11.3 miles, 468 overall (B&B outside Damascus)
The rain seems to have held off overnight. When I wake up I don’t hear the characteristic drops falling off of trees onto my tent. However I know from the weather forecast that this may not last long. I consider waiting in my tent until the afternoon to hike into Damascus. I know Christy won’t be arriving until later anyway. But I would still have to get out of the tent to get my food bag, and I don’t know how I would pass 4-6 hours in my tent. I force myself to get up and get moving, although I wait until 7:30 to do it.
When I do finally get out of my tent I find that the tent is mostly dry. A simple wipe with my pack towel gets rid of the last bits of moisture and I’m able to pack it away mostly dry. As I’m packing up people are leaving the shelter, anxious for a town day. Even Secrets and Shenanigans, who have been behind me ever since Black Bear Resort, got up at 4:30 to start hiking to Damascus and pass us as I’m eating breakfast. Nokey (so named because he has no keys – he sold his house and car before coming to the trail) is considering running the 10 miles to Damascus. I have seen the weather radar and am resigned to the fact that I am going to get wet no matter how fast I hike. I again consider staying in the shelter for a few hours until the worst has passed, but can’t bring myself to do it.
Around 8:30 I finally get moving. It is cloudy and the rain is imminent. I can feel the storm moving in as the wind picks up. When I finally start to hear thunder and see the lightning I get a little worried. The wind is incredibly strong and I know this is a fast-moving storm. I look for a place to hunker down while the violent initial bands of the storm pass. The trail skirts a ridge and seems to provide some good shelter from the wind so I put my pack and poles down and walk back 30 yards with my snacks and water to wait. Several hikers pass me while I’m waiting and wonder what I’m doing. Typically we keep hiking through rain. I simply have a bad feeling about this storm and want to wait for it to pass.
Twenty minutes later the rain continues but the lightning strikes are mostly gone. I put my pack back on and continue. I know the TN/VA border is close so I keep my head up to make sure I don’t miss it. The wind and rain have kicked up a notch and I curse Tennessee a bit for the less-than-pleasant send-off while I contemplate the video I could make at the border showing off the trail conditions. When I finally reach the border I realize my heightened awareness was unnecessary – the border is incredibly well marked, from the signs marking the crossing from one national forest to another to the rocks that hikers have laid across the trail to denote the border. Incredibly as I arrive the wind and rain suddenly stop and the sun begins to poke through the clouds, as if Virginia is welcoming me home. I won’t be rained on for the rest of the day. I had been hoping to find others at the sign so I could have them take a picture, but nobody has lingered here and I don’t want to wait to see if someone is close behind me. I snap a couple pictures, thankful for the front camera on my phone that lets me see the photo I’m about to take, and move on.
A few miles more and I get my first glimpse of Damascus. The first sighting of town is always fun. For one thing, most of us have never been to the towns we are entering so we don’t know what to expect. Once we lay eyes on it we can begin to size it up. How big is it? Are the houses older or newer? Is it spread out or is everything close together? It also gives a tangible feel to the town that until now has simply been a goal. Before we see it the town is simply a milestone on the way to Maine. Now that we can see it, everything that comes with it becomes more real as well including showers, food, and laundry. It always puts a little bounce in our step, and the last few miles into town often pass quickly.
The trail into town seems inviting at first, with an archway and a stroll through a park. However I quickly realize that this isn’t Hot Springs. The first indication is the trail markings. Instead of AT symbols permanently ensconced in the sidewalk as in Hot Springs, Damascus has simply put white blazes on the power line poles. Second, as I walk through town nobody waves or says hi as they did in Hot Springs. The town completely lacks a welcoming feel. Perhaps Damascus is just too acclimated to having hikers come through. It is after all the site of Trail Days, a weekend-long hiker festival that takes place every May that hikers from all parts of the trail catch rides to and hikers from previous years return for. One hiker passing through on his way to Maine is probably not very impressive when compared to Trail Days.
I make my way through town, noting the locations of the places to eat, the outfitter, and some of the lodgings I had heard about. It is 12:30 and Christy won’t be in town until closer to 4:00, so I want to take care of the trail through the town. I hike to the other side and stop when the trail enters the woods again. On my way I text TW to find out what is going on for lunch. She answers immediately that lunch would be good, so after covering the miles I return to find her at one of the lodgings in town. Her husband is here already. Apparently she made it a few more miles last night and then decided to camp. TP caught up to her and camped too, and they both made the last few miles to Damascus this morning. TW has already eaten breakfast (twice) but is ready for lunch so we head to Cowboy’s to get some greasy diner food. I get a cheeseburger with potato wedges, cheese sticks and a soda. When TW’s husband can’t finish his fried chicken and potato wedges I eat his as well.
After lunch we make a trip to the outfitter. I don’t really need anything except a new tent pole. I call MSR and they inform me they can send a replacement pole section to any place on the trail. I don’t have the data book with me so I will have to call them back with the address where I want it sent. After the outfitter I simply waste time until Christy arrives. The owner of the place TW is staying allows me to change into dry clothes in the bunkroom out back.
When Christy gets in we go check in at the B&B. It’s wonderful to see her again. The B&B is about 15 minutes out of Damascus. I get a shower and change into regular clothes that Christy brought with her. It is the first time in non-hiking clothes in over a month. We return to Damascus for dinner and meet up with Nokey, Snagglefoot, and others at Quincey’s. It is karaoke night. With hikers who have just gotten to town and are drinking beers it turns out not to be good karaoke. We laugh at several of them who are particularly interesting. One keeps signing up but can’t even read the words off of the screen. Another sits on stage to sing because he can’t stand.
It gets late and though the party will continue, I need my sleep. We return to the B&B and get to bed early. Although I’m not hiking tomorrow, I still have lots of stuff to get caught up on in my trip along the Appalachian Trail.