After a fun and tiring weekend at Trail Days, we were ready to hit the trail and start exploring Virginia.
The Grayson Highlands
Shortly after setting out from Damascus, we passed the 500-mile mark. It felt surreal. In an outfitter in Damascus, I had seen a large map of the AT on a wall and looked for our location near where I thought 1/4 of the way should be. When I finally located Damascus on the map, it was much further south than I imagined possible given how far it had felt like we had hiked already. Seeing 500 miles written in stone on the trail made me feel like a real thru-hiker. Even with so much further to go, we really have come a long way.
Our time in the Grayson Highlands was pretty rocky and rainy, but not without some incredible 360-degree views. The State Park is known for its wild ponies that roam the highlands; we even had some ponies visit our campsite one misty evening. Super cool!
The AT is marked by white “blazes” or paint swatches on trees, rocks, etc. which guides hikers along the correct trail. Oftentimes there are blue blazes to indicate a side trail that is not the official AT but may lead to a water source, shelter, or view.
We had heard about Dismal Falls, a popular waterfall frequently visited by locals that was 0.3 miles off the AT on a blue blaze and were talked into spending an afternoon relaxing by the falls instead of hiking (crazy, right?). We tried to swim, though it was more like tentative wading in the cold water, and basked in the sun. It was a wonderful on-trail nero (near zero) day filled with snacks and storytelling.
The Pizza Shelter
As we approached Marion, VA, we heard about the famous Partnership Shelter, which is better known as the Pizza Shelter to thru-hikers. The shelter gets its alias due to its proximity to a main road that leads into Marion; it is so close that the local pizza joint will deliver pizza to hungry hikers without them having to technically leave the trail.
We rolled up to the shelter early in the evening with plans to hitch into Marion for a quick in-and-out resupply. The three of us, Jet Pack, Easy E, and myself, strolled down towards the highway to scope out our hitchhiking prospects and saw the pizza guy finishing up his delivery. We rushed over and asked if he had room in his car to take us to Marion and he delighted us all by how quickly he welcomed us into his vehicle. Not only did he drive us into town, but when he found us sitting on the curb outside of the KFC an hour later, he offered us a ride back to the trail. The kindness of total strangers continues to be the biggest blessing out here.
VA Triple Crown
Having not spent much time in Virginia prior to this trip, I had never heard of the Virginia Triple Crown. The title refers to three popular landmarks along the Virginia AT within 20 miles of each other.
We camped with our friends Stride and Cosmos a few miles before Dragon Tooth, the first of the Triple Crown. We had plans to wake up and catch the sunrise over Dragon Tooth, but the early morning rain squashed any hope of a view. We cruised up to Dragon Tooth, a spectacular, climbable monolith with views of the surrounding fog.
The real excitement of Dragon Tooth, however, is in the descent down. Two miles of steep, sharp, vertical rocks lined the trail downward. Jet Pack and Cosmos skipped down with ease and joy while Stride and I tiptoed along more cautiously.
Next stop was McAfee Knob, arguably the most iconic image of the Appalachian Trail. We passed through a HUGE parking lot and noticed the trail got wider and smoother in order to accommodate all of the foot traffic to the popular destination. As we came out to the famous rock cliff, I immediately realized this was a place where photos would never do justice. The weather had improved from the morning and we were blessed with blue skies, puffy clouds, and an incredible view of the expansive valley below. We took the obligatory photos, ate dinner on the rocks with friends, and watched the sun set.
The following morning we set out for our third destination: Tinker Cliffs. A long line of rocky cliffs hung over the same valley we had seen the night before. We sat and relaxed on the rocks, eating snacks and soaking up the morning view of the valley.
Expectations versus Reality
Expectation: by now I would have read or listened to at least 30 books.
Reality: I have listened to three so far. Turns out I don’t need the constant stimulation like I thought I would to enjoy walking for 10-12 hours a day.
I should note here that we are several hundred miles behind in our blog from where we are in real life. We promise to do our best to catch up soon! For our next post, we will be doing a Question and Answer segment, so post your questions in the comments below to have them answered!
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