Appalachian Trail - Roan Mountain to Damascas
Day 46 - Roan Mountain to Campbell Hollow Road.
4 miles. 19,478 steps. 121 flights of stairs climbed. 2,867 calories burned.
We both spent the night feeling nauseaus from too much junk food and woke up with no energy. Allowed ourselves a lie-in til 9am, before packing up and heading back to Bob's Dairyland for breakfast with Sunshine and Forgiven. The two of them went off to a church service for a couple of hours and we waited at Bob's, charging our battery and using as much wifi as possible. We were in there so long that the staff came over to ask if we were alright. We bought more drinks and sipped them as slowly as possible to bide our time.
Sunshine and Forgiven returned around midday with a guy called Eric, who had helped organise the trail festival. He kindly gave us all a lift back to the AT. It rained as soon as we got out of his car and got gradually heavier over the next hour. Chris's hips were aching and our bags were heavy from resupplying, so we stopped early and set up camp. We agreed that short days out of town are wiser as these are the days we are carrying most weight. Leading up to towns we are able to hike more miles a day, as our food bags get smaller.
Best part of the day - Everyone in Roan Mountain has been extremely friendly and helpful; such a welcoming place!
Worst part - Lack of sleep and stomach pains. All this sugary, processed food is making me feel awful.
Day 47 - Campbell Holland Road to Moreland Gap Shelter.
14.8 miles. 44,298 steps. 384 flights of stairs climbed. 4,695 calories burned.
No major mountains today, just lots of little ups and downs. We hiked with Sunshine and Forgiven again. We took a side trail to Jones Falls, which was well worth the extra mileage, and then we passed Mountaineer Falls, which the guys went to shower under. Rockin Ronnie was at the falls with a guy called Red Bush. Rockin Ronnie started asking Sunshine and I whether we were going to hike naked on 21st June because this is apparently an AT thru-hiker tradition. No one seems to be planning on taking part except for Rockin Ronnie. When we told him we wouldn't be, he started saying that it's only because we have boyfriends that do not want us to flaunt our bodies. I didn't give him any response and just went back to looking through my backpack and talking directly to Sunshine. Luckily the guys returned swiftly afterwards and we hiked on.
We camped next to the shelter in the evening and it was surprisingly quiet. There were just three other people there; a German lady who had the one-person version of our tent (we got excited about this as no one else on the trail seems to have a Terra Nova tent), a guy from Maine with an amazingly smooth voice, and an older lady who kept giggling at us 'young'uns'. It was a funny evening. It started with me urinating on a lizard; I went to pee and as I finished I realised I'd been peeing on a tiny lizard. As I stopped, he moved enough for me to notice him, gave me an angry glare and then ran off. Then as I returned to camp, Forgiven was having a hilarious conversation with his granddad. His granddad couldn't hear him, so kept shouting,"huh?!" down the phone. He didn't realise that we could see his face, so he had he phone up to his ear, giving us a close up view of his huge bushy mustache. The only thing he heard perfectly was Chris saying, "tell your granddad he has a majestic mustache", to which he suddenly replied, "I know".
Best part of the day - Jones Falls were lovely!
Worst part - My back and legs are aching because my bag is so heavy. I need another shakedown!
Day 48 - Moreland Gap Shelter to Pond Flats.
11.8 miles. 41,352 steps. 306 flights of stairs climbed. 4,329 calories burned.
Chris and I were up early, but waited around for Sunshine and Forgiven to get up so we could all hike together.
The terrain was really difficult today and there were alot of steep stairs. We took it easy in the morning, stopping regularly for water breaks. One of our breaks was at an old rotten barn in a meadow. Chris stepped up to look through the window and noticed a movement below him. There was a huge black snake in the log he was standing on. Forgiven told us it was a rat snake and wasn't poisonous. It was over 7 foot long though!
At a tiny road crossing just a bit further on, the amazing Smith family, who we have seen several times, were giving out yet more trail magic, so we stopped to catch up with them. The mum is lovely and has started bringing more dairy-free options, which she instantly gets out when I arrive. Both daughters are keen to serve hikers food and always smile when they see us. The son is also really cute and loves chatting to everyone. Such a fantastic family; we all get excited to see them and are lucky to have met them this many times. We left our backpacks with them for a bit whilst we popped down the road to Kincora Hostel to have a look. Sunshine was keen to visit it because it's run by Bob Peoples, a trail angel who organises lots of trail maintenance. As we were leaving, Bob returned in his truck and chatted to us for a bit. I think Sunshine was a bit star-struck!
The Appalachian Trail crosses Laurel Creek a lot over the next hundred or so miles and passed by Laurel Falls today. This was the most beautiful and rugged bit of path to date. We passed through rocky canyons, overgrown jungle paths, and right along the cliff edge just above the river. The falls were pretty cool. Quite wide, not very tall, but a huge volume of water. Chris and Forgiven swam in the pool at the bottom. We had been warned to be careful of the strong undercurrents, which had taken the lives of a father and son, who drowned under the waterfall several years ago. Chris took some rope and they made sure they didn't get too close to the bottom of the falls. Apparently, the water was freezing and there was a pool so deep neither of them could touch the bottom. I was happy just soaking my feet.
After lunch and time to dry off, we had a long, steep climb up a mountain. This climb went on all afternoon and wore us out. We arrived at a campsite with a spring at 5pm and reassessed our plans. Forgiven and Sunshine wanted to go further, but there was no sure water for another 6 miles. Chris and put our tent up and said we'd try to catch those two again tomorrow. The rain started shortly afterwards.
Best part of the day - the trail around Laurel Creek was amazing.
Worst part - the long ascent at the end of the day was really tough. I couldn't stop sweating and my knees were starting to lock.
Day 49 - Pond Flats to 'Spring and tent sites' at mile 441.0.
16 miles. 42,966 steps. 374 flights of stairs climbed. 4,441 calories burned.
A mouse spent the night scratching at our tent, which was really annoying and kept waking us up. Despite the lack of sleep, we hiked really fast for the first 7 miles. It took 2 miles to get from our camp to Watauga Lake, where there was a bear closure notice. For the next 4 miles we were not allowed to camp, stop or loiter due to aggressive bear activity. We powered through until we reached Watauga Dam, where we were safe again. I really hoped we'd see a bear, and there were lots of bear droppings along the trail, but still no sightings. Watauga Dam offered the most stunning views of the lake and mountains, and is possibly the best view we have had so far.
Having not been able to stop to get water anywhere, we rushed on for another 5 miles to the next water source, a tiny spring with a flimsy rhododendron leaf being used to help collect the water. We were hot, sweaty and exhausted by the time we got to this spring and I'd never felt so desperate for water. We took a long break to try and recuperate, and eventually Sunshine and Forgiven turned up. They had camped in the grounds of a hostel last night as they couldn't find another spot to camp, so had made the most of the showers this morning. We hiked together for the rest of the afternoon, leapfrogging Wizard, Anne (now known as Spinelli because she looks like the character from Recess) and Booga Bear. We had aimed to hike 19 miles, but stopped after 16 and set up camp.
Best part of the day - Watauga Dam is awesome.
Worst part - Having no water for 5+ miles in the heat and having to climb mountains with no shade and extreme thirst.
Day 50 - Spring and tent sites to Abingdon Shelter.
18.9 miles. 46,661 steps. 382 flights of stairs climbed. 4,488 calories burned.
Up early and put everything away in the rain. As we were packing things up from inside the tent, we heard a really loud buzzing noise and noticed a tiny hummingbird flying around Chris's tent. It was barely bigger than a bumble bee! Fairly easy terrain all day, with small ups and downs through rolling hills, meadows and forests. Hiked fast all day with Sunshine and Forgiven, only needing a couple of breaks to get water and eat lunch. We leapfrogged Castaway and Cheers all day, as well as a girl called Blueberry who is thru-hiking with her dog Sadie.
Camped at the shelter in the evening, which was really crowded as it's the last shelter before Damascas. As we were eating dinner a huge thunder storm started and the rain began to pour. We hid for the rest of the evening in our tent. Blueberry was having flood issues; the rain water wasn't draining around her tent and was starting to seep in, so she took her tent down to move it. Sadie was very disgruntled by this and started to wander over to ours. We saw her peer through our tent's window, so Chris invited her over to pet her. Sadie took this as an invitation to come into our tent and lie down, which embarrassed Blueberry, but made Chris exceptionally happy. He had been trying to befriend Sadie all day and it had finally paid off. The rain then turned to hail and Blueberry managed to get her tent back up in a drier location, so Sadie left us again. Blueberry and Sadie have an Instagram account called @theoneswhowalk.
Best part of the day - we hiked through some lovely meadows with dandelions and buttercups. One of the meadows had a large barn with a beautifully crafted AT logo on the side. The next field along was full of cows; it felt like we were back in the UK and made a nice change to forests.
Worst part - the weather was really unsettled all day, with sun one minute and thunderstorms the next.
Day 51 - Abingdon Shelter to Damascas.
10 miles. No further data because our Fitbit battery died halfway through the day.
Out of camp by 7.30am and straight into Damascas. It was raining as we started hiking but luckily brightened up quickly. We were desperate to get into town, eat sandwiches and get some wifi, so we hiked as fast as we could and made it to the outskirts of Damascas by 10.15am. Forgiven had gone off ahead, but we had been with Sunshine for most of our hike. The walk was quite boring, but we passed the Tennessee/Virginia state crossing and are now in our 4th state of the trail!
Damascas is lovely! A super friendly town, really green and very well maintained. Chris got chatting to some hobos as Sunshine and I used the loo; they told him they were "home-free" and loving life without boundaries. They were in Damascas for Trail Days, a hiking festival that would be taking place the following weekend. We quickly petted their dogs and made our way to Mojo's Coffee House for the best BLT I've ever eaten. They had added avocado to it, which was delicious! Our sandwich was followed by ice cream, but I just had to watch everyone else eating theirs because there were a lack of dairy-free options.
We spent the afternoon on our own, looking round various outfitters, the mini-mart (which mainly sold sweets and alcohol), and then chilling in our private room at the Broken Fiddle Hostel. The hostel was full of hiker hippies, most of whom were motivated by partying, but the guy working there was super nice and relaxed. Our bedroom door was one of those stable-type doors where the top and bottom half can open separately. It had a gap between the two halves, which was a bit disconcerting. There was a relaxed laundry system, where we were advised to stick our dirty clothes in a bag by the washing machine and they would get done eventually. So that hikers can wash everything, the hostel offers clothes to borrow for the day from the 'hiker box'. I chose a blouse with bikes on it and several holes, with some tight denim shorts to wear. Chris went for some female jogging pants, which were rather tight on him, and a t-shirt. We wore these outfits out to the supermarket to do our resupply with Sunshine and Forgiven.
The rain started pouring again as we finished shopping and none of us had raincoats with us. Forgiven started asking random people for a lift back into town and eventually got lucky. The guy who drove us and our shopping back was an artist who had attempted a thru-hike in the late eighties. He was really friendly and gave us his business card in case we ever needed his help again. Once we returned to the hostel, Chris and I cooked dinner for Sunshine and Forgiven; pasta with spicy sausage, tomatoes, onion, peppers and garlic. The other hostel dwellers looked impressed that we were actually using the kitchen. We also made use of the television room and VHS collection by watching a bit of Top Gun, before going to bed.
Best part of the day - as we were at the ice cream parlor, a father and son started talking to us about the Appalachian Trail and spoke to us about their biking trip along the Virginia Creeper Trail. They were so impressed by our thru-hike attempt that they gave us some money towards our ice creams.
Worst part - I'd been feeling really achy all day; my knees, ankles and feet are really sore!!