MAY2017 | Trail Days Hike
Dennis Cove, Tennessee – Damascus, Virginia
Mileage : 50+
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On May 16th, Josh “Trail-Daddy”Belcher, Chris “Daddy’$Money” Russell, and I travel the 6hrs or so from Alabama to Damascus, Virginia to bring about a year’s worth of anticipated plans.
Flashback to May, 2016…, I vicariously attended (in my mind) Trail Days 2016 after pouring through my friend’s (Benny Braden ) pictures. I had wanted to go since discovering the festival in 2014 through one of my typical YouTube binger of various hiking videos… So, I made up my mind…I would not miss Trail Days 2017 in Damascus Virginia.
The planning began… I put together a 50.7 mile hike plan over four days putting me in Damascus by Friday morning for the start of Trail Days. Naturally, I invited my normal crew. Per normal custom with our group, some immediately committed…, some throw-out a “maybe…,” and a few unfortunately stated they “couldn’t go…” After a few commits fell away, I was left with my more than normal crew of Josh B. and Chris R.
TRAVEL DAY / TRAIL DAY 1 | May 16 Tuesday
5.7 miles Dennis Cove – Pond Flats
The three of us, headed north through east Tennessee surprisingly reaching our Virginian destination of Damascus quicker than anticipated.
Once we got to town, we go immediately to Mount Rogers Outfitters. I had secured us a driver to shuttle us the 1hr back down into Tennessee; specifically Dennis Cove where Laurel Falls Trailhead and the Appalachian Trail is located.
I had left off at this location 2 years earlier in a 40+mile AT hike from Carver’s Gap….so it was great to pick up where I had left off. After donning our Zpacks Arc Blast backpacks (Josh :15lbs, Chris: 20lbs, Mine:17lbs) around 3:30pm, we make great time getting to Laurel Falls.
After sitting and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the this iconic AT waterfall, we decide to hike as far as we can due to getting to the trail earlier than expected.
Additionally, with the time change, we had some extra daylight to work with as it didn’t get dark until 8pm or so.
Making it all the way to Pond Mountain Flats campsite and after assisting two young unprepared hikers, we set up camp with the evening’s western light fading into a beautiful east Tennessee night’s sky.
Our original plan was to only hike 1.9 miles. However, we had made it 5.7 miles. This being ahead of schedule would prove to be beneficial to our hike over the next 2 days.
With the evening’s nightfall, we cooked dinner and eagerly made plans to be on the trail early the next morning in order to hike in the cool of the morning.
After dinner, we all somewhat clean-up our sweaty bodies and retire for the evening with cool 3,730ft breezes blowing through our shelters.
TRAIL DAY 2 | May 17 Wednesday
24.3 miles Pond Flats – TN91 Pasture area
We all wake up well before the dawn’s first light to break down camp. We benefited from the 75% waning moon’s light on this clear early morning.
We get on the trail and I take point to clear spider webs. It was obvious, we were the first on the trail for this day as the webs were extremely visible against my black shirt.
Making quick time descending off of Pond Mountain, we reach the oft-pictured Shook Branch swimming and picnic area (1975 ft) on Watauga Lake. We off-load any trash we had and re-up on water from a clean-water spickett .
Staying by the lake, we weave in and out of flowering trees and bushes. This created a delightful smelling lakeside hike all the way to Watauga Dam.
Having seen many pictures of this dam, it was nice getting to hike over it myself. We ascend out of the valley toward Vandeventer Shelter (3,563ft) for lunch. By this point, we had managed to get in a small thru-hikers’ bubble, meeting some colorful and fun characters. We would go on to hike all the way into Damascus with this bubble…having a good time on and off the trail.
Our initial plan was to camp around the trailside Nick Grindstaff memorial monument; giving Josh B. his highest total mileage day at 20 miles. However, after arriving there, we decided we had too much daylight left and needed to push on. Chris R. came up with an awesome plan to order a pizza to be delivered at the TN91 Trailhead. There was a small town just a few miles away so why not try!!! Once we reached the trailhead, we had enough service to Google pizza places close to us.
Ahhhhh…..success…only to find out no one delivered there. Refusing to give up, Chris finds a third party delivery service that will…for a nominal fee of course. One hour later…, we are dining on a large supreme pizza and a large cheese pizza; eating to our fill.
After giving our trash to a shuttler that was dropping a hiker off, we get back on the trail hike through a well manicured pasture full of all type of cattle breeds.
As the evening’s light was quickly escaping us, we break back into the tree-line to secure a camp area.
We soon find a flat area to set up camp and on this night, we drift off asleep with a delightfully full belly of pizza to the sounds of mooing cows.
TRAIL DAYS 3 | May 18 Thursday
20.2 miles TN91 Pasture Area – Damascus, VA
We wake again early to start our day just before the morning’s first light. We had made our minds up on the previous day that we were going to go ahead and hike into Damascus a day earlier than originally planned.
Our friend, Benny Braden, was in communication with us that he would be getting into town on Thursday evening. So we definitely wanted to hook back up with him. Plus we had planned to camp close to the vendors’ area and not at (or around) Tent City.
The vendors are allowed to camp near the creek area close to their vendor tents in the town park…so we were officially the Team Zpacks roadie set-up crew; helping the Zpacks sales crew (Joe, Will “Redbeard”, Matt, Steph, Buzz, & Benny).
Our third trail day consisted of rolling ridge-hiking through out the day. A we got closer to Damascus, I had all but forgotten we would be crossing over from Tennessee into Virginia until we came upon a small faction of the thru-hiker bubble that we had been a part of since Pond Mountain. They were huddled closely to the all important sign declaring your arrival into Virginia. Shortly after crossing the stateline, we descend down into the self proclaimed, “Friendliest Trail Town” of Damascus, Virginia; or better known as “Trail Town USA.
Immediately, as we breach out of the woods, we are greeted by an One-Way Ministry Canopy Tent giving us water, snacks, a map, an itinerary of events, and a list of services provided for hikers.
What a welcome only 20 yards or so out of the woods. Terrific ministry opportunity too! After speaking with them for 15 or so minutes, we stay on the trail that runs through the middle of town.
We make our way to a taco restaurant called “Hey Joe’s” to await our friend Benny B’s arrival. He was going to beat the rest of Team Zpacks into town, so we hung out at “Hey Joes” for a while.
While there, within minutes, people were coming up to him congratulating him for breaking the GSMNP 900miler record. He graciously accepted their praises with his usual humbleness and gratitude.
After we had finished our drinks and quick snacks, we make straight-away to our planned camp area to have the choice site.
Wow….did we ever get the choice-site…right next to Beaver Dam Creek. What a relaxing camp area it proved to be in a busy festival area. After setting up our tents (2 Zpacks Camo Duplexs, a Big Agnes Seedhouse, & a Hummingbird Hammock) we hung out in our camp area well into the evening waiting on the rest of Team Zpacks to arrive from Florida.
After a hour or so, they let Benny know they are almost there, so we go to the vendor area to await their arrival. Shortly after…, they pull up and pile out of their vans. Chris, Josh, and I finally got to meet these guys we had followed on YouTube thru-hikes and bought a large quantities of their proven products.
Their plans were to just set up their tents and get some rest so they could get up early first thing the next morning to set up their specific vendor area they were assigned.
I retire to my Zpacks Duplex and doze off listening to the water of the creek rushing and shushing over the various smooth river rocks that provided unsuccessful obstacles for the water to flow over, around, and through causing a peaceful…relaxing sound.
TOWN DAY 1 | May 19 Friday
10+ miles of town walk
Trail Days 2017 festival events I wake up early per my normal routine and make myself a cup of coffee. I am the first one to awake, so I hang out by the creek until everyone’s tents start birthing its occupants one by one.
Once I see they all are starting to get all of Zpacks products out of the vans, I offer my assistance like any good roadie would do. We place vendor canopy tents, haul boxes back and forth, and set up additional ZPack tents.
Even while we all were getting everything set up, customers were already coming in to get an up close and personal look at the offerings.
I had planned to get my father-in-law an Arc Blast backpack (as a gift…shhhhh….) per my mother-in-law’s instruction.
He informed me just a week prior he was contemplating a 2019 AT thru-hike and the what better backpack to get than the Zpacks Arc Blast as he prepares.
I was able to get him a brand new gray Arc Blast for $50 off! That’s the benefit of attending Trail Days…discounted gear!
After hanging out for a while, I purchase a Zpacks t-shirt and would’ve gotten a hat if they would’ve had a black on black hat. Red beard told me they would probably be doing that color pattern next year, so I guess I will just have to wait…
Eventually, I go to Chris’ tent to see if he is alive due to it being well after 9am. I stick my head in his tent to see and he flips over just waking up. He had been sleeping so hard, he didn’t even know what time it was…. He gets dressed and we go to the food vendor area to find some breakfast.
After getting breakfast, we go back to the vendors’ area to explore all of the vendors’ offerings, enter contests, and meet other YouTube hiking stars.
Later on that evening after the sun goes down, we venture over to Tent City and enter that zoo just to see if what we had heard about it was true. We get to experience the traditional drunken bonfire, drum-line, and second-hand marijuana smoke (hahaha…).
After hanging out at the bonfire for a while, we make our way “Into The Woods.” “Into The Woods” is where things have the opportunity to get really wild…, but we never experience anything too wild. We walk around and talk to a lot of people. One person particular we spoke to was a member from “Riff-Raff” and to our surprise, he described a sort of self controlling governance there in Tent City.
It was an interesting place to visit…but I would not want to camp there! After about 1.5 hours in and around Tent City, we decide to go back to our peaceful and wholesome creekside camp to relax and eventually succumb to our 10+ mile day tiredness.
What a better place to sleep away the tiredness, than next to lovely Beaver Dam Creek.
TOWN DAY 2 | May 20 Saturday
10+ miles of town walk (AGAIN!)
Trail Days 2017 festival events
Once again I awake easily to the sounds of our creekside camp and I once again was the first one up, so I perched on a rock close to the water in order to make my morning coffee.
The water on this morning was so peaceful.
While sitting there watching the creek flow, I couldn’t help to think of the old hymn, “It is well…” specifically the verse, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It was a worshipful time of meditation with my GOD. I was glad to had the opportunity to experience the solitude and communion with GOD on this beautiful morning.
Shortly…after, my campmates tents started giving up their occupants to join me in my creekside bliss. We decided to meander around the vendor area one last time looking for free swag.
The Farm-To-Feet crew told us the previous day to come back on Saturday morning to get a free pair of their socks. So…, we did exactly as they had instructed.
Chris and I both, for the free pair, had to be willing to go on video describing why we love hiking. So we did just that….
After we had gotten our freebie, we went back to break down our camp. We would be traveling back to Alabama today after the traditional festival-ending thru-hiker parade.
A few hours later, we position ourselves out in the intensifying rain on the Main street where the parade takes place. The locals have a tradition of spraying the Thru-Hikers with water guns due to them smelling so badly.
Well today, GOD got into the action by sending rain during the parade. After the last group came through the end of the parade, we stood around hoping the rain would subside.
To the detriment of all of us getting soak, I volunteer to walk the mile back to the truck seeing how I was the only one with a rain jacket. So I set out with others braving the rain and by the time I get to my truck, my shorts and shoes were soaked.
I get into my truck and change clothes before driving over to pick up the guys where they were holed up; keeping dry.
On the way there, I see two thru-hikers looking for a quick ride back to Tent City, so I stop for them to get in the back of my truck. I quickly run them to their destination and continue on to get the guys.
When I pull up, they dart into the truck avoiding the flooding streets. As we make our way out of Damascus a vow was made to return next for next year’s Trail Days.
We had a great trip and great time meeting YouTube Hikers we all follow, vendors we follow (and buy products), and experiencing the festival known simply as…TRAIL DAYS.
Oh…, we got to hike a 50+ mile section of the AT too…! Hahaha…
Whether you are an AT thru-hiker or a section hiker, you understand the romantic draw to this event. Everything is centric to the trail, trail life, and anything pertaining to the trail.
The planning and anticipation for Trail Days 2017 lived up to what we had expected.
Even before leaving this year’s festival, we were already planning for Trail Days 2018.
So next year…we will be positioning ourselves 55 miles to the north of Damascus, hiking southbound in 2 days.
The count is…on!
Thanks Damascus for the great time…you are definitely a great trail town!
See you all in Damascus next year! JBEN (aka – “Johnny Cash” )