4/17 Zero at Mountain Harbour B&B/ hostel
I woke up this morning at my campsite, after what was the warmest night in recent memory. I think that it was partly the changing seasons and the lower elevation. I was up and out of my tent early to make sure I made the 8am breakfast at the B&B.
The breakfast was incredible. Huge selection of meats, fruits, eggs, and pastries. Well worth the $12 they charged for all you can eat. After three helpings I was stuffed. Would highly recommend staying here or at least stopping in for the breakfast.
During (and a little bit after) breakfast Bevo’s wife (who works in environmental policy for a large generation company in Texas) and I had a really interesting conversation about the Texas electricity market and environmental policies. It was really valuable to get her “boots on the ground” perspective on the issues and regulations facing coal plants. I would say we generally agreed on most the issues, but it was still very educational. These are the types of conversations that I love having with people on the trail or somehow tied to it.
After that we went to Roan Mountain, TN, got our resupply at the Dollar General (along with some goodies to do trail magic) and ate lunch. We then drove up a very winding road to drop Bevo’s pack off at the hostel we are staying at tomorrow (run by Bob Peoples who is a Trail legend).
We next headed back to the AT trailhead by the hostel to give out our trail magic. We had quite a few thru hikers come through, and it was good to see some of the people who were just a little bit behind us. While we were there Rob (the trail angel whose house we slept at in Unicoi) showed up to pick up some thru hikers. It was great to see him again, particularly so far from his home base.
We then went out to dinner in a nearby town (about 30 minutes away) at a place that I found on Yelp (most restaurants nearby are closed Sunday). I really enjoy when there is a car available to allow us to explore the towns that are slightly off the trail. This time we ended up in what appeared to be a ski resort with some very nice vacation homes surrounding it. While the whole place appeared vacated (which I thought was odd given the beautiful weekend and abundant hiking opportunities), the pizza place turned out to be pretty good (even though we were the only ones left by 7:30). I really have a new appreciation for many of these small mountain communities/towns as great places to spend a vacation (if you are into this sort of thing). This hostel/B&B, along with Elmer’s , are two places that I can see myself coming back to, even if it wasn’t during a thru hike.
One of the more interesting things is that there are pretty nice houses (probably vacation homes) directly next door to down pretty run down trailer homes in many of the towns we have come across.
4/18 Walnut Mountain Road to Kincora Hostel (14.4 miles)
We woke up this morning to another great breakfast (although not as good as the day before). I only had two helpings, and I think the day off reduced my hunger. We got a ride back to the trailhead from the owner. It was interesting to hear all of her stories from the trail.
Since Bevo was slackpacking and I was carrying my full pack he moved a bit faster than me. I decided to listen to some podcasts because there was not much to see today and Bevo was way ahead of me. It was good to keep my mind occupied after a few hours alone with my thoughts.
Around 12pm we met up with Black Bear and hiked with him to the hostel. He is trying to make it to Damascus on Thursday as well, so we will probably hike with him to there.
We got to the hostel around 3pm and there were a bunch of people hanging around, but Bob Peoples (the trail legend who runs it) was about 10 miles down the trail checking out a forest fire. Rumors say that the AT was impassable yesterday because of the fire. Around 4 Bob came back and told us that it was now totally passable, which is good news for tomorrow.
I joined the daily trip to town, mainly so I could talk with Bob. Bob is very involved in AT trail maintenance in TN. He leads large groups of people to make sure the trail is in good shape. He is known by some as the “King of Switchbacks”. As soon as we got in the car I started asking him a ton of questions about his life and AT experiences. Stitch jokes that it was like I was interviewing him (although she joined in the fun on the ride back). One of the first questions I asked him was why he built so many. It is because they prevent trenches from forming on the trial (as I had expected). I am still not a big fan of them, but that’s how it goes. The man is full of interesting stories about the AT and hiking around the world. Bevo talks about some of the stuff he talked about here. (http://www.postholer.com/journal/Appalachian-Trail/2016/BevoHi/2016-04-18/Day-30-Hampton-TN—Kincora-Hostel/54439). As a reminder, he is a better blogger than me so check it out.
4/19 Kincora Hostel to Tentsite (21.5 miles)
Another day just short of Bevo’s 1% goal. We got off to an early start as usual and saw a really cool waterfall before we started an ascent to Pond Flats. Considering that we went up and immediately down and there were pretty much no views this would definitely be classified as a PUD (pointless up and down). Knowing this is part of the hike (and that it wasn’t too hard) I didn’t get to upset about it.
At the bottom of the descent into Watauga Lake we were greeted to a cooler full of sodas that were left by a trail angel. They were delicious. We sat by the lake for a bit and then started hiking around it. There had been a forest fire here over the weekend and it was very cool to see how the trail had acted as a fire break, with one side of the trail charred over and the other untouched.
I ran out of water about halfway up a big climb out of the dam, and there wasn’t any more water for about 4 miles and 1000 ft of elevation. That, coupled with the heat, made it the first time I regretted only carrying a liter of water with me. Bevo ran out as well, and when we got to the water source we both chugged 2 liters of water. It felt great. While we were resting I noticed that the shelter we planned at staying at had a water source .3 miles away down a steep hill. I really dislike long walks for water, and since we were going to get to the shelter relatively early I proposed we push on the the next water source and campsite 4 miles away. I got Bevo on board and off we went.
We were both pretty tired by the time we reached the shelter, but it wasn’t a very nice location (although there was a cool view if you climbed over some rocks). We decided to press on. Those last four miles went pretty slowly (in part because there were some good up hills). I was glad we pushed on, but I definitely wouldn’t want to do days like this on a regular basis.
4/20 Tentsite to Damascus, VA (30 miles)
Since I joined Bevo and Chaos we have been talking about doing 1% of the trail (21.9 miles), and have gotten within a few tenths of a mile. Today we blew that out of the water and completed a 30 mile day. We both know that getting to that nice round number is a totally arbitrary distance, but it still felt really good to finish. However, if we measured the trail in Secret Agent units, I am not sure today would have been a 1% day since it was mostly flat.
It was also an example of how reaching these milestones can quickly spiral out of control. We reached our planned shelter at 2pm, which left us 7 miles from the next campsite and water source. Bevo was probably ready to quit, but I really pushing for us to keep going. He gave in and off we went.
Earlier I had joked that if we went all the way to the camp site (27 miles) we might as well do the last 3 into Damascus. When we were about 3 miles from the campsite he was all on board for going into Damascus, but my body was starting to get very tired. Eventually, I got on board and we settled on going into the town.
Shortly afterwards we reached the VA/TN border. Nearly a quarter of the trail is in VA (in terms of miles), and more than we have hiked so far. Many people get hit with the “Virginia Blues” in VA so I hope to avoid them.
By the time we passed the campsite (27 miles) my legs and feet were definitely feeling the exhaustion of the miles. I probably would have stopped there if Bevo wasn’t with me, but sometimes your hiking partner is the motivation you need. We reached Damascus at around 6:30 and had to walk to the northern edge of town to reach our full 30 miles. It felt great to hit the milestone, even if it was totally arbitrary.
The two other things of note today were a really cool meadow that we passed with fabulous views and a bear box that local trail angels keeps stocked with goodies every day (another thru hiker, Stone, is featured the in picture). I continue to be amazed how many people there are out there displaying their generosity.
4/21 Damascus, VA to Bear Tree Gap (10.8 Miles)
I woke up this morning at the hostel I was staying at (a donation based hostel run by a Methodist Church, with wooden platforms, but not mattresses) and headed over to the one that Bevo was staying at (they had mattresses, which he needs since he sleeps in a hammock and doesn’t carry one) for breakfast. During breakfast we heard the stories of the proprietor, Crazy Larry, which I am sure Bevo will outline in his blog (see link above). It is always interesting to hear how people get involved in the AT community.
After breakfast Bevo and I headed off to start our slackpack. One the northern edge of town I noticed a restaurant that also had an attached ice cream shop. I decided that I was in the mood for ice cream (it was 8:15 am) for second breakfast, and Bevo thought it was a good idea as well. We headed over and asked if they were serving ice cream yet, and they opened up the shop to serve us. Bevo got a waffle cone and I went with a milkshake (hiker pro tip: finish your milkshake before you start hiking uphill its harder to drink when you are breathing heavily).
A few miles into our hike we saw signs that the AT had a temporary detour along the Virgina Creeper Trail (http://www.vacreepertrail.com/), so followed the detour sings and joined back up the the trail. We had walked about a half mile along this trail (which is designed for biking and walking) earlier in the day and Bevo had commented how he preferred the flat, rock and root free surface more than our usual terrain. To our dismay, after spending about another 1/2 mile on the trail, we joined back up with the AT only to discover that the Creeper trail continued to run parallel to the AT. Its very annoying to see a trail with much easier terrain running parallel to the one you are walking on.
After the last two days being pretty big mileage days, both Bevo and I were feeling very sore and tired today. We stopped for a lot more breaks and were feeling quite a bit more sore after each of them. I am glad we had a short day today and will be taking a zero tomorrow.
One of the sad things that I learned today was from the caretaker at the hostel (for long distance hikers and bikers) I stayed at. The building is owned by the Methodist Church and they ask for a $7 donation per night, which is far less than they typical $20 (although it isn’t quite as nice as most of the others). However, they only receive donations for about 50% of the people that stay there and last year someone stole their donation box. It was a disappointing reminder that not everyone is as generous as many people that I have encountered on my trip thus far.
We got lunch and dinner at the local bar, which had one of my favorite beers, Bells Two Hearted, which I haven’t been able to get in MA.
I also found this great shirt from the hiker box that I wore in town.
I have updated my estimated schedule page to include a link to Bevo’s plan (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zmfan-u8j1m_KnWd9UgOluORi6HDLz_YpJlYjckqAN8/edit?pref=2&pli=1#gid=0) . As long as I am hiking with him it is probably more accurate because he updates it daily.