stopped. Within 1 hour of us starting our hike, it began snowing. No one expected it to snow. It was never forecasted. And it stuck too! The entire trail was a winter wonderland.
I was so happy to see snow on trail. The snow in the Smokies was cool, but it didn’t stick at all. This was dry, fluffy, and good packing snow. It was amazing. It was still warm enough I kept hiking in my shorts.
We arrived to an open field, and I saw a guy waving to me from the top of a hill. He yelled that they had a fire going and that we should join. It was still snowing, so we obliged. As a hiker, you gotta take advantage of anything and everything that comes your way. We meandered our way through the snow until we found the trail angels’ camp. They had a raging fire, and two bladders full of whiskey and rum. This was at 10am. They also had two yellow lab dogs. One of them wouldn’t stop licking my legs because of all the salt on them. So we spent a good hour drinking whiskey and rum around a fire in a snow storm. On our way back to the trail, we ran into a small herd of wild ponies! We were entering the Grayson Highlands which are known for the wild ponies.
The ponies were a little shy. They wouldn’t let us touch them, but they did come up and investigate us. Once we moved on a mile or so, there was some cattle. Oh yea, the snow still hadn’t stopped.
I made it up to a shelter and stopped for lunch. The rest of my crew who had been heading SOBO for Trail Days finally caught up. They unfortunately missed all the ponies and cattle in the snow. Their day was not going well. They were all cold, wet, and tired of the snow. I, on the other hand, was having the best day ever. It’s crazy how different someone’s day can be just because of the time they hit different parts of the trail. Luckily for them, three ponies joined us at the shelter. And they were super curious about us.
After the shelter, we headed into the Grayson Highlands State Park. About a mile in, my friends all got off trail to spend the night at the park’s resort. They had enough for the day and wanted a warm shower and bed. I decided to push on alone. At this point, the sun was shining, it was hot, and there was no more snow on the ground.
I made it up to the top of the ridge line and found more ponies! And longhorn cattle! Everyone was out feeding. I am so glad I kept on hiking. It was very surreal to see all the ponies and cattle on top of this mountain.
One of the funniest things was that one pony would not stop licking my legs. I started the morning with a yellow lab who wouldn’t stop licking my legs, and ended the day with a pony who did the same. Funny the way things work out on trail.
I ended the day by exiting the Grayson Highlands and camping out by a road. I actually ran into an old trail friend who was camping there alone, so it was great to catch up with him before continuing South the next day.
5/14/21-5/16/21 (Trail Days): I made it back to Damascus the morning of Trail Days. Trail Days is pretty much an outdoor enthusiast festival designed for AT through-hikers. There were tons of outdoor equipment companies there, offering discounted rates and raffles on equipment. There was also tons of food and live music. One of the coolest things about the festival, was all the different groups that came into town to offer free services to us hikers. There were church groups from all over Virginia who had tons of free food, they offered free laundry and showers, I got my feet hand washed and massaged for free along with a complimentary pair of socks. There were free COVID vaccinations, free hair cuts, charging stations for electronics, and lots of other neat stuff. The community around AT through hikers is incredible. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Just so many people, from all walks of life, doing whatever they can to help out random hikers make it Maine. Truly amazing.
One of the most significant parts of Trail Days was Tent City. All the hikers and visitors all camped out at a nearby park and woods near a creek. There were at least hundreds to several thousand people all camped out together. Some people were obviously not hikers, but had massive tent setups with music, food, gifts, and games for everyone. It was unlike anything I had seen before. One night, a group roasted a whole pig and made tacos for everyone from it. Tent City was also pretty weird. I won’t go into too many details, but you can imagine what a ton of hippies and outdoor enthusiasts camped out in the woods together might do. There was a cult as well. They were constantly making free food for everyone (which was amazing), but would then follow up with trying to make you live with them at one of their group farms/communities. So if you can’t find me after my hike, I probably joined the cult.
I didn’t take any pictures at the festival. I guess I was too busy having fun, and didn’t feel like documenting everything. But I didn’t take this shot of some of the tents. It’s only about 1/10 of the full area of tent city, and I took it mid afternoon on the first day. So, the area is only about half filled up. Maybe that will give you an idea for the size of Tent City
One of my favorite things about Trail Days was that almost everyone on trail was there. So I had seen friends from my first week on trail, people I hadn’t seen in weeks, hostel employees from all over the trail, and trail angels who have been supplying trail magic all along the hike. A lot of familiar faces for a lot of fun times. Definitely a highlight of the hike.
Just a quick update. After trail days I’ve been hiking around 18-22 miles a day. I spend most of the day hiking and find it hard to find time to blog. I’m currently at mile 730.3 in Daleville, VA. Almost 1/3 of the way through! I will be providing another, more detailed, update on these last few weeks. Just a bit behind schedule.