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!

Day #109-Good thing I remember how to hike in the rain; Miles hiked: 19.3

I woke up this morning to both the sound of alpacas bleating and roosters crowing. There was one more all too familiar sound: rain drops on my tent. I suppose the string of dry days couldn’t last forever. Off into the wet and wild world I wandered!

Not much to report other than wet feet and chaffing and being cold. However, I did finally manage to catch up to the boys.

After a few more soggy miles, we got rescued once again by Valerie, Tony, and Mariette of the Pine Grove congregation. They whisked us away to a taco dinner, showers, laundry, and warm beds.

We really couldn’t ask for more and are constantly humbled by the kindness of these people. For the non-believing friends that I’m hiking with, this is the best witness the ministry could offer.

Trail angels, keep up the good work!

Day #108-All of God’s creatures say amen; Miles hiked: 24.1

Today I interacted with almost every creature I can think of!

It was another solo day, so I was glad that the Lord let his creatures keep me company.

At the bottom of a beautiful grassy ridge, I saw my 5th black bear of the trip. I came down to a stream to get water, but he had beat me to it. We looked at each other, and then he bolted up a tree. I rest assured him I wasn’t going to hunt him and went on my way.

A few deer and chipmunks and squirrels later, I passed a less common AT species: cows. The trail went right through several pastures!After crossing I-81 for what I believe is the last time, I arrived at my destination for the day: the Long Neck Lair.

The LNL is an alpaca farm right of the interstate that lets hikers camp with the fuzzy guys for 10 bucks. I had a great time helping the owners of the farm feed their baby alpacas. What a treat for the end of a long day!Oh, and although I didn’t grab a pic, I got more UMC trail magic today! Valerie and little Joseph of Alan’s congregation brought me lunch right to the trail. Thank you very much!!

Day #107-Solo travel once again; Miles hiked: 22.0

Alan walked the first 7 miles of my hike with my today. I appreciated both his company and the chance to learn more about Bland County from a local.Alan is a trail maintainer-part of a small army who take care of this path I’m walking on. He even put up this sign (way up on a ridge, mind you).Because I took the better part of two days off for the wedding, I’ve fallen behind my hiking buddies. I’ll catch up to them soon enough, but I’m solo for now. I miss my friends, but time alone also gives me time to reflect as I’m nearing 3/4 done with the trail.

I did meet two non-hikers today: hunters. Good thing I brought a blaze orange hat back with me from Knoxville. I don’t really want to be hunted…I have a shelter high on Chestnut Knob all to myself tonight with the wind eerily howling. While it is a bit creepy, I enjoyed a wonderful sunset too.

Day #106-On the road again; Miles hiked: 8.9

My mom and I pulled out of the garage in Knoxville at 4:45 am this morning. A little over three hours later, I had the special treat of sitting at Alan and Mary Ashworth’s breakfast table.

For those of you who have enjoyed this same privilege, you know it’s wonderful! For those of you who haven’t yet, these people make their own apple butter, maple syrup, jelly, molasses, and more! Between the food and the company, it was a wonderful blessing to me!

I didn’t capture any pictures today, but I got the chance to speak at both Pine Grove and New Hope UMC-the very places where this whole ministry started. Mrs. Anderson, I also cranked out a few hymns on their piano!

During the afternoon I got to slackpack a few miles of trail in Bland County before a great dinner and special viewing of one of my favorite movies: October Sky.

Although my eyes are tired, it was a wonderful day to be a trail chaplain.

Day #105-A perfectly good reason to zero; Miles hiked: 0.0

Thanks to the selfless transportation efforts of Double Dip, I had the privilege of attending a good friend’s wedding today in Cleveland, TN.

We all joke that we are simply “going around the lunch table” with weddings of high school friends.

Today it was Rachel and Kyle’s turn!Thanks to my mom’s selfless transportation efforts, it’s back to the trail for me tomorrow!

Day #104-Birthday hike; Miles hiked: 17.6

Today has been a very festive day on the AT. We kicked off my birthday with sleeping in until a whopping 7am. For the college student I was 6 months ago, that’s bright and early. However, for the thru hiker I am now that was a very special treat!The next festivity was 8 miles of incredibly flat trail that led to a nearby eatery: Trent’s Grocery. I enjoyed a cheeseburger and we all quickly downed a half gallon of chocolate milk. This afternoon was a sweet time to visit with Double Dip. For those who don’t know the backstory, Double Dip and her dad trained me in the ways of this life that I’m living and instilled a love for the trail and its community many years before I ever even discovered the chaplaincy.Thank you Double Dip for slugging out the miles AND driving me home to Knoxville tonight. You’re the best!