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Appalachian Trail: Nick Grindstaff Memorial to Ruins above Damascus

I really didn’t think I could do it, but with a like-minded driven hiking partner, I walked all the way from Georgia to Virginia in a month.

Day twenty-eight, 17 miles

The rain is big. 

No thunder or lightning or wind or hail. But it just buckets down. Fortunately I’m not in a drainage path, so there’s no pooling under my tent. 

Still, the edges of my sleeping bag get wet and splashes send dirt and leaves onto my screen door. 

But I am delighted to be here away from people and noise and faffing about. This moment cuddled in as the drops pound the tent is why I came. 

A towhee wakes me working on one song for a while, then switching it up to polish another. The rain is finished, but we’re in dense fog. When I poke out to pee, the trail is a lake. 

Both of us are tired and damp. We’re in no hurry to get going, so we take our time making coffee (instant in cold water since I have no gas) and stay wrapped in soggy but still warm bags while we eat. 

Someone passes and yells, “Rise and Shine!” I hope they heard us talking and knew we were already awake even if not all that shiny.

We can’t stay here forever, so gradually each nasty step needs to take place – putting on a slightly damp hike shirt, taking nasty wet, smelly socks and getting our feet in them then into muddy shoes, packing a sodden tent. 

Once through the worst, all I want to do is walk to keep warm. We’re nearly 25 miles to town and could conceivably just march there. 

But even after a night of rain, I’d prefer one more night camping out with my bird friends and natural surroundings before the mayhem of Trail Days. And I’m overjoyed when Moxie mentions she’s in no rush to get to Damascus. Hooray!

The Discerning Hiker.
Never had Chick-fil-A in my life, and it was about the best meal ever tasted on that wet morning.
The Ombraz Boys played the best dance tracks in the forest.

We toddle along in the deep forest, verdant and green in the mist. I take a look at the map to see what landmarks lay ahead and see a notice for trail magic at the next road today. 

That’s when we step on it. Cold coffee and a Clif bar just ain’t cutting it. We chat all the 3-something miles down to the road in soft, mushy mud ready to send a walker sliding on her butt. The possibility of eggs or pancakes or toast or real coffee is a big motivator. 

At the road a total of three separate parties has set up trail magic. The “Discerning Hiker” owns a small B&B and wears a top hat as he makes French Toast with cinnamon bread and sausages. A father and son celebrating the grandson’s AT thru-hike offer a Chik-Fil-A sandwich from a large warming container. And a fellow who came all the way from Pennsylvania offers up a table full of candy. 

Other hikers are here including a man hiking with a beautiful and well behaved German Shorthaired Pointer named Chuck Norris who leans into my leg as I scratch him warming me up. 

We enjoy our food, starved from all the miles we’ve walked in the past two weeks, and talk with everyone. Trail Magic is wonderful, a surprise that’s generally very needed on trail – Discerning brought some smart water bottles just when Moxie needed to replace hers – and it offers the magician a special reward in the form of deep gratitude from the receivers. 

Swan Shelter Lake

We push on full and happy, grateful and feeling stronger with full bellies. Ahead we walk through pastures, one of the first farm areas on trail. We enter and exit through gates with unusual catches. The barn has the AT logo painted on its side. The mist is still heavy but the scene bucolic and pastoral. 

On and on we go back in forest, uphills then down, seeing more veiny pink lady-slippers and a few gummy orange efts. I’m getting tired of the monotony on trail but will miss leading the way and hearing Moxie right behind me. 

What a surprise to have met her and then set up this challenge. I can’t imagine walking all this on my own during this short month. The thunderstorms would have torn it for me and I’d have gone home long before. 

But facing each challenge as a team has made the enterprise more manageable and led to our success. We are both worn out and I imagine she’ll need to modify her goals to make it all the way to Maine, but I feel so lucky we found each other. 

We’re usually silent walking uphill, but will talk a lot going down. Or not, just plodding along lost in our own thoughts. Before long we pass a shelter, another road, then up to a tiny shelter meant just for emergencies. 

Here, we’re told more trail magic awaits ahead including hotdogs and we again pick up the pace. The high energy dance music leads us to a tent where two men are cooking up high quality hot dogs with all the fixings, including cream cheese. 

It’s Jensen, the owner of Ombraz armless sunglasses and his photographer partner. They’re from Seattle, a city which apparently eats its dogs with cream cheese. Other hikers hang out including James from Georgia and we dance and eat and generally share a wonderful pre-Trail Days moment. 

At one point, Jensen and I are talking about hiking and travel and he offers to gift me a pair of glasses. Wow! These are very nice glasses that gently fit on your head without arms. They even float in water, which is helpful for a kayaker like me. I have worn my sunglasses one time on trail in the Roan Highlands, but I will definitely need these in the Pyrenees. 

I am deeply touched. 

Ahead is our last water until town. It’s a steep walk down, though nothing as bad as the day last week in the rain when I was dead tired. We’re at a shelter with several men having a hiker reunion from a past thru-hike. I’m sure we’ll meet many like them in Damascus.

We make an attempt to try our soaking tents, then push on for a few miles to a sweet stealth site with both wind and sun. I set my tent and it’s crispy in minutes. 

The fog from the morning is long gone and rain has pushed out of the region for the time being. The sky is blue again, the sun angling low turning our tiny space orange. 

Funny how lovely cool, dry weather makes this trail so enticing. But after tomorrow, my time here is finished for now and I’ll head home with many, many memories. 

And for my final night, I got my wish to just be with my bird friends – and my new hiking friend – surrounded by nature.

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