Days 31-35: Hiking Into Virginia

The days leading up to and just after reaching the Southern Virginia border and experiencing Damascus. Rocks are the new norm.

Day 31

Hiking from: Tentsite outside Roan Mountain, TN

To: Laurel Falls Trailhead

Miles: 11.5

Total grade: 454.0 ft/mile (-)

Motivation: Get to Boots Off and warm up

Favorite part of the day: Seeing where I was staying for the night!

Comments: Around 10 or 11 AM freezing rain started. It wasn’t enough to soak through, but it froze our hands and feet and made stopping for breaks miserable. Since we were on our way to Boots Off Hostel for the night, we decided to call them and ask to be picked up a the closer road rather than hiking another five miles over a mountain to their hostel. So we went 11.5 miles instead of the planned 16.5, but decided it was worth getting out of the rain early and possibly getting into town for a light resupply. I’m glad we did (despite it clearing up before being picked up) because we got to run into town for subway, snacks, and ice cream.

I also got to use my extra time to FaceTime some friends from home which was really nice. I miss them a lot and can feel so far from them when I’m out in the woods but it was good to catch up.

The shower at the hostel was outdoor and used a tin bucket with holes to mix the hot and cold water before it reached you. It was actually amazing. Overall, my stay at Boots Off was everything I could’ve hoped for. I highly recommend staying in their little wooden cabins.

Hiking past Laurel Fork Falls

Day 32

Hiking from: Laurel Falls Trailhead

To: Stealth site above Watauga Lake

Miles: 14.3

Total grade: 499.8 ft/mile (-)

Motivation: Climb up to the ridge

Favorite part of the day: Campsite was cute

Comments: We started the day with the climb we opted out of the day before. It wasn’t too terrible, but felt dumb when we ended back at the hostel by 10 am.

We sat by the nearby lake and had lunch with the local geese before following the trail around the edge of the lake for the next 3 or so miles. This could be such a nice trail if it weren’t for the trash. I don’t think I’ve seen a more trashed section of trail. There were dead mice in the middle of the trail like they died from the trash (not literally, but it gave that inhabitable illusion).

Once we hiked up and off the edge of the lake, we hiked through the woods for awhile until we reached a coal dig on the edge of the lake. It was beautiful but also…still a coal site.

We ended up stealth camping on the ridge overlooking the lake. It was a good spot but i accidentally melted my underwear on the fire while I was trying to dry it, so that wasn’t ideal.

The walkway above the coal site

Day 33

Hiking from: Stealth site above Watauga Lake

To: Stealth site past Low Gap/US 421

Miles: 20.3

Total grade: 367.8 (=)

Motivation: Get closer to the Virginia border

Favorite part of the day: Golden hour

Comments: This day was very peaceful. It was good weather and we were officially on the “Hiker Highway” to Damascus, VA. We learned this term from another hiker that said the trail is so mild in elevation gain and loss over the following miles to Damascus and people are so determined to visit the town that hikers often speed up. It definitely felt that way and was nice to sit back and enjoy the ride (while my legs mindlessly worked).

Day 34

Hiking from: Stealth site past Low Gap/US 421

To: Campsite 2 miles out of Damascus

Miles: 14.8

Total grade: 379.8 ft/mile (-)

Motivation: Virginia border and Damascus!

Favorite part of the day: Reaching the VA border

Comments: The morning was chilly and food was low, but that’s okay because we were entering Virginia! We got to the border around 1 pm and reached the streets of Damascus around 2 pm. Our first stop was the Damascus Diner. It was the only restaurant open but their burgers hit the spot. Afterwards, we went to Crazy Larry’s because it was the only place that offered laundry service to hikers just walking thru rather than staying the night.

While we left our laundry and devices to charge, we walked to Food City to resupply for our next section. Damascus is a cute little town. It fairly walkable compared to the other towns we’ve walked through. It had a pathway/trail for hikers and bikers through town and to the Food City.

We returned to Crazy Larry’s to drop off our food and go to the nearby outfitters to finally receive my pole segments from Big Agnes. They had agreed to overnight them to Damascus after I called and begged. I also bought a tank top at the outfitters because I’d been a victim of horrible farmers tan. We returned to Crazy Larry’s to pack everything up and ended up chatting with him for awhile. He’s a really friendly guy. Definitely embodies the hiker trash aesthetic and mentality at his hostel but that’s part of the charm. We said our goodbyes and walked 2 miles to a tent site right out of Damascus for our first night with a working tent since day 9.

The Virginia Border!

Day 35

Hiking from: Campsite 2 miles out of Damascus

To: Tent site past US Route 58

Miles: 15.9

Total grade: 426.3 ft/mile (+)

Motivation: First day in Virginia!

Favorite part of the day: Meeting a Bernese Mountain Dog on Trail

Comments: We packed up and started on a trail next to the creeper trail. It was hard to see a flat trail headed in the same direction while you’re navigating sharp rocks. No views this day. The weather was overcast so it was a sleepy day where you just focus on moving forward. We met some nice other thru-hikers though and that’s always fun. My favorite part of the day by far though was running into a Bernese Mountain Dog on trail which is the same breed as my parents dog at home. She was the sweetest and I chatted with her parents while she played with a giant stick. In the evening we had to tent near a road which is always freaky/slightly dangerous.

Section of trail where the AT overlap with the flat (yay) Creeper Trail for bikers

More to come very soon! Reaching Virginia is a huge mental milestone as now I’m chipping away at the largest section of trail in one state. In lots of ways it also validates when I wake up and have a lack of motivation because of the well-known “Virginia Blues” where hikers lose their rose-colored glasses and sink into the routine of thru-hiking.


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