April 3, 2018
Destination: Damascus, VA Today's Miles: 0
Start Location: Damascus, VA Trip Miles: 470
I woke up at 8 this morning. I feel like if I didn’t have a trail name already, maybe “The Local” or “Governor” would be appropriate.
I’m a fixture in Damascus now.... I checked my heels. My right heel was looking a bit better. My left was still a bit raw and oozy. I showered and got my stuff ready to move to the bunkhouse. I had been staying in the private room Gillian and I had, but the bunkhouse is less than half the cost, so I’ll move there to save dough while I heal. It’s quite clean and rather small with 4 bunks and one private room sharing the space, so it will do just fine. I booked two more nights. Just looking at my heels, the earliest I can possibly get out of here without immediately messing them up again will be Thursday. I’ll have to play that by ear. If I have to stay longer I will - I’m in this for the long haul, contrary to my little April Fools joke the other day. The trail will provide, IF I listen...
After I got my stuff moved into the bunkhouse, I moseyed over to Mojo’s, my home away from home and oasis in the desert. I got a coffee, egg and cheese bagel, and a cinnamon roll. It was all delicious! I sat and read quietly for some time while nursing my coffee. I saw some hikers I recognized from the Smokies - Yezzelle and 3 other folks. I waived hello to Yezzelle and as I did I noticed something interesting. There was a hiker sitting at the breakfast bar, and he had a cat on a leash with him inside! What?! I had seen the guy earlier. He had matted dread locked hair that came down a little below his ears, and appeared to be coloring at the counter. I had noticed a small pink stuffed animal under his stool, but didn’t see the cat. Quite frankly I thought at the time that maybe he was just a little nuts and then didn’t think much more of it! Turns out the stuffed animal was the cat’s toy. I was very curious about this, but the guy seemed to be doing his own thing so I didn’t go over and ask. After a while I went up to get more food. I ordered a turkey Reuben and a coffee refill. I know...I can eat! I have definitely put a bit of weight back on in Damascus. Probably a good 3-4lbs. Not a bad thing at all!
I took a few stealthy pictures of the cat on the stool and sat back down. When I was ordering food one of the waitresses made a comment that insinuated that they did not want the cat inside. It seemed like he had just sort of set up shop in there without asking. Other people had dogs that they kept inside. I didn’t really care - it was none of my business and I was getting a real kick out of seeing this cat on the stool. I also noticed the guy’s pack in the corner. It was stashed neatly out of the way, but there was also clearly a sign on the door that said to leave packs outside. That could have been contributing to what seemed to be slight annoyance amongst the staff.
The cat seemed happy as a clam. As I ate my sandwich, I watched it jump down off the stool and play with its pink stuffed animal. It was hilarious and made me miss my cat. I saw that he had given it a cup of food or something under the stool. I guess I’m not the only hungry cat in town anymore! So many questions came to mind. How does he hike with it during the day - does it walk alongside or sit in his pack? Does it kill mice at shelters? Will it stay near camp or does he always have to keep it tethered? So many questions....
Around that time, I looked up from my book with blurry eyes and saw two girls waiving at me from near the counter. I squinted and realized it was Stumbles, Cheddar, and Fifty! Candyman was outside with his gear. I got up to chat with them and see how they had been making out. They arrived last night and it seemed they were going to head out today. I was envious! I wanted to head out too. I told them I had been here since Friday and their eyes bugged out, so I explained about my heels and that I hadn’t gone native and decided to run for office here. The last time I had seen them was back at Hogback Ridge Shelter. They stopped by and then headed in to their hostel. I asked Candyman how that had been and he remarked that it was really good. They told me that “the bubble” was right behind them - about 40 or so hikers - and asked if I was worried about that. My response was basically what can I do? I have to let my body heel. But yeah, I’m not crazy about the idea of a huge bubble enveloping me and following me up the trail. That said, at this point in the hike and after all of the weather we have been through, I don’t think the bubble can be all that huge. Also, bubbles tend to gather around shelters, and stealth camping is a great way to get a bit more peace and quiet. Still, my mind couldn’t help but invent crazy scenarios of marching bands tramping through the woods, of kids with stereos booming whatever today’s modern day frat boy version of Dave Matthews is, ukuleles strapped to their packs for later musical ensembles at the shelter. In my head, the bubble was bad. If what I described doesn’t sound bad to you, then just insert whatever might potentially compromise a peaceful woodland experience for you. Anyway, I snapped out of my ridiculous mental scenarios and let it go. I probably wouldn’t even notice a bubble. All I need to focus on right now is resting and getting my heels healed. That is all that matters. I felt at peace again, and fortunately I don’t think my mental panic showed on my face.
I decided to head back to the inn, but before I did I ordered a piece of coconut cake to go for later, and recommended the cinnamon bun to Cheddar and Stumbles who were still inside. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did! Slow Joe showed up as I was about to leave, but abandoned Mojo’s for Subway as a long line of people had formed. He said he had eaten at Mojo’s for breakfast at about 7:30. I made my exit and returned to the inn.
I read in the porch for a bit, enjoying some Yerba mate tea. The inn has a porch swing, so I sat in that and listened to the birds sing. After a while, I got the hankering for my piece of cake. I took my tea to a common area out back and joined a couple from St. Louis who was drinking beer out back. They had been section hiking but were wrapping up their trip. I ate my cake, drank my tea, and chatted with them for a spell. He was a deputy Sheriff named Cale, and she went by Pinky (apparently she had broken her pinky on a previous hike and also liked to wear a pink beanie. We talked about hiking, gear, the usual stuff, as well as St. Louis and its bike paths (apparently it had a good system of networked trails). It was a fun way to while away some afternoon time. The weather was nice out. After that I headed into the bunkhouse and met a section hiker named Piper. He and his uncle had just finished a hundred mile section of the trail and were crashing for the night. Overall it was a good day!
I was grateful for the lovely weather today and the time to relax, and it was good to putter around a bit and see other hikers from past days once again. I hope my heels will look and feel much better tomorrow. I hope they improved today! I know I am antsy and I recognize that. I have to trust that things will work at as and when they are supposed to. I appreciate all the comments and support on blisters! Hopefully I’ll be able to get moving out of Damascus in a few days and will have a bit more interesting content. Today seemed like a good time to talk a bit about camp life and chores, so here is a little write up I prepared on that topic.
Some of you might wonder, what does he do when he gets to camp? He must be bored out of his mind. On the contrary, camp life keeps me very busy. When I’m hiking, I tend to get to camp near sunset, so there isn’t much time left to get chores done. When the sun goes down, things are harder to do with a headlamp, other people are trying to sleep (especially in the shelter), and it gets very cold (though we have had some warm days lately). Most people want to be done with chores and in their sleeping bags to get warm. Most thru hikers don’t have the energy or extra supplies to build a fire, though sometimes we do if we can find dry wood and it’s not too late, windy or cold to go through the effort of building a fire. It will be interesting to see if we build more fires as it gets a tad warmer, as contrary as that might seem.
When I get to a shelter or campsite, I first figure out where I’m going to sleep. If in the shelter, then I need to claim my spot by laying down at least my sleeping pad. I would typically lay my pad down, inflate it, and then plop my sleeping bag on top. Then it is all about getting organized such that I’m not clanking around everyone in the shelter. There isn’t a lot of space in most shelters, so sometimes you have to sleep shoulder to shoulder like sardines. I would usually only sleep in a shelter if it is not crowded and I want the convenience of not pitching a tent (maybe I have gotten into camp around dusk), if I have to due to regulation (such as in the Smokies), or if I am expecting nasty weather and want to avoid tenting in it. Otherwise, I prefer sleeping in my tent.
If I’m pitching my tent, then that is the first thing I do. Once it is up, I set my sleeping pad and bag out inside the tent. If I’m wet, I get into dry clothes. If it’s cold, I either quickly change to my camp clothes or I immediately throw on a few layers while I get through my camp chores. This ensures that as my body cools down after hiking, I don’t get cold. I also like to go ahead and get my headlamp around my neck, just so I have it ready when I need it.
When my tent is set up or my pad and bag are in the shelter, I then like to go ahead and hang the rope for my food bag, assuming there aren’t bear cables or bear boxes for food.That is one activity I definitely don’t want to do in the dark, though I have in a few occasions. I like to get it hanging and prepped over a good branch and so that after dinner I can attach my food bag, hoist it up, and lock it in place quickly without a lot of effort. It’s just nice to have this set up and ready because once I eat I’m already thinking about getting in my sleeping bag! I hang my food bag with a PCT hang (utilizes a carabiner and a a stick to keep the food bag suspended, rather than tying the rope off around another tree); however, I have learned to simply tie it off around another tree and avoid the PCT hang if the rope might be exposed to snow or freezing rain overnight. Those conditions make it very hard to dislodge a PCT hang, and therefore hard to get my food bag down.
Next is water. I like to fill my water bottles and get another liter in my CNOC gathering reservoir ready to go. That way I have water for cooking and cleaning and do not have to get more in the morning. If it might get below freezing overnight, I won’t keep extra water in my CNOC collection bag as I don’t want it to freeze and expand in the bag. Once I have that done, I make my dinner. I usually have a cup of tea while my meal is cooking. I have a video of my cook system on this site. When I’m done, I take all of my food, trash, and anything I’ve cooked with that may smell like food, place it in my food bag and hang that on the line that I have pre-hung over a branch, or in bear cables if they are available. I always do one last sweep of my pack for any snacks or wrappers, as well as my pants pockets. I tend to only store snacks in the same pocket of my bag, so I don’t forget and leave them in my bag. If mice smell them, they might chew through my tent to investigate, and that would not be good. I never eat dinner in my tent or the vestibule of my tent; I try to eat some distance away from my tent so that food smells, or any crumbs, won’t attract critters to where I am sleeping.
After that I brush my teeth and sanitize my hands. Then it’s usually getting dark or already dark, and I climb into my tent. I make sure my gear is as organized as possible, and then check my guidebook for mileage and to establish my goals for the next day. I look at water sources, mileage, shelter locations, etc. If I have a phone signal, I check weather using atweather.org. If the temperature will dip below freezing, I have to remember to put my water filter in my sleeping bag, and potentially my water bottles too (or dump them out and get water in the morning in the freezing cold.... I usually throw them in the bottom of my bag). When all that is done and settled, I usually journal and then go to sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat. I have reading material on my phone via my Kindle app, but I am usually too tired to read after journaling. Whether I can squeeze both in usually depends on how any miles I have hiked that day and what time I get into camp. Usually when I talk with other hikers it is at the shelters, when I see them on the trail, or while making or eating dinner. After that we all tend to go to our separate sleeping bags; we don’t really hang out and talk outside. This is mostly due to the cold weather. As it warns up I’m sure there will be lovely warm, or lightly cool, nights where I will stay out and up to chat with folks. There was one night back after passing NOC when it was about 28 degrees out, but some gentlemen had built a big fire so we all collected around that and talked for a bit, but I think I might have spent 15 minutes there before retreating to my sleeping bag.
In the mornings, I get up and break down camp and make breakfast. If my tent or footprint is wet, I usually stuff it in the mesh part of my pack, or even clip it across the back of my pack so it can dry as I hike. When I get to a sunny spot for lunch, I try and completely dry stuff while I eat and look at a pretty view, so I will find a sunny spot to lay it all out. I don’t always eat a hot breakfast, but most days I at least have coffee even if I don’t eat hot oatmeal. Sometimes to save fuel and time I just pour a little water into my oatmeal packet and eat it cold - I don’t mind that at all. Once camp is broken down and I’m done with breakfast, it’s time for the day of hiking to start! I always do one last 360 degree sweep of camp to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything or left any bits of trash.
Hopefully that gives you a good picture of how camp life usually plays out. I like to look at the stars, but it has been too cold most nights so far to stand outside at night for long. In the absence of light pollution in the mountains, the stars are incredibly bright and utterly breathtaking! I love when the owls hoot back and forth at night. Sometimes I camp by small creeks and listen to the flow of the water. I like that too but I always feel like it is going to make me pee myself at some point. I still love it though! I love company, but nothing beats waking up and having a campsite to myself in the morning. It is quiet and peaceful and I can listen to the small birds start about their daily calls and foraging.
That’s Hungry Cat camp life!