Half Ass Expeditions rolled into town, stood around waiting for the press to gather but once again failed to generate interest. Things were hopping at Damascus! The entire town was gearing up for Trail Days, a week long celebration of the Appalachian Trail and its 50th birthday. Damascus was the self proclaimed “friendliest town on the Trail” and they went out of their way to prove it. We caught up with many hikers we have been following since the start. Lone Wolf, Will Power, Baggins, Shred and the Texas Turtles were already in town and more hikers were planning to be in town all week. Some were going to wait in town until the festivities but we were going to hitch ahead and walk back into Damascus and all the fun.
After a long night of beer drinking and general mayhem, I was feeling hung over the next morning. I even skipped breakfast, something you’ll rarely see a thru-hiker do. We arranged for a ride to VA 603, which was up a long, twisty road. Mark and I sat in the back of the pickup and as soon as we stopped, I got out and blew lunch all over my hand. We walked a scant 2 miles to Old Orchard Shelter where I recovered enough for the hike the next day.
The next morning a milky white shroud of clouds blended with the landscape. The hiking was peaceful through Grayson Highlands, weaving in and out of the boulders, wild ponies and fog all day. The fog was quite thick at times like an eerie veil of quiet stillness. It was over Wilburn Ridge, down into Rhododendron Gap, up Mt Rogers and finally to Deep Gap where we spent the night at Deep Gap Shelter. This section is truly one of the most beautiful on the Trail. Mark and I enjoyed better weather when we came back the next year to hike this area again. It is easy hiking with gorgeous views, interesting rock formations and beautiful wildflowers.
Miserable weather prevailed as we set off in the morning towards Whitetop and Buzzards Rock. We kept running into northbound hikers; Mule, the Traveller, Featherback, Boston Beans, Mad Dog. We hiked 13 miles to Creek Junction and decided we were going to hike the Virginia Creeper at night into Damascus. The Creeper is a “Rails to Trails” project that turned an obsolete railway into a hiking trail. Since the rail followed the river, all the trestle bridges were converted to walkways. The trail winds through the gorge and features some fantastic rocks and awesome river views. Mark and I ate dinner at Creek Junction, packed up and started our night hike of the Virginia Creeper just as the sun set.
The sky cleared and the full moon was rising, illuminating the night enough to put the flashlights away. We were electrically charged and ready for the walk. The cliffs loomed and the shadows played visual tricks as we crept through the night. The fireflies were goofing on our enhanced senses, seemingly winking their lights in unison and creating dazzling patterns in the dark pastures. The sounds of the river echoed through the gorge adding an eerie soundtrack to the night. Our minds reeled and our senses peaked as we walked on to Damascus. We arrived at 2 AM to find a tent city surrounding the Place, the hiker hostel in the town. We tried to crash but a most annoying whippoorwill decided to spend that night singing above our heads.
…continue the expedition, read: Trail Days and Ramp Eating [link]