Day 43 – Thursday, April 21: Damascus, VA to Stagnant Pond, 11.7 miles, 480.7 total AT miles.

Note: I lost cell service shortly after leaving Damascus and haven’t picked it back up – trail rumor had us having cell service all the way through the Grayson Highlands.
I woke up feeling refreshed after spending a night sleeping on the porch. My summer bag worked just fine – it was my first night in recent memory I didn’t wake up sweating. I’m confident this summer bag is going to work out just fine. It’s over a pound lighter and condenses to the size of a Nalgene bottle. I’m pleased.

I started packing up while everyone slept inside. The other early risers and I then started tidying up the lodge – 7 hikers can do a lot of damage in two days.

After a quick breakfast, I threw on my pack and headed to town. The plan was to meet at Mojo’s, a coffee shop that supposedly served some pretty decent food.

I stopped off at the post office to mail my winter gaiters home – they don’t work with trail runners.

I made my way to the coffee shop (located on the AT, on the edge of downtown Damascus), sat by the window and continued pricing lenses. I ended up purchasing one and having it shipped to Atlanta – it should arrive in time to go into my next mail drop.

I ordered a sandwich to go and chatted on the phone with family – while I was in town for two full days, I felt like I barely had time to catch up. That’s become one of the only drawbacks to this hike – I miss being able to speak regularly with my friends and family.

By noon, the seven of us had reassembled. Clutch ended up buying a Martin guitar at Adventure Damascus – it’s really nice. At my father’s suggestion, I went next door to Sundog Outfitters to look for some sort of anti-fungal spray for my feet – a preventative measure (for now). They didn’t sell it. It’s on my list for Atkins, VA.

While Medicine Man initially wanted to spend another night in town with Summer, she seemed to be in very good spirits. He decided to leave town with us – it looks like we’ll be sticking around together a little while longer.

As is usually the case, leaving town means an ascent. I paused to talk on the phone one last time before heading into the woods. After just over an hour of steady climbing, the AT starts following Laurel Creek (I think) and parallels the Virginia Creeper Trail. The Virginia Creeper is a converted rail line now acting as a graded bicycle/jogging path – it actually intersects the AT in the heart of Damascus.

I got to hike on the Virginia Creeper for about a quarter mile today. A foot bridge was washed out ahead and the official deviation called for a quick jump over to the Creeper – it reminds me of the Silver Comet Trail back in Georgia.

After hopping back on the “real” AT, I made the two mile slog up to Saunders Shelter. Not only was it beginning to feel like spring with temps in the low 70s, it was starting to look like spring. I caught a glimpse of some mountains in the distance and was struck by how green they looked. Spring is certainly on the way, at least in the lower elevations.

After a quick break at a campsite north of Saunders Shelter, I pushed on. The plan was to meet at the “pond” and camp – this is how it’s labeled in the AT Guide. When I looked it up on my GPS/mapping app, the same body of water was named “Stagnant Pond”. It didn’t sound promising.

I made it to camp at 5:30 and found a spot next to Moon Boots and Savage. And yes, it’s a stagnant pond. After a hearty dinner, I (and nearly everyone else) went to their tents before sunset.

We’re actually tenting near the same trio of hikers that grilled with us two nights ago – Wanderer (Juan) carries a miniature banjo and entertained us with some tunes. He’s quite good.

Tomorrow calls for a 17 mile day – I want to tent just outside of Grayson Highlands State Park, home of the wild ponies. I’ve been looking forward to this section for years.

Tomorrow also calls for rain. It looks like we’ll be getting rain for the next week. I’m curious to see how this effects my new trail runners as they’re not waterproof. I’ve already got a spare pair of socks tucked away in an outside pocket of my pack.

And about those new shoes. No toe pain, no heel pain – I really thought I found the answer. About halfway through today’s hike, I noticed that calluses on the bottom of my left foot were starting to hurt. When I got to camp last night, I removed the flimsy shoe inserts that came with my Merrells and replaced them with the Superfeet insoles I crammed into my camp shoes. I’m hoping that the added support will help.

Having a trail dog is pretty awesome. Summer darted from hiker to hiker today, always careful not to stray too far from Medicine Man. She’s really taken to life on the AT.

As always, it feels good to be back on the trail. I’m looking forward to really cranking out some miles in the week ahead.

Breakfast: more homemade granola, coffee

Lunch: coffee, half a BBQ pork sandwich

Snack: the other half of the sandwich, Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie, one fun size Snickers

Dinner: Fettucini Alfredo with buffalo chicken and Kale, three tortillas, small serving of almonds

Money: Mojo’s – $12.25 plus $2.75 tip

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

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