DAMASCUS -TWO RIVERS RUN THROUGH IT

river trail cabin drivewayOur Summer Vacation – Night 2

Less than 24 hours after our arrival, I was in love with Damascus, Va.  Know what pops up if you Google “Friendliest Town on the Appalachian Trail”?

That’s right.  Damascus, Virginia.

About the only thing I did NOT love about Damascus was our AT&T phone service.  There was none.  That made reestablishing contact with my wife after my bike ride a challenge.   Our only method of contact was for me to find wi-fi, send her a text, and hope she also was someplace with wifi.

Off I walked to the Food Town grocery store, a known wi-fi hot spot.  That’s where my wife, my brother and I had an economical  and tasty breakfast that morning.  In Damascus, virtually everything is within walking distance.  Even Mt. Katahdin, Maine – some 1500 miles to the north – is within walking distance for determined northbound thru-hikers passing me on the sidewalk.

From a rocking chair in front of Food Town I reestablished contact with my wife. She was miffed because she had driven back to the bike shop where she THOUGHT I would be, unaware that I had actually switched to another bike shop with an earlier shuttle to Mt. Rogers.

Did I mention the phone service sucks?

It was now time to check in to our home for night 2, described as a “secluded cabin next to a rushing mountain stream.”  We had booked it on Airbnb, our very first time using that service.

My wife was a little grumpy as she pulled up to the curb in front of my Food Town rocking chair to pick me up, but that would soon change.  Our “secluded cabin” turned out to be right next door to Food Town and it improved her attitude considerably.  It was hidden down a driveway in a grove of trees overlooking the Virginia Creeper Trail and Laurel Creek, the same creek I had followed down from Mt. Rogers on my bike.

The interior of our cabin was beautiful, but the deck was magnificent.  Hidden in the treetops, the deck overlooked the Virginia Creeper Trail and the swift, noisy, much bigger Laurel Creek just after its confluence with Beaver Dam Creek.  I could, and did, sit there every idle minute soaking up the “sounds of silence, Mother Nature-style

Look & Listen for yourself.  We had TV, but who needed it?  Bravo, Airbnb!

For dinner, we picked up Jed, Orlando, & Free Bird and headed to the Old Mill Inn a few blocks from our cabin.  On the way we made stops for our passengers at the drug store & post office.  They could have walked, but “riding in a car is a bit of a novelty for us now” observed Free Bird.

Our table for dinner was, by choice, very noisy.

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Free Bird & Orlando at our dinner table
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The View of Laurel Creek from my  dinner chair at the Old Mill Inn, Damascus,Va.

Too soon the evening came to an end.  After dinner we dropped Jed, Orlando and Free Bird off at the Appalachian Trail Town Inn, and headed to our Cabin.  9 pm is jokingly referred to by weary hikers as “hiker midnight”.  It’s might also be called, not so jokingly, “Baby Boomer” midnight.

Back to our Cabin beside the Laurel River, we were quickly awash in sensory delights. From our comfortable perch on our deck, a stone’s throw from the water, we relaxed to the soothing sound of water rushing over and around the rock-strewn creek bed.  As the air cooled and the evening light slowly faded to darkness, the words of a country song came to mind:

If heaven was an hour, it would be twilight.

No argument here.

Snuggling With My Sweetie on the Appalachian Trail

Our Summer Vacation – Night 1

First night on the road I rarely sleep well.  Our first night in Damascus, Va. was no exception.  Though the accommodations were clean & modern, my wife and I shared a three-quarter size (think “over-sized twin”) bed.  I was hemmed in against two walls and my wife.  My only avenue of escape during the night was over the metal railing at the end of the bed (risky) or over my sleeping wife (more risky).

We were gonna snuggle whether we liked it or not.

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Our special “Virginia is for Lovers – not Sleepers” Bed

Day 1 ended pleasantly with us meeting our fellow hostel mates, thru-hikers all on the Appalachian Trail.  We met Free Bird from Denver (formerly from Albuquerque), Orlando, from Orlando, and Stickum who was pretty quiet and I never found out where he was from.  To qualify as a “thru-hiker” one must be in the process of hiking the entire A.T. within 12 months.

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Thru-Hikers (l-r) Free Bird, Orlando, Jed & & my snuggle buddy Val

Almost all hikers on the A.T. go by “trail names” instead of their real name.  While most trail names are assigned by fellow hikers, my brother picked his own.  He is Jed Morgensen.  That is the name he gave the imaginary cowboy friend he played with when he was a little kid. On the trail, he is typically referred to as “Jed”.

In case you are not familiar with the Appalachian Trail, it extends 2,192 mountainous miles through 14 states.  Though Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains boasts the highest elevation on the trail at 6,643 ft, successfully hiking the entire trail is the equivalent of climbing (and descending) Mount Everest 16 times.  On average, it takes 165 days to complete the trail.  Since towns are infrequent, hikers carry everything they need to survive on their backs.  Water is filtered from streams.  The world is your toilet because actual toilets, even primitive ones, are spaced about a day’s hike apart.  If you are lucky.

One trail guide I read advised hikers to leave all toiletries except toothbrush and toothpaste at home.  Their rationale?  You’re gonna stink no matter what you do so there is no sense carrying the extra weight.

I hope I am not making this sound so exciting & adventurous that the A.T. is suddenly flooded with an influx of new hikers irresistibly drawn by my romantic description of life on the trail.  If past statistics hold up, about 1 in 4 of the 3,024 thru-hikers registered as of June 19, 2018 will complete the trail within 12 months.

There are plenty of highlights along the trail.  The views are breathtaking!  So, if you go, don’t forget to glance up once in a while from swatting mosquitos, scratching tick bites, and keeping a watchful eye out for bears and rattlesnakes to enjoy the view.  If it’s not too foggy. Or raining.

Another bright spot?   You can consume approximately 5,500 calories a day and still lose weight!

Incredibly, my brother took a guitar along.  No, he doesn’t carry it.  He mails it ahead to himself from town-to-town along the trail.  It cost’s about $40 each time but we all have things we like to splurge on that make us happy.

And the Post Office can use the money.

As hiker midnight (9 pm) came and went on our first night, the soft sounds of a guitar and my brother’s melodious voice filled the comfortable confines of the Appalachian Train Town Inn.

My brother is having the time of his life.  And so is Jed.

It was good to see him again.

I mean “them”.

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The Road to Damascus

Our Summer Vacation – Day 1

On June 5, my wife and I embarked on a two week roadtrip that would cover 3800 miles and take us through 9 states.  Our first goal was to track down my brother, Richard.  He had been hiking the Appalachian Trail since March 4.  We hoped our paths would cross in Damascus, Va.

Car loaded and 24 oz cups of coffee in hand, we headed east from Jefferson City.  In St. Louis, Google maps took us on a bit of a strange urban route, but we survived.  South on I-55 to Cape Girardeau where we turned left on a two-lane road east toward Cairo, Il..  Just across the Illinois line a passing car threw up a rock and chipped our windshield.

Welcome to Illinois!

For 20 miles we followed a woman with her left-turn blinker on. I’m sure at some point she turned left, but not before we finally got around her as we entered Whitehaven, Ky.

Our plans were to spend the night in the vicinity of Knoxville.  A phone call from my brother as we were navigating Nashville changed those plans

“You got a place to stay tonight?” he asked.

“Nope” I responded. “We booked a place on Airbnb for tomorrow night but we didn’t know how far we would make it tonight.

“Well, I’m in Damascus and I have a place in a newly-remodeled hostel.  It’s $50 and they only have one room left.  If you want it I will have them reserve it for you” my brother offered.

“Sounds good!” I said, and I heard him talking to the proprietor in the background.

“Correction: It’s $50 PER PERSON” my brother clarified.  Didn’t sound quite as good but we took it.

We got food to go at a Chick-fil-a in Nashville and got back on Interstate 40.IMG_E0451

As the trip odometer passed 700 miles we entered beautiful southern Virginia.  Before dark, we were parked in front of the Appalachian Trail Town Inn in Damascus, Va.  My brother was waiting on the front porch.

It had been over 3 months since I had seen him.  In that time he had hiked over 700 miles carrying a 30+ pound pack from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Damascus, Va.  He had lost 30 pounds, grown a beard, and had endured the coldest Spring in years on the Appalachian Trail.

My wife and I had traveled approximately that same distance since we left home at 6 am that morning – and maybe gained a pound or two on all the snacks we packed.

We were about to get up close and personal with the A.T.  It goes right down the main drag in Damascus and passed within a few dozen yards of our bedroom window.

My wife and I unpacked more luggage than everyone else in the place – combined – and set about to get acquainted with our hostel mates.

IMG_0119  My brother, Richard Reece, aka Jed Morgensen

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A picture of the Appalachian Trail Town Inn taken from the Appalachian Trail