Damascus to Erwin
After thoroughly enjoying the 2+2+2 at Mojo’s for the second straight morning I left Damascus. I’m still searching for my trail legs and just did an easy 10 miles to the Abingdon Gap Shelter where I met a couple of good old boys from Alabama who are section hiking two weeks at a time. Both were cancer survivors who had each waited for the other to finish treatments before continuing their adventure. I tried to convince them to try some longer trips. The first days are always the hardest and for them they never really get easier, but at least they always went through the painful process of adjusting to life on the trail with the support of a friendship tempered by their mutual ordeal.
The next morning they headed into to Damascus and I went to the south alone. I’m spending most of my days in complete solitude. The SOBO bubble is well to the north and most of the people I see are either section hikers or flip floppers eating miles to finish. While I was walking 15 to 17 miles a day toward the end of my hike in the spring, I’m doing only about 10 now. My body is telling me that that’s about all I can do. I have to accept that, but it means I’m unlikely to hike with a set group of hikers until I can burn more miles.
Over the next few days water got a bit harder to come by. The sources at some shelters were dry. I got in the habit of filling my unfiltered bottle when water was available. After finding no water at the Iron Mountain shelter, I had to brave the trek down to the spring at Vandventer. I put that journey up there with the Batan Death March and the Lewis and Clark expedition. My favorite part was when I dropped my filled bottles and watched them roll 30 feet down the trail! I was thankful that a couple of women from Ohio that I met on the way down confirmed that the spring was actually flowing. Later I ate with them and we talked while enjoying the spectacular views from the shelter. They’re also doing the trail two weeks at time. Real life can be inflexible about time.
After Vandeventer, I hiked past the closed Watauga Lake Shelter. As I approached this shelter signs warned me not to stop for the next 4 miles because of a problem bear. While I saw no signs of it, it did keep me motivated.
I spent 3 of the next 4 nights in hostels. The first is new. I had heard rave reviews for the Boots Off Hostel on the trail. It’s just off Shook Branch Road less than a tenth of a mile from the trail. Boots Off did not disappoint! The owner has put of thought into providing just about anything a hiker could want. The bunk room was inspired by the old Pullman cars…every bunk is enclosed by a curtain and includes a light and a plug. You have option of an all you can eat dinner for $10 and many common resupply items are available. They were playing a Clinton Trump drinking game during that night’s debate. A quick reading of the rules told me that I would almost certainly not be able to hike the next day so I went to bed at 8:00.
The next night I stayed at the Black Bear Resort. While the empty bunk room was a bit depressing, the staff was friendly and helpful. I spent most of my time watching tv in the lounge. Wrong Turn, a horror flick about a bunch of hillbilly cannibals, may not have been the best choice. While they were close to the end of their season, I had a lot of choices of things to eat and picked up some needed supplies.
While I tried to stay at Vango and Abby’s Memorial Hostel, I couldn’t find the trail. After a night in my tent my next stop was the Mountain Harbor B&B. I loved the bunk room. A section hiker with a car made a pizza run and a good time was had by all. While they aren’t doing town shuttles at 5:00 pm as it says in the trail guide, the breakfast was incredible. Cinnamon buns as big as cow patties among other wonders! After consuming at least 2000 calories, I happily hit the trail.
Staying at these hostels made it possible to not carry food for 3 days. I was able to buy some trail food at every hostel. In the 12 days it took me to walk from Damascus to Erwin, I never carried more than 5 days food. Hostels for the win!
Favorite Day So Far
The walk from Mountain Harbor to the Overmountain Shelter was without question my favorite day on the trail thus far. I started up through trees and a light morning fog. After getting water at Doll Flats, I stepped out into the most glorious bald. I took dozens of pictures. This was a day where I could have walked farther than I did, but I really wanted to stay at Overmountain. It’s unique!
I also wanted to stay at the Roan Mountain High Knob Shelter. It is the highest shelter on the trail, but to tell the truth it was a squalid dump with no views in spite of the altitude.
At this point I was ready for a zero. I took the distance to Erwin, divided by 3, walked the needed mileage and slept in my tent. I camped near the tops of Iron Mountain and Unaka Mountain…both beautiful spots.
One very interesting thing about this section was finding apple trees in the middle of nowhere with their branches sagging under the weight of their fruit…varieties I’ve never seen.
I made it to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel outside of Erwin about 10:30. I decided to shower and do my laundry there before coming into Erwin. It is a nice hostel with lots of services, but my Rangers are in the playoffs!
342 miles to Springer!
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