I’ve been lazy about writing (and mostly tired all the time).
En route to Damascus, I passed through the Grayson Highlands – of which I had no memory of from 2003 for some reason. It’s a beautiful area; full of wild ponies and great views. I can only assume it was foggy when we passed through before.
A few miles out from Damascus I finally crossed out of Virginia and in to Tennessee. TN impressed with some charming pastoral scenes, but lost points for the absence of privies at its shelters. My recent change to porridge and prunes for breakfast could have been timed better.
I got off trail at Hampton to start a four day vacation from hiking, much of which seemed to be spent driving up and down parallel to the trail on I-81. I got to celebrate two birthdays during my trailcation – meeting up with the gang for a surprise party for Woody and with Monica, who was over visiting a friend in DC. I took Monica on a birthday hike up McAfee’s Knob and then for dinner at the Homeplace restaurant to give her a sense of the Virginia AT experience.
Up at McAfee we bumped into the mythical SOBO bubble (~10 of them in a group, including a bunch of people I hadn’t seen since New England). We ended up slackpacking them a whole four miles to the restaurant. The smell of eight well-seasoned thruhiker packs crammed into a small car is not easily forgotten.
Back on trail, it turned out to be a very warm and dry autumn down through TN and NC, with temperatures around 30C in town and a little less up in the mountains. This made for sweaty work on the climbs. The highlight of this excellent section for me was the Roan Mountain area – somewhere that I remembered well from ’03. I went through on a weekend and was amazed by just how many people were out on the trails.
The Smokies were also beautiful, but the (largely understandable) level of regulation in the park makes the experience somewhat less enjoyable for someone used to the freedom of camping at will. Billy rode up from Atlanta to hike the first half of the Smokies with me, and it was great to have the old team back together – even if it was only for 24 hours. We hadn’t sorted out a permit for Billy’s one night in the park and we got into a little trouble with a ranger on our way out. We were happy to make good on the $4 fee we’d missed, but could probably have done without the rather heavy-handed Leave No Trace lecture.
When we finally made it to Newfound Gap, Billy generously treated me to a stay in Gatlinburg and all the food I could eat. The town itself is a heaving tourist trap and a huge culture shock to someone who’s been on trail for months. Next morning I rode pillion for the 15 miles of switchbacks back to the trail. This was a nervy trip for me, but also a beautiful one – with the dawn breaking over the Smokies.
Since then I’ve been all on my lonesome, which has been fine, though I am rapidly running out of listening matter. The miles to Springer have been running down rapidly, but actually finishing is still an odd idea.
I’m currently in Hiawasse, my last town stop of the hike and less than 70 miles from the end. I’m planning to take this last section (relatively) slowly and try to savour the last of the trail. This would be a little easier to do if it wasn’t set to rain on me for the remainder of the trip. Still, given how lucky I’ve been with the weather so far, I hardly feel I can complain
In less than a week’s time I’ll be home and getting ready to return to the office. If that isn’t incentive enough to enjoy trail life then I don’t know what is.