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May 2008 – On the Trail to Damascus, VA

 May 9th:   Dickey Gap to Old Orchard Shelter  (10.2 miles)

 It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since we were at Trail Days, in Damascus, VA, but here we are again! We decided to arrive in town a few days early so we could have time to hike south from Dickey Gap back to Damascus and hopefully see all of the trail that was obliterated by rain and fog in 2006 when we thru-hiked that section. It was in the middle of this section, at Elk Garden along VA-600, that we were rescued by "V&A" in '06, after coming over Whitetop Mountain and Buzzard Rock in a brutally cold, and windy, rain storm and were both near hypothermic. We were praying that this time would be different. We drove into town early, after spending the night in Abingdon and went by Augusta's Appalachian B&B, where we would be later staying, to drop off our car, laptop and "big" camera. With that bit of business out of the way, we made a quick trip to the post office to mail out a copy of our DVD, "Appalachian Trail Reflections" to a gentleman who had ordered one online. Then it was off to Sun Dog Outfitters, just to look around, and then to Mt. Rogers Outfitters to talk to Jeff, the owner, to arrange a shuttle to Dickey Gap. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the trail, driven by a very entertaining employee of MRO, "Walks A Lot" (formerly, "Pack Rat"). The skies were pretty grey and there was a heavy mist in the air as we wound our way along the river to the trail head at Dickey Gap but we just had a feeling that the weather would get better. We reminisced about '06 when we came through Dickey Gap and met "V&A" who were waiting there with Snickers bars and fruit for us and every other thru-hiker that came by. By 10:30 a.m. we were on the trail (a very uncharacteristic late start for us) and it was not long before we were back into our old hiking rhythm. It felt great and on top of that the sun came out! One of the neat things about hiking south is that we would be running into northbounders (NoBo's)and would have a chance to chat with them about their adventure thus far. It was not long before we ran into NoBo "Repack" and we stopped to talk with him. However, it was obvious that he was on a mission and needed to keep moving north; we totally understood, having been in his position ourselves, and bid him farewell and wished him a successful hike. The sun was now fully out and it started to get pleasantly warm. "Mom" picked up the pace a bit and it was amazing to us how fast we were able to go. Evidently, all of our "off-hiking season" workouts at the gym were paying benefits. Further south we came upon 2001 thru-hiker, "Mother Nature's Son" and two of his friends out on a section hike. Another chance to chat and recount our prior hikes on this part of the trail. There were other NoBo's that made their way past us, but they were all in "the zone" and simply walked right by us with merely a curt "Good Morning." Ah, the drive of the A.T. thru-hiker!

As it neared time for lunch, the long climb to Hurricane Shelter laid ahead of us. In years past, we would have paced ourselves going up such a climb and would have taken several breaks to catch our breath and rest our tired legs. Not this time! With as many hiking miles as we now had under our belts, ascending such a mountain was a challenge we knew we could meet with a level of confidence and grit that only comes from being an "AT veteran." "Mom" put her head down and up we went forward  in one continuous march. We arrived at the shelter to meet a hiker who had very little to say so we proceeded to silently wolf down our lunch. One thing that did not change, even after months of being on the A.T., was "Mom's" battle with regulating her body temperature. The air had chilled down quite a bit, as we arrived at the shelter, and what was to be a relaxing meal was cut short by the fact that she was becoming increasingly chilled by the cool breeze that swirled around the shelter. So, twenty minutes later, we hoisted our packs and set off for our destination for the day, Old Orchard Shelter. By 3:00 p.m. we had reached the road crossing at VA-603 where we planned to take a "boots off" break for only a few minutes. Those few minutes grew to thirty as "Southpaw" emerged from the woods and sat down to talk with us. He was very forthcoming with the details of his hike so far and told us, in vivid detail, about his run-in with a feisty black bear at Walnut Creek Shelter. Evidently, he and his shelter mates spent a sleepless night fending off the advances of this bear and ultimately lost one of their bags of food to him/her, despite the fact that all their bear bags were properly hung from a tree branch.

We finally got around to putting our boots back on and hustled up the next ascent to Old Orchard Shelter - a place that was dear to our hearts. It was here that we spent the evening in '06, with some of the most memorable characters of our journey. There was "Kutsa", "Team Fourward," "Bama, “Little Wing,” "Salt & Pepper" and many others. What great memories flowed through us we approached the grassy field where we all pitched our tents and joked into the evening. When we arrived this time, there were already several people in the shelter who were later joined by friends who brought bottles of Merlot to share with everyone. Knowing what alcohol does to our hiking abilities the next day, we opted not to partake. We found a nice soft place to pitch our new tarp tent and were both anxious to see how we would like it. Somewhat bigger, but several pounds lighter than the REI Quarter Dome we took on our thru-hike, we hoped it would serve our purposes well. Although the weather was beautiful, reports were that it was supposed to rain during the night; the ultimate test of how our new abode would fare. With dinner out of the way, we crawled into our new digs and called it a day at 7:00 p.m. ("Hiker Midnight") We had done 10 miles in 4.25 hours of hiking and we were quite pleased with ourselves.  


May 10th:  Old Orchard Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter  (11.0 miles)

 It had been a cold, windy night and more than once we were awoken by thunder off in the distance. Fortunately for us, the storm missed us and all we had to deal with was the incessant wind. At one point, believing that rain was imminent, I went outside to take down our bear bag from a nearby tree and as I looked up, there was a spectacular star-filled sky overhead—not a rain cloud was in sight. We arose early, made a quick breakfast and broke camp. Our destination for today—Thomas Knob Shelter at one of the most picturesque but climatically unpredictable locations on the trail. We had not stayed there during our thru-hike, so we were excited about doing so this time. The other highlight of the day would hopefully be seeing the splendor of Grayson Highlands and its wild horses—both of which were shrouded in a pea soup thick fog the last time we came through. The air was crisp and clear and the sun pierced through the trees along the trail in arrow-like rays. It was a perfect morning to be hiking! We ambled along, talking to each other and taking in the blossoming of spring in the forest and fields around us. This is what backpacking is all about. As we made our way to Wise Shelter for lunch, we passed NoBos “”A Lo Hawk,” with his Mohawk haircut and “Yorkie,” from the U.K. who told us he had only a few more months left to finish his hike before his time in the U.S. was up. We also ran into “Cookie Monster,” “Holler,” and “Pixie” who commented on the awesome weather and told us they would see us at Trail Days the following week. On schedule, we arrived at Wise Shelter and were greeted by NoBos, “Motobutt” and “Half Elvis who asked “Mom” if she knew why he had such a trail name. She immediately replied that it was because he could only shake one leg which, as it turned out, was the correct answer. Apparently, our excitement about being back in trail shape so quickly was short-lived as “Mom” realized she was developing “hot spots” on her little toes and wrapped them in new skin to ward off the potential blisters. As we ate our lunchn we talked with them about their adventure and gave them some insight into what to expect further up the trail. Oddly enough, “Half Elvis” had just moved to College Park, Maryland to work for REI. College Park is only 30 or so miles from our home and we had been to that REI store several times. With lunch completed, under the warmth of a blazing sun, we were back on the trail and headed through one of the most picturesque areas of the A.T.—Grayson Highlands. We strolled through the tall prairie-type grass and scrambled up and over the rocky passes that cover the highlands. We were so glad the weather was perfect. Our spirits were soaring! What a magnificent sight! Unless you have been to Grayson Highlands it is almost impossible to describe how beautiful it is there with views of the mountains in every direction and wild flowers, laurel and rhododendron just on the verge of blooming. At one of the steeper ascents, we ran into a father from North Carolina who was out hiking with his two young sons—one of them eight years old and the other only four. The little guy was struggling to climb the rocky steps that for everyone else were just minor obstacles, but he was determined. We were quite taken back by his fortitude and playful nature.

Now almost through the open grasslands and heading back into the pine forest, we came across 2003 thru-hiker, “Boat” and a friend of his who invited us to stop, sit with them awhile and partake of the “trail magic” they were offering. “Boat” was taking a break from his current thru-hike and was helping his friend dole out Cokes and ice cream sandwiches; both of which we inhaled as if we had not eaten for a week. What a treat and when the dad and his sons arrived, they could not believe that such a thing took place so far out I the wilderness. Obviously, the boys both went for the ice cream sandwiches. We sat and relished the trail magic for quiet awhile and inquired of our “Trail Angels” as to what the weather for the next few days was going to be. They told us that it did not look good. There was a monster storm headed our way that should arrive during the night. Here we go again—Whitetop and Buzzard Rock in a storm. Seems we have been here before. Our break over, and plenty of daylight left, we took a leisurely walk to Thomas Knob Shelter passing herds of horses standing in the shade of massive pines and past an army of Boy Scouts camped on one of the hillsides near the shelter. “Mom” was in picture-taking heaven and her camera rarely left her hands. We completed our 11-mile day at around 2:00 p.m. and spent the rest of the afternoon drying clothes on the large rocks behind the shelter, getting water and just being lazy. It was hard for us to recall getting to a shelter so early and not having to rush around taking care of our daily routines. We were totally enjoying it!

It was not long before our solitary hideaway became the center of hiker activity as numerous hikers arrived for water, to take a break or stopped for the night. A large family made the scene with several back packs full of trail magic. Apparently they do this every thru-hiking season and they came well-prepared. They had candy bars, fruit, lunch meat and so much other food they could have fed 20-30 hikers with no problem. Newlyweds, “Pine Nut” and “Pogo” stopped by, took some trail magic and went on but not after they picked our brains for tips on how to survive their odyssey once they found out we did a thru-hike as a married couple and were still happily married. “CC Rider” also stopped by but continued on. “Cranky Pete” walked up and decided he was going to stay for the night. The dad from North Carolina appeared, with his boys and they could not believe they ran into trail magic twice in one day. They stayed long enough to eat a few candy bars and get water before retiring to their campsite a few hundred yards away. Before the day was over, to female NoBos, “Cayenne” and “Tailgate” stopped long enough to make dinner and then joined the other tenters a bit up the trail. We enjoyed the fact that we were not in a rush, had no real timeline for doing anything, and were able to spend so much time talking with other hikers. The sharing of our experiences had us longing for more time on the trail than we had planned. By 7:00 p.m. we were sound asleep unaware of exactly what we would be facing, weather-wise, the following morning. If worse came to worse, and the weather was really dreadful, we would hold up for a day at the shelter and ride it out. At least, that was the plan when we said “Goodnight’ to each other.  

May 11th: Thomas Knob Shelter to Lost Mountain Shelter  (12.2 miles)

 It was Déjà vu all over again! Fog and cold set in overnight and the temperature plummeted to 39°, but despite the rotten weather, we decided to head out to Lost Mountain Shelter anyway. We had experienced this before, in 2006, so it was nothing new. We had been hoping that it would be clear so we could see the views from Whitetop Mountain and Buzzard Rock. Maybe we would get lucky. The rain continued to come down, though lightly, but the winds were fierce. The forest did allow us a brief respite from the elements but when we exited from the trees into the meadow at the top of the mountain leading to Elk Garden and VA 600, it was 2006 all over again. The fog became so dense that “Mom” stopped at one point to reorient herself because she could not see the blazes painted on the posts in the meadow. The wind was incredibly strong and the temperature continued to drop. We eventually found our way to the road crossing at Elk Garden, the site of our 2006 rescue from hypothermia. During a short interval of no rain, we had a quick snack. “Mom” was wet and struggling to stay warm—the only remedy was to get moving again.

We began the long, slow ascent up to the summit of Whitetop Mountain, praying all the while that the skies would miraculously clear—offering us a view that we missed during our thru-hike. But alas, the weather got worse and we were wrapped in even more fog and the incessant wind pounded us. This time, unlike our previous visit, we did get to see the water pipe at the spring atop Whitetop. Thankfully, we did not need to stop there for water. We reentered the woods and got a bit of a breather from the lousy weather but it was short-lived as we reached the bald at Buzzard Rock. What we had already experienced so far was no match for what hit us as we made our way across the open bald. The wind had now increased to such a velocity that we were LITERALLY blown off the trail several times and, digging in our trekking poles, forced our way back onto it. It was still cold, 41° without the wind chill, and the fog was still like a grey curtain in front of us. Visibility was near zero. As we came upon Buzzard Rock, we saw three hikers huddled amongst the rocks trying to get out of the wind—but there was no escape; it was everywhere. Mercifully, we reentered the forest and the rain and wind let up as we made our way down the steep descent to Rte. 58. We again stopped for a quick snack of  AT Power Cookies and as we did, the three hikers who has been huddling in the rocks earlier, came by us proclaiming that they were getting off the trail until the weather passed. They informed us that there were reports of severe weather on the way, including tornados. We had dealt with tornados before, so we were not especially distressed by their report. As we neared a gravel road crossing that would take us through some wide-open cow pastures, we began to hear thunder in the distance and then all hell broke loose as we crossed the road and went through the fence surrounding the pasture. It was some of the heaviest rains we could remember walking through and by the time we made it to the next oasis of trees, we were again totally soaked. We continued on and when we made it to Rte 58, the rain instantly stopped and the sun came out. There stood our three friends from up the trail, making a call to be taken to town. As quickly as the storm had come it disappeared and the skies where clear and blue—not a cloud in sight.

We reached the shelter at 2:00 p.m., rather early considering the brutality of the weather that should have brought our hike to a crawl. There, at the shelter drying their clothes, were northbounders “Chewy” and “Colby.” They were deciding whether or not to pack up and move on but when we told them about the weather reports we had heard, they decided to stay for the night. Within a half-hour, every available tree branch within 50’ of the shelter was covered in our wet gear. The sun stayed out until 5:30, allowing most of our gear to dry but then the rain returned—with a vengeance. Through this maelstrom came “Slightly” who called it a day and dropped his gear in the shelter. As the rain pelted the shelter’s tin roof, we all sat around, chatted and had dinner. “Mom” and I reflected on our trip across Whitetop and Buzzard rock and came to the conclusion that, despite the awful conditions, we had a lot of fun doing it. “Flamethrower” dragged in about 7:00 p.m., soaked to the bone and, since there is always room at the in for another hiker, we made a spot for him. “Sky Serpent” arrived a bit later and the shelter got a bit crowded—though still quite comfortable. We all fell asleep with the rain continuing to dance on the roof.  


May 12th:  Lost Mountain Shelter to Saunders Shelter  (6.4 miles)

 Knowing we had plenty of time to reach Damascus by Trail Days and finding no need top rush, we lounged around in our sleeping bags most of the morning as everyone else, except “Flamethrower”, got back onto the trail. We felt so guilty, sitting in our sleeping bags making breakfast and just being totally lazy. It was uncomfortable for us to not be rushing around getting our bags packed, but we adapted to our new lay-back attitude rather quickly and any guilt we felt for not already being hiking faded away. Finally, we could not take it any more, and at 1:00 p.m. we packed up and headed to Saunders Shelter for the night. We could not remember deliberately planning such a short-mileage day but we looked forward to having a relaxing walk. As we prepared to leave, “Kirk” stopped in for lunch and informed us he had seen a bear not far from the Saunders Shelter. We could only hope we would be so lucky. The day, though short, was filled with some steep climbs but wonderful ridgeline walks. When we arrived at the shelter, “Dude” and “Shua” were already there and before the day was over we were joined by “Che”, “Fred”, “Brahma Bull” and his wife “Sweet Potato.” We could not remember laughing so hard for so long as we did with this crew. All afternoon and into the evening, there was a constant array of guffaws, playful ribbing and hysterically funny stories from the trail. It was obvious that everyone was having a great time being on the AT and we were lucky to be able to be a part of their frivolity. It was a wonderfully cool and starry night and all was well with the world.


May 13th:  Saunders Shelter to Damascus, VA  (9.4 miles)

 We arose to a wonderfully crisp, cold morning and we immediately paid our farewells to everyone as we all headed out in our respective directions. We hoped we would see them all again in Damascus for Trail Days. Only “Che” was still fast asleep in his hammock and when we met “Dude” and “Shua” in Damascus later, we did lament over not checking to see if he was still alive before we left camp. You see, the night had turned extremely cold and “Che” was sleeping in a hammock and had sent all of his winter gear home—including his winter sleeping bag. We wondered if he had possibly frozen to death and that is why he was not yet up when we all left camp. Fortunately, this was not the case, as we saw him in Damascus. The hike to Damascus was now mostly downhill; a real detriment to our knees. But the environment we walked in was wonderful, just as we remembered it, and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves as we passed northbounder after northbounder. As we came down the last stretch of trail to Rte 58, which leads to Damascus, we ran into an old friend, “Long Portage”; known to his friends as Rush Williamson. We had met Rush years ago at Ensign Cowell Shelter in Maryland, as we were preparing for our thru-hike. He was doing the same. Unfortunately, his 2006 thru-hike came to an abrupt end with a knee injury and he was not able to finish. It was good to see him making another attempt at it and after talking for him for quite awhile, we wished him well on his adventure and headed to town.

We arrived in town just before lunch and went to Augusta’s Appalachian Inn B&B to pick up our car. If you are ever in Damascus and are looking for a wonderful place to stay, this is the place. Proprietors, Terry and Sissy Kammer are gracious and friendly hosts and their breakfasts are amazing. We especially enjoyed their late-afternoon ritual of putting out wine and other drinks so we could sit in the rocking chairs on their front porch and simply relax. Every one of our needs was taken care of and by the time we left we felt we had made new friends.

The weather was wonderfully clear and we were still bound and determined to see what the views looked like from Whitetop and at Elk Garden. So, we stopped at Subway and picked up some subs and sodas for lunch, and headed out in our car. On the way, we stopped at a small convenience store to pick up candy bars to provide as trail magic to hikers coming over Whitetop. Our first stop was Elk Garden, where we ran into a couple thru-hiking. We offered them candy bars and took their trash before taking photos of the trail leading up the hill on the other side of the road. Wow, were we surprised! There were actually cows and huge boulders all along the hillside; none of which we were able to see in the fog two days earlier. Our mission accomplished here, we headed to Whitetop Mountain and made our way up the gravel service road to the summit. On the way we saw “Fred” walking along the road near the summit and asked him if he wanted a ride back down to the trail. He declined and kept walking. After a brief stop at the top, we made our way back down to a parking lot where the AT crosses the road. I talked to some section hikers having lunch there while “Mom” wandered off to start snapping photos. We also had the chance to hand out trail magic to several thru-hikers that came our way. What a great feeling it was to be able to help out a fellow thru-hiker. With the trail magic gone, we headed back up to the summit so we could take a more leisurely look at the valley through which we had come several days earlier. The views were spectacular but what we saw when we gazed down to where the trail crossed Buzzard Rock was a bit disconcerting. We could now see how long and how open this section was to the fury of the weather and a shiver went down both our spines. Had we actually come across all of that open territory in the wind, fog and driving rain—not once, but twice? It was more scary thinking about it than it was actually doing it. We were happy that we finally had the chance to see these two nemeses of our travels in the sunshine.

Our mission accomplished, we headed back into town, checked in at the B&B, showered, went to pick up a few items at the thru-hiker “superstore”, Dollar General, and then went to Pizza-Plus for a fantastic pizza buffet. We went back to the B&B and sat on the porch drinking wine and talking with Terry and Sissy. Later that night, we sat in their living room and watched the all-time classic movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It seems that Terry is in the process of collecting the top 100 movies of all time as chosen by the American Film Institute and he is well on his way. We also found out that today is the 1st anniversary of Terry and Sissy’s ownership of the inn, so we gave them one of our “Appalachian Trail Reflections” DVDs as an anniversary gift. As Terry tells it, he has always wanted to thru-hike the AT with Sissy providing trail support from an RV. Somewhere along the way, owning a B&B took precedence but Terry has still not given up on his dream. When we showed him a copy of a book that “Mom’s” mother had written about her and “Mom’s” dad providing us with support from their RV in 2006, his eyes twinkled and he immediately said he wanted a copy. We were happy to oblige. The book, “Exploring the Appalachian Trail by RV…Sort of” is now part of Terry’s library.


May 14th:  Damascus, Virginia for Trail Days

 We rose from a peaceful night’s sleep, though we have to admit, that sleeping on a soft mattress after three nights of sleeping on a hard shelter floor took a bit getting use to. Terry and Sissy served up a huge breakfast featuring Terry’s peanut butter waffles and they were delicious.  There was also eggs, bacon, hash browns, fruit and coffee and we partook of as much of it as our appetites could handle while we sat and chatted with our amiable hosts. We had a few chores to take care of such as picking up a shirt for me at Mt. Rogers Outfitters and a hiking skirt for “Mom” at Sundog Outfitters. We also stopped in to the youth center to take a look at where we would be giving our talk on “The Joys of Backpacking as a Couple” on Friday morning. With some time to kill before things in town really started jumping with the weekend’s Trail Days festivities, we drove to Boone, NC to check it out. Boone has been advertised as a great place to retire and with that inevitability on our horizon, we wanted to see what all the hype was about. It is quite the college town and I really enjoyed the historic look of the town and its architecture. We stopped for a couple of hot dogs at the Hot Dog Café and then headed out to make the long drive to Watauga Lake; the scene of “V&A’s” trail magic of dumpling soup back in 2006. When we were last there, the lake was so high that many of the picnic tables were partially submerged. But this time, the lake was extremely low and there was a sign, as we entered the park, stating that the water was contaminated. Our mission accomplished there, we drove to the trail head at Shady Valley where the trail crosses Tennessee 91. We took a brief walk on the trail through the fields leading to an old farmstead. As we walked we realized the trail had been relocated since our thru-hike and now wandered through the fields rather than up the long gravel driveway to the farm’s outbuildings. For some reason I had left my cell phone on and received a call from our daughter, Harmony, in Las Vegas. It was very weird talking on a cell phone in the middle of a gorgeous filed of grass when our daughter was calling from the hustle and bustle of “Sin City.”

On the way back to Damascus, we stopped just outside of town so “Mom” could take photos of Backbone Rock, the shortest tunnel in the world and then it was back into town for dinner on the back lawn of the First Baptist Church. These folks are incredible friends to hikers and always put on a lavish feast or two not to mention providing welcome free showers for all the hikers. While we munched down on hamburgers, hot dogs, salad, sodas and other goodies, we spent time catching up with some of our 2006 alumni, “Bama”, and her husband Bill, and “Skywalker” and a current hiker, J.D. who broke his foot only 11 miles into his thru-hike, Bummer! After attending an outdoor worship service presented by Rick Tuttle, “King Tut,” and the Appalachian Trail Servants Ministry, along with members of the First Baptist Church it was back to the B&B to hone our presentation, check/send emails and download photos to our site on Appalachian Trail Servants is headed up by Craig and Suzy Miles, a.k.a. “Clay” & “Branch” who we hiked with for awhile in 2006 before they had to get off the trail. It was a great day and the fun was just getting started!


May 15th: Damascus, VA

 Another great breakfast this morning and we ere joined by Don and Cam who are cycling across the United States. What stories they had to tell. We spent over two hours sitting at the breakfast table swapping stories about our adventures. Then it was off to take care of a laundry list of chores before having lunch at the Dairy King – that’s right, Dairy King, not Queen. They also did not sell ice cream – bummer! At Mt. Rogers outfitters we picked up a book on trails in the Smoky Mountains which we will need for our hike in October plus “Mom” picked up a pair of the Darn Tough socks that “Walks a Lot” told us about on our way to Dickey’s gap. We checked our computer and found we had received an order for one of our DVDs, and since we came prepared for such a situation, it was off to the post office to mail it out. Than it was stop at the Damascus town hall to pick up our Trail Days T-shirts and as we passed the outfitters on our way back to the B&B, we ran into “Chill” and “Marley” so we chatted for a spell. With that completed, we ran through our presentation one more time as some new hikers, “Needles (an acupuncturist), “Bo Jangles”, “Yak” and “Rodeo” arrived at the B&B. A couple of them were hurting pretty bad and were contemplating getting off the trail. As the vendors were arriving and setting up their booths in the park, we ran into our old friend, “Long Portage” again and he is doing well. Trail Days officially starts tomorrow, so the town is really filling up with hikers; past, present and future. We also waved “hello” to “Shua” and his girlfriend and to “Dude” who were walking down the other side of Main Street. We wondered, “Where is Fred?”

Since options for a “fancy” dinner were pretty slim in Damascus, upon Terry & Sissy’s recommendation, we drove to Abingdon and ate at the historic, and “pricey”, Tavern. The food was outstanding, though the service was a bit slow. No big deal – we were certainly in no hurry. Oddly enough, the bartender there also works at Sundog Outfitters and we recognized her as soon as we came through the door. When we got back to the B&B, we sat on the porch and talked with Terry & Sissy and I played my Native American flutes – practicing for my performance on Saturday. As the evening slipped away, we retired to our room and rehearsed our presentation one last time and polished our delivery somewhat. We were beginning to get a bit excited and nervous about doing it for the first time. 


May 16th:  Damascus, VA

 At 9:00 this morning, we made our “Joys of Backpacking as a Couple” presentation at the Youth Center across from Mt. Rogers Outfitters. Despite some technical glitches, it went off smoothly and was well received by those in attendance. It was wonderful to see so many “hiking couples” at such an early hour and they had many specific questions they wanted answered. One couple approached us and said that only a day earlier, they had gotten into a very heated argument on the trail, but our talking about showing compassion, understanding and sharing each special moment on the trail really resonated with them. After our talk, 1951 thru-hiker, Gene Espey, talked about his thru-hike and showed us some of the gear he used. Wow, he had some amazing stories! He made us feel like wimps, what with all of our lightweight, high-tech gear and our dehydrated food. What a joy to listen to him. What was truly amazing was that he completed his hike in four months! With Gene’s presentation over, we headed to the vendor area in the park and it was there that we began to run into a large contingent of hikers from our “Class of ’06.” It was great to see them all again. There was “Wonderfoot,” “Big Foot,” “Gray Goose,” “Oly,” “maple Leaf,” “Baldylocks,” “42,” “Knock-Knock,” “Rapunzel,” “Stitches,” “Upload,” “Buttercup,” “Sleepy the Arab,” “Carbomb & Lichen,” “Chill,” “Chocolate Bandito,” “Brainfreeze (with her husband and new daughter), “Wild Bill,”  and “Model T.” There was plenty of catching up going on and a whole lot of laughter. We also ran into “AWOL” who offered to sell our DVDs and CDs at his booth.

When we got back to the B&B, there were two new guests, ’97 thru-hiker, “Moose” and his wife, Megan. During their charming conversation, “Moose” told us they had stayed at the B&B the very first night it was open in 2007.  After a glass or two of white Zinfandel, we realized we were pretty hungry, so, again upon Terry & Sissy’s recommendation, we drove out of town and had some great BBQ at Stoney Mountain Barbeque. With full stomachs and a very full day on our schedule tomorrow, we retired to the B&B’s living room to watch TV for awhile and then called it a day.


May 17th:  Damascus, VA

 This morning was my premier performance playing my flutes on the stage across from Mt. Rogers Outfitters. Technically, everything went off without a hitch but it was quite windy and that played havoc on the flutes. I was quite please with how things went, for my first time, and folks seemed to enjoy the music. Terry and Sissy even came down to listen and they wanted one of my CDs. The local massage therapist, who had set up shop right near the stage, wanted to trade me a massage for one of my CDs. I decided not to. As soon as I was done, we had to hurry and set up our display across the street, in front of the outfitters, to do our DVD and CD signing. There was quite a bit of interest in our wares, especially “A’s” book on RVing the trail and we sold several items. “Mad Hatter” stopped by, as we were sitting there, and talked to us about doing our “Joys of Backpacking as a Couple” presentation at this year’s Long Trail Festival in August. He also asked us to repeat our “Nutrition on the Trail” talk that we did at the festival last year. Of course we said “Yes.”

Then it was time for the “Hiker Parade” and, as always, it was am absolute blast. As we all lined up to begin marching through town, we ran into some other ’06 hikers; “Natty Bo” (stunningly attired in a dress he bought at a yard sale the day before, as did “Baldylocks”), “Iron Wolf,” “Joe Crow,” “Low Gear” (the other one), “She Bear,” and “Piñata.” We all lined up, by class, behind a long procession of bands, local dignitaries, “Miss Trail Days,” a motorized bar stool and fire trucks. As is the tradition, the towns’ folk armed themselves with “Super Soakers” of every size and shape and filled up wheelbarrows and wagons with water balloons; all for the purpose of attacking the hikers as they marched from one end of Main Street to the other. Of course, knowing this, the hikers also armed themselves and it was a wet and wonderful trip through “The Friendliest Town on the Trail.” What a blast!

Immediately after the parade, it was time for the Hiker Talent Show at the gazebo in the park. This is a very popular event and people from miles around come and sit in their lawn chairs wolfing down funnel cakes and hot dogs as a bunch of dirty, smelly hikers, generally make fools out of themselves. However, there was also some really good talent. I nervously entered the competition and was fortunate enough to take second place behind a tie for first between a very talented singer/guitar player and a hysterically funny comedian. As a prize, I received a copy of “Lion King’s” video about his hike on the PCT.

Knowing we would be leaving early tomorrow morning, we made a final trip over to “Tent City” to pick up our LEKI trekking poles which we had dropped off yesterday to be serviced. LEKI offers repair and refurbishing service to every hiker at Trail Days, free of charge. What a great company that makes great products. “Carbomb” found us and asked us to come to their site to see everyone before we left so we made the short walk to their site and said “good-bye” just as “Wild Bill” appeared and instructed everyone to come to his site for his famous oyster dinner. Then it was off to Damascus Eats for our own dinner and back to the B&B for our last night. What a wonderful week it has been and we are looking forward to doing it again next year.