March 30, 2018
Destination: Damascus, VA Today's Miles: 3
Start Location: Campsite at mile 467 Trip Miles: 470
When I woke, the heavy rain was gone and there was a light mist in camp. It was light outside - almost 8am.
I had slept hard from exhaustion. The first thing I did was inspect to see if any woodland creatures tried to chew through my tent to get at my food bag. Whew! All was intact there, though I knew this was a risky gamble and that I was lucky. I made a mental vow not to repeat this if at all possible.
I shoveled a pop tart into my mouth and packed up camp. I packed up a bit sloppily, in a hurry to get into town. I knew I could rearrange and clean gear at the inn Gillian and I were staying at - the Hikers Inn, on Laurel Street. It is both inn and hostel, run by a previous thru hiker Paul and his partner Lee. I taped up my feet as best I could. I knew I needed to look at my heels more closely in town and take care of them. I stuffed my wet tent in the outside mesh pocket of my bag and started in. The very first thing I saw as I exited camp was the blue blazed water trail. What?! The AWOL Guide had said it was 0.4 miles from camp, but this clearly was right at camp. That meant I had probably at least walked a mile, rather than the 0.6 last the border that AWOL suggested the campsite was. I vowed to download Guthook and check this. I hobbled along, trying to land on the balls of my feet and stay off my heels. It was painful and slow going. I looked like a wounded leprechaun, scurrying with a frenetic look and hampered stride. Frenetic is a good word for me in this moment, because the Latin root of this word means “delirious,” and I was a little tired and out of sorts. Even better though, the Latin word was actually derived from a Greek root, which translated as “inflammation of the brain.” That’s probably more aptly descriptive of my then current state. My feet hurt, I was tired and dirty, and all I could think about was breakfast and Gillian.
The mist started to turn into light rain, so I put my rain hood up. A day hiker passed me in running attire. She looked freshly showered and stylish in her clothes. I said hello and I think I noticed her flinch a bit. I probably had dirt or boogers, or both, all over my face. I kept going, relying heavily on my trekking poles. Gillian ya yes me that she would probably arrive around 2:45pm. I figured I would use that time to get some food and knock out some in-town to-do’s. The rain picked up even more as I dropped out of the woods seemingly into the backyard of two houses. The AT enters Damascus in a residential area. I followed it to the street as the rain came down, crossed the street and made my way towards an arch. It was a welcome to Damascus arch! I loved it. Damascus is such a huge initial goal for thru hikers. It marks the completion of the Smokies, 3 States, and almost 500 miles of trail. The biblical undertones of the town name layer nicely under its symbolic status as a trail town. Waking under that arch to follow the trail into town was a glorious experience, regardless of the rain! It was a threshold that I had thought little about, and now here it was before me and it made me think about so much. Obviously I thought about seeing Gillian, but not so obviously it really hammered home the fact that I was actually on this journey. This wasn’t just a Dream. I was doing this. I know that sounds crazy, but when I started hiking in Georgia on Feb 26, all I had to do was just keep going, so that’s what I did. One day at a time I put one foot in front of the other. Now, I suddenly became aware of how far I had come. It was kind of awesome!
I crossed under the arch and couldn’t help but feel like I was going through some kind of small transformation.
The trail weaved through the town square park alongside a swiftly moving and beautiful creek. It then took a right turn into the street, and I walked past some shops and an outfitter store. Like Hot Springs, there was a nice AT marker in the sidewalk, with bricks around it that appeared to have the names of hikers on them. Maybe it is the Hollywood walk of fame for hikers! I’m not sure. I walked on along Laurel Avenue past Shady Street to the Hikers Inn. Damascus covers miles 469.3 to 470.9, roughly, and Hikers in is probably around 470.2, so I used 470 to make it easy for the morning mileage.
I got to the inn, which was a very cute white household with a wrap around front Porch right off of Laurel. I set my pack down on the porch and went inside. It was about 9:30/9:45, so I figured the room wasn’t ready. I saw a man and a woman inside the inn. I asked if they worked there and they did not. They were fellow thru hikers who had started their hike in Valentine’s day. Their names were Lucky 59 and Pepper Pot. Lucky 59 was born in ‘59 and is 59 years old, plus she was already retired, hence her name. Pepper Pot, her husband, was from Guyana. Apparently pepper pot is a traditional dish there and he has been craving it and talking about it enough to make it his trail name! They said Paul wasn’t at the inn right then, but there was a phone and sign to call if he was not there, so I went outside and called. Paul said he was out at breakfast and that the room wasn’t quite ready, but that I could set my stuff inside and he would be back soon if I wanted to shower. I told him good was my first mission. He informed me that Mojo’s cafe had good food and was really the only place in town that was open besides Pizza Plus, a chain pizza restaurant. In fact, Paul was at Mojo’s. I set my stuff inside and headed that way. There is a trail that is 30+ miles long that runs through Damascus called the Virginia Creeper trail. It’s popular with cyclists and brings a lot of tourism business to Damascus. I walked along the creeper trail in my rain jacket, shorts, and boots towards Mojo’s. As I crossed a lovely bridge across a creek, two gentlemen we’re headed my way. One of them asked if I was Kevin and introduced himself as Paul. Small town! I now had a face to go with the name and voice. I moseyed on around the bend to Mojo’s cafe.
I walked in and instantly loved it. I ordered huevos rancheros and a coffee and sat down. The WiFi was excellent, so I sucked it up and purchased and downloaded the Guthook app and guide for the AT. I knew this would be very useful moving forward. It’s not that expensive; I was just trying to avoid having more technology on my trek. Funny enough, I took advantage of the WiFi to check some emails, update some apps, and backup my photos. :-)
The huevos rancheros, served over jalapeño cornbread, were awesome! I ate those and then got s piece of lemon blueberry zucchini cake with cream cheese frosting. It made my eyes roll into the back of my skull it was so good. First the food at Harbour Inn, and now this! I found out that the owner/chef’s mom made the cake. It was just spectacular!
I sat around drinking coffee and before I knew it, lunchtime arrived! I spent time looking at resupply options and thinking through how much food I might need to procure. For lunch I ordered a breakfast pizza, which was basically eggs and delicious things on a flatbread. Again, it was delicious! I had one more cup of coffee and then headed back toward the inn. I took a detour through two of the outfitters and the Dollar General just to see what kind of things and food were available for resupply. There was also a larger grocery store, Food City, nearby.
When I got back to the Inn Paul showed me to the room and showed me the ropes. The Inn was really nice and quaint! I loved it and new Gillian would as well. I took my wet tent and pack cover out back to hang to dry, and upstairs laid out my sleeping pad and bag to reorganize back into my pack later. I got my cool gear out to clean and brushed my teeth. Paul said they did laundry for $5, but I decided to wait until Gillian was there to hand it over since I knew she was bringing some “normal” clothes for me to wear. I looked at my feet. They were gnarly! Skin was hanging off the oozing blisters, so I cut some of it away so they could drain and dry. In hindsight, I need to get more precise about how I drain and treat blisters. I probably cut too much of the dead skin away, but at the time I just thought the quickest path to healing was to expose the wound so it could dry. I took some time to trim up my nails as well and tried to wash some of the ingrained dirt out of my hands. I heard the door downstairs open. She was here!
I hadn’t showered yet, but I didn’t smell that bad. I ran downstairs and hugged my wife at the door. Gillian was definitely a sight for sore eyes! It was so good to be together again, but also so surreal. It’s hard to describe. I wanted to know how she was doing and hear everything and tell her everything all at once! It was really just incredible to have her here. She brought a lot of stuff with her, and one of the first things she said was “I hope you haven’t resupplied yet!”
She brought me “street clothes,” as well as a resupply box I had prepped before I left with refills of things like Leuko tape. She also brought some other stuff, like deodorant and whatnot. She had made an army of cookies - mint chocolate chip and oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip - and bagged them in fours so that I could have some, but so that we could hand them out as trail magic. Fun! They were delicious too! I immediately ate a few. She also came in tow with a huge care package that my parents had put together, with tons of useful trail meals and snacks and other various items, such as new socks and liners (it was really too much guys, but THANK YOU!). I realized I had worn a hole in one of my sock liners, so that gift was particularly timely. I was very grateful for these things and it made me miss my family even more.
I got showered up and put on my non Hungry Cat clothes and some actual deodorant. It felt pretty amazing. Gillian probably almost vomited looking at my feet. I ran out of bandaids, but Paul gave me a couple. I just wanted to lightly cover them for now so they could dry out. Gillian walked next to me the way you might walk next to a very old grandparent with mobility issues. I was painfully slow shuffling along in my crocs, trying to keep my heels from banging into the ridges st the back. My feet were quite sore too from walking on them differently to compensate. Nevertheless we were having a great time and enjoying each other’s company. We walked into Mojo’s for dinner, and I realized I had spent a good portion of the day there!
Gillian ordered crab cakes and I got a Greek penne pasta. We also ordered wings as an appetizer. They were the best wings we have ever had! They had such a rich and Smokey flavor, and they were thick and juicy, not tough and over fried. Mojo’s continued to impress! We snagged the last of the blueberry lemon cake and then went back to the Inn, our bellies more than satisfied.
We caught up on life in general and things that had happened Since a left over a month ago. We talked about how quickly a year of marriage had come and gone, and what a great year it had been. It was beyond a great day, and tomorrow would be another! I was so grateful that Gillian was able to come to see me, for her love and support, as well as that of my parents. I was thankful for such a nice inn to stay at, both since we are celebrating our anniversary and also given the condition of my feet and need for good rest! Most of all I just felt lucky to be with my wife. To be together is the grandest!