Appalachian Trail Section 5: Damascus, VA to Pearisburg, VA

Things had gone just about as well as I could’ve possibly hoped for the first month and three states of my trip, but April & Virginia brought me some challenges. When we le

ft of in Damascus, we had hiked over 75 miles in three days and were feeling great about what Virginia had in store for us. Things started off quite well, but recently it’s been more challenging. Hopefully though, the worst is behind me, and at the time of writing I feel great. Here’s what’s happened over the last 11 days:

Day 35: Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter (15.8 miles)

We left Damascus slowly this morning, not quite ready to give up the comforts of the civilized world just yet. The road walk out of town seemed to go on forever, and when we finally hit the woods we started climbing. Slowly, after a few miles, our bodies remembered how to hike again, and before the clock had even struck noon we were feeling better and moving as if we had never taken a day off. After a nice lunch at the Saunders Shelter, we moved along to Lost Mountain Shelter, just before the base of Whitetop Mountain, It was a beautiful night, so I pitched my tent, and we enjoyed dinner after our first day back on-trail. It wasn’t the longest day ever, but it was a good way to get back into the swing of things.

Yogi fords a river crossing just outside of Damascus.

Day 36: Lost Mountain Shelter to Wise Shelter (17.5 miles)

The day began with a long climb up Whitetop Mountain, which was unexpectedly nice as it offered great views from the crest before the summit. Unfortunately. those views included a huge rainstorm heading right for us, and we knew that we weren’t going to keep our streak of good-weather hiking going much longer. After Whitetop, we dipped into a grassy valley known as “Elk Garden” (there were no elk) before climbing up the slopes of Mt. Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak at over 5,700 feet. The AT doesn’t summit Rogers and we decided that we wouldn’t either (there are no views), especially because the Grayson Highlands were so close in front of us. In fact, before we even entered the park, we spotted a group of ponies grazing in a field. We ate a quick lunch at the Thomas Knob Shelter before moving on to GHSP, and immediately after we passed through the gates we were greeted by a group of about ten of the miniature equines. They minded their own business, but didn’t mind being pet, and actually became quite curious if they thought one of us might be carrying any snacks. After we stopped and admired the ponies for a while, we moved on to Wise Shelter to wait out the impending rain.

Ponies!

Day 37: Wise Shelter to Trimpi Shelter (20.1 miles)

We woke up to — you guessed it — rain this morning, However, we were assured by one of the hikers at the shelter that his daughter — who worked for the National Weather Service — said the precip would clear up before noon. Great! We thought, and headed out optimistic for a nice afternoon. As we walked through the rest of the Greyson Highlands, we spotted even more ponies, but didn’t stick around to say hello, as the wind was ripping over the bald fields and driving rain against us. We quickly scooted off the balds and back into the woods, where the wind was gentler but somehow the air was colder, and soon snow began to fall instead of rain. We stopped for breaks at Old Orchard and Hurrican Mtn. Shelters, each time remarking how the snow should soon stop according to our expert forecast. The snow did stop just before we reached Trimpt Shelter, but more rain picked up right in its place. The shelter was almost full when we arrived, so I pitched my tent despite the moisture, hoping for a peaceful night if not a wet morning. However, the wind that night ripped up my tent stakes multiple times, once even so that I was completely exposed to the outside. Fortunately, I woke up dry, so the night wasn’t a total failure.

We were visited at the shelter this morning by an inquisitive Lil’ Sebastian.

Day 38: Trimpi Shelter to Marion, VA to Chatfield Shelter (16.8 miles)

This morning was the coldest we had seen in a long time, and we busted as fast as we could into the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center, eating up 10 miles in just under 3 hours. From there, we caught a shuttle into town for some hot food and a resupply before heading back out in the afternoon. We ate embarrassing amounts of McDonald’s and even packed out Subway for dinner, got some trail food at Walmart, then before we knew it headed back out into the cold for the last stretch of our day. The Chatfield Shelter was small but nice, and we bunkered down there for another cold night. It was on this afternoon that my left shin began to bother me seriously, with the last few miles of my day being pretty painful. I chalked it up to dehydration and tightness, not thinking anything else of it.

Day 39: Chatfield Shelter to Lynn Camp Creek (20.7 miles)

We waited until almost 10 am to get started this morning, as the weather was terribly cold overnight but was slated to warm up in the afternoon. We walked through some lovely fields on the first half of our hike, and the weather did improve nicely. Once we entered the woods after the fields, the day got more strenuous, but after three days of freezing temps we were just happy to have some sun. We had originally planned to stop at Knot Maul Branch Shelter for the night, but decided we wanted to camp instead and pushed another easy 1.4 miles to Lynn Camp Creek, which was a great campsite. Once again, my left shin was in quite some pain at the end of this day, but I refused to admit it was really a problem. I didn’t want to accept it.

Day 40: Lynn Camp Creek to Laurel Creek/VA 615 (23.1 miles)

This day definitely takes the cake as my worst on-trail to date. The morning was good, and the climb up to Chestnut Knob was beautiful, but things quickly got bad after that. We traversed a long, rocky ridge after the Knob that kicked all our asses, but especially me. Halfway through, my shin pain got so bad that I walked for miles sobbing uncontrollably. I was a mess. I should have stopped. But, to keep up with the group, I limped on another five or so miles to a shelter… where I then agreed to hike 4.4 more. It was foolish, but I told myself it would make the next day easier. I did actually feel better after the break, but I knew I had a real issue on my hands at this point. To top things off, that night — our first night cowboy camping, incidentally — I woke up multiple times to throw up (forcefully) and barely slept at all. I had definitely hit my low point.

Making our way up Chestnut Knob.

Day 41: Laurel Creek/VA 615 to Bland, VA (6.9 miles)

I spent every second of this morning miserable and wishing I was anywhere but the Appalachian Trail. My leg was throbbing from the previous day, and I felt that I was going to vomit again with every step I took. Luckily, I made it to the road into Bland without incident, and we were blessed with some trail magic (Gatorade, thank you!) from a good man called Pigeontoe. After we rested and chatted for a while, we attempted to hitch a ride into Bland, but ended up walking close to 2 of the 2.5 miles into town (which I just LOVED every second of). Strangely, I began feeling worse when we got into town, not nauseous but having fever-like symptoms and generally wanting to crawl out of my own skin. I lolled around most of the day, choking down some Dairy Queen chicken fingers for lunch and half a Subway sandwich for dinner. I had an emotional phone call with my mother outside of Dollar General, when I was at the peak of my misery, and she suggested I stay in town the next day to recover. I objected, not wanting to see my hiking partners move on and lose a precious day on the trail, but when I got sick again that night and lost my dinner I knew that she was right, and I would have to take another day off.

Day 42: Bland. VA to Bland, VA (0.0 miles)

I woke up feeling better health-wise this morning, but my leg was still pretty sore. I generally spent most of the day watching Comedy Central and icing my shin in bed, but did venture out to Dollar General for some snacks and Dairy Queen for a Blizzard (mandatory). Go-Far had gotten sick the night before too (sorry bud) and stayed the day with me in Bland, so I wasn’t alone, but Yogi and Fifty Shades had said goodbye moved along that morning. The day passed slowly and I wished I was hiking in the nice weather, but I knew the rest would serve me well.

Day 43: Bland, VA to Dismal Falls (20.2 miles)

This morning, I felt like a new person. I was definitely fully healthy, and my leg definitely felt much better — not 100%, but maybe 90% or even 93% — so I was in good spirits. We got a ride to the trail relatively quickly but then had to road-walk over a mile to get back to the trail-trail (like, in the woods). The terrain in the morning was very easy. and I covered 12 miles to Jenny Knob Shelter by 1:30. Not satisfied to be done for the day, I hiked on after lunch. I told myself I needed a slow day to get back into things and so as not to aggrevate my leg, but I found the easy terrain and a moderate pace easy to keep walking on. By 5 pm I had made it to Dismal Falls, which was an absolutely gorgeous campsite just off the AT. Go-Far even made it as far as I did that day, and we made camp by the falls and enjoyed a fire. After 20 comfortable miles (the first comfortable ones in days), I felt great, and was glad I had been convinced to make the right move and rest up in Bland.

Dismal Falls

Day 44: Dismal Falls to Doc’s Knob Shelter (15.7 miles)

The walk out of Dismal Falls was one of the easiest in recent memory, following almost literally flat terrain for over 6 miles on soft ground under shady rhododendrons, which weren’t even attacking my face for once. After an early lunch at the Wapiti Shelter, I climbed up to the top of the ridge which would take me to Pearisburg, and found a couple excellent viewpoints along the top. I took my time all day, knowing I had a small amount of miles to do, and ended up hiking almost as long as I had the previous day for 4.5 fewer miles. I enjoyed the leisurely pace, though, and felt quite good when I made it to Doc’s Knob for the night. I found a (horribly slanted) tent spot under a rhododendron grove (are the rhodos and I getting along now??) to sleep for the night and spent the evening hanging out with a few trail friends from before Damascus.

Views from Doc’s Knob.

Day 45: Doc’s Knob Shelter to Pearisburg, VA (8.3 miles)

If the rhododendrons and I got along yesterday, we sure as hell didn’t this morning. The first 3 miles out of the shelter ran through a seemingly endless thicket of the damned bushes, every one of which couldn’t help but molest my face with its branches. The spiders have gotten active lately, too, and I ate a cobweb to the face (known as “silkblazing”) every 100 yards. Yep — every rhododendron in the world could burn and I’d be happy. That’s my final answer. Mercifully, I eventually got out of the bushes and up onto the last piece of ridge before Pearisburg, and gained an extra spring in my step for the next 3 miles to “Angel’s Rest”, a nice lookout just before the descent into town. The climb down was steep and full of switchbacks, but eventually I hit the road, and before I knew it I was in the South’s finest establishment — Pizza Plus — for the legendary salad-and-pizza lunch buffet. After topping it off with another DQ Blizzard (seriously, mandatory), I retreated to the Holiday Motor Lodge, a deceivingly nice establishment on Main Street in town, where I’ll spend the night before heading back out tomorrow.

Looking like spring in the valley above Pearisburg.

I’m lucky enough to have an incredibly adventurous girlfriend who loves hiking just as much as I do, and I’m even more lucky that she drove all the way down to Pearisburg to meet me today and will be hiking with me for the next 100 miles or so, until next Thursday. I’m so excited for her to see the AT the way I have been able to and hope we get at least a few days with nice weather, although after nearly a week with no rain we, do need a little of that too. Either way, I’m super excited to have her with me out here, and can’t wait to report back on our hike next time I get the chance.

Thanks for reading and happy hiking.

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