Greetings from Damascus! (AT hike update)
So I don’t even think I even mentioned on this blog that I would be hiking the AT again, but sure enough that’s what I’ve been up to. I finished the Tahoe Rim Trail on August 22, and within a week I was on the AT, my first ever thru hike, at Harper’s Ferry, WV. The plan is to hike south from HF to Springer Mountain, GA (the Southern terminus), then next Spring, after hiking the TA in New Zealand this winter, hike from HF north to Mount Katahdin. Although the two halves will be done in separate calendar years, it’ll still count as a thru hike since the whole trail will be completed within a 12 month period. Just your average, run-of-the-mill, two-season flip-flop with another thru hike on the other side of the world sandwiched in between.
Anyways, I started August 28 in Harper’s. My mom drove me up that afternoon, and despite not getting on trail until 5:30 PM I still managed 10 miles to get to David Lesser shelter. Within the first few days, I was reminded of a few things about this trail. One, it is so god damn moist. It is always at 100% humidity, everything stays wet/damp all the time. The frustrating part is that we’ve been in a drought pretty much my entire time out here. I’m having to constantly worry about water and often do 4 liter water carries into my shelters at night. I’m still always damp though! Second, this trail is fucking hard. The elevation gains are brutal, often the trail will go up what I like to refer to as, “infinite staircases” - big stone steps that go straight up hill for what feels like forever.
I started off the hike zooming through Shenandoah National Park. I happened to be going through the park on Labor Day weekend, so it was packed with weekenders from DC. On my last night in the park, I got to Rock Springs shelter and found two hikers already there. One, a section hiker out to do the whole park Northbound. Two, a very curious looking guy, about my age. He was barefoot, standing almost in the fire he was cooking over, and completely covered in soot. We got to talking and I learned he had hiked from Boiling Springs, PA to Katahdin in 2015, and had gotten on trail at Boiling Springs again this year, headed south with now particular destination. He told me his trail name had been Junglecat, but he wasn’t attached to it and open to a new one. Within an hour he had become Mushroom Man. He was very excited about all the wild mushrooms he had been able to forage thus far on his hike, and had even cooked up some that night. He also often talked about his “mushroom knife”, which was just a regular knife. But he felt it needed that label. I started off the next day, hoping to do a big 34-mile day out of the park and get to Waynesboro, VA. After a quick break at a camp store to get water and wash up, Mushroom Man caught up to me. We did the whole day together. We clicked. It’s rare that I find someone who likes hiking at my pace, and with my style, but he did. We got to Waynesboro that night and had a great time sitting around the hostel and hanging out. Another hiker, Miss Placed, who I had met a day before Mushroom Man, also made the 34 that day.
The three of us set out together the next day, and for the next two weeks we were pretty much together. Mushroom Man and I would start earlier than Miss Placed, and hiked a little faster, but she still rolled into the shelter every night an hour or two after us. It was a great two weeks. Big miles every day, a lot of fun every night. I do so many solo miles so it’s always exciting to be hiking with others, and enjoying it. We made it 260 miles to Pearisburg in 10 days - a blistering pace - and arrived on September 11, Mushroom Man’s birthday. Unfortunately, he spent the whole night on the phone with his girlfriend, seemingly in some kind of argument. The next day he was clearly down, and it became apparent his hike would be coming to an end. We made it three more days together before he got off trail in Atkins.
It’s so cool how quickly you can become close to someone out here. But spending literally every moment with him, that’s just what happened. Despite having only known him for two weeks, he was the most important person in my life at that time. Strange. It made it sad to see him go, but that’s the nature of a long distance hike. We had gotten ahead of Miss Placed by that point, but she actually caught up to me the next day on the heels of 75 miles in two days. So impressive.
Yesterday I hiked my first ever 40-mile day on the Appalachian Trail. I crushed it, making it to Damascus, VA in 12.5 hours. All in all, I hiked Harpers to Damascus in 20 days, something I would not have believed I could do before I actually did it. All of a sudden I have less than 500 to Springer! I anticipate my pace slowing a bit as I get into harder sections, but am still hoping to be done in early October. Regardless, I’ll write another update whenever I do finish.
Until then, I’m going to keep enjoying this trail that I love so much! It’s so cool to see all these familiar places again. Really great to get a southbound perspective on the trail to. If you read this, thanks! Happy trails to all!