This is my original Appalachian Trail journal from 2001 (Edited for grammar).
It includes additions that were written sixteen years later (in 2017). These are in italics.
Friday, May 25, 2001
Damascus, VA to Saunders Shelter
Today’s Miles: 9.6
Trip Miles: 462.9
It was a dark, peaceful night when I left Quincey’s bar/restaurant.
I hiked down the main street in Damascus, humming CCR’s “Doo doo doo, lookin’ out my back door…”
My stick clicked on the cement until I made it to the hostel. White blazes were painted on the telephone poles through town. So does that count as a night hike?! Ha! Probably not – I think I’ve made trips to the privy in the dark that were longer.
A fantastic pancakes and bacon breakfast got the next day off to a wonderful start… and a Coke to drink. They have something in this part of the country that knocks my socks off. Coca-Cola… in glass bottles! That’s right, I’m still having difficulty comprehending this. I thought they stopped manufacturing those in like 1985 or something!
Nearly asking a stranger if it was indeed the year 2001, I imagined that Doc Brown had flown me here in a DeLorean, to the time when glass Coca-Cola bottles ruled. Hello, McFly!
After attending to my typical errands in town, I packed up and returned to Dot’s for a lunch of a double burger and fries.
The trail in Virginia is lovely already. I’m not sure what it is about it. All the food I ate in the past twelve hours gave me fuel to literally bounce up the footpath. I walked along a narrow, raging creek for awhile, foaming and roaring in rapids after last night’s rain and storms.
The cool air and rush of it took me back for a moment, because it smelled like the ocean. Damp, red orange leaves littered the path in the shady, overcast light. The sun came out later, spectacularly playing upon everything. High, pink, bushy rhododendrons abounded on the mountaintop, and bees hovered among the petals.
This shelter is in a nice area, with an open field and pine trees. Leif’s mom, Leif’s sister, Scott, and Slowpoke are here (Leif is one of the founders of the trailjournals.com website, where this was originally posted).
I automatically get drowsy as night falls out here, even though I was up until midnight in town last night. Life is good.
Quincey’s was an Italian-style restaurant on the main street in Damascus (It went out of business shortly after my hike). They served alcohol (And most importantly had a jukebox) but I was still 20 years old and not bold enough to try and get served.
After the raucousness of Trail Days it was nice to experience Damascus more as it was designed to be seen, but it was only a week after the festival and I sensed that the town was still recovering from it.
“The Place” hostel was an institution of the Appalachian Trail – it was a big, white, Victorian-style house. Every room was outfitted with hard wooden bunks, with a few exceptions – the kitchen, front-room, and screened-in back porch all served as common areas.
It seemed that hikers generally had the run of the place, save for the occasional visits from the caretakers in the mornings and early afternoons. The Place was filled with a number of hikers that I’d never met, and I didn’t particularly go out of my way to be social with them.
I remember one guy in particular that seemed to be one of the ringleaders of the “Blue Blazin’ Hiker-Hobo-Trash.” He didn’t seem much like hobo-trash to me, just an old biker-dude.
After breakfast I returned to the hostel to pack up my things. There I got to hang out in the kitchen for some time with Grasshopper, Emma, and Panama Red. They were a friendly crew, all in their twenties and fun to be around.
A big wall-map of the Appalachian Trail was there in the kitchen. We had the same discussion in that room about that wall-map that had likely occurred hundreds and thousands of times…
“Look how far we’ve come!”
But it wasn’t about how we’d come, it was about how far we hadn’t come. You see, reaching Virginia on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is a big accomplishment. It’s a big goal for a long time, and it takes forever to get here.
And then, while contentedly feeling all-great about ourselves, we sit down at The Place hostel and see that map on the wall.
It shows how little of the Trail we’ve actually done when compared to the grand scope of the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. It’s daunting as hell.
Saturday, May 26, 2001
Saunders Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter
Today’s Miles: 18.6
Trip Miles: 481.5
I crossed about a million and a half small creeks today. I’m not kidding, water everywhere. I trudged through an obscene amount of mud. Every step I take, my foot instantly sinks an inch or more into the muck.
I crossed a long footbridge this morning before taking a midday break at the Lost Mountain Shelter. Chewbacca, Turtle, Kelly, Stock, and Bushwhack were heading out when I arrived – they’d spent the night there.
I had lunch and relaxed, reading a book for over two hours. The sun warmed me as junco birds and chipmunks scampered around my feet. Baltimore Jack, Pepe, Pam, and Jamie passed through, slackpacking southbound. The trail seemed rather crowded all day long – not only with thru-hikers, but a ton of people out for the Memorial Day weekend.
The climb up Whitetop Mountain was long and arduous, but excellent. Views from Buzzard Rock, an open bald area, made it especially rewarding.
I passed through more cattle fields and quaint spots, and trudged through more mud to finally make it here to Thomas Knob Shelter, situated in another beautiful area.
I traveled near Mount Rodgers, the highest point in all of Virginia. I’m really looking forward to the Grayson Highlands tomorrow, one of the supposedly most scenic areas on the whole trail. It is cold up here tonight. And at the end of May! I’m glad I haven’t sent home my cold weather gear yet. Life is good.
The things I remember most about this day are the mud, the beauty, and the camaraderie.
The mud was especially obnoxious. Long sections of the trail seemed impassable because of it – even the miniature, braided bypasses were swamped out.
The crew that I caught up with at Lost Mountain Shelter was especially fun. Someone was taking an eternity to take care of business in the privy and everybody was giving him shit about it.
Whitetop Mountain was especially beautiful, in an open-meadow-air sort of way. The bushy pink rhododendrons were in bloom. Not only did their flowers cradle the trail, but the fallen petals littered the footpath too.
It seemed as though a good chunk of the riff-raff had quit the trail by now. Most thru-hikers I’d see on the trail from this point forward were folks that I’d met before, or at least heard of through the grapevine.
I passed up another State Highpoint on this day – Mount Rodgers. The peak (5,729ft) was a one-mile-round-trip from the official AT, with “no views” at the top.
The Thomas Knob shelter was chilly, at a relatively high 5400 feet above sea level.
Sunday, May 27, 2001
Thomas Knob Shelter to Wise Shelter
Today’s Miles: 4.5
Trip Miles: 481.5
Today was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. All of America was out having cookouts and such fun. I traversed through the Grayson Highlands in the mountains of Virginia.
A cold, strong wind blew all morning long. I stayed comfortable in my sleeping bag until the afternoon, relaxing and reading. The weather persisted, and I eventually headed out into the open grasslands. The wind made me feel more alive than ever before, and I spryly traversed from rock to rock, with many leaps of faith.
“Wild” feral ponies could occasionally be seen in herds. Their wrangled hair was swept in the breeze, and the tall grasses rustled all about them. The straps of my pack flapped in my face, and grey clouds soared from horizon to horizon overhead. I was a whirlwind of energy.
I originally planned to move on when I arrived at this shelter. My train of thought over the next hour or so somehow led to staying here for the night. I think the decision involved the threat of rain… or something.
Now I’m camped in a small grove with Doose, Panama Red, Goo, and Madcow. It just started to rain. I was fortunate enough to see a huge brown spider in my tent, and managed to get in out without too much trouble. It looked like its bite would have given me a world of hurt. Maybe it was a venomous Brown Recluse? Life is good.
Monday, May 28, 2001
Wise Shelter to Raccoon Branch Shelter
Today’s Miles: 16.9
Trip Miles: 498.4
Rain continued through the night, and well into the morning. I made the pleasant discovery of a pool of water at the foot of my tent, soaking my down sleeping bag and pad… oh, how nice! I just love it when that happens! Not. Maybe I’ll rig the rain fly a little more carefully next time.
That put me in a lousy mood but it went away as soon as I crawled out and observed the nature all around me. After I packed up my wet stuff and was on my way, things weren’t so bad after all.
The last section of the Highlands had more ponies. A group of about six of them trotted right up to me, and started licking the sweat off my arms!
For the salt, I suppose.
These overcast, dismal days are perfect for daydreaming and contemplation. It was cool enough to keep from sweating too heavily, and my energy held all day long.
Crossing a bridge near a gorgeous waterfall, Goo yelled “Hey!” and scared the hell out of me. He was below the bridge, near the stream. It was like he was guarding the bridge like a troll, requesting a Snickers or something from anybody that wished to cross.
As of today I’ve now hiked over five hundred miles from Springer Mountain! That’s nearly a quarter of the whole trail! I feel great again tonight. Someone said that each day is an emotional rollercoaster.
I’m staying in this “spooky” area with Goo, Deano, Madcow, Shaggy, and Panama Red. All guys at the shelter tonight – bachelor party atmosphere. There’s supposed to be a phone near a shelter tomorrow which you can use to order pizza! I think I’ll have two… it would sure beat moldy bagels for dinner. Life is good.
Tuesday, May 29, 2001
Raccoon Branch Shelter to Partnership Shelter
Today’s Miles: 13
Trip Miles: 511.4
I spent a lazy morning hanging around the shelter reading, happy as ever. It rained heavily overnight but quit by the time I was up – clear skies promised a beautiful day.
I love Virginia! The terrain has been fairly level ever since I’ve been here, compared to all the Georgia and Carolina monsters. I’m in shape, settled in, and feeling confident. All the other hikers are completely comfortable too, and we’re all just having the time of our lives.
Running out of food, I decided to hitchhike into Marion to resupply. A pickup truck with a guy named Greg pulled over. He asked the traditional “Where ya headed to?” question, and I told him. He said, “Well, you’re standin’ the wrong way! Marion’s that way,” he said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder, back in the other direction. Amazingly he offered to turn around and take me all the way down to Marion.
When he dropped me off at the Food Lion he offered to wait for me and drive me back up to the trail! I explained that I was going to hang around and get dinner in town too, so I declined.
Supermarkets are far too much for my senses to handle. I want one of everything! The options, the options! I think I bought too much food for me to carry, but that’s okay.
Then it was across the street to Pizza Hut, where I cleaned out a whole large pan pizza by myself, with sausage and pepperoni, naturally. The music system played the “Chariots of Fire” theme. Yeah! I’ll probably have that stuck in my head now for a week, when I’m sucking air up the mountains.
It was amusing to watch the general manager there go about his job. It seems that all GM’s at fast food chains look and act exactly the same. Things moved so fast behind the counter there – I remember doing the same when I cooked at Perkins. How stressful!
A girl sitting diagonally from me casually asked how the hiking was going, and followed shortly with “Do you need a ride anywhere?”
“As a matter of fact, I do!”
All this kindness is just too much. Her name’s Jenny and she’s graduating high school this year. Graduating high school… ah, this time of year, two years ago for me… nothing can really beat it (I was already feeling nostalgic about high school).
She dropped me off at the trailhead, and I promptly dropped my two liter bottle of Coke there on the pavement. I watched in horror as it bounced three feet into the air, crashed down again, and started rolling down the hill. It busted open and sprayed precious ounces of sugary goodness all over me as I fumbled and tried to rescue it.
Jenny saw all this and asked, as she was about to pull away in the car, “Do you want any towels?
No no, no thank you.
I lost about half the bottle. May the lost half rest in peace.
The Partnership Shelter is probably the nicest shelter on the whole trail. There’s running water here! There’s also a payphone a tenth of a mile away, where you can order pizza.
A great group of hikers are here tonight, talking and laughing under the crescent moon. Shaggy said he saw a Sasquatch away in the woods a moment ago. The Amazing Dolphin Boy is goading me about how I kiddingly signed a shelter register as “The Amazing Duct Tape Boy.” We may get a killer game of wiffle ball fired up in a few minutes. I have a fresh box of cinnamon rolls waiting for me for breakfast.
Roughin’ it. Life is good.