Trail Update: Erwin to Damascus
To say the last few weeks have gone by fast would be an understatement, which isn’t much of an excuse for why we’re 300 miles up the trail from where our last blog left off. Hiking is a demanding profession! Here’s an attempt to catch you up to speed and fill in the latest happenings. This post covers days 31-38.
Camped just before Low Gap
miles: Erwin to Damascus // mm: 358
mood: Three smileys
miles: 17.4// mm: 375.4
mood: three smileys
Roan Mountain, TN (tented at Mountain Harbor B&B)
miles: 18.5// 393.8
mood: Four smileys
Camped along the river
miles: 11.6// mm: 405.4
mood: Three smileys
Just after Laurel Falls
miles: 15.2// mm: 420.6
Mood: 2.5 smielys until the Falls, Four smileys afterwards
miles: 19.4// mm: 440
mood: Three smileys
miles: 18.9// mm: 458.9
mood: Three smileys
Woodchuck Hostel, Damascus, VA
miles: 9.9// mm: 468.8
mood: at least four smileys– so happy to be in town!
We left Erwin without our trail-buddy, Paddington, planning to meet back up with him in Damascus. After a couple of days off, we were ready to hit the trail, and for the first time, managed to overcome the town hangover with relative ease. The stretch from Erwin, TN, to Roan Mountain, TN, was simply beautiful. We had excellent weather, and the terrain was lush and diverse. By far, the best part of those miles were the bald mountains right after Roan Mountain, before descending into the town of Roan. Bald mountains are basically giant, tall meadows. You can see the trail for miles, the path snaking its way up a mountain that is completely devoid of tress or brush. While having a panoramic view of the trail and the climb ahead of you can be intimidating, it’s really incredible to be able to hike with 360 degree views for so long. As you hike up through the meadows, inspired by the magnificent landscape, you can’t help but cue the iconic Sound of Music song “The Hills Are Alive” in your head. The scenery and vibe are uncannily similar. Once on top of the balds, you have a clear line of sight for as far as the eye can see. I can’t quite choose a favorite terrain between the balds and the deciduous pine forests. Both are incredible and a welcome departure from the dense forest that has made up a majority of our time on the trail thus far.
Once we descended into Roan, we popped over to the Mountain Harbor B&B for the night. We just pitched our tent on the property and got a ride into town for some real food and a quick resupply. We planned to try and make it to Damascus in four and a quarter days, our arrival there slated for the morning of the 5th day. The stretch between Roan and Damascus was fairly unremarkable, if we’re being honest. And this is where I think it’s helpful to just lay it out there: not every day is spectacular. Some are really boring. And forgettable. Although not unexpected, I think I’m a little surprised at just how many days are unremarkable. This was especially true once we got into Virginia and went days without a major milestone, landmark, or sometimes even a view. Such was the stretch from Roan to Damascus, with the exception of one spot.
Laurel Falls was truly beautiful, not only in moniker, but also in reality. We hit Laurel Falls at the end of a hot day and found the best campsite we’ve had so far on the trail. Located just past the falls, the site was perfect: a great clearing, nice and flat, situated right along the river. We couldn’t have asked for more! Naturally, our enjoyment of the river and the fire Rico built was cut short by a quick but powerful thunderstorm that blew in—but such is standard for life on the AT. By this point, we were really, really excited to get into Damascus. The day before, we planned to do a 20 mile day and then glide into town after an easy 9 mile final jaunt. There were a number of hikers on the trail that day pushing for a “damascusthon”, doing 26 miles or more, to get into Damascus that night. We contemplated following suit, but figured that we could get an early enough start in the morning to still have a full day there when we got in. I don’t know if it was the lure of town or the wear of the hot and humid weather over the last few days. Regardless, the night before we got into Damascus, neither Rico nor I got much sleep. At about 5:45, we decided to pack it up and head out, which I should mention is shockingly early for Rico to be functioning, let alone encouraging me to move faster. Other hikers must have felt the same itch because when we left camp at 6:45, we were the last ones out. We did the last 9 miles into town pretty quickly, thanks to easy terrain and the promise of laundry and a shower. Eight days without laundry was about 7.5 days too long, and our clothes were in desperate need of a wash– or five–as were we!
Walking into Damascus, which is a “trail town,” meaning the trail walks right through it, we heaved a tremendous sigh of relief. Pick your reason—any or all:
1. We had hit Virginia–3 states down, 11 to go!
2. Zero day!
3. My birthday celebration!!
4. My sisters were coming into town in a few days!
5. I mentioned laundry, right?!
We had called a hostel a couple nights back, thanks to a fellow hiker named Walking Home, who let us use his phone (please don’t think for a minute that AT&T service has improved along the trail), so we had a reservation for a private cabin at Woodchucks Hostel, just off the trail and before the Main Street. Our foresight paid off; hitting Damascus the weekend before Trail Days, things were pretty well-booked. Hikers had already begun pouring in from all over the trail, some taking time off, others slack-packing, until the festival. Coming up next–full post on Damascus, Trail Days, and how great it was to wear real clothes for the first time in six weeks!
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