The Vortex Is Strong in Damascus

Day 29 (7.5 miles) Laurel Falls campsite to Boots Off Hostel, Hampton, Tenn.

Laurel Falls campsite was wonderful, sleeping peacefully by a quiet river. Three guys about my age were camped nearby; I called them the Charlotte Mountain Men. They’re section hiking but I don’t recall how far they said that they were going.

The day was a nero (near zero) for me, several miles uphill then several miles downhill and chill at the hostel the rest of the day.

Some folks at the hostel were Wiley, Navster from my hometown, Sol, whom I had met at Station 19e, Cotton, Lodie Dodie, and many more.

Day 30 (20.5 miles) Tenn. 91 to Boots Off Hostel. Slack Pack

I was having breakfast and coffee at the hostel getting ready to take a zero when Wiley asked if I wanted to split the cost to hire a shuttle and slack pack. I’m willing to try most anything once so I said yes.

Wiley, Navster, Sol, and I got a ride 20 miles up the trail to Tenn. 91 and hiked back to the hostel with small daypacks. Knocked it out in less than seven hours. Unfortunately, I knew almost everyone I passed on the trail and they were giving me the stink eye. I heard comments like, “You’re going the wrong way” and “Where’s your real pack?” Yeah, whatever.

Folks seen on the trail: Audrey, Lodie Dodie, Cotton, Stumbles, Tinkerbell, Rampage, Charlotte Mountain Men, and more.

Back at the hostel I saw Bluegrass again and hung out playing and listening to music with Wiley and Navster.

Day 31 (21.5 miles) Tenn. 91 to Damascus, Va., Hikers Inn

After a breakfast and coffee at the Boots Off Hostel, Sol, Wiley, Navster, Rocket, and I loaded into the Hiker Hauler and Grumpy drove us up to Tenn. 91. Four of us took off hiking in the cold, wet, windy weather. Grumpy and Rocket drove to Damascus to drop off the other’s gear; since they were slack packing again today, I carried my full pack.

Wind, rain, and cold continued throughout most of the day, but the terrain and trail were not too tough. I stopped for lunch and hot coffee, which gave me an afternoon recharge. Passing the border from Tennessee to Virginia was a morale booster. The AT goes right under the iconic Welcome to Damascus sign, making a perfect finale for the day’s hike.

In town, I went directly to the outfitter and replaced some gear I had lost in the past week or so. Quickly checked into the Hikers Inn, which is by far the nicest place I’ve stayed yet. Walked down the street to the Damascus Diner, just opened today, and was greeted by Cotton, Farmall, Rampage, and amazing food and service. I’m going back for breakfast tomorrow.

Back at the inn I took a hot shower, sent my clothes to be laundered, and discovered the WiFi is strong. Uploaded all my recent videos to YouTube (Champ Hikes) and backed up a couple weeks worth of photos.

Still want to take a zero but there’s no room in this inn tomorrow night. I’ll check around town and see what the options are elsewhere.

Day 32 (16 miles) Damascus, Va., to Lost Mountain Shelter

The vortex is strong in Damascus, I didn’t start hiking until about 11 a.m. First a shower at the Hikers Inn, then a hearty breakfast at Damascus Diner, a quick run through Dollar General, popped into Mt. Rogers Outfitters, and finally a coffee from Mojo Coffeehouse. Yes, the vortex is strong in Damascus.

Eventually I got into the rhythm of hiking and made some miles. Didn’t see anyone on the trail until late afternoon when Moose came by. That young man is booking and already doing some 30-mile days. Light rain on and off all day kept things cool but not too wet.

Made it to the Lost Mountain Shelter around 6 p.m. and the place was full, plus a few tents set up nearby. I got my tent up and dinner done just before the rain started. Moose pitched his tent next to mine and turned in for the night; he plans on an early start tomorrow.

Day 33 (13 miles) Lost Mountain Shelter campsite to Thomas Knob Shelter campsite.

Coffee and breakfast in the tent this morning as it was drizzling outside and everything was wet. Packed and started pushing north by 8 a.m. Most all day was uphill, over Whitetop Mountain and up Mt. Rogers. The rain and wind did not stop and at times was intense. The trail was a nonstop river and waterfall; keeping your feet dry was not an option. Kept my rain jacket, rain kilt, and gloves on all day.

Passed Tea Time and Peak today. They’re flip-flopping Pennsylvania to Georgia, then Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. Might see them again up north.

I believe some sort of bug passed through my system today; not debilitating but some intestinal distress and low energy levels. Gladly stopped hiking early and set up camp in a sheltered and quiet spot slightly north of Thomas Knob Shelter. After putting on some dry clothes and warming up I ate a hot dinner and began to feel better.

Looking forward to some iconic AT landmarks tomorrow-the Fat Squeeze rock tunnel and the feral ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park. Hopefully it will not rain all day again.

Day 34 (16.1 miles) Thomas Knob Shelter campsite to Hurricane Mountain campsite

I got a decent night’s sleep in the tent, and really needed it. The winds blew all night but my tent was nestled among some evergreen trees and completely sheltered. It was cold up there, though, and everything was slightly frozen early this morning.

Got packed and had breakfast before hitting the trail around 7:30 a.m. The morning sunlight and the trail into Grayson Highlands State Park was especially captivating and I took many photos. Met two ladies from Montreal; sounded like they mostly spoke French, but they’re here hiking the Virginia section. Met Beaver Pelt and captured a nice image of his silhouette standing between some rocks.

Of course it was big fun going through the Fat Man Squeeze rock formation and getting photos of the wild ponies. Passed the 500-mile milestone and celebrated with Penguin, who rolled us a couple of cigarettes, my first in about 30 years.

Rolled into Hurricane Mountain campsite and set up my tent just before the rain started. Cooked dinner in the vestibule section of the tent and am currently waiting for the rain to ease up so I can go hang my bear bag.

Hopefully I can make it to Partnership Shelter (aka Pizza Shelter) tomorrow; it’s almost 20 miles away but if the weather is good it’s doable.

Day 35 (19.3 miles) Hurricane Mountain campsite to Partnership Shelter

It rained most of the night so everything was wet; I packed it up and started hiking around 7 a.m. After a few miles it was time for a hot breakfast and coffee. Did it quickly because there was a lot to do today.

Around noon it was time for lunch and I decided an afternoon recharge was needed, so more coffee. Rampage arrived and chatted for a moment. She hikes in Crocs and hates coffee, but I like her.

Elsewhere on the trail I passed the two ladies from Montreal. They’re section hiking and we have passed each other ever since Damascus. While crossing a rural dirt road I met a couple from Indiana who are driving the TransAmerica Trail and had stopped to briefly walk a piece of the AT.

A couple hours later I arrived at Partnership Shelter and Rampage had already ordered a pizza. I was headed into Marion for resupply, laundry, and a bed for the night so I called a shuttle. The Montreal ladies arrived just in time to share my ride to town. We landed at the Econo Lodge. Still not sure what we’re doing in the morning but my pack is heavy with a five-day supply and ready to go.

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