Arriving in Virginia was exciting because I knew that when I finished this 550 miles in the one state, I would then be on my way to hitting the one thousand mile marker and shortly after, the halfway point. The last fifteen miles into Virginia Dirty J and I ran across a lady who was slackpacking another hiker (slackpacking is when someone transports a thru hiker’s pack forward that way the hiker can walk carrying only water and maybe a few snacks to allow them to make better time), and she offered us the same. She gave us a little pack to wear to hold our waters in, and then we were off at a good pace, headed into Damascus, Virginia. All of us hikers had been hearing about this town since starting the trail because it is the home place of the huge hiker festival called Trail Days. We arrived a few weeks before Trail Days took place but still enjoyed the town while we zeroed just half a mile north of it. Little antique shops and outfitters filled the main street running through the town and on the outskirts flowed a huge creek with a great swimming hole and park; my tramily and I spent most of our two days in town sitting by the creek socializing with other hikers and resting our legs. We also went to an awesome Mexican joint called Hey Joe’s recommended to us by the owner of Mt. Rodger’s Outfitter. It had large portions and cheap prices, so I absolutely recommend stopping by and getting the Hey Joe’s nachos; they are sure to satisfy one’s hiker hunger and low budget. Damascus was a good time from getting stuck in a port-a-potty to reuniting with my other hiker friends while grilling hamburgers at the campsite under the full moon. Together at the fire that last evening we all simultaneously howled at the magnificence of the moon in the night, it was a good moment.
The next morning Dirty J and I decided to head out and continue moving North having talked about wanting to bump up our average miles for each day. Out of Damascus stood a steep climb, which by the end, left me drenched in sweat as it was one of the most humid days we had seen on the trail so far. After walking about six miles we found an awesome awesome campsite on the bank of the big creek, but we passed it up hoping to do more than just six miles that day. Well we made the wrong decision..shortly after passing the campsite we were caught in the worst downpour still I have yet to experience on the trail. We ran up the mountain and threw our tents down on the first semi flat spot we saw. By the time I got my tent set up I was soaked, along with all of my stuff too. We laughed saying we will never pass up an awesome camp spot like the first one again, in hopes that the rain would have some mercy on us. We made dinner and talked about how excited we were to reach the Grayson Highlands State Park in about two days. We had heard there would be wild ponies, ridgeline walks, and great views which all were things we looked forward to.
Dirty J and I made quick time to the Highlands, and the journey there was incredibly beautiful. The night before reaching the park we attempted to cowboy camp under a brilliant sunset, but soon found out why it’s called cowboy camping when we woke up soaked in dew. The cowboys lived in the west where humidity is low, not on the east coast where condensation builds on your sleeping bag overnight. (I knew it was a bad idea, I just wanted to say I cowboy camped) We ended up retreating to our tents in the middle of the night, but still rose early to see the sun rise over the valley we camped over. I believe it was at a place just north of Buzzard Rock. That afternoon we reached the Grayson Highlands, and it exceeded all of my expectations. I could see so far over the rolling hills because the trees dispersed leaving an open ridgeline with a few tall rock scrambles. Looking down below onto the lower hills we could see little tiny ponies running around; it was really like something one would see in a movie. We made our way down the ridge to where most of the ponies were gathered. The information that was there for the hikers informed us that these ponies weren’t completely wild, but each year they lead them to the highlands to graze free and help eat away the shrubs and weeds that are not native to the area. It was so neat watching the short ponies run around us and watching Kira bark while trying to herd them. Despite the rule of no camping within the three miles that the park ran (which we were unaware of), we found an amazing spot on the edge of a lookout to camp. We made a little fire and went to sleep to wake up to a sunrise directly in front of us filling the sky with colors of orange and pink and red. This day marked two months on the trail as well as five hundred miles hiked so far. Those two months seemed to fly by, little did I know that the next two would go by even faster. The Grayson Highlands most definitely became my favorite part of the AT this far. It held a whole different look being on the ridgeline rather than in the trees and had a new color scheme of reds and dark greens and burnt yellow colors- it looked like we had walked into a land where autumn arrived early.
After departing the Highlands we went into a town called Marion, Virginia to resupply. We actually met the mayor as well who was very nice and gave us both a Marion pin for our pack and a sticker, and bid us good luck. The town was nice and had a KFC buffet- which no thru hiker could resist- but the town was very spread apart so by the time we had resupplied our food and gotten lunch, we were running to the other side of town to make it to the post office on time in order for me to get my package from my mom. We arrived ten minutes before closing, drenched in sweat and out of breath, to be told by the postman we weren’t allowed to go in because of a chemical fire. It was quite irritating to have ran so far to not even be allowed to go in, so Dirty J and I sat outside until they were closing. Luckily the fire trucks left right at closing time and the postman gave me grace enough to get me my package despite the office being closed. I was sending North Face my trail runners to be replaced with a brand new pair, thanks to the company’s great warranty promise. When leaving the post office it didn’t take long for us to get a ride back to the trail head, and we camped not even a mile north of where we were dropped off. We made fried burritos and went to bed.
The trail after Marion was beautiful. It ran through miles and miles of farmland, and lining it were blossoming blackberry bushes. Little white flower buds were everywhere; all we could think about was how excited we were for the bushes to become ripe allowing us to grab a handful of the fresh and sweet berries while we walked. There was also an old school house from the late 1800’s that a little church down the street provided us trail magic of boxes filled with anything a hiker could need- medicines, sodas, fruit, chips, candies, tissues, hair ties- like I said, anything we could have needed was there. I was so thankful for the church’s courtesy. Just around the corner sat a frontier museum as well, so we had the opportunity to see some old artifacts from the people who first lived in the area and that attended the old one room school house. It is so neat to be able to not only walk and experience nature on the trail but along the way also learn about the history of the towns and areas surrounding the trail.
The next town we arrived in would be Bland where I had plans to meet with Dana, a friend from home, and my puppy Spring, both who would accompany Dirty J and I on the next forty-four miles of the trail. We camped the first night he arrived at the trail head with his girlfriend also; we had no choice but to hang out under Dirty J’s tarp because that evening would be the beginning of the rainiest four days on the trail so far. I felt bad for Dana and Spring as neither of them were used to the trail conditions of walking all day and especially not walking all day in the rain. Dirty J and I have known that we will be the at the mercy of Mother Nature and all her storms, but this was something new to my two guests. The trail was cold and wet for those four days, and our feet were constantly soaked by the river running down the trail. The last day they accompanied us as we hiked into the next town Pearisburg, and the sun made a grand appearance. Dana finally was able to see a good view from atop the mountain north of town, and Spring was finally able to walk with me without giving me her biggest puppy dog eyes to take her inside out of the cold rain. It was a good day. We arrived in town and bought a hotel room for the night, ate too much McDonald’s, and reunited again with some of our trail friends we hadn’t seen in a good bit. I felt honored that Dana gave me the opportunity to show him what thru hiking was actually like, rain, sweat, and sore muscles included. The next day he and Spring were picked up, and Dirty J and I set back off to the trail.
The trail between Pearisburg and our next town Daleville amazed me with its extraordinary scenery. The sun shined and the skies were blue as we reached some of the most remarkable sites on the whole AT. We had finally reached Mcafee’s Knob, the photo perfect cliff overhang that is a huge milestone for a thru hiker. We stood on the cliff and were slammed with heavy wind gusts, and we sat and let our feet hang over while we looked down in awe of how high we sat. We walked further north and ran into a place called Tinker Cliffs which was equally as beautiful. If my reader’s ever were to hike the trail, I would suggest camping at Tinker Cliffs; there were great spots and the sun sets right off of the view point. It would be sure to not disappoint a hiker looking for an amazing evening. Dirty J and I however continued to walk north to get closer to the next town, and on the way reached a point called the Dragon’s Tooth. The Dragon’s Tooth is a giant pointed rock sticking up from the side of the mountain that one can climb up. Climbing to the top point is probably one of the most scared I have been ever, as all sides around you drop straight to the ground. The view is one of the greatest I have ever seen though. It was a full 360 degree panoramic view of the valleys and mountains surrounding; I believe it to be a greater sight than even Mcafee’s Knob, so if you have the guts and want an amazing view, be sure to climb up the Dragon’s Tooth. It’s a thrill.
The next day hunger drove us to race the last nine miles into Daleville where we feasted on Wendy’s and Little Ceasar’s pizza. We both ate ourselves sick that afternoon, and it was great. We camped just .1 or so south of town and passed out. I was exhausted from the past few days with as much climbing and running we had done, but I looked forward to making it to Glasgow where my mom and siblings were to meet me a few days later.