Before I went to sleep last night, I chatted with Savage and Maria, a fellow ATer I’ve met a few times now on the trail. We spoke about exactly what it would take to make it to Damascus, VA by tomorrow.
The terrain did look easy enough. And my toes and heel were fine as long as I kept my socks dry and tape clean. I knew I had the legs to make it the 33 miles to Damascus. I went to bed truly undecided as to whether or not I’d give it a genuine attempt.
I woke up at 6:00 and retrieved the bear bags. I dropped off Savage’s bag and asked if she really wanted to make the push to Damascus. I was surprised to hear a “let’s do this!” come from her tent. I noticed Maria was already breaking camp as well.
I finished packing at 7:00 and asked Savage and Maria if we were really going to try to hike the 33 miles to Damascus. It was decided that we’d try, making no promises. I knew it all depended on my feet. I already kind of trashed them running down a mountain to the Black Bear Resort – I didn’t need to do it again trying to make it to Damascus.
I set off hiking at an average pace. Today’s trail largely followed a ridge – this had it’s benefits and disadvantages. The plus – I wouldn’t have any big elevation gains or losses; the minus – I’d face a whole lot of small ups and downs, kind of like a sustained workout.
The three of us met at Iron Mountain Shelter 7 miles up trail at 10:00 – I made a hot lunch looking to load up on carbs for the miles ahead.
After passing the road crossing for Shady Valley, TN, the trail deviates through a private farm. The change of scenery, from a wooded, rocky ridge line to green, rolling hills, was abrupt and remarkable. I crossed through a beautiful field of dandelions in the warm spring sun.
After a brief stop at Low Gap (for the re-taping of my toes), the three of us pressed on. It was becoming evident that, if we were to continue at this pace, we’d be night-hiking into Damascus. Did we really want to do that? It was Maria that ended the debate – if my toes were bleeding, I’d put on a Band-Aid and hike on. (Thankfully, it never came to that.) We left at 4:30, having covered 20 miles – a big day already.
I was certainly feeling fatigued. My legs were great and my feet were okay. Noticing I had intermittent cell coverage and a full charge, I put in my headphones and listened to music for motivation.
We were forced to stop at the Abingdon Gap Shelter to gather water. The next spring was 8 miles away – a mere two miles outside of Damascus. We sat and had a quick snack. If we left this shelter, it meant we were essentially committing to making it to Damascus.
That meant it would be getting dark. Savage had already run across a bear at dusk, as had many other campers. We agreed to hike until sunset and then wait until the slowest hiker (me) caught up, making the eventual push into town together for safety’s sake.
About five minutes outside of Abingdon Gap, I stopped. My feel were swollen from the 23 miles I’d already hiked. I could feel the toe box of my boot rubbing against my toes. I had threatened to do this for a while now, but I took my boots off, slipped on a pair of my thickest socks, and decided to wear my camp shoes the final ten miles into Damascus.
I’m so glad I did. Long-distance hiking in camp shoes (of any type) is probably not a good idea. My North Face slippers aren’t rigid nor do they provide any ankle or heel support. But it didn’t matter. After slipping my Superfeet insoles into the camp shoes, I was able to finally walk comfortably for the first time in days.
As discussed, I found Savage and Maria waiting for me just shy of the TN/VA border at sunset. We were all tired, but in great spirits. In the next few hours, we’d be checking off some seminal hiking milestones. We’d already hiked a marathon and made our first 30-plus mile day by the time we reached the border. I snapped a photo at sunset and pressed on.
The final four miles into Damascus were sincerely jubilant. The three of us were accomplishing a serious milestone. Damascus, VA is “Trail Town, USA” – not to mention it would mean covering over 150 miles in eight days, just like I had hoped.
At 10:45, the three of us walked out of the woods and right onto Water Street. We walked towards town, stopping at the flush toilets in the park, and started looked for somewhere, anywhere, that was open and sold food.
A townie pointed us towards the Food City, my first real grocery store in over a week. We bought a roast chicken, French bread, cheese and all the fixings for a serious sandwich buffet. As we were exiting, a lady approached and asked if we needed a ride – another benefit of hiking with women.
We explained we were planning on tenting by the river, right in the heart of downtown. She immediately said we could do better, offering her backyard as a campsite. I was apologetically polite at first – then she told us she lived on the river right in the heart of downtown.
I couldn’t believe our luck. We finally sat to eat sandwiches on a cozy private lawn in the heart of Damascus at midnight. I went to bed tired, but full – I was content and thankful for the people that pushed me to hike my first 30-plus.
A few things – while I’m officially in Damascus, I’m not expecting to be very productive. I’m beat.
The lens on my camera grinded to a halt today. I think I somehow got sand and/or water in it. I’m gonna try to take it apart and clean it – otherwise I’m buying one online and having it shipped to me somewhere in Virginia.
I cleaned my feet before getting into my sleeping bag and am surprised at the relatively little damage incurred during today’s mega-hike.
I don’t plan on waking up early. The grass is soft and the breeze is nice and cool here by the river. I’m happy I made it to Damascus on time. I finally feel legitimate – I’m a thru-hiker.
Breakfast: Kashi protein bar, V8 protein bar (gifted from Savage).
Lunch: Alfredo Pasta Side with tuna
Snack: the last of my granola, my last bag of beef jerky
Dinner: 2 roast chicken sandwiches with Swiss cheese, mustard, lettuce, cucumbers and bell peppers.
Money: Food City $23.38