When Copper and I got to the car, mom and Renea refused to touch us for fear of catching some dread disease. We first rode to Shady Valley for a delicious pickle from the Country Store then on to Auntie’s Cottage in Damascus, right off the AT.
I couldn’t eat lunch until after I showered. After all that, and despite some remaining irritation between my thighs, I wanted to go for a walk.
We went to the Dollar General for a Mountain Dew (to be slushified in the freezer) and to the MRO for a new light for Cop’s collar, a new nalgene, and another canister of gas. I spent a bit of time in front of Dave’s Place where all the hikers I knew had gathered. Cricket and Trixie and Rocky and Dragon and Leprechaun and Crow and even Grace and Gloria’s husband and poodle.
Another acquisition at the Dollar General was a can of powder spray for my legs, which I waddled back home to apply as soon as possible. I felt better instantly. But nonetheless, I was done walking for a while, so I put Out Of Africa in the side of the TV and waited for the evening.
Then it was time to head back to the Blue Blaze Cafe (formerly Quincey’s Pizza) for karaoke. But first I had to color my mustache wax for going out.
Mostly it was crowds of hikers crooning old standards, but there were a few good solo performances.
Mine probably wasn’t one of the good ones.
That madness was enough for one night, since it was about to storm and Copper needed us home to make sure he didn’t destroy the furniture. We were planning to bike the Virginia Creeper early the next morning, but it kept raining all morning, so we pushed our appointment back until noon and headed out to see about getting my pack stitched back up where it was tearing apart. SunDog Outfitters said they didn’t know anyone closer than Boone who could do it, but a look in the Yellow Pages showed an upholsterer as near as Abingdon. Mr. Statzer said he was available as long as we got there by 11, so we took off for his place immediately. He stitched up my pack in five minutes and charged five bucks.
He had much bigger fish to fry. Such as this custom Hudson:
By the time we got back to Damascus, we were right on time to rent our bikes and catch our shuttle to Whitetop Station.
Now for a bit of history: Once upon a time, someone really really wanted there to be iron ore in them thar hills. In a fit of optimism, they named a mountain range the Iron Mountains, named an adjacent village Damascus (its Syrian counterpart being the iron capital of the Old World), and started grading a railroad to haul the iron ore from the mines to the city. Around then, they figured out that there was, in fact, very little iron ore to be had in them thar hills. Isn’t that iron-ic?
Another man bought them out and finished the railroad line, now for the purpose of hauling timber. The Iron Mountains have plenty of trees. The old steam locomotive running between Abingdon, VA and West Jefferson, NC earned the name Virginia Creeper because it climbed up to Whitetop nearly as slowly as the eponymous vine climbs a wall.
Around 1950, diesels replaced the steamers, and by the early ’70s, the line closed up for good. The National Park Service bought a large section between Whitetop and Damascus, and Damascus and Abingdon jointly took control of the section that ran between them. They tore out the ties and made a trail for horses, hikers, and bikes. From Whitetop to just outside Damascus, it’s all downhill.
We took it slow and easy to town, stopping often. We checked out a station that had briefly been a general store in the 50s and was still full of the wares. We even stopped for cake.
When we got back to town, I decided we’d check out PastaWench’s new restaurant, Mountain Manatee, which was full of crazy juices and vegan recipes.
After that, there was an excursion to Food City, and then I don’t remember what I did until supper appeared like magic, but it was all very good and filled me to the brim, with some left over to carry with me.
The next morning we had some country ham, scrambled eggs, and grits, and I took a long time packing. It was about an hour by car to Blowing Rock, where I would spend the day.
After a tearful goodbye, I sat in front of a coffee shop for hours, writing the last blog post and chatting. Then, when that closed, Cop and I walked down the street to a gas station and wine store and we sat for several more hours doing essentially nothing. I did eat a pint of Bourbon and Burnt Sugar ice cream, and I did buy a bottle of wine (Cheeseburger Red) and beer (some local dry-hopped IPA that ended up less hoppy than I expected) as gifts for Meaghan who, I was informed, would be providing supper. Finally, nine hours later, it was time for Jordan to get off work. He gave me a ride to his apartment, and we got there no sooner than 11.
Supper was a stir-fry, and we had a coconut cake for Erin’s birthday, and stayed up into the wee hours watching random episodes of Adventure Time. Copper slept with me on an air mattress that night.
The next day, we hung around all morning doing about the same as the previous night waiting for Erin’s lunch break. Then we finally left and picked her up from Wal-mart and took her to Hob Nob for brunch. I had superb huevos rancheros while the others had more lunchy things. Back at the apartment, I finished packing and we drove out to the Iron Mountain Trailhead.
I realized I’d forgotten to fill my water skin, so Jordan hiked back down the AT with me to fetch it from the spring, but we couldn’t take the direct route because a cop was blocking it, investigating an abandoned meth lab right beside the trail. I remembered seeing someone camping in a hammock in that spot the previous Thursday, but no idea if that was the person who found it or the person using it.
I finally got on the trail about 6pm, and hiked well into the night. It was starting to sprinkle when I reached Battleham Gap just shy of 421, so I through up a tent on a slight incline, getting Cop and everything else inside just before the rain.
I woke to pee in the middle of the night and found the entire tent floor a pool, and dunked the side of my bag in it in the process. It turns out my tent’s footprint was doing an excellent job of keeping the ground dry by ensuring all the rain ran down the hill between it and the bottom of the tent. I’ll definitely hook it up slightly differently the next time it rains (Wednesday night).
The next day I hiked the section between 421 and Damascus (which took me 1.5 days the last time I came this way, and it was just as steep and pretty as I remember. I took so many pictures the last time that I didn’t feel like taking any this time: the views were all the same ones, but there was less greenery in general, despite the fact that I came through in March last time. Part of that was a prescribed burn blackening the west side of the trail for more than a mile, but mostly it was this weird winter we’ve had this year. I also noticed it was much steeper on the downhills and less steep on the uphills than last time (as I hiked it southbound last time, and all the hills seem to aim their steep sides to the north).
I did stop and find the spring I camped near last time, and I think I found the campsite I dug out too:
Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell with 3 years of leaves and erosion. But it’s close if not.
I walked into Damascus around 7pm and went straight to Comet’s house. She let me stay in her yard last time and was just as willing this time. Her price is just right (nothing).
Today, I’ve just bummed around town since 6:45am, spending a good bit of time on the internet, showering, shopping, eating. It’s already 6pm, and I’m only just wrapping this post up. Sorry that not much hiking has happened, but I swear I’m about to start!