Week Six: Thomas Knob Misadventures
Day 36: 19.7
We started off the morning climbing over a big ole hump. I wasn’t in the mood for a morning climb so I tried to tune it out by listening to my Game of Thrones audiobook. Then it hailed on us at the top. Because why not?! I had to laugh because it felt like mother natch was giving me the middle finger. We rolled into Boots Off for an early lunch break. When we arrived we ran into Cans and newly named Cake on their way our. I was able to have two pieces of Cake’s famous cheesecake for lunch. I definitely regretted that choice later. We had a lot of ridge walking today after the beautiful Watauga Dam. Evergreen, Mcfly, and I were originally going to Vandeventer Shelter but decided to push a little farther to a stealth site with Skybird in hopes that getting to Virginia will be a piece of cake tomorrow. It was surprisingly chilly tonight and I was so happy to cuddle up in my tent. Another noteworthy thing. I tossed my bear hang in ONE TRY tonight. I used the method that Aquaman taught me and it worked like a charm.
Day 37: 25.3
We received trail magic at TN 91 this morning! TN 91 is apparently a popular place to give out free shit to hikers. There were a bunch of shenanigans going on and we ran into Firefly, Cans, Cake, and General. It was so good to see them and have real conversations with the guys. After that road crossing, the trail gets blissfully flat as you walk over some pastures. We walked by the iconic AT barn and had an impromptu photo shoot
The going was chill all day and we had beautiful weather. I was ahead of the pack for most of the day because the weather was giving my legs a new life. I changed midday into my hiking shorts and it felt marvelous! Everyone stopped at the last shelter in VA but Evergreen, Mcfly, and I pushed our first over-20-mile day to get to the state line!! I feel like a BEAST. We are camping on the state line tonight. We will be in Virginia for 544 more miles and I’m so looking forward to it. I will not catch the Virginia Blues.
*General later told me that my hiking on this day had him shooketh”
Day 38: 3.7
Ohmahgahd. Evergreen, McFly, and I are in Damascus! I cannot believe we made it to this legendary trail town. Obviously, we are here way ahead of Trail Days. Everyone has been asking me if I’ll be coming back for Trail Days and I really don’t think I want to. We got into town before 8 in the morning so our breakfast options were limited to the Damascus Diner or the Damascus Diner. Damascus Diner it was! See below for our thru-hiker feast.
I complained to the waitress about our struggle to find a place to stay and she mentioned that the owner of the diner also owns the Dragonfly Inn. I was thrilled that he gave us a bit of a deal on his last room available. His house is absolutely beautiful. We all feel like kings in our master suite. I cannot recommend this place enough.
Mcfly and I celebrated his 21st birthday with dinner at Mojo’s. We ran into Firefly and Mr. Firefly having a romantic catch-up in the same place. Mr. Firefly caught wind that it was McFly’s birthday and took care of our tab without us knowing. Feeling super happy as I snuggle up in bed with Evergreen on one side and McFly on the flip out.
Day 39: 21.5
I had a big day planned for today. Firefly offered to slackpack McFly and me 17 miles to a road crossing where Mr. Firefly was going to meet her. I couldn’t say no to that! I carried my whole pack except for my food (which was nice and heavy coming out of town). Weirdly enough our little group fell off today. I lost track of Evergreen leaving town and McFly ended up wanting to go back to Damascus with the Fireflys. By my lonesome, I pushed on to Buzzard Rocks. I saw some cool trees.
The trail was pretty.
I arrived at Buzzard Rocks.
Aquaman slept here a few nights ago and highly recommended it for sunset. When I got to the top the wind was whipping and it wasn’t a safe environment for me to camp on. I found a stealth camp out of the wind a little farther down trail. This is the first time I’ve camped alone on trail and everything is making me jump. It doesn’t help that the wind is nasty and only going to get worse tomorrow. My plan is to do a couple of big-mile days so I can catch up with Aquaman, who is slowing down to see his family for a few days.
Day 40: 6.9
There goes that plan. This has been the day from hell. I don’t even know where to start. I woke up to the sound of rain on my tent and while I wasn’t thrilled, I was trying to stay positive because I packed out carrots for the ponies in the Grayson Highlands. THE HIGHLANDS. I’ve been looking forward to this day for so long and now it will forever go down in my AT history book as the crappiest weather I saw on trail. I don’t have any pictures from this day because my phone was out of commission due to the near-freezing temperatures and rain.
After getting up, I realized that I had somehow left my trekking poles a quarter-mile SOBO on top of Buzzard Rocks. I backtracked to get them and lost the trail because of the rain on my glasses multiple times. The rain was bad but I was pushing through. At one point I found myself at a parking lot with a real-life four-walled bathroom. I huddled in there for a little to try to warm myself up. Pushing up to the Highlands, the weather went from bad to worse. Hell hath no fury like this storm. It was less than 40 degrees, not including the whipping wind chill. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me because of how heavy the rain was coming down. Heavy rain is NOT easy for me to navigate in the first place due to my glasses. The trail was a river. I was easily submerged in four inches of water at any given point. Thunder was shaking my body and lightning was tearing the sky apart. This was the first time on trail that I was genuinely terrified. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop moving. What else was I going to do? Sit under a tree? Cry? Get more and more soaked? I told myself that I just had to make it to the next shelter.
After what felt like hours, I finally arrived at Thomas Knob Shelter. I met Lord Hobo and Disk as they were rolling out to try to get to the next shelter. I told myself that I was also going to try to push to Wise once I had a hot lunch. It was 10:30 a.m. General rolled in not long after me, soaked to the bone. He immediately stripped and put on dry clothes. He told me that he was staying here the rest of the day and night. I was baffled. It’s only 11 a.m.! I was still in my wet clothes and couldn’t stop myself from shivering. Cold and wet is a recipe for disaster. I wanted to make miles but I couldn’t imagine going over the exposed Highlands in this insane storm. General ended up winning that discussion and I quickly changed into my dry clothes. My shivering lessened. Cans, Evergreen, Cake, Noodle Harvester, and Electrolyte all rolled in soaking wet and they all decided to stay at the shelter as well. Cans’ phone died in the puddle that was his rain jacket pocket. All of us set up our beds on the second floor of Thomas Knob while the storm raged. The roof above us sounded like it was going to be ripped off the shelter. It was scary loud. At around 6 p.m., there was a little break in the storm so we put our clothes on bushes to try to get the wind to dry them off. It didn’t do much.
We cooked dinner. Then the bears came. Two HUGE black bears at the treeline sitting on their haunches staring at us. They weren’t scared of us at all. For kicks, the bear box was a few hundred yards down the trail right past the bears. Cans made up a bear song, “Hey there bear, go back to your lair, show us your dairy air,” so we sang that at the top of our lungs while going to put away our food to try and scare them away with noise. We’re all pretty concerned that the bears will end up in the shelter with us overnight. I’m cold and everything is soaked and I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Day 41: 3.7
We woke up to our clothes either frozen or freezing. On the plus side, we saw ponies!!
Ponies. Cans, Evergreen, General, Cake, and I decided to try to make it to the parking lot in the Highlands where the Grayson General Store owner would be able to come get us and take us to the store. We couldn’t keep hiking in our wet clothes. Wet clothes and near-freezing temperatures are a recipe for hypothermia. Another bonus to keep us motivated—we hit 500 miles!
When we got to the trailhead, the owner wasn’t answering his phone. Randomly, a man and woman came up to us to give us some trail magic, we gratefully accepted and told them our situation. They hardly hesitated before offering to take us down to the store themselves. The drive was easily 20 minutes and they couldn’t fit us all in their car at once so they took two trips! I couldn’t even believe how generous they were being. General, Cans, and I got to the store first and tossed all of our wet clothes in the wash while huddling up to the multiple space heaters in the laundry room.
General and I started discussing what our options were. We could go back on trail after the laundry was done, but it was going to be rainy and cold that night too. It would have been a waste of laundry and our time. We could stay at the store, but a room was $250. Then, Evergreen and Cake arrived and they informed us that the couple offered to buy us a room for the night in the General Store. I could have cried. The place was a palace. We had two bedrooms, a laundry room, a huge bathroom, a full kitchen, and a huge living room. I took the most glorious shower. When I got out, I was told that Firefly and McFly had rolled in! I was so glad to seem that they had made it through the storm. They both decided to stay at the store as well. Cans and I made family dinner and we had a boozy little family evening sheltered from the storm.
Day 42: 22.2
After the past two days of weather, today felt like a blur. When we were dropped off at the trailhead, the Highlands were covered in snow. We hiked a lot. We started off hiking in snow and finished the day without it.
It felt good to be making progress again. General, Cans, Cake, Evergreen, and I settled into Trimpi Shelter at the end of the day after Raccoon Branch Wilderness (Side note: I’d like that name changed because I neglected to see a single raccoon the entire time I was there). I got my bear line tangled up in a tree and had to get on General’s shoulders for ten minutes to untangle it. I was laughing so hard! The guys foraged a bunch of firewood after dinner and we got a nice little fire going for bedtime in the shelter. I’m really glad that we all had this wild experience in the Highlands together. It’s made us a nice little family. I have a good feeling about us.
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