Editor’s Note: Blue Ridge Outdoors contributor Chris Gallaway is currently thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. He will be periodically checking in with BRO and sharing the story of his hike. This is his fifth dispatch from the A.T. Read his other dispatches from the trail: A Cold Start, Trail Magic, Difficult Winter, Monuments, and Spring!
Experiences on the Trail are made richer by sharing them with people you love. That fact made this past weekend a highlight of my hike that I will carry with me forever. Last Thursday I was joined in Damascus, Virginia by Sunshine, my mom, and my brother (with his huskie Kaya) for an adventure on the AT. We staged our hike from the Lazy Fox Inn, sorting gear and distributing food for a three-day trek up to the Grayson Highlands. A heavy rainstorm serenaded us in sleep on Thursday night, but by Friday morning it was clearing into some of the most beautiful weather I have ever seen as we left Damascus and began climbing up the Appalachian Trail.
We walked through three days of idyllic Spring, following the Whitetop Laurel River (swollen from the recent rain) as we wound up through the hills outside of Damascus. We kept a leisurely pace, laying in a sunny field on the second afternoon and sleeping ourselves into a bit of sunburn. When the weather turned rainy atop the Grayson Highlands it only served to add a new aspect to our hike, shrouding the heath balds in a mysterious veil of fog. We all delighted in watching Kaya interact with the ponies there, first shivering with apparent nervousness and then greeting the little animals with equal curiosity and affection.
It was all too good to put into words. We walked down from the Highlands on Monday afternoon and rode bikes out of the clouds and into a sunny day down the Virginia Creeper Trail and back to Damascus. We celebrated with a cold dunk in the river behind the Lazy Fox, a toast of champagne, and a proper hiker pig-out at the Blue Blaze Cafe. The pleasure my family took in the hike and the wonder they experienced along the way produced some of the most vivid memories I will have from this long journey.
Now, as I sit in Mojo’s Cafe and prepare to resume my solo hike this afternoon, the weather outside is suited to my mood: gloomy, grey, rainy. It’s hard to go on alone after such a highlight experience, but I know that so much good awaits me. From here on out the Appalachian Trail will be entirely new to me—I’ve never walked a section of the AT from here to the end. I will watch Spring emerge along the way as I settle into a more typical hiker’s routine, planning my progress four and five days out, no longer meeting friends or family along the way. And so excitement and hope mingle with melancholy as I gear up for the next stage of the hike. Here’s to the continuing journey and the steps already laid!