Writing this update from the plush surroundings of a 1950s style hotel in the ‘metropolis’ of Marion, Virginia. I’m not even being sarcastic in labeling Marion a metropolis as it is the biggest town I’ve come across (Atlanta excepted) whilst on the trail with big towny things such as street lights and a Wallmart.
We arrived here after hiking a couple of days out of ‘Trail days’ which may seem a bit early to have a town break after just leaving a town but as the laundry in Damascus was still out of commission and Suzanne was hell bent on getting her clothes properly laundered.
So I guess this is as good a time to introduce Suzanne to the blog readers. She’s here to walk the Virginia section which is the longest section on the trail at around 550 miles to which she’s set aside 6 weeks to complete. She booked to arrive at Damascus on the 12th and unfortunately my predictive powers on when I was going to arrive there was out by about a week and I got there on the 6th. This, coupled with the fact that the weather was pretty bad meant I got to spend a whole zero week in Damascus.
Poor Suzanne then had to weather my minimalistic inspection of her gear and food.. “FIVE shirts??!!? TWO fleeces??! Oh nothing..” and then listen to all the horror stories that I’d stockpiled over the previous month.
Leaving Damascus involved a rather steep ascent heading into Mt Rodgers and some highland country so I was a bit worried that the first couple of days would be a bit of a baptism of fire. Luckily however there was a bike trail (the Creeper trail) which ran parallel to the AT with a couple of intersection points. This meant that for the first day we had a nice easy walk along a pretty river section with a slight gradient which was fortuitous as the first few days are always really tough for a new hiker. The 2nd day however was back onto the trail and Suzanne got to experience some climbing and realize that my warnings weren’t all fictional.
Mileage wise we were doing around 10 miles a day which is quite a bit slower (around half) of what I’d been doing previously and by the third day Suzanne was getting annoyed with my restless character. This led to a bit of a confrontation where we discussed the best way for us to walk together which in a sense involves us not walking together but rather meeting up at rest and camp spots. Unfortunately this fairly involved discussion began when we were at a junction with another trail and so intense were our deliberations that we meandered straight off the trail.
The AT has 30,900 white blazes, someone actually counted them all
The AT is an extremely well trodden path
The AT is the best marked trail in the world with a blaze every 50-100m
Despite this we managed to walk 2 miles before working out that we were off the trail which is something I probably shouldn’t own up to. Luckily the horse trail that we had followed re-intersected with the AT and it turned out to be a big shortcut as we had somehow jumped 9 miles further along the trail. Unluckily, that 9 miles included a section through Grayson Highland park which Suzanne really wanted to see so we decided to walk that section in reverse so in the end all we managed to do was walk the horse trail twice which was fine by me because the trail followed a bald saddle and had some really nice views.
We found a really nice campsite so we camped early as Suzzies feet were sore and it would give us a chance to do some washing. I had got some drinking water from a stream which I had a few reservations about and should have trusted my gut instincts because that night my gut paid me back and I ended up fully emptying my stomach.
Luckily it wasn’t gardia or anything long term and despite the uncomfortable night I was fine if a little weak the next day. The water however did steal my appetite and all of the previous nights food (and calories L) and by the time I reached the designated shelter that we were aiming for the next day I was as shattered as I’ve felt on this trail despite only walking a pretty easy 10 miles. I was in bed by around 6 pm and slept for something like 14 hrs as recovery.. the body is an amazing thing though as by the next day I felt pretty good and seeing as we were heading back to Damascus for Trail days I was excitable as well!!