almost TN-VA Border to Damascus, VA
Final Tennessee Camp to Million Pillow Day Bed Camp
AT miles: 5.7
Total miles: 479.3
Elevation change: 459ft gain, 2041ft loss
My first day in Virginia was a good one. I woke up not really knowing what to expect from my visit to Damascus. I knew that I’d hang out at the library for a few hours, probably eat some things, resupply at the grocery store, then get out. Would that take three hours, four? All day? Who knew. Whatever happened, I wasn’t going to stress about it. Town happens, and sometimes you’re just along for the ride.
As zen as that perspective may seem now, I didn’t feel that way in the morning. My sleep was restless, and I kept waking up, ready to go and do all the important things, before realizing that I still had hours to wait before sunrise. When my alarm finally did ring, it came as a relief and I eagerly got underway. I wrote a little, finished off my granola and trail mix, took my last Tennessee poop (10 out of 10), then got moving. The sunrise had turned the horizon a vibrant orange, but a ceiling of dark clouds capped the hills and valleys. It wasn’t raining yet, and I had no intention of getting caught out when I was just a few miles from sanctuary.
Thirty minutes later, I had eaten some Pop Tarts, brushed my teeth, and reached Virginia. A few signs and a line of stones marked the spot. I ruminated as much as I dared, discovering that deep down, this border crossing meant very little to me. This early on in my hike, I still felt like I was just getting started, just getting in the groove. With so many miles left to go, celebrating now didn’t quite feel like the appropriate move. Talk to me after over 500 miles of Virginia. Looking forward at such a big state, it undoubtedly felt good to get it started. Finishing Virginia would feel big, I guessed.
A light rain rustled the dry leaves as I eased down the cruisy trail. When buildings started appearing through the branches and the rumble of trucks drifted drifted through the air, I finished off my water and made sure to pee one last time. I popped out of the forest next to a nice farmhouse and walked straight into a neighborhood, with street signs and everything. Gray clouds swirled overhead and rain rippled the shallow puddles.
First stop was the library, just one block away. I planted my smelly self at computer number 8 and got to work. Boring stuff, like emails and making sure that I still had money in the right places. The time flew by, as it does in front of a screen, and I moved at 1pm, hungry and dehydrated, to the porch outside to eat and call SpiceRack. I watched the rain showers thicken then back off repeatedly as I finished off my peanut butter and tortillas, and caught up on life back at home in Portland. The sun almost broke through, and the birds put on an energetic display of flitting and flapping between bushes and branches. Three hours later, even though I could have chatted until dark, I started feeling delerious with hunger and needed to visit some stores before closing time. It was time to vacate the good porch at Damascus Public Library. Saying goodbye to SpiceRack on FaceTime, seeing her face for the first time in weeks, was my favorite moment of the day, for sure. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed her company until then. Maybe I even avoided that realization to ward of the loneliness that inevitably followed. Technology had brought us together from across the country, and for that I was grateful. Signing off, I felt recharged and loved. Virginia, I’m ready.
I couldn’t find the sunscreen I was looking for at the outfitter on the main drag, but I ran into a few familiar faces when I ducked into the Dollar General to look there. Machine and Stealth, with his buddy fresh from Santa Cruz, each clutched bags of junk food unfit for responsible for consumption, AKA hiker food. Then I walked up the gravel bike path, along a rushing river to the Food City to grab provisions of my own for the next 120 miles to Bland, VA. The store was a full-on supermarket, so I did well for myself. The resupply was complete, varied, and reasonably priced. I even picked up some fresh fruit, a salad, and a kombucha for town snacking. Back outside in the parking lot, I ripped apart the packaging and stuffed the loose items in my backpack. It felt heavy, but everything fit, which meant that I had maybe gotten it right. Time would tell.
I wandered back to and through downtown Damascus. The small town was picturesque and sleepy. None of the business and restaurants appeared to be open this early in the season, which was fine by me. Sipping my booch and crunching an apple, I was headed to Subway, which is always open, no matter the season.
Just as I was exiting town, Subway in sight, I was intercepted by a woman in a red Toyota. Kay asked me where I was spending the night, and offered me a bed at her place when I told her I planned on camping a mile out of town. I had been advised by those who know more than me, to never turn down a free bed, meal, or ride while thru-hiking. So I didn’t. Her house was only a block from Subway, so I grabbed my sandwich and knocked on the door just as dusk started to settle into night.
Machine and Hollis, were already settled in. I joined them around the TV for some good conversation and Jeopardy. It was fun hanging out and sure beat camping within earshot of a busy road, spooning a shake-salad by headlamp. Instead, I spooned my shake-salad under bright kitchen lights, surrounded by laughing people, friends perhaps. My veggie sandwich followed, and it felt as if that was all I would ever need for the rest of my life. Say what you will about Subway, but there is no way more reliable during a thru-hike to get a varied mixture of fresh veggies than a fully loaded sub. On trail, I always crave what I call a salad sandwich.
At 10pm, I followed Hollis up the steepest stairs of all time to our shared bedroom. I carved a space for myself on the daybed from an exceptionally large pile of pillows. Not even bothering to change out of my hiking clothes, I lay back, draping a thin blanket over my legs. The room was warm, and the bed soft. With a full belly, I needed for nothing. I woke up today, not knowing where it would end, and I certainly hadn’t expected this. This was better than I could have imagined. The trail provides. That old adage sprang to mind. Even if I don’t know what I need, I somehow end up finding it. The trail knows. The trail always knows.