Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Hampton, TN to Damascus, VA

Darwin and Legs leave the famous trail hostel, Kincora and set off northward on the ‘Tennessee Turnpike.” Big days, easy trail, and beautiful vista shelters. We finally enter Virginia, the 4th state of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. Ahead lay 550 miles, a whole quarter of the trail, in this new state.

A quick note on a hiker named Trek:
Trek is a dominative man, but has a hardened, tough look to him. Perhaps it was his military service. He walks when he feels good, and stops when he wants. He takes zeros as many or as few times as he wants, and generally doesn’t care about any trail drama whatsoever.

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Trek Sitting on the couch at Kincora talking to Bob Peoples

Trek can do this because he is on his TENTH thru hike of the AT. Nine times he has done the AT. NINE TIMES. Sometimes he does it in 3 months, sometimes 6. Anyway, he’s awesome, and we found out later from another hiker that he liked our group! Such an honor from a bonafide AT expert.

“Good luck to all.” – Trek (In every trail register. The last time we would see him was Harpers Ferry.)

April 4th, 2017
Kincora Hostel to Vandeventer Shelter
17.7 miles

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Double Blazes mark the AT next to the Laurel River.

We popped a large pepperoni pizza in the oven for breakfast, then walked out the doors of Kincora, and back to the trail. We first hit steep rock steps, which lead to Laurel Falls. Laurel Falls was gushing with an early spring ferocity, drowning out all conversation and audiobooks. The trail ran adjacent to the Laurel River, coming so close as to touch it’s banks. At one point, the trail was nothing but a rock ledge next to the fast moving water. I was exhilarated by the noise, and dreamed of long hikes along raging rivers.

From the flat river walk, is the Pond Flats pud.
PUD – (AT lingo) pointless ups and downs.

Pond Flats is just that. You climb uselessly from the river banks to a treed summit, then descend pathetically back down to river level. Luckily, after such a pointless climb, there was a pleasant reward.

Trail Life Moment:
I saw Winter hike 3 miles, only to stop for a nap beside the river before the Pond Flats PUD. When told it might rain, she got up, put on her rain gear, then laid back down on the ground.

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Watauga Lake from Watauga Dam

Watauga Lake was serene under the hot sun. We picked at our snacks and watched geese play in the shallows. I ate two cans of Pringles and a package of Bacon Jerky, and was contented. Winter of course, wandered off and eventually went in the lake. The weather was perfect after yesterday’s downpour. As I sunned myself on the lakeshore, my thoughts drifted ahead to summer.

The trail rounded Watauga Lake, passing Watauga Lake Shelter (closed due to bears) and eventually leading to it’s dam. The lake is beautiful from all angles, and it’s a nice day, plan on swimming there. I have hindsight now, and regret not taking the time to swim there.

From the dam, the trail climbs a final time before The Tennessee Turnpike.

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Views from the Tennessee Turnpike 

(IMPORTANT TRAIL NOTE!) We stopped 1.6 miles BEFORE Vandeventer Shelter at a spring and filled up all our water bladders and bottles. Trek told us Vandeventer’s water was .4 down a very steep side trail, and it was worth carrying from the spring. We carried 4 liters of water each on very easy terrain. 

The Tennessee Turnpike is located on the crest of a long, flat ridge that basically tapers out into the town of Damascus 33 miles later. Many times along this ridge, the views are wonderful, usually looking down onto a small hamlet and a patchwork of farms. Vandeventer Shelter was located at one of these vistas. The shelter is placed in front of a rock outcrop, where one can sit and look out. Below is a wide valley and the lake. There were several hikers there, now becoming more than just acquaintances. Legs and I, Strider, Honey Badger, Glim-Glom, Wet Wipes, Oz, Machine, Stache, Winter, Lumber Jill, Sherlock, Jeeves, Fish, and Radio. We all sat on the rocks and ate, watching hiker tv; the setting of the sun.

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Sunset from Vandeventer Shelter

April 5th, 2017
Vandeventer Shelter to Abingdon Gap Shelter
23 miles

In a rare display, most of the core tramily woke before sunrise and had a quiet morning on the rocks. Now perfectly placed on the Turnpike, we all planned for big mileage day. We were off, moving well over the easy terrain. We stopped at each shelter and hung out, enjoying a relaxed conversation only found on trail. We ate, of course. The hunger is getting real.

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Sunrise from Vandeventer Shelter

At a shallow gap in the ridge, the trail opened up to wide, green fields. A few junked pickups littered the area, but no animals could be seen. We had to climb over several fences today, without the reward of mooing at cows.

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Rotten pickup trucks on the Tennessee Turnpike.

We watered ourselves at Double Spring Shelter, marveling at the level of graffiti on the shelter walls. The spring was slow and shallow but tasted crisp. I left first, and alone. I hiked the last 8.3 miles in under 2 hours, while Legs came in next at just over 2 hours. Fueled by easy terrain, ibuprofen, and fear of not getting a shelter spot. Rain seemed inevitable that night. On my mad dash to the shelter, I passed a guy named Don. Don would be one of those fleeting creatures you see once, and never again. I always wonder where they go.

Abingdon shelter had snoring section hikers, and a long walk down to the water, but we were sheltered from the storm that rolled in later that night. Tomorrow, we would be in Damascus, and our 4th state, VIRGINIA!

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Some day this will all be green.

April 6th, 2017
Abingdon Gap Shelter to Damascus, VA
10 miles

Of the ten miles of mostly downhill leading to Damascus, I have little to say. But, I do have to share a story that illustrates the darker side of thru hiking.

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The Tennessee Turnpike is so gentle. You can see how hikers’ trekking poles have planted grace seeds along the outside of the trail. 

Several hundred miles before, descending down into Fontana Dam, my trekking pole cracked. From that point onward, it would slip because a structural problem, and become useless. I’d have to stop and pull it up, snapping it back into place. I handled it for a while. Actually I handled it for hundreds of miles. But something that day put me over the edge. Maybe it was the fact that it started slipping every other step today. But, one to many slips, and suddenly my trekking pole was wrapped around a tree.

I immediately regretted it. Yes, I had made plans to replace the pole, but that was miles away in Marion, VA. Thankfully, the trail provides, and I got a hiker boxed pole to shore me up for the next couple of days. I told Legs the moral of the story was, “Smash things and it all works out.” She was not impressed.

It rained, it hailed, but eventually we made it into the town of Damascus, and the state of Virginia. Like Hot Springs, the trail walks through Damascuss. We walked through the town, past Blue Blaze Bike rentals, and several AT inspired outfitters. I definitely recommend stepping into Mt. Rogers Outfitter, as it is well stocked for hikers and run by very generous people.

We slept at the church run hiker hostel, The Place. For a donation, you can sleep on a wooden bunk, and be weirded out by the caretaker. Or if you’re me, you don’t fit on the bunkbeds and have to sleep on the floor.

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Walking into Damascus on the Virginia Creeper Trail

 

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