Damascus, VA – mile 469 – 21.4% of trail completed
May 24th – Hampton, TN to Vandeventer Shelter
Total miles on AT – 14.9
Elevation gain – 3396ft
Elevation loss – 1791ft
Weather: sunny and warm
Very happy overall with my knees today. I went super slow to start. I took the one mile side trail back to the AT then climbed 1700 feet up a mountain that sits pretty much out of the way before heading straight back down to the highway. I did less than six miles in over three hours and concentrated very hard on how I walked downhill, leading with my heals and rolling my feet over in order to distribute the force of each step over the entire foot from heal to toe. I shortened my steps and stood straight up during the steeper parts and that seemed to help.
As far as the day itself, it was absolutely picture perfect – clear blue sky and a nice warm temperature. At highway 321 the trail hits Watauga Lake where there is a swimming area. I stood in over my knees and the sun felt nice on my shoulders.
Near the top of the climb to the shelter late in the day I saw something about three paces ahead of me. Once I saw the slight movement I immediately knew what it was – a rattlesnake. I had just passed Pish and her dog Chef so I stopped and waited for her to come up the trail to warn her. To my amazement she was able to get her dog to sit on the trail a good twenty feet behind while she took her hiking pole and removed the snake from the trail as it rattled in irritation. I was quite impressed. Turns out Pish majored in animal science at Penn State and spent some time working on a project to see whether fracking affects the population of rattlesnakes. She’s handled a snake or two in her time. She showed me a video of her earlier in the day handling a big black rat snake – she was having a great day.
The shelter has a lively atmosphere in large part due to the personality of Gem, an exuberant 42 year old woman whom I hadn’t seen since the second day of my hike. The views from the shelter overlook the dammed up lake and promises for an amazing sunrise tomorrow.
Week 5 Totals
Miles: 93.8 (13.4)
Elevation gain: 15,175ft (2154)
Elevation loss: 14,358ft (2051)
Hiker points: 109.0 (15.6)
Avg start time: 10:11am
Avg finish time: 5:35pm
Total time hiking: 39:20 (5:37)
May 25th – Vandeventer Shelter to Double Springs Shelter
Total miles on AT – 14.4
Elevation gain – 1175ft
Elevation loss – 735ft
Weather: sunny and warm
Everyone got up for the sunrise but there was a slight miscalculation as to where it would actually rise. Turns out it was in the trees to our left, But views to the lake, the valley below, and the distant mountains were still spectacular. An extending cloud covered the valley floor and looked like a giant glacier.
I went back to bed for an hour and when I emerged from my tent like a butterfly from a cocoon almost everyone was gone.
Early in the day I lifted my head to take a look down the trail and I saw what appeared to be Pish’s German Sheppard mix running towards me. No wait, it’s not running towards me, it’s running away from me, and it’s not a dog, it’s a bear. He soon took a sharp right East and disappeared from the ridge.
A few miles later I came across what looked like a dead chipmunk in the trail. I stood over it wondering what happened to it. “Who did this to you? Did someone step on you? Who would do such a thing?” I touched him with my pole and although his body was limp, I could feel that he was alive. I began to notice that he was still breathing as his mid section was moving in and out. I tried to clear him off the trail so no one else could harm him and he could perhaps recover. But using my hiking pole turned out to not be a very gentle approach. I was able to roll him over and I thought about picking him up with my hand.
In my bent over position I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before, a perfect isosolise triangle with three equal sides of about ten inches. The chipmunk made up one point of the triangle, my boot another point, and the third point was a rattlesnake’s head. Very quickly the rest of his body came into view perfectly hidden in the grass on the side of the trail. He stood absolutely still. His body was a darker black color but he still had the tan markings and design, and the little rattle at the end of his tail. I moved back abruptly and efficiently.
“That’s what happened!” The rattlesnake had struck the chipmunk, and now he lay dying. What was a brief stop to ponder what happened to an unmoving chipmunk became a forty minute stop to see if the rattlesnake would eat the thing. But he didnt. Hemoved only slightly in those 40 minutes. I flung the now dead chipmunk to the side hoping he would eventually go get it. But he remained right on the edge of the trail. I left a note for the next group of hikers to be wary of the snake. They saw the note and the snake, and we’re grateful that I had given them a heads up.
Just before I arrived at camp, I saw another bear to my left out of the corner of my eye. As soon as I looked at him directly he bolted so fast and out of sight before you could say Charles “Run Like The” Dickens.
When I first arrived at the shelter I met a woman who was section hiking south. She is a teacher’s aid, but would love to thru-hike someday. Her husband committed suicide two years ago. And now her new boyfriend’s son just had a seizure and was waiting for test results to come back – scary stuff, some people have it rough. We commiserated over the frequent drug use on the trail. She said she camped with thruhikers the night before who were doing crystal meth!
Legs and Pish arrived not long after and there was also in attendance a Women of the Appalachian Trail group. I didn’t have to make supper – Pish gave me her leftover chicken and rice and one of the women cooked up pizza with nan bread over the fire and gave me their extra. It was so good. On top of that, I cooked up some Vienna sausages over the open fire that Legs didn’t want.
This was one of the best days on the trail for me. Another perfectly sunny day too and my knees felt even better.
May 26th – Double Springs Shelter to Damascus
Total miles on AT – 18.5
Elevation gain – 648ft
Elevation loss – 2706ft
Weather: cloudy, mild, and humid
I got my earliest start yet – 6:45am, but I was not the first person out of camp. I was passed by two people in mid morning. One was a young woman from Glastonbury, CT who woke up by 5am and did 26 miles into town by 1:30pm! The downhill into Damascus wasn’t bad, it was an easy section to cruise through. Three and a half miles before town we crossed into Virginia. I got into town around 2pm, picked up my mail drop (yay Girl Scout cookies!) and had a tasty burrito with two refills of lemonade! I now will go forth with my summer sleeping bag.
I’m off the trail for three days to go to the Blue Ridge School graduation (which so far has proven to be quite the adventure itself)!