Mt.Rogers Outfitters

AT Hike (Fox Creek to Damascus, VA) Day 6




Day 6 (June 30)

Only 6 miles left of our adventure. With an odd mixture of sadness and exhilaration we broke camp and joined the families of cyclists moving down the trail to Damascus. Dana had switched to flip-flops by this point, which were rubbing brand new blisters in brand new places but she trudged along like a champ. We took our time, stopping occasionally to play in creeks, set up cairns and take pictures. Around 10:00am the white blazes led us out of the woods, onto US 58 and into the city limits. At this lower elevation, we found the flora ablaze in color: Snow white blooms, rimmed in threads of red trim, vivid pink and deep orange flowers and yellow golden-rod looking plants that stood nearly 4 feet high. Best of all? Blackberries. Growing wild by the side of the road were patches of juicy, ripe blackberries. With just a little effort we were able to find handfuls of ripened, delicious blackberries which we ate right off of the vine, er…bush. Trail magic of the highest order!
Walking into Damascus felt fantastic. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine this thrill as part of a thru-hike. I got lost for a moment as I was swept up into my daydream. I was stirred from my reverie by shouts of “We made it!” We saw the first “Welcome to Damascus” sign. Fred collapsed in the grass and we took turns recording the moment, photographically, for posterity. We laughed and played our way into town, feeling, looking, and I’m sure, smelling like real hikers. We had an early lunch at a local restaurant, stuffing ourselves on giant cheeseburgers (No wonder I put on weight when I’m hiking, huh?), french-fries and ice cream for desert. We donned our packs, once again, and savored the remainder of our walk to Mt. Rogers Outfitters. I brought in my water filter and the owner happily repaired it free of charge while I watched. Good as new. More trail magic. We hesitantly loaded our packs into the van and navigated twisting, turning mountain roads to find our way to the cabin where we’d enjoy several days of lazy, restful, recuperation. Like our walk in the woods these blissful, laughter-filled days became blurred and soft around the edges…kind of like stepping unexpectedly into the mist-muted morning light of a grassy, mountaintop meadow. Maybe this was one of those thin places as well.

“Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.” – Celtic saying

AT Hike Fox Creek to Damascus Day1

Sometimes, with the passage of time, our memories of cherished events become…blurred, soft around the edges. Details that seized our attention at the moment of occurrence dissipate into a dreamy haze over the years. In June of this year we experienced this very phenomenon but instead of occurring naturally it seemed to be cast upon us, like some awful enchantment. Here I sit, months later, wishing with everything in me that I had bought that little waterproof journal I’d seen in the outfitters…to have some written record of those few short days spent walking the Appalachian Trail through southwest Virginia. So, instead, I wander the trails of my mind, sort through snapshots of those recent days and try to recall the emotion, the pain, the wonder…and I end up with well, snapshots.

Day 1 (June 25)
We arrived in Damascus and headed straight for Mt. Rogers Outfitters where we’d leave our car for the duration of our hike. Meandering through the store, we talked to locals about mountain weather conditions which can, we discovered, change on a dime (Sweltering heat can instantly become a deluge which can give way to night-time lows we’d only experienced in winter months.) I’d hoped to leave behind some of my base-layer and maybe my sleeping pad…drop a little weight. No such luck. Better to be prepared (as the boy scouts say) , so it looks like 35 lbs is as low as I’ll go. Josiah dragged me out of the outfitter and into a creepy little thrift shop next door. We sifted through what was mostly junk and quickly decided to make our exit from the “Tarantino-ish” atmosphere. Upon reaching the door we discovered it had been locked behind us. Whuh?! As panic crept up my spine, one of the employees came to the door with a key to let us out. Creeeeepy. Did I mention…creepy?

Since the Mt. Rogers hostel was closed for renovations we had to make other arrangements for the night. We located a Days Inn on the outskirts of town, rented a room, unloaded our gear and realized quickly that not only was the AC not working but our mexicano neighbors bought their beer in bulk, iced it down in sidewalk coolers and liked their music blaring from their pick-up radio. Nice enough guys but we were hoping for a little creature-comfort before starting our trek. A visit back to the hotel office gained us a new room with cooler air and a little distance from the “fiesta.” Now for dinner. Cracker Barrel seemed our best option and I enjoyed, appropriately enough, the “Campfire Chicken and Vegetables.” Delicious. Back to the hotel to catch a few winks in “civilization” before our adventure begins.