Despite the threat of rain, Rocky and I left Johnson City, TN in route to a trailhead at Cross Mountain on TN 91 near Shady Valley. I was a little nervous about parking because Google Maps did not show any distinctive places, but we found ample parking right at the trailhead. I selected this spot because it was totally in Tennessee and it meandered through wide open pastureland. The clouds gave a nice cover from the sun but withheld any raindrops from falling on our heads (There are some great lyrics for a good country song in there somewhere). The 3- mile hike was easy with beautiful views of the mountains surrounding the fields. Rocky and I successfully climbed over a couple of stiles as we avoided cow patties along the way. There were no cows in the fields to sing to, but we heard their mooing off in the distance. Returning to the trailhead, Rocky and I walked (SOBO) toward Iron Mountain Shelter for a couple of miles. The forest was so much different than the open pasture – both so beautiful in their unique ways.
We piled our packs and trekking poles in the car and headed down TN 91 to Damascus, Virginia. The half-hour drive was still back roads, but the curves were not as bad as yesterday and the seasickness pills were unnecessary. The trail town of Damascus is the site of Trail Days held every May which boasts as being the largest event of the AT with reunions, talent shows, music, and a hiker parade. Rocky and I gather a few Passport stamps including Dave’s Place, a hostel where I slept during my 2014 thru-hike. Before heading out for a hike north of the city, we stopped in a wonderful little shop called “It’s a God Thing, Too.” This thrift shop is the ministry of One Way Baptist Church in town. Rocky found a couple of purses, a pair of sandals, and some snazzy shorts, but the biggest reward of the shop was meeting Kim and Gail. These two sweet women were volunteers who love the Lord and have such an impactful ministry in this trail town. They shared about the light they share with the community and the thru-hikers throughout the year. They have a special ministry of hospitality during Trail Days. They invited us to return next year and help share the light.
Rocky and I walked through the town and ended up hiking some of the Virginia Creeper Trail as it junctional with the AT. As we left the VA. Creeper Trail and headed north on the Appalachian Trail, it began to gently rain. The canopy kept us surprisingly dry, but the moisture created a tropical rainforest effect on the path. Our glasses began to fog up and the sweat began to roll. We climbed for a mile or two before turning around and retracing our steps back to Damascus.
Driving 12 miles out of Damascus, we came to I-81, which was quite a change from the narrow, tight turns of the twisty country roads of yesterday. The drive up I-81 led us to the exit for Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The AT crosses right in front of the Visitor Center. We stopped at the center to get a Passport stamp and then headed down the trail. In 0.2 miles we arrived at Partnership Shelter (one of the few shelters on the AT where you can order pizza delivery). At the shelter, we met a young man (and his dog) who was section hiking and about to get off the trail to celebrate his birthday. About a mile and a half down the trail it began to rain again. Rocky and I turned around and about halfway back we were surprised by a loud thunderclap. We noticed how much faster we walk when under pressure. Arriving safely back at the welcome center, we slid into our Old Faithful Toyota and made our way to Marion, Virginia.
We stopped at a wonderful restaurant that Rocky found online called the Sisters Café and Gifts. Our waitress was so gracious and friendly. We enjoyed some delicious food and a piece of pie that was as far away from Whole-30 as you can get, but worth every calorie. They invited me to sign a wall in the restaurant devoted to thru-hikers. Rocky and I relaxed after a good day of hiking, laughed at all our inside jokes, and left the Sisters Café full and content.
We have arrived at our hotel for the evening and look forward to Grayson Highlands and the wild ponies tomorrow.