Friday, May 9 – Wednesday, May 14. Damascus, VA – Marion, VA (Mile 542.7 since Springer Mountain and only 1642.6 miles to Katahdin)
I haven’t posted for a while, as this is my first visit to a town since Damascus and, as you can see from the mileage, I’m certainly upping the pace.
Damascus was very hiker-friendly and, as you wandered through, in the only clothes that you weren’t washing, you got used to some rather bizarre sights. For me, town gear when washing clothes involves a rather natty combination of my water shoes, my swimming shorts and a tee shirt I got from Hot Springs. Normally, I wouldn’t be seen dead on the streets of a town in this gear, but it just seems ok here. One German guy insists upon wearing the tightest Speedos around town and, even if you have the world’s greatest body, Speedos just never work, do they?
I was hoping to put in another 15 or 16 mile day on the Friday I left Damascus, even though we were threatened rain by the weather men. However, my plans went somewhat awry when the promised rain started after about 5 hours and I leapt into action in the time-honored fashion. I pulled off my pack and reached for my waterproof pack cover, only to find that it was no longer there. Hmmm, not exactly what I was hoping for and a few minutes later, I was hoping for it even less, as the rain assumed complete downpour proportions. Fortunately for me, this discovery happened right by a road, so I stuck out my thumb in the hope of cadging a lift back into Damascus. Quite how appealing I must have looked at this point, with water cascading from every part of my body, I can’t quite imagine, yet the number of cars that stopped was a predictable zero. Happily, after about 15 minutes of grinning like a demented prison escapee, slanting my thumb jauntily to one and all, a young couple, with whom I’d exchanged pleasantries earlier, emerged from the woods and immediately offered me a ride when they made the error of asking me what I was doing there.
So, about three hours after I’d left Damascus, I was back, shelling out $40 for another waterproof cover that was, to be fair, far better than my previous one had been. Another $15 to take me back to resume my hike and I was on my way again, dryer but poorer.
This limited me to Saunders Shelter, making it only a 9.4 mile day, and I was the only one at the shelter for quite a while. Indeed, with the rain and the prospect of more later on, I thought that, if I was going to be by myself, I might as well set up my tent IN the shelter to stay dry and at least have a shot of avoiding the attentions of the cute, little, furry occupants of this and all other shelters.
Suddenly, there was a rush for the shelter and, while several people set up outside, I felt increasingly uncomfortable, and a bit daft, having a tent in the shelter. Still, nobody insisted I act like an adult, so I spent the night both dry and inside my tent, with no interaction with rodents of any kind.
In the morning, I got away fairly quickly, for me, and set off determined to get the average back up a bit. It might have helped if I’d taken the correct turning out of the shelter as, about twenty minutes later, I heard the voices of my shelter compatriots only about 50 yards away. I’d walked a loop and was back within spitting distance of the shelter. Another waste of a mile!!
I was heading for VA 600, Elk Garden, as I intended to stay at what looked like a nice Bed & Breakfast, Coolgreen, in Konnarock. The hiking was gorgeous and, even though rain had once again been forecast, I avoided it all day.
The B&B was a revelation, with the very homely Phyllis and the very funny Ron my hosts for the night. I decided to take advantage of their great facility because I wanted to hear the commentary of my Mighty Blues in their playoff game with Burton Albion early the following morning.
Phyllis is a terrific cook and, even though I had no expectation of dinner, she included me in the dinner that they shared; indeed, I ate at least half of the lovely meal on display, AT NO CHARGE!!!!! Ron kindly took my dirty washing and returned it to me the following morning, while I managed to polish off another hearty breakfast at half time in my game. Ron was hilarious and constantly threw out one liners, often aimed harmlessly in Phyliss’ direction, as he gently teased her about pretty much everything. He had also picked me up and kindly dropped me off in the same spot the following morning. As I say, it was a revelation and I think the best stay I’ve had anywhere thus far.
That Sunday morning was pretty foggy to start with, but it soon burned off and made for a gorgeous day once more. Early on, I was hiking behind a family of three and the first mile or so of hiking took us up and through some lovely meadows. I was about 40 yards behind them when we all heard the sound of an unhappy bull. When we’d entered the field, there was no sign of any animals but, as I heard the bull, I looked up on the low ridge just above us and saw it move menacingly towards the family. Additionally, just off to the right of the trail, in the woods, were a bunch of cattle by themselves. The bull clearly didn’t want anybody between him and his harem, so he put down his head and charged. Now, I didn’t expect that!The woman had the presence of mind to blow her whistle and the bull veered away at the last moment, but it was a close call. He then proceeded to do whatever it is that bulls do in the woods with their cows………..which is, apparently, to use the trail as their own personal bathroom, depositing copious amounts of BS all over the path, necessitating several wide detours at regular intervals.
I eventually left the family behind and continued my climb to near the top of Mt Rogers, encountering increasingly rugged terrain that, once again, gave me sights to remember. One such is captured in the video and I even give a shout out to Phyllis and Ron once more. Wow, I was even more impressed than I’d thought!!
The next, and much anticipated, area was Grayson Highlands, a spectacular combination of rugged mountain and enchanting meadow combining to give the hiker a challenge while feasting the eye. Greeting me on my entry, were some cute wild ponies, always worthy of a film to maximize the cuteness factor, though I suspect their greeting was more about getting any scraps from us as we all entered the park. They clearly don’t know that hikers don’t give away food, so they lucked out, with me at least.
I knew that there had to be a terrific lunch spot amid these great vistas and I think you’ll agree that I found a pretty good one at which to try out hot sauce on my lunchtime wrap. It’s still burning!
This great day’s hiking came to an end some 15 miles away at Old Orchard Shelter, where a bunch of us created our own little tented village in a beautifully sunny clearing and sat around the fire preparing food or, in my case, boiling a pot of water and lobbing in four portions of dried potatoes that really come out well. Add a few bacon bits and you’ve got a meal fit for a King or, in my case, for a greedy hog. I should point out that, despite my best efforts to eat my body weight every day, I’ve continued to lose weight and now tip the scales at a scrawny 210lbs. At this rate, I am scheduled to completely disappear on August 12th!!
I knew that the Sunday had been a highlight, so I was prepared for a relatively unspectacular day on Monday and concentrated on putting in the miles to keep my average up. To that end, Trimpi Shelter proved to be my stopping point, at just over 14 miles, as I was absolutely exhausted after another hot day in the sun. I think I’d made the daft error of using my bandana to cover my head and had not put cream on. My neck took the brunt of the sun and I got to camp at about 3pm, the only one there, and set up my tent and chair and simply read for an hour or so before others started to trickle in.
Suddenly there was a rush and we had created another tented city, with about a dozen tents in close proximity to one another. This would have been fine, if only I hadn’t been situated next to a German guy and his wife. I was deeply asleep when, at 4am, his alarm woke me and several of my neighbors. I was really miffed at his lack of camp etiquette and, when I mentioned it later to another German guy, he said, somewhat enigmatically, I thought, “He is East German”, as if that explained everything. Maybe the Berlin Wall coming down didn’t unite Germany quite as much as we all thought!
Tuesday turned out to be my longest day thus far, with an early start, thanks to my EAST German neighbor. It was a gorgeous early morning and I emerged early from the trees to this lovely spot.
I was heading for Chatfield Shelter, which was nearly 18 miles away, yet wanted to stop at the fabled Partnership Shelter where, apparently, you could order pizza AND get a shower, both of which I intended to treat myself to. Indeed, my eagerness to get there was such that I knocked out the 10.6 miles to Partnership in just over 4 hours. That’s when things slowed down. Stripping off my clothes, I took a shower and let the sweaty clothes dry in the sun (classy, eh?), then sauntered down to the visitors center to order the pizza. It took one hour to be delivered but, when you are waiting for a 16″ deluxe pizza, nothing is going to stop you from waiting. I managed all but three small slices so, after three hours at the shelter, I set off with a full tummy and a lot of renewed energy to get to my destination.
I was there by about 7pm, though a guy called out that he was sick and that I shouldn’t come in. He said people had passed by and were going to camp somewhere ahead. I asked if I could call anybody, but he simply said that he’d either live or he’d die, which pretty much seemed to cover all the options, so I moved on.
I saw one small group but couldn’t find any room for me, so I almost literally galloped to avoid losing all light. I eventually finished my day at 7.50, having covered 19.5 miles in the day and camped outside the Settlers Museum, by the side of VA615, a very quiet road. The Settlers Museum doubled as a school and the door was open to hikers, revealing bottled water to this thirsty hiker, as well as a privy for the kids, and me. Happy Days!
This morning was a short two or three miles to a road, then a cab into Marion to pick up a package laden with food from Diane. I’m staying the night so catching up with laundry and the blog at my leisure. I intend to put a hurtin’ on the local Mexican restaurant tonight and wash it all down with a couple of beers before resuming bright and early tomorrow morning.
I should probably give you a wildlife update at this point, as I’ve been a little lax in recording the wondrous things I’ve seen.
My squirrel record remains, almost unbelievably, on 6, the last of which was over 300 miles ago. Extraordinary! Several mice, mainly at shelters, two deer, no bears, two black snakes, along with the charging bull and several cattle and the ponies. However, I was lucky enough to see this prehistoric beast, as I quickly pulled out my camera to record the moment. With the speed for which I’m well known, I took the shot as it sped past me, looking for all the world as if a three year old had been given license with a paintbrush and a bucket of yellow paint. Nice, isn’t it?
That is the full extent of my wildlife encounters and, frankly, I’m good with that. No bears and no dangerous snakes work for me right now, so I’ll live with that.
Indiana Jones, I ain’t!!