Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trail arts and crafts

Homemade crampons!
$2.50 a pair

Here's to hoping we don't have to use them!

AT Day 171-174 Hot Springs

October 31
Miles: 0
Total: 1910
So.  Yeah. we're still in Hot Springs.  A twist of fate that had nothing to do with hiking had put us in town to late to hike out on Sunday. Then,   as you may know, there's a hurricane happening.   To look out a window in Hot Springs it looks like it's just cold and rainy.  Unfortunately, as you get up into higher elevation that cold rain turns into snow.   
On Monday,  we heard school got delayed and then let out early.  We saw cars driving into town with snow (heavy wet snow) on their hoods  and after procrastinating in town until around 1:30 we decided to go to the Laughing Heart Hostel.   I was feeling a bit unsettled about our choice. I thought we, maybe, should have just hiked out and chanced it.    However, about 3 hours later two hiker friends came into the hostel. They had chanced the weather-made it 9 miles and then had to turn around and come back.  It was that bad up there.    When I saw them walk through the door, I felt much better about our decision to stay.
So, here we are.   It's Wednesday today, the weather has a chance of clearing up but we're not going to chance it.  Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and getting warmer.  We'll head out tomorrow. There might still be snow on the ground but at least the sun will be shining.
In the meantime, we've been hanging out at the Laughing Heart Hostel with about 12 other hikers.  We watched "The Way" and "Pirate Radio" and some other movie.  We've been playing card games and wandering into town to eat.  Overall, it's a pretty great place to be stuck.  The owners are former thru-hikers from 2007.  They met on the trail in 2006, got married and  part of their wedding vows was to thru-hike the trail together.   They're a really fun couple and I've enjoyed talking to them.  Chuck Norris (his trail name) takes people out on the Florida trail every year and is influential in helping people organize their finances so they can hike.  In fact, we met one of his converts earlier this year. The Myakka Mules went to one of his talks and they took his advice. The downsized their massive house, got rid of one car and when they figured out their finances they realized they could hike for the next 15 years!
Being here has certainly given us things to think about!

Walking into town.  Notice the snow on the mountain. Happy to be in town. 
Den at Laughing Heart
Our bedroom at laughing heart 
The dorm room 
Card playing with Two-step and turtle box 
Starfish, Misery, Split, and KenDoll all relaxing 
Split, kendoll and snicketts

Sunday, October 28, 2012

AT Day 169,170,171 with the Lyon's

Miles 0
Total 1910

Sights: Family! A chicken show, trunk or treating,
We've been having an excellent time visiting family.   We got here Thursday night and had a delicious dinner of pork, potato and carrot followed by an introduction to "Doctor Who", an excellent sci-fi show.  
Friday was wonderful. Jamie and I borrowed a car to go to Walmart-our first walmart experience since being on the trail and let me tell you-we bought to much.  
Then Billy and Alicia took us to downtown Waynesville. It was super cute and artsy. There was a great coffee shop-complete with sullen barista and huge comfy orange sofas.   We came back to meet the kids and Jamie and I babysat while Billy and Alicia went out.  It was really fun to hang out with the kids as I've (shannon) has never really gotten to know them very well.    I've really loved hanging out with them.  Also, we played some great rounds of DanceDanceRevolution.
Saturday I went to a chicken show with Alicia. They raise chickens and have about 2 or 3 dozen. I'd never considered chickens before and it was so interesting to hear about all the different kinds of chickens and see how cool they were.  It was so cool.
Then we went out "Trunk or Treating.". It's a thing all the churches do. People bring their cars and open the trucks in the parking lot.  Then the kids can all go trick or treating at them.  It was really fun.  We went to two different ones. The first one was Methodist and they had fried oreos, a petting zoo and a bounce house. The second was much more religiously themed, it was a Baptist church and each of the games was themed around different bible stories and the people were all dressed up as different Bible Characters.   That one was really fun with good games and hotdogs and cookies.  They had a great raffle for the kids and as it was all mostly centered inside one room it was easier to relax.  
When we got back, we were all sugared up so we watched Hocus Pocus.   It was a great night of Halloween fun!
We're heading out today after lunch. We're sad to be leaving but if we don't get back out there-we never will. 


What do you do?

"But what do you DO?" Asks our faithful reader Mrs Amanda Burkhart of Helena Montana.  Well, we hike of course!  But she knows this.  What does a day look like?  How do we keep from getting bored out of our minds?  I know these questions have been burning in the hearts of so many of you- worry no more! I'll clear things up here.

We wake up between 5 and 6:30.  From this time is takes us, consistently, about 1.5 hours to get out of camp. We start with putting our gear away and end with eating breakfast.   Our breakfasts vary greatly.  We've had cereal and milk, oatmeal, power bars, powdered donuts, or honey buns but one is a constant.  Stick Coffee (Stick coffee = Korean for Instant Coffee). We have stick coffee every morning.   After breakfast we hit the trail and hike. That first hour is, for me, my favorite.  I'm awake, my legs and feet feel refreshed and i'm feeling positive.  I love the first hours of hiking every day.   We hike for a few hours and then we stop to eat. After that, we hike for a few more hours and then we stop to eat. After that we hike for a few more hours and stop to eat again. This last time is usually when we've gotten to the end of our day.  We often stop at shelters to sleep but if we know it will be cold we set up a tent anyway.   Once we arrive in camp we break the work into 2 things.  One of us will set up our gear for the night (usually me) and one of us will cook dinner (usually Jamie).  We do this because when we get into camp we are starving.  We waste no time.  After dinner,  in very short order we floss, brush, hang the food and get in our sleeping bags to go to bed. 

But what do we do when we're hiking?  We sing.  We switch back and forth singing different songs but we have some old standbys that we always come back to.  I keep going back to "Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin and Jamie goes back to "Devil Went Down to Georgia."  But our favorite time killer is story-hour.  We both read different books in the evening and then spend a portion of the next day retelling the details of what we read.  Jamie has read Contact, The Hobbit,  Sherlock Holmes, and currently a Sci-fi book, Ragamuffins.  I'm reading the Game of Thrones Series.  We're on book 5.  We've both gotten pretty good at remembering detail and dialogue.  If we have both read a lot, we'll switch back and forth between us and listen to each story alternately.  The problem, however, is that we don't often read a lot.   Often we're lucky to get through one chapter in an evening before we fall asleep.  In that case we switch to retelling movies.  Jamie is much better at remembering movies so this responsibility usually falls to him.  He's retold Batman (all of them), Starwars (all of them), The Avengers, and sometimes a random TV show episode he remembers.   As a joint effort we've retold, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Buffy-Once More With Feeling, The Princess Bride.  We love musicals because it affords the second of our time killers-singing.

But mostly we just walk.  If the hills are steep, talking goes right out the window.   If it's raining or windy, it's impossible to hear. From breaking camp in the  morning to setting up camp in the evening is usually 10 hours.  It can be hard to fill that time with chit-chat.   I have to be careful.  I tend to dwell. I've written, in my head, a million nasty letters.  I'll remember and think about stupid and angering things that people have said.   I write (again, in my head) scathing comments to racist or sexist things I've seen on Facebook, in log journals, on bumper stickers.  Or, sometimes I'll just make up situations that I can get angry over.  When I find myself doing this,  I take a deep breath and let out an audible sigh.  Then I'll start talking or singing to myself.  It's impossible for my mind to have an internal and external conversation so this usually solves the problem.   And usually, within about 5 minutes we'll come to a beautiful vista, a strange new bug,  a gorgeous newly fallen fall leaf.  There are a thousand things on the trail to keep you entertained.   You just need to see things in the right light.

Friday, October 26, 2012

AT Day 168 Camping near 208 to The North Carolina Lyon's

Miles: ~15
Total: 1910

We were so excited to get up and out this morning so we were walking by 6:15.  However, when we got to the first road crossing we saw a sign the offered "waffles, soup, sundaes, coffee and tea from 7:30 to 10 on October 25th.  Normally, we are never on time to make these things so we scampered the 300 yards down the highway.
We were greeted by the most friendly golden doodle we had ever met and then an exceptionally friendly couple who had hiked the trail back in 99.  They fed us: waffles, beef chili (shannon), pork soup (jamie), scones, fritos, brownie sundae (shannon) and a banana split (jamie).  We both got coffee, tea and soda.  Everything was homemade and delicious.  
However, we have a bit of a bitter taste in our mouth about the whole experience.   Let us be clear, the couple was charming and kind. Their house was beautiful and they were so friendly about touring us around and talking to us about their lives and things.  But, as we were eating our desserts, the husband (Hercules) tells us about a game they used to play while they were hiking.   Jamie and I love games so we were all ears.  Unfortunately, it wasn't a game but a riddle that they used to tell us there was that "God is the only answer."   Then they pulled out a whole bunch of Christian books and began to talk to us about Jesus and God.   We ended up being there for 2 hours.  We felt partly trapped because we didn't want to be rude.  Also, they had been so kind to feed us that we felt we needed to listen.  However, as we left their house, we both felt victimized.  They had taken advantage of our vulnerability as hikers and put us in a position where we were tricked into talking about Jesus. 
While we don't love talking about religion with people in any situation we would have felt a bit less taken advantage of if they had introduced the topic in a direct way instead of manipulating us into the conversation.
So, we really appreciated and enjoyed the breakfast but now we feel guilty about not loving the couple because they tricked us into an uncomfortable situation.   If their intentions had been made clear in their advertisement we probably still would have made the visit and wouldn't have felt so taken advantage of.
Anyway, after we left them we hiked the rest of the way to Hot Springs where we ate at the Smoky Mountain diner, talked about books with fellow hiker, Shambo, and waited for Jamie's brother Billy.
Tonight we are tucked in and snug in the backyard of the North Carolina Lyon's after being fed and showered and welcomed. We're really looking forward to our visit here.

Banana Split 

She made this gorgeous quilt after their hike.  It's the trail from Maine to Georgia. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

AT Day 165 - Curley Maple Shelter to Camping in Spivey Gap

October 22
Miles: ~15
Total: 1853.4

Today we had some excellent weather, which initially inspired some really great hiking for the first five miles of our day.  We were going through some nice ridges as well so the scenery really seemed to fit well with the temperature and sunshine.  At five miles we encountered some trail magic of Pepsi and Snickers bars (thanks!), and we came to Uncle Johnny's Hostel soon after that.  We had a maildrop sent to the hostel, but to our dismay it hadn't arrived.  We called the post office, but the packages for the day had already left and they didn't know what was on the truck so we waited at the hostel.

Getting held up when there are miles to be hiked can be frustrating and make us somewhat anxious, but today this was not the case.  We'd made excellent miles the last couple of days and needed to charge up all our gadgets anyways, so chilling out on a nice covered porch/pavilion didn't exactly require any arm pulling.  Jamie even found someone to play cribbage with and one of the guys who helps run the hostel showed up with chili dogs that he won (one of those things where you drop your business card in the bucket and they pick a winner every week).  Well we all won, didn't we?!  We had such a good time chatting and hanging out that it was almost sort of a let down when our package ended up coming in around 12:30.  Well, we ended up just hanging around for another hour and a half anyways!

Jamie had consumed so much coffee at the hostel that he felt a little bit sick while hiking for a bit.  We only made it another ten miles by the time dark was about to set in, which, incidentally, brought us right to a nice camping area that was recommended by the hostel owner. 

At the hostel Shannon had picked up a bunch of dried veggies that we used to jazz up our dinner.  It was absolutely amazing how filling it made our meal!  We'll be looking forward to adding them to our dinners for the next few nights.  Its the little things on the trail, it really is...

Well, we have to make it to Hot Springs for Thursday where we will be meeting Billy (Jamie's brother) and spending some time with him, Alicia, Katrina, Cady, and Eric (we are very excited to see them), so that means we need to do some miles if we are to get into town at a decent hour (and our inadvertent easy day today means more to do over the next few days).  Good weather on the forecast though, so we are looking forward to this next portion.  Until next time!

AT day 167 - Hogback Ridge to camping near 208

Miles: 25 
Total: 1985
Sights: Hemlock Hollow Hostel

We woke up nice and early this morning so we could have a short day tomorrow.  However, we got way-layed 7 miles out by some great trail magic.  A maintainer and old thru-hiker were doing some trail work and stopped in at the shelter to give out soda and snickers!  We chatted with them and another section hiker for about an hour.  However, even with that stop, we still did pretty well.  Today was great walking.  We made 15 miles by 2pm and when we got to the shelter we decided to call the hostel we were going to be walking past to see if the Cafe was open and if they would serve us dinner.  Turns out the would!  When we got to Indian Drive Road we turned up to walk the .07 to dinner.   As we got to the end of the road a car pulled up and told us to get in.  He was the owner and had driven down the street to find us.   We were the ONLY people in the cafe and there was no one in the hostel.  When we arrived the lady told us she actually had a plan for the evening and we had to eat fast so she had made us chicken salad sandwiches and tomato/basil soup.  It was pretty great.   The couple were originally from New Jersey but made it to Tennessee via Florida.  We heard the whole process of how they moved to this place.   While it was so fascinating, I'll spare you all the details. 
After dinner, we booked it back down the street. Originally we had planned to just camp out next to the road but as we were feeling energized after our dinner so we walked on another mile before camping here.  
We're super excited to be so close to Billy and his family.  We are really looking forward to our few days off.  

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Unexpected trail magic from the section hiker Junebug and these two maintainers 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

AT day 164 - camping near Clyde Smith shelter to Curley Maple shelter

Miles ~23

We walked through a random mountaintop spruce forest today.  It was at the top of Unaka Mountain.  There was a lady walking an Irish Wolfhound up there.  That was one huge dog.  After that we passed through a family gathering on Beauty Knob.  It was, indeed beautiful.
Recently I've been marveling at our ability to walk distance without needing a break.  Have I mentioned this before?  We walked 10 miles this morning before we stopped for anything longer than a bathroom break. Wow.  I just amaze myself. 
Also, I really love Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies.  We bought some at the supermarket the other day and we've been getting 2 daily.  They seem to be sugar masquerading as a cookie.  I also really love honey buns.   The unfortunate thing about these two treats is that when you eat them in the cold weather you can taste, well more like feel, all the grease coating your mouth.   Mmm.  Calories. Tonight we ate our normal dinner, 1/3 of a bag of sunchips, 10 chocolate covered pretzels (each), a little debbie and a hot chocolate.  I can't seem to stop talking about food.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

AT Day 166 Camping in Spivey Gap to Hogback Ridge Shelter

Sights: Bald Mountain
We hardly made any miles today but we don't care because we caught a bird.  Not us personally, but on the top of Big Bald Mountain they were tagging birds.  As we came into the clearing there was a sign that warned us not to linger as they are trapping and tagging hawks.  We assumed that they meant "sometimes" they are doing that so when we got up there and saw all the nets, we just assumed it was left up for another day.  But then we saw the pigeon in its protective leather jacket and of course we lingered long enough to take some pictures and get yelled at.  As we left the clearing, there were some volunteers set up to chat with us about their activities.  We ended up chatting long enough to do a net check with them.  Aside from the hawk netting, they have 19 other nets set up to catch small song birds and warblers.  They caught no hawks while we were there but we did get to see them tag a Ruby-headed kinglet.  It was very exciting and the man, Mark, running the affair was so enthusiastic that both Jamie and I were thrilled to see or hear any bird while we were up there with him. 
Something  we learned: small song birds migrate at night.  There are less predators at night and more consistent wind patterns.  Often, they fly in mixed groups.  The type of monitoring that they are doing is called "stop-over ecology." Mark was telling us that for years people were curious about where they (birds) go and when.  He was saying that now they know where they go and people are starting to be interested in what they do on the way.  He said this research is interesting because it also helps people to decide how to manage these areas.
If you are interested in the work they are doing, their website is:
P.S. One of the volunteers shared his gluten free chocolate/orange cookies and it was heaven. 

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Monday, October 22, 2012

AT Day 163 Camping at Apple Shelter Site to Camping Near Clyde Smith Shelter

Miles ~22
Total 1815

It was, at one point today, 35 degrees.  And windy.  It was very cold.   Beautiful however.  We were walking over the Roan Highlands.  The hills were alive, with the sound of music.   I would have been singing but, unfortunately, the sun wasn't out so it was quite cold.  We were up there for a few miles though.  I tried to get some pictures so you could get the sense of how gorgeous it was.   The second set of balds that we walked over were far less windy and much more touristy but equally beautiful. They had patches of bushes that were turning red interspersed with vibrant green plants and the combination looked quite festive.  
When we left the balds, the mountain changed completely.  All of a sudden we were walking through a pine forest.  It was such a shift we asked man that we hiked past if he knew anything about it (he had the look like he hiked here often).   Turns out he's a botanist and did indeed.  We were walking through one of only ten naturally occurring Frasier Fir forests.   Then we asked him if the balds are naturally occurring or if they are manufactured.   We were curious becuase we walked through some gates that were clearly meant to keep out animals and the grass seemed to have been mown.  He told us that the question has been debated and that now people say it was naturally occurring since Europeans arrived.  Meaning it's possible that previous peoples had cleared the land.  And infact, now they use goats to keep briars and bramble from growing up on the bald.  Our botanist turned out to be the man in charge of the goats.  We picked the right man to ask about the forest! 

Roan Mountain 

It was very very cold up here. 
Camping in the cold! 

Going the extra mile

"Don't worry, the dogs are friendly."
"Oh, I'm not worried about the dogs, I just don't want to walk down those stairs"
"Well, if you think that's a lot, you've got 20 times that number coming up."
"I know, that's why I don't want to walk those extra 15."

I don't normally confess to people that I'm not going to take a detour to look at some beautiful piece of scenery.   Usually,  the person giving the recommendation won't be there to watch me walk past it so I just say "Oh, that sounds nice. Thanks for the recommendation.". We almost never go to look at anything that requires walking off the trail.  Even something that's 1/10th of a mile off will illicit some debate between us about whether or not it's worth it.   Usually we can hold out and get a view for free.

I didn't expect that when we started this hike.  I expected to take the detours and look at things.  Nope.  I look at lots of things all day long and when your entire day (and the next day, and the next and the next) consists of walking-I'm not inclined to go out of my way.

For awhile, in Maine, we hiked with a man who had first section hiked the AT and was now doing a thru-hike.  He said that his desire to go "off trail" and look at things as well as his enjoyment of said things was much higher when we was section hiking.  He said he remembers looking at some views and thinking "wow-that's incredible" but now, as a thru-hiker, he doesn't feel as much awe from them.  I feel somewhat the same way. The views are gorgeous and we do stop to look at them.  But we see them everyday, multiple times a day.  They're not little breaks from our everyday lives.  They are our everyday life. I don't need to walk 0.1 off the trail to see something spectacular.  I have 2,184 miles of it.     Life on the trail is beautiful.

Friday, October 19, 2012

AT Day 162 - Kincora to Camping at the Apple Shelter site

October 19
Miles: 25
Total: 1792
We were up at around 5:30 and enjoyed the pleasures of getting up in a hostel complete with a kitchen.  After putting on some hot water for coffee, we enjoyed our breakfast of granola, bananas, orange juice, and milk (procured from the store the night before).
We were out and at the AT by about 7:10 when Jamie realized he forgot a piece of his sleeping pad (he uses it to improve the fit of his pack's waist belt), so after a jog back to the hostel we were finally moving by 7:30.  It felt like waking up so early was sort of a waste, but on the other hand if we had been up when the other hikers were getting up we would have left a lot later- we like to chat as many people who read this probably know.
We made great time to the first shelter and had a cup of coffee to celebrate!  We also took some time to take a look at our food situation and decided to forward our next food drop a ways and just resupply at the grocery store in town (we realized that if we had discussed this earlier that we simply could have bought more food the night before, but alas we are not good at looking too far ahead).  We ended up calling the post office later in the day and they were nice enough to forward our package over the phone.  With that all set and out of the way, we decided to book it the remaining 20 miles and hitch into town tonight to resupply so we wouldn't have to worry about it tomorrow (which is good because there are some pretty awesome views in store with Roan Mountain and the "balds").  To add to our "carrot", we had heard of "Bob's Dairyland" from our hiking friends The Birds, and a legendary burger was in store.
So we hiked hard.  We came upon a bench right on the trail around lunchtime with a great view, dedicated to a long time trail angel by the name of Vango.  While we ate, we met Scott, the proprietor of a popular hostel not far away, who was actually coming to fix up the very bench we were sitting on!  We chatted with him for a bit and then continued on our way.
With fall in full force, it has become very noisy whenever we walk through the leaves, which are now all crunchy.  This makes talking difficult.  At one point we came to a pine forest and it was like stepping into the quiet of a snowfall.  The difference was really stark!
We also took a quick detour to see Jones Falls.  We don't usually take side trails, but someone had taped a little note telling us that we "couldn't miss it", so since someone went to that trouble we decided it must be true.  It was quite pretty and we even took a picture to share with you!
Well, we finally made it to the road that lead into town at around 5:30.  The road was super busy, but it actually took us about 25 minutes to catch a ride, I'd say one of our longest and certainly the most cars passing.  A nice lady named Hope picked us up on her way to get gas (30 cents cheaper in NC vs. TN apparently).  We resupplied in about 10 minutes at the grocery store (motivated by BURGERS!), and headed over to Dairyland.  Jamie ordered the "Holy Cow burger": 3 five ounce beef patties, swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce tomato, and onion rings).  Shannon got the "Boss Burger", which was a toned down burger with 2 five ounce patties and no onion rings.  We also managed a plate of chili fries and a couple of Dr. Peppers to boot. 
By the time we were done, however it was 7, which means it was dark.  Not easy for hitching!  After a while a guy named Mark who was hanging out in his van just offered us a ride, very nice of him since it wasn't even on his way.  We finally got on trail around 7:30 and continued on for about 15 minutes before we got to the site of an old shelter they just took down.  Nice flat areas for camping though and a spring nearby.  There are two section hikers here as well and one of them is currently playing a kind of flute.  He is pretty good!  I wonder if he'll take requests...
Anyways, that is it for tonight.  Roan Mountain awaits us tomorrow so it is off to dreamland for us!

 Th e most delicous
BOB'S DAIRYLAND!   Even though there was no booze to be bought in Roan Mountain,  Bob's Dairyland made up for it. 
Vango Memorial Bench.  A great place for lunch. 
404 Miles! 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

AT Day 157 Tenting on Whitetop Mountain to The Place in Damascus

October 14
Miles: 20
Total: ~1715

Our camping spot the previous evening was on an exposed hill, so we were a little apprehensive about crazy winds blowing us away into the night.  But to our surprise the winds weren't too bad and when we woke up at 5:20 it wasn't even that cold (first morning in what feels like forever).  This was an important factor for ensuring that we would get up and stay up, which we did successfully.  We managed to get on the trail by about 6:30 which brought us to Buzzard's rock just in time for sunrise - beautiful!  We really lucked out with our camping choice for the evening.

The reason behind our early wake up was to make a big push for town and get there at a reasonable hour.  We had a great start and made it to the first shelter (about 5 miles in) in under two hours, but after lunchtime we slowed down a little bit.  At one point we met a nice gentlemen with two standard poodles (great hiking dogs apparently, smart, generally well-behaved, and really long legs).  He was curious about our experiences so we hiked with him for a couple miles so we pulled back our pace a lot.  No matter, really, sometimes having a chat while hiking can really pass the time.  He was even ready to offer us jobs with his company, but alas, we are not mechanical engineers. 

Today had a lot of what are known as "pud"s - or "pointless ups and downs", where there is alot of vertical change without much of a view.  We were sort of kicking ourselves for not "blue blazing" (taking a side trail off the AT) on the Virginia Creeper Trail, which was a gentle downward slope all the way to town along an old railroad bed.  After seeing hundreds of bicyclists, however, we were glad we made the right decision to stay true to our trail.  There are all sorts of outfits in Damascus that shuttle people and rental bikes north up the Creeper Trail and they then just coast back to town.  We have been assured it is quite lovely and judging by the amount of people doing it I believe the hype.

Anyways, we finally made it into Damascus around 4 (not bad for a 20 mile day), but to our dismay the laundromat was closed.  Soon, however, we were seeing fellow hikers wandering around in hospital scrubs, and, using our Sherlock-like powers of deduction, we figured that there was an alternative means of getting our clothes clean.  Sure enough, the proprietor of the Hiker's Inn was nice enough to do a load for us for 5 bucks.  Not a bad deal.  But we weren't at the front of the line, so hospital scrubs it was to be!

The Damascus Methodist church runs an old house as a long distance cyclist/hiker hostel called "The Place". It can probably hold about 30 people between two floors, has a kitchen area, a bathroom, and a shower room.  We even got hot water!  They only ask for a six dollar donation.  After getting set up there, we headed over the local food establishment/watering hole "Quincey's".  To Jamie's delight they had a pinball machine which he played while waiting for the food to come out.  We spent entirely too much money on dinner and drinks (considering it was a pizza place), but since our lodgings were meager we felt it justified. 

Tomorrow is our third 'zero' day of the southern portion of our journey and we will be moving on from The Place to a new inn called the Clifton Inn.  We will have a TV in our room and we are excited about that. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

AT Day 156 - Hurricane Shelter to Camping near Whitetop Mountain

October 13
Miles: 23
Total: 1696
Sights: wild ponies

Today was one of the most beautiful on the trail and we hit a pretty great milestone to boot.  We hiked through the Grayson Highland Parklands today, which we had been excited about because everyone we hiked with during the first part of our trip told us all about the wild ponies.  So we weren't really expecting the incredible views and unbelievable ridge walks that we got, not to mention some very well graded trails - I can't remember hiking up to 5400 being so easy!
We also happened upon really cowboys in action!  On some of the balds they keep cattle and we happened to be hiking by while a big group of horsed cowboys were rounding them all up to move them for the winter.  The trail literally went through the coral, which we couldn't find at first because a huge horse was standing in the way.  A cowboy had to point it out for us.  Awesome. 
From that point on it was just an amazing day and some of the best weather we've had in a couple of weeks.  It was so sunny in fact that Jamie got a sun burn; however, since he was wearing a bandanna at the time only a select portion of his head is burned with hilarious effect. Anyways, as I mentioned before the views were simply stunning and 360 in a lot of places.  This place is not unknown to the locals though - we haven't seen this many day hikers and weekenders since the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  When we got to the wild ponies (which are kind of mean, by the way - one of them bit Shannon and another one tried to kick Jamie, landing on his foot in the process), it seemed that we were the main attraction as a lot of people were really interested in what we are doing and had lots of questions (and of course stories about all the things that can kill us out here, people love telling us all about things like that).  Quite fun! 
OH, and we also hit another milestone (gotta love milestones, they really help break up the trip mentally), only 500 more miles to go!  Oh man, how often do you hear that one?  Only 500 more miles!  Seriously though, that doesn't feel like much and we'll hit the 1700 mile marker tomorrow.
This has been one of our favorite days of the trip and it was very much welcomed after all the bad weather we've had of late.  To top it all off we found a really great hillside camping spot with a great view of the sun going down over the mountains.  The colors stayed out while we enjoyed dinner.
I feel like today was hard to explain in words so we'll include lots of pictures, maybe that will help.  Well, off to bed!  We are going to try are hardest to wake up around 5 tomorrow so we can hightail it to the famous trail town of Damascus.  We are 20 miles out so we want to get a good jump so we can enjoy town for the maximum amount of hours.  We're actually planning on taking a 0 day there on Monday which has been the carrot for these two ponies!  Good night!

Not the pony that bit me.

This pony stepped on Jamie.
Our Campsite on Whitetop

The cattle and the cowboys

Sunset from our whitetop campsite.

Just us

500 More miles!  We're practically done! That's nothing!

A beautiful view from the Grayson Highlands.