AT Hike (Fox Creek to Damascus, VA) Day 5



Day 5 (June 29)

Once comfortably burrowed in my sleeping bag, the night before, I realized I’d not hung my food bag. I could not imagine leaving my cozy nest to stumble through the darkened downpour and hang a bag of food. Hey, Warren Doyle has hiked the AT 17 times and has never once hung a bear bag; I’d take my chances on one rainy night. I survived and so did my food. Due to my laziness I enjoyed the direct benefit of having breakfast in bed. I woke up, while remaining firmly ensconced in my bag, lit my stove, fried up several slices of bacon, boiled water for grits and coffee and managed to pull off some reasonably un-charred toast. Woohoo! I broke camp and headed off, past a girl scout troop, down the trail to the spring. I filtered enough water for everyone, which was no easy task since the handle had broken off of my water filter the day before. I came back to the shelter to find everyone packing up and Dana bandaging her feet. They were a mess. Something would have to be done. Just not sure what yet. We sat down, consulted our maps and guide books and discovered that the AT wasn’t the only trail that led to Damascus. According to what we read there was a trail called the Virginia Creeper Trail that was very nearly flat and traveled adjacent to a river all the way into town. This had to be the answer. As much as we wanted to take the AT all the way in, this was the only logical option. Just so happened we were less than 2 miles from the juncture. It was settled then. Virginia Creeper, here we come.
On our way up and around Whiteside we had met an older fellow whose name (of course) eludes me. He told me that he drops his wife off at an AT trailhead, allows her to hike for several days then picks her up at a pre-arranged location. I asked him why he didn’t join her and he told me he just couldn’t sleep on the ground. Being the hammock-evangelist I am, I regaled him with stories of how hammocking completely changed my wilderness life. I couldn’t sleep either…but I do now. He promised to check into it and told me to keep an eye out for his wife. Her trail name is “The Old Grey Mare.” Well, guess who we ran into! We immediately hit it off and hiked together all the way to the junction of the AT and Creeper Trail. She had taken the Creeper in last year and came back this year to get it right. AT all the way. Gotta love the Old Grey Mare…she ain’t what she used to be. She’s a lot better.
We crossed a set of twin creeks (Whitetop and Green Cove?) and when we stepped on the bridge got a little confused about which way to go. We asked a construction worker if he could help us out. He did. And better yet told us that just a short way in on the Creeper was a little cafe with burgers, fries and milkshakes. This was obviously confirmation that we were headed in the right direction, Oh yeah! We took off with newfound purpose.
The Creeper was everything we’d hoped for except for the fact that it wasn’t exactly a trail. It was more of a nicely graveled road more appropriate for bicyclers than hikers. Apparently it was built along the path of an old railroad, crossing multiple trestle-bridged creeks and rivers along the way. But with thoughts of burgers and fries and lunchtime rapidly approaching we couldn’t find that cafe quick enough. Finally we began to see little signs, “10 minutes to the snack bar”, “5 minutes to concessions” etc. Maybe it wasn’t an actual cafe but, heck, at this point anything was better than mashed potatoes and trail bars. We saw it and Jo and I broke into a run while Dana hobbled slowly in our direction. As we approached we saw more little signs that read, “OPEN.” YES!!! We made it! Then we saw it. Closed. We walked all the way around the little building. Closed. Freaking closed. We were so disappointed. Jo got up, ran back down the trail and knocked over all the “OPEN” signs so Dana didn’t get her hopes up just to be let down again. Chester, Fred then Dana slowly filtered in. It was 11:30 and my belly confirmed it so I boiled up some noodles. We munched on bars while we bemoaned our bad luck and especially the evil concession stand owners. After a short break we got back on the trail and dragged our feet slowly, dejectedly toward Damascus. Every few minutes we’d have to step aside to make way for cyclists. That combined with Dana’s tortured feet and the big bag of “let down” we were dragging made for slow going. It seemed like we’d been walking for hours since leaving the concession stand. In reality it’d been maybe two miles when we came upon what looked like a little town. “Is that what it looks like?” I was staring at the backside of some sort of little building with picnic tables behind it beneath a shelter of some kind. Bikes were parked everywhere and people were…eating? Was it a church picnic? A cook-out? I walked slowly around the building. It was a restaurant! This was the cafe’ we’d been told about! But we’d just eaten…awwwww, who cares?! Wooooohoooo! We dumped our packs, found an entrance and ran inside to find Chester already in line to order. He’s like the Toucan Sam of greasy spoons. He’d followed his nose! Short version? We feasted. I mean FEASTED! Burgers, cheese-fries, milkshakes, the works. Then we loaded up on junk-food for the night. What an oasis. That made our day.

Bellies full and hearts content, we sauntered lazily down the trail through rolling hills and lush farmland. It was around 1:30pm so we walked another 3 or 4 hours till we found a perfect campsite next to the river. The girls bathed in the river, we filtered water (just upstream), set up camp and feasted once again. We spread out our sleeping pads, sat down in a circle, dumped out our food bags and helped ourselves to a backpacker’s smorgasbord: potatoes and gravy, bacon, Chester’s ever-present summer sausage, chips, cookies, candy-bars, coffee and anything else we could find. After two lunches, how we found room for it all is a mystery but we did…and it was wonderful. We laughed and talked around the campfire till well after dark, crawled into our respective hammocks and slept like well-fed babies. Ahhhhh.

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