After a whirlwind weekend at home, we headed back to the trail with our dear friend Jo. We made an excellent pit stop in Roanoke for lunch at our favorite restaurant, Hollywoods, next to our alma mater, Hollins. We are obsessed with salads these days and the Hollywoods ones were amazing + the blondie and cream puff really hit the spot.
We got to Damascus in the late afternoon and met our shuttle driver, Huckleberry. The ride back to Boots Off was quite entertaining. After rearranging our stuff on the porch at Boots Off we struck out to find a campsite by the lake.
Hardly 100 yards from the end of the driveway we ran into Skittles and Xena with trail magic beers and snacks. We felt bad for taking trail magic when he hadn’t even hiked 5 minutes.. but they insisted so we had a beer and a chat. THEN we continued on to a campsite. We found a great spot and settled in.
We’ve been joking that we are bad luck for our friends who have section hiked with us… Hot Dog’s hammock tore and Tyler’s sleeping pad had a giant rip in it. We held our breath but Dylan had no gear catastrophes, so we thought the curse was lifted. Until… Jo left her tent in her car! So all 3 of us cuddled up in our tent together.
The night was warm and clear so we left the rain fly off. We were rewarded by a beautiful sunrise over the lake in the morning!
We cruised along the lake and crossed the dam first thing.
Then we started the climb up the ridge. Once we got up we pretty much stayed up for the rest of the week. This section is great because it doesn’t have any big dramatic ups or downs, just ridge cruising. The only downside is that water was far apart and hardly ever easy to access…
We stopped for a long rest at one of the few water sources on trail and had an educational chat with Dan about edible plants on trail. He knew a TON, we hope to hike with him one day so we can learn more! The only things we can reliably recognize are ramps. We dream of finding morels one day, we’ve seen a few people find them but we have not been lucky yet!
We rolled in to the Vandeventer shelter and claimed spots. We didn’t want to squeeze all 3 of us into the tent if we didn’t have to.. especially with rain in the forecast overnight. So we treated Jo to her first ever night in an AT shelter. During dinner we watched a storm roll through the valley below us and heard distant thunder. We all braced for it to hit us but the rain held off all night.
We had the loudest wake up call by a whippoorwill singing its heart out directly in front of the shelter from approximately 0558 till 0615. This bird was almost as loud as Snowflake, Pinky’s childhood pet cockatoo. All we could do was laugh.
We got a few spits of rain while we were packing up but nothing sustained. We were once again braced for a wet day but the most we got was spooky misty forest in the morning that broke up into big fluffy white clouds by the afternoon.
We had a leisurely day with many breaks and much enjoyment of the wildflowers and big green leaves finally giving us a shady forest. We stopped for the day at a campsite right next to the trail. We had it to ourselves for about an hour then we were gradually joined by 6 other hikers.
These folks wound up being our little bubble until we got to Damascus. We are still finding ourselves in a new “bubble” just about every week with mostly new faces. This little group had some new faces but also some old ones.
We first saw Bacon back before Franklin. We met Buttermeister and Snowy Owl on our first day in the Smokies, then again just before Erwin. After spending 3 days with Buttermeister, Snowy Owl, and their perfect dog Bodhi/Wigglebutt, we have moved them up into our top favorite hikers list. We hope we get to hike with them again in the future.
Lady May, her dog Jericho, and Firefly were completely new to us. They have also quickly made it to our favorite people list. Lady May is a fellow nurse! She was a flight nurse with Firefly as her pilot! badass!! The next day they introduced us to Hummingbird, a fellow Hollins (almost) alum! She finished a semester early so she could hike the trail and will be going back to walk at graduation in a week or so. Jo and I got a huge kick out of getting to meet her and hear about how different Hollins is almost 10 years after we graduated.
Anyways, we slept once again with the rain fly off. It was great because the sky was completely clear and when I woke up in the middle of the night I got to see millions of stars. It was not great because it got a little colder than expected and there was a rather heavy dew in the morning so our bags got a little damp. C’est la vie.
The next day was probably the most fun day of the section. We walked through our first cow field, got to see several cows, and took some fun pictures with the “AT Barn.”
Then we met Hummingbird!
And she told us about trail magic ahead! Trail magic is always super motivating. We got there in mid afternoon and boy were we happy.
Waffle hiked a couple years ago with his 13 year old son. They didn’t make it all the way to Katahdin but they made it pretty dang far. He was out section hiking this week + spent several days doing trail magic. He had it HOOKED UP.
He had fresh veggies for MYO salads or wraps. He had all the junk snacks you could dream of. He had gatorades, sodas, water. He had *individually wrapped* little bags of toilet paper. He had a miscellaneous box with tampons, batteries, floss, hand sanitizer… literally anything you needed or wanted, this guy had. He even gave me a fuel canister FROM HIS OWN PERSONAL BACKPACK when I mentioned mine had run out that morning. It doesn’t get more trail angel than that, folks. Needless to say, we hung out there for a good long while. Pinky even got a game of chess in with Bacon.
When we finally tore ourselves away we had about 5 miles to go to the shelter. We were doing our longest day with Jo, 12 miles. Along the way we passed an old, comically small shelter and had to stop for a photo op. We both had to bend over considerably in order to get into it!
We finally rolled up to the shelter and were delighted to find that we knew everyone there already. It makes the end of the day much sweeter when you share it with friends. Everyone but Melon was tenting, so we threw our stuff down in the shelter. Then, Pinky and I made the 2nd longest walk down to get water and back. Brutally steep and long.
When we were finally settling down to bed Melon noticed a mouse running around in the shelter- not a surprise, mice love shelters. Turns out, Melon does not love mice. Even Triple Crowners have their line. He immediately went to set up his tent, leaving us all bemused but with the shelter to ourselves.
Unsurprisingly, we did not make it out of the shelter quickly in the morning. We wound up eating breakfast and having a delightfully deep discussion about life, death, grief and how we all learn to come to terms with mortality with Buttermeister, Snowy Owl, Slow and Steady. These intimate conversations with people who were strangers only days before are what we love about the social world out here. We continue to meet such interesting and delightful people.
Finally we all started hiking, with the promise of the TN-VA border ahead! We were singing Tennessee Whiskey in our heads as our goodbye to Tennessee song. Crossing the border brought tears to my eyes. It’s definitely my favorite border crossing yet and might continue to be until we make it to Maine. Walking ourselves to our home state feels like such an accomplishment!
The rain that had been threatening us all week finally started as we were finishing our lunch at the border. It only got heavy as we made our way down to Damascus. Making it to Jo’s car was a relief.
We got in and started our to do list- hit up the outfitter to replace our bear line (sadly Pinky lost ours and his rock sack while trying to hang our bags at Vandeventer, we’d been borrowing Jo’s but wanted our own) and get gaiters for Pinky since we are now 100% shorts; get fried chicken and potato wedges from the gas station for dinner; and, the finale, drink beer at the brewery.
We got mildly sidetracked when the guy at the outfitter told us a new distillery had just opened next door and it was really good. So of course we had to check it out. We were not disappointed, it was great. It felt way too fancy to be in Damascus!
When we finally made it to the brewery we were delighted to find Hummingbird, Lady May, Firefly, Jericho, and Dan were already there. We loved sharing a few beers and some great conversation with them.
All our fun chores taken care of, we made our way over to our room at the Virginia Creeper Lodge for much needed showers and laundry. We timed it just right, as soon as we got in the heavens opened up with the predicted heavy rain. We were so happy to be sleeping inside that night.
After a shower we said goodbye to Jo. We loved having her hike with us. Jo is the first person I ever went back packing with! I’ve come so far since that first trip when I froze my butt off because I didn’t bring a sleeping pad… Having friends join us has really given us a lot of motivation and made an already very fun experience even more fun and special .
We once again didn’t finish laundry until 10pm and Pinky didn’t come to bed until even later because shaving his very fuzzy head was a Chore. But finally, we fell asleep on the softest sheets we’ve ever slept on while rain fell outside and the warm summery temps we’d had all week got washed away…