Friday, April 1, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Virginia (part 3)

Camo pointing out the approximate location of the week's next shower

Embracing the dirt-bag lifestyle

Southbound hikers find a shelter from the storm: Delicious food and warmth at the Barn restaurant.

Moosie hiking through a field

Wild ponies in the Roan highlands.

Early morning in the Roan highlands.

Hostel in Damascus

AT walkway in Damascus
It was late October when Camo and I finally caught up to my friend Moosie in southern Virginia. I had met Moosie on the PCT in 2010 and she also was just a few days ahead of me almost the entire CDT in 2013. Moosie had also come up for a week when I lived in Arcata and we camped in the redwoods for a few days in 2014. Moosie was finishing the southern half of the AT after completing the northern half ten years ago. I was unsure how the hiking dynamic would change, and southern Virginia was a testing ground for the three of us. I had my doubts whether or not it would work out, and each day I felt more and more happy as it appeared the three of us would make a solid and committed group. As it turned out, Camo, Moosie, and I would stick together all the way to Springer. The trail experience was much more fun and rewarding as a result.

We continued a relaxed approach to the trail which also felt great. Many days, we didn't start hiking until 9:00am, and would call it a day after doing 15 miles or so. We had fires many evenings, and if it rained heavy, we wouldn't hike at all. Once a week or so, we would hike a few beers out of town, set up a fire, put on some tunes, or play a few tunes on the guitar, and just hang out. It was really refreshing compared to the type A hiking I've experienced in the past. We were just walking everyday, enjoying the lifestyle.

The forest was also in peak leaf season. The colors were out of this world in many places. Temperatures continued to drop, and we experienced a couple of cold, cold rain storms. By the time we reached Damascus Virginia, the last town in the state for southbounders, the leaves had fallen off the trees, crickets had stopped chirping at night, and forest looked completely different, with winter on the doorstep.

Camo and I for some reason finally succumbed to the "Virgina Blues" on our last day in Virginia. I don't know why, perhaps it was the cold gloomy weather when we arrived in Damascus that night. A hot dinner, warm shower, and fresh resupply had lifted our spirits however, the day we left town and hiked our final miles in Virginia.

One of the major highlights of this section was hiking through the Roan Highlands. Camo, Moosie, and I camped in a grassy field in the highlands amongst wild ponies that inhabit the area. Stars filled the night sky and temperatures plummeted over night, probably our first night below freezing. The next morning was overcast and gray, but the outstanding views continued throughout the day. We also met a large day hiking group who showered us with trail magic, handing out hot chocolate and snacks. The hot chocolate was especially welcome on this cold, blustery day in the highlands.

Overall, Virginia was one of my favorite states on the AT. Many memories were made, and places I'd like to one day revisit. Now that Virginia was behind us, the end of the AT seemed to be within grasp. We had passed the 3/4 point for southbounders, and we had the Smokies to look forward to in North Carolina...

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