Erwin, TN to Damascus, VA 

Fancy Pants:
Day 40- 4.30.15
Hiked 12.8 miles today (342.9-355.7). Left Erwin today around noon. After talking to my sister Kelly, we are aiming to get in as many miles as possible between now and next Friday when she picks us up for Katie’s graduation. I googled the distances, and there is an extra hour of driving for her if we stick to the 10 miles per day pace. If we average ~15 miles per day, we’ll get all the way to Damascus (Virginia!!).  
The climb out of Erwin got steep, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as when we left Hot Springs. The weather was nice and there were frequent water sources (we get to carry less weight).
  Today, I realized I could stick my water bottle in the side pocket of my new pack angled so that I can reach it myself. In my previous pack, the side pockets weren’t accessible by me while I was wearing the pack. I will probably get rid of my water bladder when we go home for Katie’s graduation (it weighs ~9oz).
 
  

  

  

  

  Today was also the first time I’ve listened to music while hiking. I usually just sing a mish-mash of songs in my head. Like all of the songs from License to Ill all mashed together or something. It was a pretty similar experience to when I listened to music for the first time while running. I kind of zoned out and cranked out some miles. I also felt like I was being pulled forward by our new goal of getting to Damascus by May 8th. 
   

   

We passed a lot of people from our group today while hiking out of Erwin, except they were all going southbound!  It appears that everyone stay at Miss Janet’s and decided to slack-back 20 miles instead of leaving northbound. (Slack-backing is where you have someone drop you off north of where you are with a daypack and then you hike south back to where you’d left off previously.  You cover miles faster without your full pack on). Fuego and I decided after that that we are heading to Maine, and for us, that means walking north the whole time, not south. Hike your own hike, but for us, that hike is nobo only. 
 Tots recommended that we hike past our goal campsite to the top of Unaka Mountain for the night, so we did. The last mile uphill was pretty tough, but not tough enough to cloud our positive thoughts about the rest of the hike. Great views, great weather (minus the storm that rolled through that was kind of scary), and we felt pretty accomplished. 
Day 41- 5.1.15
355.7-375.6. We hiked 19.9 official miles today, but we honestly hiked more than that due to the recent addition of switchbacks in some areas and other re-routes that were not in the guide book nor in the phone app. Very thankful for the re-routes- the old trail went straight up the mountain!
We woke up FREEZING today!  We were at a pretty high altitude, and it was definitely noticeable. There was ice on the ground everywhere!  We camped in a spruce forest, with soft ground covered with tree needles. It looks so much different that other forested areas because of the lack of underbrush. The terrain wasn’t too difficult, and we ended up hiking our longest mileage day yet!  
   

     

We were in a cloud pretty much all day. It didn’t rain again, but every time the wind blew, the water on the trees made it feel like it was raining. I changed between one and two long-sleeved shirts all day, and switched from mittens/no mittens and hat/ no hat all day- typical Fancy Pants.  
We ended up passing our intended camp spot due to lack of water nearby and hiked up to Ash Gap- about halfway up Roan Mountain. We hung out with some nice local guys that were backpacking for the weekend. They started a fire that ended up being huge and shared some vodka with us. They work at a weaving company that used to have the patent for Cordura fabric (which our Sea to Summit compression sacks are made out of). Pretty cool. Bionic Woman hiked by in the dark and we talked her out of climbing Roan Mountain due to it being cold, icy, muddy and slippery (not to mention dark!). She has a prosthetic leg and is aiming to be the first person to hike the AT with one. She hiked the PCT back in 2006 before her climbing accident 15 months ago. 
Day 42- 5.2.15
Hiked 17.9 miles today (375.6-393.5). 
We woke up a little damp this morning. I’m not quite sure how to pack up the new tent when there is condensation inside between the tent and the condensation liner!  The hike today can be described in two words: rocky and bald. A lot of the trail today was covered with rocks.  Coming off of Roan Mountain, the trail had a lot of rocks (each was about 4 inches across), so you really had to watch your step so you wouldn’t roll your ankle. While watching our steps closely, we missed the turn on to go to the highest shelter on the AT and also missed a turn off to stay on the AT. Oops! 

                   

We climbed 4 mountains today with balds at the top. 360 degree views of Tennessee and North Carolina mountains from the top of each bald. It was really easy to see the trail that we had already hiked (or that trail we had yet to hike) on each one. We don’t usually know exactly which mountain we are about to climb, so it was a nice change. We met Crispy and Spider at the top of Hump Mountain and again at Doll Flats. The view from Doll Flats is beautiful! Doll Flats is the northern-most part of the AT that is in North Carolina. 2 states down, 12 more to go!

 

  

  

  

  

  

   Crispy and Spider convinced us to hike a few more miles to be closer to the next gap where we will resupply in the morning. 
At some point today, the Sawyer water filter jumped out of the side pocket of Fuego’s backpack. We used Aquamira to chemically treat our water than night. Planning to buy a new Sawyer filter when we get home. 
Day 43- 5.3.15

Hiked 17 miles today (393.5-410.5).  We camped .3mi from route 19 so we could resupply early and get back out on the trail. Turns out, Sunday morning at 8:30am is not the best time to hitch a ride or to resupply in a small town. We were trying to go west to go to Bob’s Dairyland and the grocery store, but didn’t have any luck hitching. Decided to go in whichever direction someone would take us, which ended up being to Elk Creek, NC. We went to a diner for breakfast and did the resupply at a convenience store (larger store is closed Sundays). Back on the trail at 11 and it was hot!  The terrain was mostly rolling hills through field and through the woods, but full sun and and no wind made for some slow miles. After mile 400 (!!!) we picked up the pace a bit to be able to make it to the campsite we picked out. 

   

  

  

  

 We passed two waterfalls today (Jones Falls and Mountaineer Falls) and walked along a river for awhile. Beautiful scenery. Ran into Mr. Ambitious, Rainbow and Young Gun at a bench. We all ended up at the same campsite, along with Cyndi Loppers. It kept sprinkling and threatening rain, so we decided against making a fire. Young Gun had us all say one thing we learned today. Was kind of cool to see the responses. Would definitely like to do that more at the end of the day!

   

 

Day 44- 5.4.15
Hiked 8 miles today (410.5-418.5). Planned for a short day today because we wanted to get to Kincora as early as possible to get the treehouse (they don’t take reservations).  When we arrived, Bob Peoples wasn’t there (He runs the hostel. He is also a pretty well know trail angel and known for his trail maintenance work. He is the man behind the re-routes in this section. Thankfully, turning some straight uphill hikes into switchbacks) our friend Two Sticks (now Chief Two Sticks- movin’ on up!) was there with a few others. Turns out, the treehouse is just a cabin behind the bunkhouse (unless it was somewhere else and we didn’t see it). We decided to head out and go to Black Bear Resort that was just down the road (when you decide to stop hiking for the day, it’s a pretty strong urge). Hitched a ride pretty much the second we got down the driveway (!!).  The place was pretty big, with a lot of different buildings. It’s a family run site, with the family living here. They have 3 kids running around. We rented a cabin for $45, and paid the extra $5 for linens (part of the joy of not camping is sleeping in a bed with sheets!).  Showered, did laundry and figured out what else we needed to buy food-wise. 
   

     

The cabin is really simple, but they are so cute!  Rainbow, Young Gun, Crispy and Spider came by the resort for resupply, but ended up staying the night when they heard of a group who decided to slack pack tomorrow past Wautagua Dam. Rainbow and Young Gun stayed in our cabin and Crispy and Spider stayed in Evergreen’s cabin. Crispy started throwing up around 7 or so. We were all getting concerned around 10 or 11, once he didn’t start to show any signs of improvement. Once he agreed that he needed to go to the hospital, we had to wake up the owners of the resort for a ride to Elizabethton. Definitely scary for everyone since it isn’t obvious if someone has a water bug (always treat your water!), or if it is something contagious like norovirus. 
Day 45- 5.5.15
Hiked 17.7 miles today (418.5-436.2).  Woke up early and caught up on Crispy’s condition. They got home from the hospital a little after 2am. He was diagnosed with ‘travelers diarrhea’ (girardia or cryptosporidium), so nothing that is contagious. They gave him an anti-nausea medication and some IV fluids. He is going to take a zero day with Spider (he is waiting on his wallet and some other stuff to come in the mail). 
We packed up our packs and then packed the daypack. It was so weird to not be wearing all of my belongings on my back!  Fuego carried the daypack (<5lbs) since he still needed to GPS the trail and waypoints. The weather was perfect and the trail was beautiful! Karma Jean (Evergreen’s dog) was having so much fun without her pack on, jumping in the water every chance she got and running to the front of our group and back to make sure we were all together.     Laurel Fork Falls was about a mile from our starting point, and then we followed the river before starting the climb over Pond Flat Mountain.   

  

  

  

  

 Without my pack, I felt light and strong, keeping a much faster pace climbing uphill that we ever had before. We also passed the family from Texas again- still going strong!  After Pond Flat, we descended to Wautagua Lake and went to a park with a beach area. Some hikers went swimming, but I was being a weenie and only went in up to my knees- the water was cold!  From the beach area, we had another 4 miles until we reached the drop off point for our packs. The trail around the lake to the dam reminded me of the Noland Trail in Newport News. The trail followed the outline of the lake and had small hills. I ended up having Fuego hold my trekking poles so I could run. I hadn’t run in a few months and it felt great! (I’d be lying if I said I ran a lot right before we left!). Ran a mile or mile and a half, then stopped once we started going uphill to get to the dam. On top of the dam, the sun was beating down and there was no breeze. The rest of the hike today was the same- really hot, really sunny and no breeze. 
   

       

We picked up our packs at the road crossing and started up the hill. Hiking with a 30 pound pack after hiking without a pack all day wasn’t very fun. We had about 5 miles of mostly climbing until we reached the campsite. The last miles of the day are usually tough to do, but with the weight, terrain and the weather, these miles were brutal!  We had both run out of water from the last mile or so we were very thankful to see the shelter.  We were rewarded with a rock outcropping overlooking the town below and clear skies to be able to see it all. 
Day 46- 5.6.15

We hiked 17.8 miles today (436-454.0). We were on the trail by 8:30, and it was already hot!  We stopped for water and a snack pretty much every time we passed a water source. We were so sweaty today- my hands were dripping sweat and I didn’t want to hold my trekking poles. Thankfully, the terrain today was more gently rolling hills.  We met up with Young Gun and Cyndi Loppers at the IS 91 road crossing. We hiked part of the trail that is wheelchair accessible then had to walk through a cow pasture. As we were hopping the fence (the trail does require you to do this in some areas), a few cows perked up and walked towards us, which made me a little uncomfortable. I’ve never heard of a cow attack, but you can never be too cautious!  Young Gun called Miss Janet for a ride from Low Gap. We declined the ride. We didn’t want to get to Virginia by car, even if we had a guaranteed ride back to the trail in the morning for a slack pack. The terrain between here and Damascus was mostly flat, so slack packing didn’t sound too appealing. We had a nice campsite to ourselves less than a quarter mile from Low Gap. 
Day 47- 4.7.15
Hiked 15 miles today (454.0-469.0).  Our original plan was to hike to a campsite 1.8 miles from Damascus, but the terrain was easy and it was early, so we decided to go into town. We ran into Brother Ty and Phoddo hiking southbound. They had stayed Sheila in Erwin and were hiking south, mixing backpacking and slack- backing to make up their miles. On the way, we entered Virginia!  Honestly, when we started this adventure, I’m not sure I actually believed we could walk to our home state!  Yet, here we were, crossing from Tennessee to Virginia! Damascus is another trail town where the Appalachian Trail goes right down the main road in town. We came out of the woods between two houses!  There is a big town park next to a river where they will host Trail Days next weekend. From the recommendation of Brother Ty, we stayed at Woodchuck Hostel. This would be our first time tenting in town. Chuck thru-hiked in 2012 and opened the hostel afterward. It’s an old house, a garage, a covered deck and a teepee. He sleeps in the garage on a twin bed and has a desk in front of the bed where he checks everyone in. Rainbow, Young Gun and Cyndi Loppers stayed at Woodchuck too. 
We took showers, picked up our resupply box and got some dinner. Afterward, we walked to the brewery. We ran into Chief Two Sticks and some others and played Cricket. To my surprise, we actually won!  I think I have played darts all of 3 times ever, so it was definitely luck on my part!

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