July 7, Lunchtime. Saunders Shelter (~8 miles north of Damascus)
Yesterday we parked our car in Damascus, Virgina across the street from Mt. Roger’s Outfitters. A brief conversation with the shopkeeper informed us of where to put the car and how to get in touch with him when we were ready to be picked up in a week. It was all so very casual – no registering our car, no letting them know how long it would be there. Just park and go. And go we did, leaving our car about about 4 PM.
The AT went right through Damascus, past bed and breakfasts clearly designed for the weary thru-hiker, past hostels of a similar nature, past ice cream shops that surely are a welcome treat after days on the Trail. The AT joined with the Virginia Creeper Trail, followed the highway, and then soon cut left, up some wooden stairs, and into the woods. At this point, the hike through the woods was exactly what I would expect from a North Carolina/Virginia trail in the mountains. Ferns, mountain laurel, a mixture of hardwoods and evergreens, galax, roots, and rocks.
After a couple of hours, we took a break for dinner wiht plans to continue hiking to find a campsite after we ate. We had added water to our dehydrated mixture of peas and potatoes before we started hiking, and they had been soaking since. This, our first meal made from Harmony House dehydrated vegetables we had bought a huge box of from REI, took a while to cook through even after soaking for two hours. We were pleasantly surprised at how tasty itwas, but were a little disappointed at the volume. Maya’s (13) tummy was not feeling great, and she chose not to eat. Scott, Azaria (10) and I were able to easily polish off the pot without feeling stuffed. We were heartened that we’d likely be eating yummy food during our trip if this was representative of dinners to come, but a little worried that we might be left unsatisfied after a full day’s hike.
We stopped to camp about 4 miles north of Damascus, finding a well-worn campsite just off the trail as it got dark. We were also closer to a stream that I felt it was good to camp, but a well-worn campsite is better than spreading out impact, it was getting late, and there were not a lot of flat options.
Tuesday morning Maggie the dog let us know it was time to get up, and when we started hiking we were very surprised to see how close to Highway 58 we had camped – it was less than a quarter mile up the trail.
At this point (I am writing at lunch on Tuesday), we’ve been surprised how few other hikers we’ve seen. The only folks we saw in our first eight miles of hiking were at Highway 58, where there was a parking area for the Virginia Creeper trail. Looking at how beautiful that trail is and watching the bicyclers out riding, I made a mental note to come back for a bike-riding adventure someday. We saw more bikers as the AT followed the Virginia Creeper trail, but then the Trail took off left and paralleled the Creeper Trail and the river as it climbed. Eventually, we veered off to the north.
Just before stopping for lunch we started a series of switchbacks, and did not make it quite to the top of the mountain before finding a path to Saunders Shelter and choosing to stop here for lunch. The path to the shelter was really beautiful – all ferns, moss, and tall trees. As I write, we’re enjoying a lunch of crackers, cheese, tuna salad, dried mango, and summer sausage. Maggie enjoyed cleaning out the last licks of tuna salad from the foil pack for us, and we appreciated not having to carry a trash with stinky tuna remnants! So far, everyone is holding up well, and in good spirits!
July 7, evening, Lost Mountain Shelter
We hiked 12 miles today! Now, my reasoning for planning a week-long trip with no distance goal was that we’d not feel compelled to hike far at all on any given day. While thru-hikers often log 25-mile days, they are not usually hiking as a family with an energetic yet still young 10-year-old. Maya really wanted to have an end goal in mind for the day, so we picked this shelter and suddenly it became our goal, and turned out to be doable.
I hope that at least one day we find ourselves in a place where we might just relax and have a shorter hike. I envision finding a beautiful glade or spring and deciding to spend the afternoon there. Knowing myself (and I think Maya is much the same way), I do like to have goals and the idea of just hanging out is not one that seems to really makes sense. We’ll see if we can get into vacation mode enough to make that happen.
Scott and I managed to both have less than pleasant encounters with wasps today, during which the wasps had the last say. Actually, they had the only say during the encounters as they simply flew up, stung us, and flew away. I did have choice words and expressions I’ll not record here after my little friend flew off, but he was not around to hear them by that point. Maya and Maggie were in front, leading the way, and apparently also agitating the wasp nests they passed as they hiked. Scott got stung hiking past a log that housed a nest, and then warned Azaria and me to hike quickly past it as we were behind him. Later, I was in the rear and never saw it coming, or going. Nailed me behind the ear.
We saw six other hikers on the trail today…or maybe eight? I lost count. Two looked like day hikers. Several backpackers are sharing the Lost Mountain Shelter area with us, along with numerous wood thrushes singing us to sleep. The Lost Mountain shelter is really a beautiful setting, and the hike that approaches the shelter is flat, filled with hardwoods and rhododendron.