Day 52: Winter is coming and an early trip to Damascus is arranged

Miles Hiked: 18.6
Miles Left: 1739.4
Ending Location: TN 91 road crossing, Woodchuck hostel in Damascus

We awoke this morning to severe weather advisories warning of heavy rains, 60 mph winds, and temperatures in the mid 40s starting at 11pm that night. Basically it was the type of conditions where you can go from fine to seriously hypothermic in about twenty seconds. Neither Owl or I wanted any part of that and since tenting wasn’t an attractive option because we were worried about falling branches we resolved to make it to Iron a Mountain shelter and ride out the storm there.

Today was our second dam crossing but this one was much less exciting than Fontana. It was basically a ginourmous pile of rubble the Tennessee Valley Authority threw up to dam up Watauga lake. After that it was a big climb followed by ridge line hiking the rest of the day. We briefly stopped by Vandeventer shelter to admire the Bob Peoples graffiti and the view. With it being right on the ridge, (and luckily pointed away from the wind), it was one of the better placed shelters we’ve seen so far.

We met up with Ramon a Shaman and Cheezits soon afterwards. They had arranged for a ride from the TN 91 road crossing to Damascus and with it being only four miles past the shelter that was a very enticing idea. Owl and I had resolved not to do another 18+ mile day again for a while, but when the alternative was being miserable in a shelter all night… So we tentatively agreed to go with them depending on how we were feeling when we hit Iron Mountain.

The four of us ended up hiking together to the road crossing of course. Like Owl and I ever let a few blusters get in the way of having burgers! It was funny because throughout the entire hike Sheila showed her sheep dog heritage by herding any of us who got too far away from the rest of the pack. Once at the road crossing we were picked up by Gypsy Dave. He used to be a food chemist, hiked the AT, and then realized he hated his job so he moved out here and now shuttles hikers and raises sheep. We met his wife the next day and she only half joked that this hike ruined him. That’s not the first story like that we’ve heard as it seems like many other through hikers have that problem. I guess that feeling must kick in after two months since I have no desire to move out to the country and start a farm.

We all arrived into town around 8:30 and our priorities were in order since we went to grab dinner before checking into our hostel. We ate at the Blue Blaze Cafe and I will say their portions were certainly hiker friendly. I don’t think anyone leaves there hungry. As the night went on more and more hikers arrived. The mountains were emptying as everyone tried to take shelter from the storm. Two of the hikers had pulled 38 mile days to get there and were treated like rock stars. One of them was Batman who we sheltered with the night before. For the record he arrived about three hours after we did so he was doing about twice our pace.

After that we checked in at Woodchuck hostel. It was another new hostel that just opened up this year but the owner Chuck was a former through hiker so he knew what to expect. The place is really nice and had memory foam beds, (!!!), so if you are looking for a place to stay I would highly recommend it.

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