Good morning! Still in Damascus but heading out as soon as I post this. We were really wiped out after such a big week and stayed 2 nights but feel totally rested which is good. Also, this is the first time in town that I've felt really relaxed. Normally a town visit ends up being very busy with "town chores" - navigating your way around small towns (usually involved waiting for shuttle services), figuring out resupply needs, laundry, showers, phone calls.. usually doesn't leave too much time for good ole sitting around & resting. This time though, we got a lot done Saturday afternoon and had time yesterday to go swim in the river, lay in the grass, and drink some cold beers in the sun. We also did some ice baths for our feet last night and everyone is feeling great today. Since the library was closed yesterday, I started to write this post in my journal:
After 466.7 miles on the trail, the fatigue has really begun to set in. My feet ache almost every morning, especially by my arches, and usually look pretty swollen. I try to elevate them or invert (doing various upside down yoga poses) as much as possible, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. I think it was Wednesday morning, it started to really rain as we were packing up and my pack got soaked for the first time. I thought it was fine, until I realized in the afternoon that the back hip part of my pack was rubbing a bad rash on my back.. not pleasant. My knees are talking to me on an almost daily basis. I played soccer for 10 years and have generally been pretty active & athletic my whole life and never had any knee issues, but now I know what people talk about when they say their knees hurt. I'm really glad for my trekking poles and just try to be careful with them - especially going downhill.
Aside from the body aches & pains, there is a consistent general level of exhaustion and therefore an increased drive for efficiency. As we try to increase our mileage during the daylight hours, it's important to accomplish all our "camp chores" as quickly as possible to have time for as much sleep as possible. Its funny - walking 15+ miles every day with a heavy pack is the most physically demanding but also the simplest part of the day. When I get up in the morning, I try to do some quick yoga stretches in my tent - child's pose & cat/cow for my back. I squeeze a dollop of anti-bacterial gel on my hands and put in my contacts (no mirror!). Depending on how cold it is, I bundle up in my down jacket that doubles as a pillow while I sleep. I find my crocs & go use the bathroom and say hello to whoever is awake. Next usually is taking down the bear line - we all hang our food together. Bears aren't a huge threat in this area, but it's a good principle and also there are mice and other rodents that can get into it if we don't hang it. Depending on how much water I have, I usually go pump water in the mornings. I switched out my chemicals for a ceramic water filter. I feel much better about drinking clean, filtered, mountain water than pool tasting chlorine water, but it is a bit more annoying. Once I have my water & food bag, I light up my Jet boil and make some oatmeal & coffee. Yes that's right - haha after scoffing at all the New Yorker's that frighteningly asked "but what will you do about coffee?!" I am now an owner of the Jetboil French Press attachment & have some fancy Intelligencia coffee! Ha it's a bit luxurious but one of my favorite parts of my morning at home is making coffee and I love that I can now make it out here. I got the press & coffee last weekend in Boone. At about 400 miles, I was ready to make some slight changes to my gear. Most trail towns are small & rely on thru-hikers for their income. Boone is a good hour away from the trail, so when the staff found out I was thru-hiking, they got really excited. Everyone was super helpful and they gave me some great discounts - and also a free Nalgene!
Anyway, I'm really glad about having coffee in the mornings. The grounds aren't too bad to clean out and they make my food trash bag smell good (since usually the tuna packets get pretty stinky!) After having breakfast, which is always pretty social, I pack up my food bag and proceed to pack up my home. I love living like a vagabond - walking all day and then making a home in the woods, and then in the morning packing it all back up again. The last step is putting on my hiking shoes and hoisting up my pack. We usually all leave camp one at a time - I like to get going early and some of the guys like to have a more leisurely morning. We have a joke that when anyone heads on, everyone says bye by yelling out "See you in Maine!"
Once I get going hiking, I like to go a good 8 miles or so before stopping for a snack or lunch either at a pretty view or a shelter. The great thing about shelters is that aside from providing shelter to sleep under, they are great meeting spots during the day. There is almost always water at a shelter and sometimes a privy. The best thing though are the trail registers. In the world of instant communication, I love that out here the only way to communicate with hikers you aren't physically with is via word of mouth or in the trail registers. People sign in with the date, and will put a few lines about what they did that day, like "hiked 22 miles today, great view from that mountain" or "stopping in for lunch, headed on to this other shelter tonight." Sometimes its funny jokes or inspiring quotes. They are great though because you can see who of your friends is ahead and by how many days.
Anyway, I think that's as much as I'm going to write today - need to head on out of town! Should be in Atkins, VA in 4-5 days so I'll see if I can update then. This week we will hit our 500 mile mark (we've been singing the song "and I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more" pretty much everyday so we can't wait to get to that point!). Also we will pass the Grayson Highlands that have WILD PONIES!!!