After setting out from Damascus we have a renewed sense of excitement for hiking the trail. Although we are thankful and excited for the opportunity every day that we get on the trail, we feel it all even more so after leaving Damascus. After meeting so many people that were excited to meet Buddy, who have been following our trip and hearing the positive encouragement and enthusiasm for what we are doing with our son it further solidified in our minds what we are doing and why.
We headed out from Whitetop mountain on another foggy day and went into Grayson Highland Park. The weather cleared up and we were able to see the most beautiful views from the top of Mount Rodgers. While I was hiking up to meet Buddy and Dion I was greeted by a group of about 15 wild ponies! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know that they were in the park and was completely in shock when I look up from staring at my feet all day to find myself in a sea of ponies. By the time I met up with the boys and started back down the ponies were gone which was quite a disappointment, mostly for Dion and myself, Buddy has seen his fair share of horses along the roads while we drive. Dion and I take great enjoyment from being that close to wild horses, for Buddy it’s just another day at the office.
We stealth camped that night, then planned on heading to the Hurricane Shelter. Unfortunately my map had other plans for our day.
Along with AWOL’s southbound guide I also use an app called Motion X GPS on my ipad mini. Other than today, I love it. I has all the shelters and the entire AT downloaded on to it. It will tell you exactly where the trail crosses the road, where the side trails are and where the shelters are on a terrain map with elevation. Unfortunately for the very first time, this map had the shelter in the wrong place, on the wrong side of the road. So, agreeing to meet at that shelter I looked on the map, saw it was on the north side of 650, and thinking nothing more about it parked the Jeep in the parking lot and headed out to meet the boys. I thought, ‘I’ll run into them in a few miles, we can hike back to the car together then all go to the shelter.’ This is all good in theory. It wasn’t until I had hiked in a few miles and saw a sign for the road crossing I should have been close to was 6 miles away. I knew I was in the wrong spot but hadn’t figured out why and where I actually was. Until I ran into two south bounders! I was so glad to see them, they told me they were going to the Hurricane Shelter and that it was three miles south from where I was standing. So I raced a few miles back to the car to grab my backpack and to try to find the side trail that was off about a mile from the shelter. Unable to find where the .3 blue blaze to get onto the AT was, I parked the Jeep and just headed up the mountain hoping to find the trail. After about half an hour of wondering around, I finally found the trail and booked it up the to Hurricane Shelter. What disappointment I felt when I arrived at the shelter only to find the two thru hikers I had run into earlier and no Buddy or Dion. The other hikers told me that they had left, fearing that something had happened to me and going into survival mode, not wanting to be stuck in a shelter at the top of the mountain with no gear. After hearing this, I ran as fast as my feeble legs could carry me back to the Jeep to find my boys! Running downhill with a 45 pound pack really lets you know what kind of shape you are in. I knew that Dion wouldn’t have gone further than the next road, and I was right. As I was zipping around the last corner of the dirt road I saw them standing on the side of the road waving their arms and jumping up and down for joy that I had arrived. Needless to say they were exhausted, going an extra 6 miles further than they had planned, they were cold and they were starving. Luckily I had steak and some chocolate milk and beer to warm and thrill their tummies! We decided to go park the Jeep down by the campsite and sleep on our awesome Jeep platform set up, not wanting to exert the energy of setting up the tent or hauling anything out of the car. We were all warm, together and that’s all that mattered.
The next day we hiked up to 670, a short day but a great one. Along the way Buddy and Dion came upon the amazing trail magic of the Valley View Baptist Church. This is honestly the best trail magic box we have come upon by far. The box is incredibly organized, their are chars to sit on, water in a cooler and more hiker items than you could ever imagine. Not only do they have the normally wonderful items like snacks, soda and toilet paper but they also have first aid kits, q-tips, soap and on and on. They also have one walkie talkie in their which is for any hikers that are in distress. The other walkie talkie is at the church friends Brian and Rita’s who live right down the road, should a hiker be in peril all they need to do is pick it up and a real trail angel will be their to aid them. We got the the next road crossing at 601 and headed over to Jerry and Terri Thomas’ house. We are so excited to get to really meet them and spend time with their wonderful boys.