Hiking a Marathon (4/6, 4/7, 4/8)
Day 40, 4/6: Moreland Gap shelter -> Hampton, TN (14.9 miles)
Everyone in the shelter was woken up in the middle of the night to Popcorn’s incredibly loud snoring. Beetle and I sat up, looked at each other, and giggled. His snoring was so loud the whole shelter seemed to shake. We put earplugs in and went back to sleep. When we woke up in the morning we lovingly teased Popcorn about snoring so loudly. We said Surefoot missed out because he tented, but Surefoot said he heard it too!
We packed up and headed out to scamper up and down the small climbs we had today before the big 3 mile climb at the end. It was cold so I started with a lot of layers and gradually took them off as I hiked. Beetle and Friendly Ghost passed me early on, and when Rash and Pinata caught up, I hiked with them for a while. We stopped at the shelter for lunch but found 2 hammocks and a tent set up inside the shelter along with beer cans and bongs littering the floor. We sat on the edge and ate quickly because it was cold, and then we headed on down the trail.
The trail winded around a fast flowing river with rocks and rapids. We walked alongside the river for a while on very flat ground shaded but rhododendrons. The sights, sounds, and smells were beautiful. We then started our long ascent to Pond Flats mountain and I let Rash and Pinata go ahead so I could take the mountain at my own pace.
Precarious rock way to walk along
The view from the top
There were mostly switchbacks going up, so the ascent was mostly gradual and not as terrible as it could have been. I had service so I called my sister while I was hiking to chat. My mom was still there helping her with her newborn so I got to talk with both of them. That really passed the time quickly and before I knew it, I descended the mountain and was at the road. I found a big Rubbermaid container which I thought might have trail magic, but it just had trash. I followed the signs for Boots Off Hostel which was just up the road a short ways and up a driveway. The driveway had lots of encouraging signs to tell you how many feet were left to go.
The hostel was incredible. Artful wood decorations and signs were in the yard. A newly built bunkhouse that looked like a log cabin had individual bunks with curtains and an outlet by each bed. It was a hiker’s dream. It had 2 large privies and 2 outdoor showers that looked newly built. The owners were awesome to talk to. On the shuttle to town I asked about the place, and he said they do a lot of work for stay and get the hikers to help build the buildings. He said one hiker who is a carpenter by trade built him the back deck in 3 days. I wish it were closer because I would love to go back after I finish the trail.
In town we saw Tiptoe, T-Rex, and Scoutmaster! They went into Hampton before going over Pond Flats mountain and were staying at a hostel nearby. We left them at McDonalds as they were ordering 80 McDoubles to do the McDouble Challenge. Those boys are crazy.
We came back to the hostel and a caterer brought chicken satay, rice, and vegetables which was delicious. She also had homemade desserts and I had a brownie. The home cooked food really hit the spot after all the highly processed food of the trail. Outside was getting really cold and windy, so we retreated to the bunkhouse. I stayed up past midnight on my phone, soaking in being on social media and not worrying about my battery life.
Day 41, 4/7: Hampton, TN -> Iron Mountain shelter (15.9 miles)
We woke up early and had breakfast served by the hostel. They had a wonderful mix of cereals, bananas, and coffee. It was still freezing outside so we didn’t stay out long to socialize. We went back to the bunkhouse and packed up. I did my laundry last night, which consisted of me filling up a laundry basket and then handing it to them, and later them handing me a basket of clean smelling clothes. I packed up my wonderfully clean clothes, and talked with some of the hikers taking a zero. Rash, Pinata, Beetle, Friendly Ghost, and Captain left, and I hung around socializing with Cheez and Coyote for a few hours and didn’t get out hiking until 11. I had a big 16 miles to do today but I figured if I had to pitch my tent it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Before I left, we found a battery pack plugged into the wall that we thought was left by a hiker. I packed it away to bring to the shelter in case it belonged to anyone. As I was checking out, Blackfoot approached me and asked if I’d seen his charger, so thankfully it found its owner sooner than later. I felt bad for taking it off the charger early though, and apologized.
The first part of the trail passed around Watuga Lake which is beautiful. There is a sandy beach but it was way too cold to enjoy it. Watuga Lake shelter has been closed since last year due to beer activity, and there were warning signs to that effect decorating the trees. I kept on the lookout for bears, and rounding a bend I heard a crashing in the trees directly to my right. I about jumped out of my skin until I saw the quickly retreating hind end of a deer.
After hiking along the lake for a while, I crossed the dam on one side and a massive awe inspiring gorge and cliff side that jutted upwards on the other. The rocks were orange and made a neat slanted pattern. I walked on the road on a steep climb and found some pretty pink blooming trees. The plants are starting to come out and a few are flowering which makes the forest come alive in place of the dead trees and brown leaves.
In the middle of the trail at a very narrow part lay a pair of navy blue crocs. They were shoved one inside the other and sat amazingly on the trail, because there was quite a steep drop on the left they could have easily tumbled down. I latched the crocs to my pack and hoped they belonged to one of the hikers in front of me staying at the shelter I was going to, or else I just committed myself to half a pound extra weight to carry until I could find a hiker box in Damascus.
The hike was cold but sunny, and I found patches of snow on the ground, hidden in the shadows of trees and shrubs. I put on The Moth podcast, stories told from people around the world, and it helped pass the time. I came to Vandeventer shelter and found a ranger cleaning up. I talked with him as I ate my lunch and tried not to freeze as the wind was blowing directly in the shelter. Sticks arrived, and I was excited to see him since the last time we talked was our first week on the trail. I left before him but he soon passed me, striding effortlessly uphill as I stopped to take off my jacket.
I calculated the time it would take me to hike the remaining 7 miles, and I picked up my pace to get there before dark. The terrain was relatively flat, and I soon came to the water source before the shelter. I really wanted to just go on to the shelter and come back for water, but it didn’t make sense since I was passing right by it. I begrudgingly filled up and my knees hurt to bend down. I trudged up the last hill and was greeted by a lot of familiar faces, and one remaining spot in the shelter next to Rash and Piñata! It was 7 and the sun was quickly setting, so I got my bed ready and made dinner. I found Blackfoot in his hammock and thankfully the crocs I found on the trail did belong to him. He was relieved to have his camp shoes back.
The temperature was quickly dropping so I made dinner wrapped in my sleeping bag. I was tired, sore, and cold, so I got in my bag right after and settled in for the night.
Day 42, 4/8: Iron Mountain shelter -> Damascus, VA (27.2)
I woke up in the middle of the night to pee and I was nervous about the cold. When I got out of my sleeping bag though, it was not as cold as I thought. We’ve definitely been in colder weather. There wasn’t any wind blowing which helped a lot.
When we woke up later in the morning, we were greeted with an amazing red and pink sunrise that filled the sky, but it didn’t photograph well because of all the trees. It was chilly when we woke up and we got back in our sleeping bags to eat breakfast after fetching our food bags. As we packed up, Cheez and Coyote came by! They started hiking from Boots Off hostel at a crazy 2 AM and were hoping to be in Damascus by 8 or 9 tonight.
Rash, Pinata, and I decided to hike to Abingdon shelter which was around 15-16 miles away. Popcorn, Mary-Kay, and Sarge were also going for Abingdon. Captain was pushing to Damascus, a whopping 26 miles. A southbound section hiker, Blue Jacket, was finishing his section hike today, and gave me a few packets of his protein oatmeal that was a brand I didn’t recognize. They were large packets with dried blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, rolled oats, steel cut oats, and quinoa. It was the best oatmeal I’ve ever had.
Surefoot left before the rest of us, and a beige hat was left where he was sleeping. Blue Jacket found it and I put it in my pack to return it to Surefoot. Since Earlybird returned my headlamp in the Smokies I know the awful feeling of loosing something important out in the woods, and I need a few good deeds to put in the karma bank.
Our band of 3 started out on our hike. The terrain was supposed to be very flat and easy, and the weather was quickly warming up as the sun came out. We passed Surefoot eating a snack and I returned his beige hat, which he was very glad to see. We stopped at Double Springs shelter for lunch and someone had flipped the picnic table on its side to let the accumulated snow melt off, so we sat in the shelter. Surefoot caught up to us and we all sat in the shelter for a few minutes, talking and snacking.
We started hiking and were easily doing over 3 mph, increased from our usual 2-2.5 mph. While we stopped to get water, we discussed the possibility of pushing straight to Damascus today. Pinata and I were for it, but Rash was hesitant. We decided to see what time we would arrive at Abingdon shelter and would make our decision then.
We slowed down a little from the morning hike. We took a short break at McQueen’s Knob, which isn’t an official shelter but it’s a small shelter-like structure. It was cold in the shade so I sat in the sun. We pushed on the few miles to Abingdon and found Captain in the shelter. He said we just missed Cheez and Coyote. Pinata and I hiked the very long and steep 0.2 miles to the water source since the water sources were unusually sparse during this stretch of trail. On the way to the water, we talked about pushing onto Damascus.
When we came back, we found Rash sitting in the shelter looking tired. I was still feeling pretty good, so I decided to push onto Damascus tonight, but I told Rash and Pinata they didn’t have to come if they weren’t feeling great. Pinata wanted to push on and Rash reluctantly agreed. Captain had Jolly Ranchers and gave me one of his prized purple ones before leaving. We left soon after him.
A few miles after leaving the shelter, we ran into 3 hikers going southbound, one with a baby in a carrier on her back. The man and woman looked oddly familiar. I stared for a few seconds before realizing it was Ellie on the AT! They are a couple from Roanoke hiking a flip flop hike with their 1 year old, Ellie. I’ve been following them on instagram but I had no idea they were in my area. I fan-girled for a few minutes but tried to play it cool. I took a picture with them and we headed off down the trail, trying to catch Rash who didn’t realize we stopped since he was wearing earbuds.
We came across a little garter snake sitting on the trail who made a quick exit when he saw us. That makes snake #4 I’ve seen. The terrain was even flatter than this morning so we were cruising, but my feet and toes in particular started to ache around mile 17-18. Every root and rock hurt to step on. We finally came upon the sign for the Tennessee-Virginia border and found a tired looking Rash sitting down. We felt just as tired and plopped down next to him. We sat for a while and finally got the energy to get up and use Pinata’s stick pic to get a selfie.
Every small movement hurt, especially bending at the knees. We were so spent and exhausted, but we were just 3 miles from Damascus, so we had to push onward. I had reception so we looked on the map and chose the hostel closest to the edge of town we would come into, Woodchuck hostel, to reserve 3 bunks.
The last 3 miles were a blur and passed by rather quickly. The forest in the last mile was eerie and looked like a place you’d find a bear, so I kept my eyes peeled. We got to the Damascus sign right before 8 as the sun was setting and took some pictures, then trudged onto the hostel. It was wonderful to finally arrive, and the owner showed us to our bunks. We had the bunkhouse to ourselves which was nice, so we spread out our stuff.
In the main house, a man leaving tomorrow gave us the rest of his rocky road ice-cream. We took it back to the bunkhouse, broke out our spoons, and dug in. The 3 of us polished off the gallon in no time. Rash and Pinata decided to split a pizza, and I was going to make mac and cheese. In the time it took me to shower, Rash and Pinata had ordered a pizza and had it delivered to the bunkhouse! I forgot how in the real world you can pay someone to make and deliver food to your location.
We settled in for the night, with me and Pinata on our cell phones for most of the night, enjoying the plug right next to our beds. We were sore all over and moved around like geriatrics, but we were all proud of our accomplishments today.
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