In May, we had short trips to Damascus for Trail Days and also to the outer banks for a wedding.
Southwest Virginia is a gorgeous place and there was a solid list of places I wanted to return to on the 5 day trip.
We left on a Thursday and made it to The Homeplace in Catawba, Va for an all you can eat family style dinner of fried chicken, roast beef, pulled pork and sides. If you are ever in Roanoke or thru-hiking the AT or are even just passing through the area on 81, look this restaurant up. It’s open Thursday-Sunday for dinner 4-8pm. Expect to wait 1-2 hours for a table and for it to be worth it.
Catawba is just a mile or so from the trailhead for McAffee’s Knob on 311. It’s also not far from a few other AT trailheads. We picked one of those to stay for the rainy night. In the morning, Sara slept in, and I hiked up to Dragon’s Tooth in the rain.
It was cloudy the whole way but reminded me of previous visits with and without clouds.
We then drove to Blacksburg and went in to the Virginia Tech library. I hadn’t brought my computer for the trip, and this allowed me to use one for part of the time Sara would work that Friday. We grabbed a late lunch at Bull and Bones, which did not compare to The Homeplace.
We were both rather tired and pulled off for a few stops to break things up as we headed on to Damascus. We paid for a parking space from the town in the lot next to Trail Days’ tent city and set up for the night in a row of cars with AT license plates. We walked through the mostly shut down vendor area and found some food truck food.
We headed over to Damascus United Methodist Church where a talk by Jennifer Pharr Davis was giving a talk about her newest book The Pursuit of Endurance, which is definitely worth reading. She gave a background of her trail experiences, her record hikes, and a sampling of the powerful stories others had shared with her while writing her book.
We then stayed for Warren Doyle’s slideshow, which is decidedly old school. He emphasizes at every Trail Days that his focus is about the ideas, where as many aspects of this gathering are about ‘stuff’. By far the most frequent advice I share with aspiring thru-hikers is to read Warren’s two-page ‘AT Book’. It is always nice to hear from persons who have spent a life time learning from and educating about the trail.
The next day we puttered around the gear vendors and chatted with a few authors at their booths. We had a nice sandwich from the Yellow Deli food truck that had driven down from the northeast.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we drove up to the top of Whitetop Mountain not far from an AT crossing. We camped in the fog near the top of Virginia’s second highest peak.
The next morning we drove down to Greyson Highlands State Park. This is one of the first areas I ever backpacked on the AT and it is always a pleasure to return. Sara and I did a 9 mile hike to the top of Mt. Rogers carrying just a small waist pack with our nice camera, sparse snacks, and 2 water bottles.
Historically these grassy Highlands were grazed by herds of elk that were hunted to extinction by Americans. Without grazing, natural succession from grassland to forest would occur. In 1975, ponies were introduced to graze wild. Their population is monitored by park service and they roam ‘free’ within the park boundaries. Most refer to them as ‘wild’ ponies. The park pamphlet clarified they were technically ‘feral’ ponies because they descended from domesticated livestock.
It is a picturesque spot that is definitely worth walking through.
From here, we crossed up through Pearisburg to a national forest trailhead for both the AT and the Allegheny Trail, which I am interested in hiking again in June. There is about 30 miles of trail that are not completed and in the morning Sara drove while I inspected routes and options for directly connecting the entirety of the completed trail. The trail community maintains a list of several proposed routes for completing trail but all of those would remove small sections of the existing trail.
With the info from my prior hike of the trail and this morning drive, I was able to piece together the route I was looking for.
The next weekend, we headed down to the outer banks. We got a campground on Hatteras Island near the lighthouse for 3 nights.
We went for beach walks, climbed the lighthouse, and grabbed an indoor work session at the nearby Buxton Munch restaurant.
It was a challenge to stay cool even with the window bug screens. We cooked some hotdogs and veggies on the charcoal grill. We spent time in our beach chairs in the shade next to our car.
We had cold showers and got our things together for the ferry to Ocacroke Island. We brought our beach chairs out on the sand for the wedding ceremony.
We then enjoyed the reception before heading back towards the ferry, where we had narrowly missed the 10:30pm departure and had to wait until the midnight crossing.
On the drive out the next day, we stopped at Jockey Ridge State Park for a quick walk and lunch with family in Kitty Hawk before driving back to Virginia.