The Great Hitchhiking Fiasco
This post is going to be short one day since you got an extra day last week. What? You didn’t think that bonus day was free did you? Not sorry.
Day 44: Damascus to Whitetop Mountain Road, 20.2 miles
I hit the trail this morning for the first time in three days with new boots, new socks, and new feet! Well, my feet felt new anyways. My goal was to get to Marion in three days to hitch back to Damascus for trail days. Back to back to back 20 milers here we go!
I saw a grand total of two other NOBOs today. Everyone else is either A: a section hiker heading south for trail days or B: a NOBO that flipped up to Marion/Atkins to hike SOBO to trail days. It’s almost like this trail days thing is a big deal or something.
As I was hiking along I was suddenly startled, my heart pound out of my chest, by a thick long black tail lying across the middle of the trail. I backpedaled until I thought I was a safe distance away. Said tail belonged to a snake that must’ve been about 4 feet long and wasn’t moving. All I could do was wait. Eventually the tail slowly started to slide off the trail. I waited until I couldn’t see it anymore and inched forward. The snakes head at this point was nearly 6 feet off the trail, so I ran past as quick as I could.
Snakes and I don’t get along. They’re probably my least favorite thing about the woods. So my pace for the rest of the day was greatly slowed because now I was on the lookout for more of the scaly beasties (I found no other snakes on this day).
The last 2-3 miles of my hike consisted of the longest climb of the day. Ending the day on an uphill is HARD. I pretty much dragged myself to the top of Buzzard Knob, but I’m glad I did. The sun was hanging low in the sky and made for spectacular views, accenting the mountaintops in the distance with pale orange.
I staggered into camp that night like a zombie. How I was going to manage to do that again tomorrow, I simply did not know.
Pro Tip: if you put dried fruit in your water bottle, you get flavored water and a great snack.
Day 45: Whitetop Mountain Road to Fox Creek, 20.1 miles
One perk of thru hiking is that you don’t have to get up at a certain time. You basically do whatever you want. I got into this habit of getting up once it got light out, and today was no exception. Once I saw the light coming through my nylon tent walls, I deflated my thermarest pad and started to tear down. About halfway through this process I checked my watch. 5:30 AM. Of course it was.
About a half hour into my hike I saw Torch and Medicine Man coming the other way. They were among the hikers that flipped to Marion to hike south to trail days. It was good to see some familiar faces! Everyone that I had camped with last night was a stranger.
I came across another group of SOBOs. One of them handed me a Starburst and congratulated me on my 500 mile mark! I wasn’t quite there yet, but the gesture was very kind and empathetic. Getting candy from strangers always brightens my mornings.
The trail meandered along big open areas with views for miles, and occasionally ducked back into pine forests with lush grass carpeting. Shortly after lunch, I entered Grayson Highlands, where there were even more views and WILD FREAKING PONIES. I don’t know if you can tell but I’m really pumped up about the ponies. Some of them even had baby ponies and they were adorable. One of the adult ponies tried to eat my shorts. To top it all off, I did hit the 500 mile mark.
I ate a Pasta Side dinner at the Scales and pushed on another 5 miles to the Fox Creek campsite. This site was right next to the road, and when I rolled in at 8:00, there were trail angels there camping out! They had brought all kinds of extra food, and gave me a seat, fresh fruit, and lots of other food. They were offering me so much stuff that I asked jokingly “Will you set up my tent for me too?” One of them actually took my tent for me and set it up in the last flat spot left. It still amazes me how nice people are to complete strangers out here.
Pro Tip: don’t let other people set up your tent. I realized later that one of the poles was cracked. They had good intentions, but this was something that should’ve been avoided, by me not being a lazy butt.
Day 46: Fox Creek to VA 670, 13.8 miles
I left early today and hiked faster than I have in a long time. My feet are feeling so much better thanks to my new boots and socks!
For some reason, I got to the VA 670 and decided I was done hiking for the day. The plan had been to continue on another 8 miles, but I just really wanted to go to trail days. I stuck out my thumb and got a ride to the closest town from the first guy that drove by.
The Great Hitchhiking Fiasco
I figured getting a ride to Damascus might be easier from the gas station, but I didn’t have much luck. Finally someone came by who offered me a ride to the road I originally planned to hitch from. I took it, hoping I’d have better luck right off the trail. I stood up at that spot for only two minutes before someone stopped and offered me a ride halfway. “Halfway’s better than no ways,” I figured.
I should have been more suspicious when the guy started driving back down towards the town I had just come from. I started to say something, but he assured me it was the right way. We got to the intersection where I was to get out, and the driver told me which direction I should go in. I got out and he drove off.
Down the road I had come from, and in the direction I was to go, and pretty much every other direction you could think of, there was nothing but fields. For miles. I checked my phone, and of course had no service. Wonderful. I started to walk, and would turn around and try to hitch when I heard a car coming. This was a rare occurrence, and none of the shiny metal boxes even slowed down when they saw me. I think some of them even sped up a little. The sun beat down on the road as I walked, draining any and all of my remaining energy. You could see the heat coming off the pavement in waves.
About an hour and a half of walking later, I still have had no luck. I finally come across a man mowing his yard, the first person I had seen since getting out of the truck, and told him what I was trying to do. As soon as he heard “Damascus” he says “Naw yer goin’ in the complete wrong direction.” My heart sank. Tears sprang to my eyes. I was tired, thirsty, sunburned, and I just wanted to be in Damascus with my friends dammit! I looked around hopelessly, at a loss for what to do.
Thankfully, this man and his wife were saints. His wife took it upon herself to drive me all the way to Damascus. She even brought me a Gatorade from the house, and refused to let me pay her.
The relief I felt to finally be in Damascus was palpable, albeit short lived. Now I had to find the elusive tent city. Being completely fed up with other people’s directions, I walked Damascus end to end twice (note that I’m still wearing my pack) before I finally broke down. I found a group of people that looked like hikers and they offered to lead me to tent city.
By the time I got there I was so grumpy and tired and miserable that I walked right past The Real Hiking Viking and didn’t even recognize him. The group that I was following even turned around and said hello, and I just kinda stood there like a zombie, didn’t even introduce myself (please note this is the second time in this update that I have described myself as a zombie). All I’ve ever wanted was to buy this guy a beer, and now he probably thinks I’m mean and antisocial. Great.
It Gets Better I Swear
From there my night went up. I found my friends, pitched my tent, and began drowning my sorrows in anything with alcohol. We went to Bobos and I got my giant calzone. There was great music, karaoke, and lots of hikers dancing and having a great time. Back at tent city the party continued with people dancing around a giant bon fire while others played drums. It was basically the coolest party ever.
Sometimes you’re going to be miserable, and sometimes you’re going to have it rough. Sometimes it’s going to rain, but eventually the sun comes back out and life gets better. Keeping in mind the reasons I’m out here to begin with help me get through times like these. Speaking of a silver lining, I’M NOW AT FREAKING TRAIL DAYS.
Day 47: Trail Days!!
For those of you that aren’t familiar, Trail Days is this big festival in Damascus every year where thru hikers, past and present, gather to celebrate. Past hikers reunite and current hikers party. The common area in Damascus is lined with vendors from every outdoor company you can think of. I browsed around the vendors for a few hours and managed to snag 28 free stickers, a free bra from Ibex, and a free flask from Gregory. Sadly I did not win any raffles.
The hiker parade is another big attraction. Each hiker class lines up and walks down the Main Street for the locals to soak us with hoses, water guns, and balloons. The current class always walks out last. I swear, the second we hit the pavement it started raining. And I mean POURING. We were drenched in minutes without the help of the local kids.
Unfortunately for me, that was the moment that I remembered I had taken my tent poles out of my tent to be fixed. I left all of my gear in my collapsed tent and draped the rain fly over it. The rain only lasted for an hour or so, but it was long enough. The only thing that wasn’t wet was my sleeping bag.
Despite my misfortune, I definitely enjoyed my time back in town. So many hikers all in one place provided the unique opportunity to see people I had hiked with but hadn’t heard from in weeks. I’d write down all of their names, but there are so many! Is it bad that I have more friends out here than I do back home? Don’t answer that.
Day 48: VA 670 to Partnership Shelter, 7.8 miles
Rain fell on tent city yet again this morning. Thankfully, this time my tent poles were securely holding up my tent, so my damp gear hasn’t gotten any damper.
I tore down my site and walked over to Mojos for breakfast. As I ate I charged my things and waited for Brew Thru to come pick me up. Brew Thru was a section hiker who did all of Georgia with us, and he came to trail days to see all of us! He still thinks of us as family even though he’s off the trail now, and he offered to take me back to the trail. I was incredibly grateful not to have to repeat my hitchhiking disaster.
The rain held off until the exact moment that Brew Thru drove away. From then on I experienced a near constant drizzle. On the plus side, the 7.8 miles to Partnership Shelter were easy. There were even some stretches that were completely level, with no change in elevation and no rocks or roots to trip over.
The Partnership Shelter rivals the Fontana Hilton in how nice it is. It has a shower, and tons of space for hikers. You could stand up comfortably in both the lower level and the loft. I choose to hang my hat in the loft and I was joined by Monty, Torch, and Medicine Man. We strung multiple parachord lines across the ceiling hung all of our wet stuff from them.
Even though I’ve lost my trail family, I get the feeling that I will know someone in every place I stay. I’m a part of this community that I can always find friends in. Out here, all of our problems are the same and it brings us together in a unique way.
Day 49: Partnership Shelter to Quarter Way Inn, 21.7 miles
This morning I woke up to the lovely sounds of “not rain.” For those of you that don’t know, “not rain” sounds like birds singing and very little else. No pit-pat of liquid falling on a tin roof. Despite the forecasted downpour, it would not rain all day.
I planned to do my biggest day today, at 21 miles. The elevation change didn’t look so bad, and the appeal of getting to the quarter way mark and a hostel for the night won me over.
Just passed Atkins you do a lot of walking through fields. I used to like fields for the change in scenery, but now they just mean snakes and ticks. As I walked through one such field today, I happened to glance down and to my left. What should I see but a thick, black, scaly, slow-moving serpent making its way in the other direction not a foot away from the trail. I jumped away from it with such force that my iPod shuffled itself. That snake could not have cared less that I was there. Frazzled, I hurried by.
I felt great today, much stronger than I did on either of my previous two 20 mile days. When I got to the road that the hostel was off of, I stopped and thought to myself, “that’s it?” Nevertheless, I turned off the AT towards a shower and a real bed. The Quarter Way Inn is the nicest place I have stayed so far. Tina’s home is beautiful, immaculate, well decorated, and had everything we could need, including resupply. Torch, Medicine Man, Blue Hat, Uncle Puck, and I all had a pizza each. I also chugged two chocolate milks, devoured an ice cream bar, and was still hungry. Tina is also an exceptional host, and very clearly takes pride in her work. She also has more wit than anyone I’ve ever met, as evidence from some of the signs she has strategically placed throughout the house. 10/10 would recommend.
As always, you can find me at erica.runs on instagram or shoot me an email at [email protected] Stay tuned for more on the rainiest week in my AT hike and how I powered through it!
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