Day #120-Marathoning to Johnson City; Miles hiked: 26.1

When my early alarm went off this morning with 25 degree temps and the wind still howling, it was only knowing that I was headed to yet another Holston house that got me out of my sleeping bag.

After 6 freezing cold miles, I dropped off Shortstop at his car (but not without sitting in the heat for almost an hour). You know it’s cold when even the rhododendron leaves curl up.As the sun came out, I warmed up a bit and the miles started clicking by.

At mile 13, I encountered an unexpected trail angel who recognized me from following my blog. I am quite easy to spot since I haven’t changed clothes since June. Thank you Cyndi for the water!The prize for my cold march? Corinna and Gerald’s house in Johnson City! Spork hasn’t ever been to Cracker Barrel, so we taught him how to indulge!It was a wonderful end to a wintery day!

Day #119-Legacy hike in the rain; Miles hiked: 15.6

The rain arrived as predicted this morning along with a nice, cold wind.Although the barn was nice, I also enjoyed showing my parents a more typical AT shelter.At Carvers Gap, I traded out my parents for former trail chaplain, Shortstop (David Smith). He was kind enough to show up in the rain to hike with me for a few miles.It was too rainy to take more pictures, but let me tell you about the cold front that just came in. The temps dropped to the mid 20s last night and the wind sounded like a freight train dropping branches everywhere. Thankful to have made it through the night only slightly chilled!

Day #117-Fall beauty in full swing; Miles hiked: 16.4

It was another cool morning, but it led to a beautiful day!Not even five miles into our hike, we came across this awesome view of Roan Mtn. That’s where I’m headed tomorrow!

But for today, I passed this sign alerting me to the dwindling miles between here and Springer Mtn. It’s definitely high time for reflection for the entire thru hiking community. Our journeys are winding down…This afternoon brought warmer temps and a chance to dry out all of our wet belongings-yes, another hiker yard sale.By dinnertime, we made it to 19E and Roan Mtn, TN. I’m staying above a wonderful local bar with a kind soul named David. Thank you very much for inviting me to your place!

Day #116-Warmth is worth the wait; Miles hiked: 16.5

When BamBam’s package with his winter clothes didn’t arrive like it was supposed to yesterday, we decided it would be best to wait around Boots Off until it finally made it. After all, it’s getting cold!

It didn’t make it on the mail truck, but we hitched to the post office since they wouldn’t pick up the phone and got it ourselves. Problem solved!

The only issue was still having miles to go before we sleep…and it being almost 2 pm. Nonetheless, up the mountain we went!Not long after passing this water fall, we had a run in with a mama bear and her cubs. We somehow ended up between the two-oops. Thankfully, we quickly came to an understanding with her that neither party wanted to do harm. Both bear and hikers gave one another plenty of space while she retrieved her cubs and we started hiking again. She sure was beautiful! We had to hike well into the dark and the cold, but got a wonderful sunset on the way!More tomorrow as I trek through Tennessee.

Day #115-Boots Off to stopping short; Miles hiked: 23.6

Today we woke up to a foggy, cold drizzle. My favorite!

By 9 am, we made some new friends in a Tennessee field:

We set off with the goal of checking that 30 mile day off of our bucket list. However, I am writing to you from Boots Off Hostel in Hampton, TN.

At mile 20 as the rain continued to fall, a magical hostel sign appeared and we simply couldn’t resist. The 30 will happen or it won’t, but I’m glad that the AT is about a lot more than as we call it out here, “crushing miles.”

Check out Watauga lake that we walked around this afternoon!

Goodnight from a dry bunk on a rainy, cold night.

Day #114-Welcome to Rocky Top; Miles hiked: 18.5

This morning, we enjoyed a wonderful homemade breakfast from Woodchuck, a trip to the post office, and a trek out of Damascus. Check out this cool photo of the “tramily,” or trail family. I really enjoy hiking with these two. They provide a great amount of both amusement through fart noises and moments for deep conversation too. Early in our hike for the day, I crossed one of the most exciting signs of my hike: the TN/VA border. Crazy to think I’ve walked home from Maine…nearly 1800 miles!You better believe I sung Rocky Top at the top of my lungs.

The rest of the day was a long walk on a hilly ridge with thorn bushes criss crossing the trail. While I’m happy to be home, I’m so far not impressed with the trail in Tennessee.

However, all is well at Double Spring Gap shelter as yet another round of rain is rolling in. Can’t wait to get wet tomorrow!

Day #113-Road to Damascus; Miles hiked: 9.5

Today I hit a huge milestone on any AT thru hike: Damascus, VA. For the NOBO, it marks the acquisition of trail legs and sign that you at least have the physical ability to complete the trail. For the SOBO, it’s the end of an endless trek through Virginia and the beginning of the end of our journey.

Today, it has also been shelter from even more rain! Yes, we woke up to that familiar tut tut on the roof this morning.

Besides arriving in town, nothing too interesting has happened besides town chores and feasting.

Goodnight from Woodchuck Hostel where Spork is sleeping with a kitty and I’m trying to catch up this blog. Tennessee tomorrow!

Day #112-Surprise storms and great afternoons; Miles hiked: 18.9

This morning, I woke up not to a Mt. Rodgers sunrise, but to my wet tent collapsing on top of me in a fierce wind. To everyone’s surprise, a wicked storm rolled over the ridge that brought pretty miserable conditions. I thankfully have my winter gear, but my buddies aren’t so lucky as theirs is waiting in Damascus.

We hightailed it out of the Grayson Highlands to get to more shelter and lower, warmer ground.

By lunchtime, the wind had died down and the skies cleared just in time for me to get great views from Whitetop Mtn and Buzzard Rock. Sometimes it pays to be the slow one in the group as my friends crossed this ridge when it was still foggy and rainy.

By evening, I knew I was nearing Damascus (one of the biggest milestone towns on the AT besides Harpers Ferry) when I walked for a mile or two along the Virginia Creeper.This famous bike path was a walk down memory lane as I remember riding it as a kid with my family and my dad pointing out the white blazes of the AT on this bridge. Even in elementary school, the wheels were already turning about pulling off a thru hike one day. Who knew it would be on behalf of Holston!

The section hikers in camp have cooked a steak for dinner and can’t finish it-time for a hiker feast!

Day #111-Friends of all species; Miles hiked: 16.1

Today was one of those days that remind me why I came out here to hike all this way. It was chilly, but I saw the sunrise this morning!

From there, it was up and up to the Grayson Highlands-one of the gems of the Appalachian Trail. The high country surrounding Mt. Rodgers was once used as grazing land for early settlers and ha been maintained as open fields ever since. It is a quite magical place. The best part? To keep the area open like it used to be, the park service still has to graze it. To do this, they use wild ponies and longhorns.The ponies are so used to people that you can even snag a few pets if you’re lucky.The ponies are wonderful, but the best part of my day was getting to see my dad, Papa Blueberry, and my dog, Happy. Yes, he took his surprise day off from work to not only drive 7 hours round trip to hike with me, but also brought me my favorite BBQ from home!By evening, I caught back up with the thru hiking crowd and we enjoyed an amazing sunset over open fields.

Day #110-Hurricaning again?; Miles hiked: 11.3

Today marked my second opportunity to walk in a hurricane. Mariette, Tony, and Val made us a delicious breakfast before sending us back into the wild.

Once on trail, it didn’t take long to be soaked to the bone and growing cold quickly. I checked the radar, and you could actually see the swirling hurricane moving through southwest Virginia!

However, the hike must go on. Check out this neat snake that I nearly stepped on. He doesn’t seem to mind the rain!Because of all the rain that has fallen the past 2.5 days, the rivers and creeks are very high. Fording once again in VA!Considering how miserable the weather is and the sun that’s headed our way tomorrow, I decided to cut my day short and stop at the appropriately named Hurricane Mtn Shelter.

Sure am glad I picked up winter clothes a few days ago because it is getting mighty chilly. I bid thee a foggy, windy, rainy goodnight!