Beautiful, awesome, marvelous and wonderful

Tuesday, May 6 – Thursday, May 8. Hampton, TN – Damascus, VA (Mile 467.4 since Springer Mountain and only 1717.9 miles to Katahdin)

I’ve been reviewing a few of the videos that I’ve posted and, frankly, I’m a little shocked at how many times I use the words in the title of this post. The problem with superlatives is that once they’ve been used, they start to become a little meaningless, or perhaps devalued, when used again and again. Unfortunately, I shoot these videos on the fly and certainly don’t “script” them (as must be apparent), yet these words come to me every time. All I can really say is that if beautiful is what occurs to me at the time, then I hope it relays to you quite how gorgeous this country truly is to my enraptured eye. The other videos, like the one with this jackass trying to walk barefoot into the falls, really need no words. Sometimes, dumb actions obviate the need for commentary.

The last three days of hiking have been marked by glorious weather in the high 80’s in towns, which still equates to late 70’s, early 80’s in the mountains. This has led to something of a sweat fest on my part and the need to drink about 7 to 10 liters of water a day. I’ve also developed something of a weakness in my left knee on inclines which I hope to be able to resolve with a knee brace over the coming days; I certainly hope it doesn’t threaten the whole thing.

Leaving Hampton on Tuesday gave us all the opportunity to wander by the glorious lake as we slowly climbed and circled Lake Watauga, leading us to cross the dam and head further up the mountains. All the way, through the trees, there were either glimpses or full-on views of the lake, often facilitated by rocks to sit on, eat a quick bite and take in the panorama.

I had calculated in Hampton that I needed to average 12.3 miles every day from now until September 25th in order to finish two days before Diane’s birthday; something I certainly don’t want to miss. A fellow hiker told me that a good way to keep track of this is to record the miles every day, giving yourself mileage credits if you exceed the average and debits if you don’t reach it. In this way, you can build some credits and take the odd day or two off. I’ve been putting in quite a few 15 milers recently and I’m hoping for a number of 20 mile days (maybe more) in Virginia, so we’ll see how that works.

The target on this day was Iron Mountain Shelter, 15.7 miles from Hampton and, with my normal slow, or late, start, as well as my constant need to fill up with water, I got there at about 6pm. There was a very convivial atmosphere at the shelter, with many new faces for me to meet. I’ve noticed that the relationships you build in this hike are often very temporary, yet can be fairly quickly established, as everybody understands the temporal nature of these interactions. The best way for most of us to instigate conversation is to ask about trail names. This often leads to a back and forth that shifts easily into regular conversation.

I also think that the shelter is a wonderfully equalizing place, as we all know that we’ve all hiked the same distance, so we all know the pains and difficulties we’ve been through to have reached this far. A mutual respect is thus earned and people are comfortable to interact as equals in this environment.

The next day, heading for Abingdon Gap Shelter, some 16.9 miles away (building more mileage credit!), I had one of my best days of hiking thus far and certainly wound up at my favorite spot of the Trail to this point. I had crossed a road, Tenn 91, and had to climb a stile to get into a meadow. There are apparently horses or cows here normally, though none were there when I came through. It was, to my eye, very English in nature, which may be why I was so drawn to the spot. It was also from an England of my past, possibly with my parents and brothers when we were younger. Whatever it was, the place was magical and I failed, as normal, in giving it new words to describe it. Watch the video and you’ll also hear of a disappointment I had just gone through before entering the field.

At Abingdon Gap Shelter that night, I foolishly got into a conversation about gun control that I should have avoided. There was a very nice old guy, aged 72, who was giving us all the benefit of the Fox News playbook on the issue and, when he stated that the Colorado movie shooting could have been immediately stopped by a shooter in the cinema audience, I’d had enough. I don’t care where you stand on the issue, but it was clear that all of us at the shelter were a little left of center on this, so I felt that a counter-view was necessary. I shouldn’t have done it and it got a little heated, particularly when I remembered that he’d got on the Trail to work out some anger issues. I’m afraid I got a bit English on him and bitterly regretted it all the next day, on my walk into Damascus. Fortunately, we spoke when we saw each other in town and seem to have resumed as friends.

Note to self: when somebody is talking like a jerk, go and find somebody else to listen to.

So here I am, comfortably in Damascus after a very quick hike that took only three and a half hours to do the ten or so miles. I also left behind the wonderful Tennessee and marked the event with a video. We are now in the state that takes up about 25% of the AT and, when we leave, we’ll be nearly half way.

One last thing. I am constantly surprised how easy some people find it to get an early start to the day. For me, I seem always to start later, finish later and spend more time wondering what I should be doing next in camp. So, yesterday morning, prior to my run for the border, I decided to set my alarm for 5.45am and really get going. The alarm woke me gently, on time. I deflated my sleeping pad to ensure I wouldn’t get back to sleep and, to my entirely unreasonable irritation, I heard activity already going on outside. Once I’d wrestled with my pack and stuffed what I could into it, I emerged to find that three or four people had already left and that others were about to follow. I couldn’t believe it, but still felt that I had a shot at not being last. A coffee, along with a dreadful mix of oatmeal, protein powder, baby fruit and hot water made do as breakfast and I noticed a few others emerging from their tents. I don’t know what happened, but, quite suddenly, I was alone, wishing “Happy Trails” to the second-from-last person to be on their way. I eventually left, two hours after my alarm and I couldn’t tell you what I did in that two hours apart from pack and have breakfast!

Maybe I’ll get up at 4am tomorrow.

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