What a memorable hundred miles this has been as my remaining distance dropped below the 500 mile mark and I finally escaped Virginia’s clutches and made my way into Tennessee! With its share of overcast grayness and abbreviated daylight hours, the few dappled interruptions of warm, sunny days were revitalizing gifts that provided a desperately needed morale boost. Watauga Dam, Roan Mountain, and Overlook Shelter were mentionable sights experienced along the way. The Overlook Shelter was a double decker converted barn that overlooked a beautiful easterly view. The result was a colorfully painted sky to greet hikers after a slightly damp night sleep which rained thick, dense fog in conjunction with the music of mice scampering about above our heads. One particularly memorable day granted me an opportunity to walk fifteen miles into trail town Damascus, Virginia on a refreshingly different trail which parallels the AT. The Virginia Creeper Trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail twice, joining it for the last 0.4 into Damascus. I was overjoyed to have veered from the AT this day! It was a delightful change of pace…from rocky, muddy, leaf-covered undulations of the same ol’ trail to a former railroad bed which is presently a smooth, winding biking/hiking/horse path following the curves of a clear mountain creek along the way. This walk was the most aesthetically enjoyable in all of Virginia crossing numerous wooden footbridges and cascading waterfalls, passing by a neat little community where a collie accompanied me down the path for a mile or so, cutting through fall foliage filled forests where I could actually gaze around at the surroundings rather than the usual staring downward to avoid rocks and roots and other AT hazards.
This hundred has been slower to pass by as a result of shorter hiking days for varied reasons of fun! Trail angel Mama drove six hours (plus 1.5 in standstill traffic), to magic my friends and me with a hotel room, a birthday dinner, and everlasting memories of one of my favorite days on the AT! She tackled rocks and climbs up and down Laurel Falls like a champ! It was so much fun sharing my trail, my home, my life for the past five months with my mom.
In addition to Mama’s visit, Guardian slackpacked me and took me out for a fun Halloween in Johnson City. He’s jumped on trail with me for a couple hundred miles to finish a section on his to-do list. Laughter and entertainment are abundant with this crazy character around breathing life into the cold miles ahead.
The trail has been a good mixture of smooth terrain with a few challenging stretches thrown in to prevent hikers from falling into a state of indolence. There have been days of pleasurable walks in the woods and of grueling climbs that seemed never ending. One of these climbs was Hump Mountain in Tennessee, four miles up to 5,600 feet of elevation before the woods opened up to a beautiful, grassy bald and looming summit an observer could see for miles as she approached the apex. What a gorgeous reward for the fatiguing ascension!
Life on the AT the past five months has most definitely had its ups and downs. Southbound has been especially difficult with the gray weather and cold temperatures of fall, but this hundred miles has invigorated me, hopefully enough to sustain my ambition for another 389 miles of ever changing life on the Appalachian Trail. “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King
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