Damascus Virginia is definitely one of the most famous trail towns on the AT. It is home to the Trail Days festival, which hosts upwards of 10,000 visitors, and claims to be the most hospitable village for outdoor enthusiasts. Like so many towns on the AT, Damascus is literally ON the trail. The main drag of Damascus has a brick sidewalk adorned with a white painted bricks every 10 or so feet which marks the trail. Store fronts, telephone poles, mail boxes, and even coke machines are pasted with white blazes. The towns residents are mostly hikers and other folks involved with the trail and the majority of folks there will gladly open their homes to you or let you camp on their lawns if you spark their interest or offer some sort of work for stay service. There is a large river running through the town (like so many other towns) and there is excellent trout fishing throughout. Fly fishing and spin casting rental shops will outfit you for some of the best fishing in the state.
Arriving in Damascus, we were pumped. For one, its Damascus, it's a landmark. But beyond that, the hike into Damascus has a conveniently placed shelter at exactly 26.2 miles from town. Many people (including us) choose to do their first marathon day here, also known as the Damascathon. 26.2 miles takes an average marathon runner about 3-4 hours. But our marathon didn't take place on pavement with outstretched arms offering little cups of Gatorade and water. The trail is fairly forgiving on this particular stretch so I won't afford us too much credit for the achievement, but the fact of the matter is that we schlepped a 30+lb pack over 26.2 miles of mountains. We were pretty god damn proud of ourselves. We proceeded to celebrate.
There are a myriad of accommodation options in Damascus. The cheapest of which (and consequently most popular) is "The Place". A Methodist hostel run by a curious fella named Bayou. The Place can host 30 hikers indoors and as many tents as you can cram onto their 2 acre lot. They only ask for a $6 donation, but as we checked in with Bayou it soon became clear why The Place was so affordable. As we walked through the hostel getting the run-down of how everything works, we came to a common area with an unmissable list of rules painted in 3 inch letters on the wall. I did not take the time to record the rules verbatim so I could relay them to you but let's just say we were inundated with grade-school rules including: "lights out at 10pm" Bayou went on to elaborate that headlamps were permissible as long as you were completely silent. "no drinking, no smoking, no drugs" the bright boys had been kicked out of the hostel the night before for being in possession of an empty beer can on the property. We were also told that if we wanted to smoke we had to go completely off the property and across the street. A bit excessive but I guess beggars can't be choosers. My favorite rule (and by that I mean the most inconvenient rule of all time) was the 10-12 rule; wherein hikers are not allowed to go into the hostel between 10am and 12pm so that Bayou can clean the floors. We sorta figured if we had our hands full of grocery bags that perhaps he would let us in to drop our stuff off or just grab our packs quickly so we could situate ourselves outside. Nope. Nobody gets in during these hours. Firm. No matter how inconvenient it may be to you, you are NOT getting into that hostel. Bayou makes it very clear that he has an "intimate" relationship with the local police (I laughed outloud) and as such he reserves the right to kick out anyone he likes for any reason and will call the cavalry if they don't leave. We didn't test it. We just sat on the porch with our grocery bags for 111 minutes while he had his alone time.
After a few nights of debauchery in Damascus we decided it was time to at least head out of town to a nearby camp site to avoid a second zero day. Novy has been awaiting the arrival of his telescoping Tenkara fly rod (rod with no reel, ideal for backpacking) so we chose to capitalize on the healthy trout fishery by taking the Virgina Creeper Trail out of town. The Creeper is an 18 mile trail that runs from Damascus north to White Top mountain where it rejoins with the AT. The trail is an old repurposed railroad which runs along a pretty unbelievable river and is typically used for biking. The town rents bikes to hikers and other outdoor tourists and drops them off at the summit of White Top so they may ride downhill back to Damascus. Being that we are headed north, we hiked against the flow of bikers, stopping every mile or so to see if Novy (or anyone else willing to try their hand) could pull some trout out of the river. Unfortunately we had no luck but the camp sites along the river were pretty awesome. It was not a regrettable blue blaze*.
*Blue blaze: side trails which intersect with the AT are marked with a blue swatch on the trees instead of white which signify the AT. Often times blue blazing is looked upon unfavorably by the purist thru hiker because it generally entails a shorter hike or less intense terrain. Although this is usually the case, if there is a blue blaze trail, there is probably something worth seeing on that trail. Granted a side trail may not always rejoin with the AT so it is important to know whether or not you must turn around to return to the AT or keep pushing until you reach another intersection.
While I'm explaining different types of blazes...
Yellow Blazing: Driving. Often hikers who are with a group must yellow laze ahead to rejoin with their companions if they are sick or hurt. Some hikers are simply uninterested in traversing a certain section and choose to yellow blaze ahead to avoid strenuous terrain. Of course, this plan of attack is not viewed as legitimate thru hiking.
Aqua Blazing: When NOBO hikers reach certain rivers which flow north, they can opt to rent canoes or kayaks from outfitters and aqua blaze a certain portion of the trail. As it stands, our plan from Waynesboro, VA is to rent canoes and Aqua Blaze 50-75 miles north on the Shanendoah River. I must admit my excitement about this, sounds like a really fun way to break up the 550 miles of Virginia.
Pink Blazing: Due to the imbalance of female hikers on the AT (especially where we're hiking early in the season) many male hikers choose to follow a female or group of females for a certain period to rectify this imbalance. Often sacrificing their itinerary or daily distance goals to do so.
Brown Blazing: Because hikers don't generally adhere to a well rounded diet (fresh food doesn't pack well) and will inevitably ingest bacteria from rivers and streams; nature can call with only a moments notice. Some days seem as though they are filled with nothing but trips to the privy or your favorite stump. The routine of pulling off trail to lighten your pack weight many times throughout the day was thus dubbed "Brown Blazing".
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