AT 2017: Day 36, Campsite at Mile 462.7 to Saunders Shelter

Think I'll get out of town

Leaving Damascus

In hiker terms, a zero is a day when you don't hike any miles. A nero is when you hike just a few miles to get into town, or stay in town until late and then hike just a few miles to leave.

Near zero, get it?

Today would be a good day for a nero. I camped last night just six miles from Damascus, Va. If I wanted a nice, long day in town to relax, the opportunity was there for that today.

Maybe I can take a nero some day soon, but right now I have no time for it.

DateWednesday, May 17, 2017
WeatherSunny and warm, with temperatures rising to the mid 80s
Trail ConditionsA few rocky sections, some road walking through town, then a long climb
Today's Miles15.8
Trip Miles478.5

Starting this morning, I have 70 miles to walk in the next four days. I need to complete that in order to reach a road where I asked my wife to pick me up on Friday.

It will take a bit of a push to average more than 17 miles per day, so I don't have time to waste in town.

I've hiked in the past nearly all of the trail in that upcoming section, so I feel good about my chances this week. Still, I have been thinking about a couple backup plans in case I wind up short of the goal.

Sunrise view from my tent

I woke up early, just as the sun was rising above the ridge where I was camped.

It didn't take me long to get walking. I was on the trail by 7:30.

Easy trail

The trail remained easy to walk this morning, though it was surprisingly rocky in a few spots.

Tennessee-Virginia state line

After just under 2.5 miles I reached a sign and a line of rocks arranged across the trail. They marked the boundary line between Tennessee and Virginia.

Tennessee-Virginia state line

Reaching this point felt like a big deal. Virginia is the fourth state in my journey, and more of the trail is in this state than any other.

But being here seemed more weighty than that. I'm not sure why I felt that way. Perhaps I knew there would be big challenges ahead, and many of them mental.

Thru-hikers often speak of the "Virginia blues". The trail is so long in this state that hikers say they feel it will never end. Depression sets in for some as they trudge through the woods without many of the views they've seen in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

It is daunting to think about how long I will be in this state, so I decided to worry about it some other day. I still had a lot of miles to walk today.

The trail continued a slow descent toward Damascus.

As I neared the town I ran into Wahoo, who was stopped to take a break. I had seen Wahoo briefly in Erwin, Tenn., but hadn't really talked to him since Franklin, N.C.

Wahoo is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and takes his trail name from the mascot of the Indians baseball team. It was good to catch up with him. He said he planned to take a zero day in Damascus, so I will soon be ahead of him by at least a day.

Gateway to Damascus

Damascus is a true trail town, and you might credit Daniel Boone for that. He walked through this area in 1759.

The town's reputation as a trail town is well-earned. The Appalachian Trail isn't the only trail to bring hikers here. The Virginia Creeper, Crooked Road, TransAm 76, Daniel Boone Heritage, Round the Mountain Artisan, and Iron Mountain trails all pass through or near here.

The Appalachian Trail took me through a city park, where a gateway welcomes hikers.


As I walked through the park I was approached by a friendly young woman. She introduced herself as Pogo, one of my followers on Twitter.

She started on the trail a couple weeks ahead of me, and now was taking a couple zeros in town while she waited for a pair of shoes to arrive in the mail.

It was fun to meet Pogo and I thought it was really thoughtful of her to look for me. I think she must have seen a tweet I sent when I was at the state line and guessed when I'd be arriving in town.

Damascus city park

I then continued on through the park toward the downtown area. Crews had already begun to set up for Trail Days, which starts on Friday.

During the festival, this town will swell from a population of about 800 residents to as many as 20,000 hikers and other visitors.

Downtown Damascus

I made one stop during my walk through downtown Damascus, at the Dollar General store. A large, nice grocery store is located just outside of town and would be a better place to resupply, but it was too far out of the way to stop there today.

Besides the usual purchases of rice sides, mashed potatoes, trail bars and candy bars, I bought a new connector cord for my phone. Even though I was able to recharge my phone again last night, I didn't have confidence in being able to do that consistently. I still wasn't sure the cord was the problem, but it seemed wise to have an alternate cord, just in case.

I also made one impulse buy. I have never carried peanut butter-filled pretzels on the trail, but when I saw them in the store I just felt a need to buy them.

Appalachian Trail bricks in Damascus sidewalk

The sidewalk through town is the trail, and much like the sidewalk in Hot Springs, N.C., the citizens have embedded AT symbols into the pavement. Commemorative bricks with the names of trail supporters are also part of the sidewalk.

As I walked down the street I saw Yard Dart again. He told me Miss Bobbie would be arriving soon. They planned to stay at one of the hostels in town.

Virginia Creeper Trail

The AT isn't the only trail to follow the main road through town. The Virginia Creeper does that as well.

The Creeper runs for 34 miles, starting in Abingdon and going up to Whitetop, near the North Carolina state line. Damascus is about half-way between the two ends.

The trail was originally the path of a railroad that began running near the turn of the 20th century and continued to operate until the 1970s. It was at that time the state, the towns of Abingdon and Damascus, the National Park Service and the National Forest Service partnered to turn the rail bed into a foot path.

The trail gets its name from the long slow climb the trains had to make up the mountain to Whitetop, and from a leafy vine that is native to the region.

Because of its railroad origins, the grade is smooth with a gentle slope, making it a nice place to ride a bicycle. Outfitters provide shuttles for bike riders up to Whitetop, from where they can practically glide down to Abingdon with little effort for pedaling.

Near the edge of town I made one more stop. I went to a Subway sandwich shop and ordered two large sandwiches. One was for lunch, which I ate right away, and the other one was to be tonight's dinner. This way I wouldn't have to cook when I reached camp.

Stairway leading back to the forest

After another half-mile stretch of walking on the Creeper along the highway, the trail crossed the road and up a long set of stairs. From there the trail returned to the forest.

I had completed my resupply for the next three days and had eaten lunch. Now it was just 12:30 p.m. With only a little more than eight miles to reach the next shelter, there was plenty of daylight to make my next goal, Saunders Shelter.

View from ridge line

From the road, the trail climbed nearly a thousand feet in two miles. It wasn't a steep climb, but it was enough to get my attention, thanks to the heavier pack I was carrying after my resupply stop.

In a few spots along the way I saw people camped off the trail. I guessed they were there to be in close range of Damascus until the Trail Days campground opens in a couple days just outside of town. As the day went on I saw fewer and fewer hikers on the trail.

Then, as the trail always seems to do, it immediately gave up all of that elevation gain by heading downhill.

Virginia Creeper Trail

Reaching the bottom of the other side of the mountain, the AT joined with the Virginia Creeper Trail again. Though walking on this trail was much easier, I had to stay alert to bicyclists.

Because the Creeper is a continuous, smooth descent down to Damascus and then on to Abingdon, it's easy for cyclists to roll quickly down the trail. Sometimes they don't pay attention to obstacles ahead, such as hikers.

The AT was actually making a detour as it turned back onto the Creeper. That's because a bridge up ahead was washed out by flooding four years ago and still has not been replaced. By taking this detour, the trail could make use of a bridge on the Creeper.

Rhododendron bloom

The trail next made another climb. The highlight of this ascent was passing through a clump of rhododendron bushes with brilliant pink/magenta blossoms.

When I arrived at Saunders Shelter around 6 p.m. I was surprised to see there weren't many people here. A few hikers were setting up tents, but no one was in the shelter.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of sleeping in shelters. They can be crowded and snoring people can make them noisy. Mice can sometimes be a nuisance.

In the case of this shelter, it didn't seem like anyone would be sleeping in it, which eliminated my first two complaints. Then I saw something that told me my third complaint would also not be a problem.

Graffiti message warning about snakes

Someone had written on a floor brace, "Watch for snakes!!" Assuming a snake does live around here, mice should not be a problem tonight, so I decided to sleep here.

In truth, the main reason for sleeping in the shelter was because it would help me get a faster start in the morning. I won't need to take down my tent.

Pothole, Tweety and Trapper Lee

Three of the hikers who were camped nearby came over to chat with me as I set up in the shelter. They were section hikers, Pothole, Tweety and Trapper Lee, and were heading south to Trail Days.

When I started eating my Subway sandwich, they admitted to being jealous. Being a man who has been successfully and happily married for 38 years, I have known it's not wise to annoy a woman. It stands to reason to not annoy three, even if they are being good natured about their annoyance.

I won them over by sharing the bag of peanut butter-filled pretzels I had bought on a whim this morning.

Later in the evening, two more hikers arrived, but both decided to set up their tents. I had the whole shelter to myself.

Get out of town,
think I'll get out of town,
Get out of town,
think I'll get out of town.
I head for the sticks
with my bus and friends,
I follow the road,
though I don't know
where it ends.
Get out of town, get out of town,
think I'll get out of town.

Cause the world is turnin',
I don't want to
see it turn away.


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.