After Meg turned back, I had one thing on my mind: miles. The weather on Sunday was good, real good. Good enough to make me realize that I needed to take advantage of the miles while I could and to climb up and over the remaining high elevations of Tennessee and North Carolina. They were noticeable climbs, taking me up and over Roan Mountain, whose summit sits above 6,300 feet. Then came Little Hump and Hump Mountains, whose scenic, meadow-like summits were visible for miles to come. I found myself climbing to the top of the 5,587 foot Hump Mountain at sunset, where the light was spectacular, and had me turning around more times than I can remember so as to take yet another look back on the the dramatic dance of color.
That night I cowgirl-camped at Doll Flats. I arrived a bit after 7pm, and yes by the light of my headlamp. That vow to not hike into the night has been temporarily put on hold, especially because the last two days were almost entirely thawed out, miles and miracle miles of snow free trail. Ahhhh.
The next 78 miles into the town of Damascus would ease along a gentle topography that lingered, mostly, between 2,000 and 3,800 feet. And I had a thought. After looking at the quantity of food, I reasoned that I could stay out until Thursday morning at the latest. But could I hike this remaining distance in less time? Could I make it there before nightfall on Wednesday so as to shower off ten days of filth and enjoy endless amounts of food to satisfy my now incurable hiker hunger? That, and charge up all my electronics that were all on the fritz of running out of battery power.
I let the power of hiker hunger lead me forward. It helped that it was a warm start to the month, where warm pockets of air hid in the rhododendron. At times, I would even describe it as hot. But then the trail would drop to the creeks, where snow still lingered, hiding in creases and nooks. Brrrrrr. The air chilled me, and I picked up my pace.
I hiked past Dennis Cove and Laurel Fork Falls, then up Pond Flats, most definitely a PUD (Pointless Up and Down),which although ascended and descended 2,000 feet in both directions over a mere six miles, it was an enjoyable climb with a rewarding spring at the top. After, I basked in the sun at Watauga Lake, rolled along a ridgeline at sunset, and the wrapped up my 31 mile day by night hiking several remiaining miles to Iron Mountain Shelter.
But before I could climb into my sleeping quilt that evening, I ran into three hikers at the previous shelter. I showed up literally, two minutes after turning on my headlamp, but in all honestly it was past dark. Thru-hikers have this almost superpower to hike past dark without a headlamp. Perhaps it’s a skill, or intuition, or more that were so eager to see how far we can go that we don’t care if we stumble, trip and fall. Anyway, those three folks were so excited to know who this lone woman was, showing up in the dark, a big smile on her face as she hadn’t talked to anyone in two days. Those three hikers were out for a few nights, enjoying the ambiance of camp with a big fire and freshly cooked venison and potatoes. Before I had my pack off, they energetically threw a bowl of food into my hands. What a treat that was, to enjoy a hot meal and a conversation with something other than an orange, plastic duck. Ah Squackers, my good ol’ sidekick and buddy. And then I hiked on, leaving them to their fire, destined for the remaining miles in the dark, where the howl of the wind swirled around me while the lights of nearby towns would be eerily masked by a cloud sitting thick and heavy on the 6 miles to the next shelter.
The day into Damascus (deemed the Trail Town USA), was even easier. 26 miles along a very gentle terrain. It rained hard that morning, and driven by hiker hunger and the challenge of making these big mile days, I found myself more than halfway by noon. It warmed up that day, the sun poking out and an air of humidity even. I crossed over the Virginia/Tennessee border, and was excited to see a new state on the 24th day of my hike. 469 miles.
While in town I stayed at the Woodchuck Hostel, which was a lovely spot to stay. I was the only guest there, as it’s the off-season, and that was exactly what I craved. Peace and quiet to relax. Even though I spend heaps of time by myself on tge trail, I still enjoy a little R&R by myself. I washed off all the filth, and made a giant pasta dinner. I had only carried just enough food the last stretch and I could literally feel myself shrinking. I starred at my bowl of food with a zombie-like gaze until empty, at which point I dutifully looked for more.
The next day I made some phone calls and then in a park, met a man who had hiked in 2003. We swapped stories, and then he invited me to lunch. I had just eater three Belgian waffles, smothered in butter, whipped cream and syrup, but I just couldn’t say no. The hiker hunger wins every time.
After, I stopped in at the Mount Rogers Outfitter where they were holding a few boxes: a resupply package my parents sent me, a letter from a friend, and a box one of my dear followers sent…you’re awesome Ben and yes, those were all the tasty treats my heart desires! And as I unloaded all the contents and arranged them in my pack, I chatted with the very kind staff, including a hiker I met on the PCT in 2007. I had a good time enjoying a little bit of the fame, I guess that’s what you could call it. But in the back of my mind I was thinking that it was nearly 4pm and I had a dozen miles to hike. I sucked it up, inevitably donning my headlamp by evening. I think I need to make a Q&A link on my website, however, so folks can get the answers they’re curious about without my sanity being comprised because I’m walking in the woods after dark… Speaking of which, I need to get off this phone and start hiking! Thanks for reading!
UP NEXT: Grayson Highlands State Park
And on a different note, I said I’d catch up on email in Damascus, but it is true that I am indeed the first NOBO thru-hiker of the season, and well, many folks were eager for a chat. I’ll catch up soon.