Dodging the Deluges and Debris to Damascus

At last!  Back on trail again.  After four days of waiting for clear weather, it was a big relief on Tuesday to get back to doing what we came here to do. Princess, Stephan, and I were driven to the AT trail head by Carrie Sparks, who shared last-minute herbalist wisdom by showing us a plant whose oils can counteract poison ivy.

We three hiked together this first day, with the agreement to meet at a certain shelter if we settled in at different paces.

This first day, the trail wasn’t in as bad of shape as expected after the recent heavy rainfall, with just extra leaves and sticks in the trail.  However, there were more unexpected streams and big patches of mud to avoid. The water often claimed the trail as its direct path downhill.

Some of the streams and rivers seemed particularly angry as they roared downhill.  Thank God for sturdy bridges that trail crews have built.

After hiking some distance behind the other two for a while, I was relieved to see them waiting ahead, on the opposite of a forceful stream that had widened considerably.  Stephan directed me upstream to a narrower spot, reached across to take my pack, and then reached over the roaring water to haul me from the boulder on my side to the one on his side.  Unfortunately, no video exists of this harrowing, National Geographic rescue.  To others it might have appeared nondescript, but the soundtrack of the water added to the drama. Below: Stephan planning the rescue.

We three shared the wooden floor of a shelter this first night back outside. Happily, none of the usual rodent residents made themselves evident. Princess was chilly and piled on the headgear.  We hikers resemble the mice, making our own cozy little nests for the night.

Wednesday found us separated right from the start, since they left by 6:30 a.m. by the light of their headlamps. I, however, take much longer to get out of camp, up to two hours, because of my 30 minutes of yoga and slowness in packing up.  Hiking in the dark also holds absolutely zero appeal to me.

Today was a day of water, mud, and animals.  This section had many more leaves covering the trail and was much wetter, thanks to the storm.

In sections where only two streams were indicated in my guidebook and on my Gutthook trail app, I crossed over at least a dozen. Boot-sucking mud puddles caught me by surprise, and the rocky trail was more treacherous when wet.

But the reward was wonderful: Grayson Highlands State Park. With high open meadows (called balds) and sweeping views of the mountains on all sides, it was a fine reward for dodging debris and deluges for two days.  Throw in the ponies and cattle that are free to roam within the park, and you’ve got a real crowd pleaser with the hikers, so often limited to seeing just trees, trees, and more trees.

Even with the animal distractions, I found this to be my most tiring day, although “just” 12 miles, short by many other hikers’ standards (not mine).  Dodging mud, streams, slippery rocks, and roots took a toll. Happily, we slept in very comfy beds at the Grayson Highlands General Store and Inn.

And, the next morning, I had my first French toast in years, thanks to the gluten-free bread the proprietor had. With an accompanying veggie omelette, I wasn’t hungry for hours after this breakfast.

As tiring as the previous day had been, the third day out was a total delight. There were more balds with sweeping views of countless layers of mountains in the distance, and yet more ponies to befriend.

We three hikers had agreed to separate today. They have been hiking more months than I have this year and prefer higher-mileage days. Even though they had been nice companions, I didn’t mind, since I prefer hiking on my own.

I camped alone that night, in a nice site that had obviously been used by others. Not far away was a flower-filled meadow with yet more sweeping mountain views. It was a delightful evening sleeping outdoors.

I fell in love with the AT the next morning. The weather was glorious and the panoramic views continued. This trail now has a permanent place in my heart.

Even though  I had 12 miles I needed to hike that day to get to a shelter, I greatly enjoyed taking time to talk with several hikers and I met along the way.

I was pleased to be able to thank a volunteer from a trail association who was doing cleanup work on the trail. There are 33 hardworking associations that take care of the entire length of this trail.

One pair of young hikers was from Australia. They had sold their successful restaurant in order to have a year of travel. After time in Hawaii, they flew to the East Coast to hike the entire 2,200 miles of the AT. They plan on a stop at Tahiti on the way home. What a way to travel!  They are pictured here using their water filters.

Another young man, named Turtle because of his slow pace, takes photos as he hikes (I can relate to this). He wanted advice on his love life. He wants to do another long-distance backpacking trip, but his girlfriend is not enthusiastic about him being gone for seven months.  It was hard to come up with a good solution to that dilemma.

I also finally saw bears one and two in the bear class of 2018. They were about 30 yards away, and crashed through the forest to get away from big, scary me. But the joke was on me. About two minutes later, when coming around a blind turn in the trail, I was scared out of my skin by a large, dark animal jumping out at me. It turns out it was a hiker’s dog, not bear three, and he really wasn’t all that large after all.

It was later than usual when I finally pulled up to my shelter.  With dusk rapidly approaching, I worked quickly, putting up my tarp, and then began  the search for the water source that was supposed to be there. It was impossible to find. I searched for over half an hour before I finally found a beaten path going downhill  to the little spring.

It was nearly dark by the time I got the water back to camp, which left me feeling pretty frazzled.  I had to cook my  dinner by the light of my headlamp.  The next morning I composed a very polite suggestion in the shelter journal  that they post a sign on a corner of the shelter indicating the spring’s location.  I looked up at the corner of the shelter. There was the sign.

Oh well. I tore my page out of the journal. Lesson learned: take your time, don’t panic, look more carefully.

At last,  I was on my way to Damascus, which bills itself as Trail Town USA. This has been my primary goal  for this year’s hike.  As it approaches town, about a mile of the Appalachian Trail shares the path of the Virginia Creeper bike trail, a very popular route that thousands of people ride on each year.  It was beautiful.

The AT led me right down Main Street, unlike its entry into other trail towns.

Bike shops were everywhere along with trailers loaded with bikes. They transport  the cyclists uphill 17 miles so that they can then ride downhill back into town. Murals celebrating the Appalachian Trail adorn many walls.

I really enjoyed my zero day here. I attended the local Methodist Church, riding there on a loaner bike from the hostel I’m staying in.

The hostel owner also loaned me a car so that I could  drive to a restaurant I had learned about the previous week. On the drive through the rolling countryside, I passed an old derelict mill.

Soon I came to my destination:  the Harvest Table,  an award-winning restaurant owned by well-known author Barbara Kingsolver. Their menu is organic with local, seasonal foods. I greatly enjoyed my trout and the welcoming atmosphere. I wished it had been a field trip for my book club.

And now, on I go.  I’m so pleased I’ve been able to continue for the past three weeks, and greatly look forward to seeing the future autumnal sights of Roan Mountain and the Smokies.

Onward. Southward. Georgia bound.



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Comments 25

  • Slack Packhiker : Sep 24th

    Well darn, I wish I had known about the Harvest Table near Damascus when I ended a section hike there June ‘18. I spent 10 days in Damascus, awaiting a plane home from Tri-Cities. However, Mojo’s Cafe in Damascus is truly first rate, I hope you experienced a meal all there.

    I did ride a rented bike the 17 miles down Whitetop Mountain, and have to say biking’s the second best way to traverse local mountains, hiking being first, of course. It was pretty cool to glide all the way down, doesn’t get easier than that.

    Thanks for the write up, it took me back to that beautiful area.

    Oh! Grayson Highlands Inn, my hiking buddy and I spent some time there too. Is there a better resupply anywhere? More nice memories!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 25th

      I wish I had time and spare energy to cycle down the Virginia Creeper Trail as you did. I know there are always regrets about things we wish we’d done. But the restaurant will be there for you another visit and the bikes will be there when I come back with my grandchildren. Thanks for sharing your memories with me.

    • Linda Wise : Sep 29th

      You go, Ruth! Your photos are fantastic! The Harvest Table—Barbara Kingsolver—WOW! I have loved her books. In fact, if I could have Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver for dinner, I would be a happy woman! If I could also have Louisa May Alcott, I would be even happier!
      Thank you for sharing!

  • Cynthia Smith : Sep 24th

    Love reading these updates. I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods for my Act III club and was thinking of you. Clarissa, Carol and Val are also in the group, so I will tell them you are doing well!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 25th

      Yes, please do! I know they love the out of doors, too. Wasn’t that book a fun read? I listened to it in the car in April, ‘18, when driving to the AT for a shakedown hike. But I switched it off quickly when one chapter started with something like, “The woods are scary at night.” Yes! I agree 100% and don’t want to be reminded of that! Only now am I getting comfortable with crawling out of my tarp for 2 am “calls of nature.”

      Thank you for your support, especially since you’re a writer.

  • Jim T : Sep 24th

    I missed the Harvest Table when I was in Damascus this summer as well. Love your write ups.

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 25th

      Thanks, Jim, for your positive feedback. I really enjoy doing the blog, but my curse is perfectionism, which is hard to achieve on an iPhone and a system I don’t totally understand. So it might not be formatted just right, but the words and the photos are still there. Thanks again!

  • Helen : Sep 28th

    You are an inspiration! Love reading your posts and seeing your pictures!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Thank you for your kind remarks, Helen. And I’ve been inspired by so many of the other bloggers. We can all learn from each other.

  • Dale : Sep 28th

    It’s great to read about your progress, Ruth!! After seeing two bears, that dog would have scared the heck out of me too!! I can’t imagine carrying enough supplies for a dog too. So glad you’re enjoying the AT once again :o)

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Often the dogs carry their own food in little packs that hang down on each side. Another hiker said her dog also carried her trash, which you have to pack out.

  • Myra : Sep 29th

    I’m really enjoying your updates Ruth! I hope things are going well this week and that Mother Nature is being kind! Keep those beautiful photos coming!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Thanks, Myra! You can tell I’m getting used to much of the scenery of the trail now. No more photos of mushrooms, which caught my eye at the beginning of both last year’s And this year’s sections. I’m glad your enjoying the posts. I love taking photos. It’s amazing what iPhones can do now.

  • Cheryl : Sep 29th

    I am just now catching up with your AMAZING blog after being away – – you are a wonderful writer, photographer and AT hiker!! You continue to inspire and make me smile at each entry! What an experience and what patience and perseverance – – I look forward to your next post!!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Hi Cheryl, and thank you so much! When I am feeling self-critical, I now have your positive comment to boost my spirits.

  • Jane Murphy : Sep 29th

    Your hiking account is exciting to read.
    You are an inspiration!
    Thank you for sharing the hike that many of us dream about but can not make.
    Godspeed ❤️

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Jane, thank you for your comment. I’m glad you find my trek inspiring, just as I find all of your travels. Let’s keep moving!

  • Jodee : Sep 30th

    Loved catching up on your AT Adventure! Looking forward to future episodes!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Hi again Jodee! Thank you for your continued interest and support. I hope to see you again sometime.

  • Carol : Sep 30th

    Wow, I loved the pics showing when you “fell in love” with the trail. Just gorgeous. So glad you’re finding beauty on the trail, both in the natural wonders and the people you are meeting. And, so glad to see you’re finding such good places to rest and refresh! Looking forward to seeing more!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Hi, buddy! I’m really glad those particular photos pleased you. It just struck me so hard at that moment that this is now a part of me. I love those high mountain “balds,” and have more ahead of me. More to love!

  • Val : Sep 30th

    So exciting to follow your progress on the trail, Ruth! I am vicariously hiking through you as I cannot be out there myself at this point. I have hiked many miles in Grayson Highlands. It is a beautiful spot on the trail. I”ve even eaten at the inn where you had breakfast! It brought back so many memories seeing your pictures. My parents lived only about 40 minutes from that spot. Best of luck as you head south! Can’t wait to read more!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Val, I knew you had AT experiences, but other than Mt Washington, I wasn’t sure where. Now I know. The wide open spaces with layer after layer of distant mountains are so captivating. Thanks for following my blog. I love sharing all of this.

  • Mary Strwart : Sep 30th

    You are amazing, Ruth! I love the little horse❤️❤️

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 30th

      Hi Mary! It was so cute. And I loved the other one with the wind blowing its mane. That horse had hanky panky with its girlfriend on it’s mind.


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