This past Sunday morning we were given a lift to Damascus, VA to pick up the Appalachian Trail by a nice couple from Danville, VA. We arrived there mid-afternoon and set to getting last minute supplies before hitting the trail.
We ended up hiking about 4.5 miles down the AT (crossing the Virginia/Tennessee border) - halfway through the hike it proceeded to start raining but there was nowhere to set up camp so we were forced to press on until nightfall, when we finally found a place semi-suitable to bed down for the night. Everything was damp/wet so starting a real fire was impossible...as it was we were barely able to find enough 'dry' tinder to make dinner in our hobo stove. I woke up several times that night cold despite temps being in the 50's (40's after factoring in the wind-chill). So much for the 20 degree rating my Coleman sleeping bag boasts to be!
The next morning we hiked another 5.5 miles before stopping at one of the shelters on the AT, where we set up at one of the camp sites in the vicinity. We gathered some water from a nearby stream to boil for food - which worked out well. That night it was a little easier to find tinder for the hobo stove but we were still unable to start a real fire. Another cold and restless night ensued and it was becoming difficult to keep a positive attitude about the whole experience.
We woke up to more rain and damp gear - thankfully the sun came out just before we started hiking again, which helped a little. 5 miles later we took a detour off the trail into a small town called Shady Valley to re-supply our food and water. It was a 3.5 mile trek on the road to get there...nothing but a blinking light, small restaurant, and general store that catered to bikers as opposed to hikers. Most of the local folk did not appear to be friendly to outsiders - thankfully the ladies running the restaurant (Jessica and Logan) were really nice, brewed a mean cup (or three) of coffee, and made the best burgers we've had in a very long time!
After eating and re-supplying Jessica gave us a ride to another AT trail-head (yes, we took a small short-cut but we DID hike those extra miles into town which I viewed as a good excuse...haha), where we hiked about another mile before finding a site to set up camp. For the first time since hitting the AT we were finally able to start a fire, relax, and talk without the stress of everything being damp and cold. Of course I froze my hind-quarters off that night (to the sound of cows mooing in the distance at a Shady Valley farm) - and when we woke up yesterday morning our rainfly lines were pulled out of the ground as if something (most likely a bear) had come through camp and tripped on them. I didn't hear anything and I'm still in one piece so for that I am thankful.
In sitting and talking, though, we decided that it might be in our best interests to get off the AT and start trying to find a way to get south faster on the road as opposed to the trail. There were no good views the whole time we were on it, it is cold and forcasted to frost this coming weekend, and I am currently sick with a cold. So we backtracked the mile hike to the road and started walking. About 5 miles down we got a ride into Elizabethton, TN (we had another 13 or so miles to go before reaching the town line and probably another 5-10 miles before getting to the part of town where anything was) - where we remain this morning. We invested in a hotel room so we would have a warm, dry place to sleep...plus I really wanted a bath!
I am sick, sore, tired, and a little worried about how we're going to get to a warmer climate before we freeze to death. I have faith, however, that things will work out. Despite all the hell we've been through over the past week and a half a lot of good has happened, too. We've met a lot of great people and things have fallen into place when we've needed them to.
We are at the point now where we are re-evaluating what we want from this trek - we've gone from too much society to too little. I think ultimately we have decided that we want to see the country but we don't want to suffer unnecessarily in order to do so. Sticking to roads as opposed to trails will allow us to be closer to basic necessities like food and water...while also affording us the opportunity to catch a lift here and there between stints of hiking on foot.
Hopefully it will also allow me more opportunities to post to the blog and get better photos of the various landscapes!