Stats: 50.5 miles; 842 cumulative
The start to the day is just as hard as I imagined it. Right outside Council, the route goes up and over Big ‘A’ Mountain, and pretty much from the moment I leave the park at 7 a.m. I’m in my lowest gears. Then a stretch walking. Then back in the lowest gears. It kind of sucks.
Breakfast will be in Honaker, on the other side of the mountain, ten miles into the day. So there is some incentive. The climb turns out to be shorter than I was expecting. The 3.3 mile route to the summit takes me 33 minutes. Then it’s a downhill rush into town, which I pull into 50 minutes after starting.
I’m not sure what kind of food I’ll find, so I eat some Chex Mix and Snickers at the first gas station I see, then end up getting a sausage biscuit and coffee (it was actually chilly this morning) at a place on the far end of town. I look over the elevation profile for the day as I sip; I’ve got several formidable climbs, culminating with a 1000’ climb up Clinch Mountain before Hayter’s Gap (great name). It’s only fifty miles to Damascus, however, my destination for the day.
The less-impressive climbs up to Rosedale end up being worse than Clinch Mountain. The latter, while long, has plenty of switchbacks and an incline that, while steep enough to force one into one’s lowest gears, is also gentle enough to dissuade one from walking (for the most part). At times, however, there are the utterances that come on most climbs – there’s what I like to refer to as the “expletive of the day” along with the old stand-bys “Ouch!” and “Ow!”
At the top of the road, which puts me over 3000 feet for the first time on the trip, there’s one sign marking the county line and another warning to stick to 25 miles per hour around the curves going downhill for the next four miles. I’m dying for a long, straight downhill where I don’t have to ride the brakes – my max speed of 44.4 miles per hour was set back in Illinois.
Following the descent, it’s up and down to Meadowview, where I can relax for the day, knowing that the worst of the climbs are before me. It’s a series of winding back roads to Damascus. Ever since Hindman, KY, the route has been marked by Bicycle Route 76 signs, so I don’t have to check my map obsessively for directions.
Damascus replaces Berea as my most-anticipated arrival of the trip. In the case of the latter, I was wrapping up my first complete TransAm map and hitting the mountains, but here I’m rolling into a town that’s captivated me for years. Damascus is the town in which the TransAm intersects with the Appalachian Trail, stretching 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine. I love the AT and the practice of thru-hiking; two summers ago, I spent the summer living and working at milepost 1742 in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Damascus, the host of “Trail Days” each May, is one of the most famous towns along the trail, and it’s a joy to come through on a journey of my own. I was in town briefly in June on my way to Fort Knox, when I came through after hiking nearby Mt. Rogers, Virginia’s state highpoint, but this arrival means a lot more.
My early start, combined with the fact that I still managed to average 12 miles an hour on the day, means it is just a little after noon when I arrive. Normally I would contemplate going on, but I promised myself I would stay in Damascus. First I hit up the library for my first Internet access since Hindman and get a blog post up.
Afterwards, I make my way over to “The Place” – the famed downtown Damascus hostel for AT hikers and TransAm cyclists (far more hikers than cyclists). It’s an expansive place – six or seven rooms with three or four wooden bunks to a room. Every element of it screams hiking, and I love it.
Unfortunately, I’ve kind of come through during hiker “shoulder season” – it’s quite late for northbounders and pretty early for southbounders. I share the house with one section-hiker.
I sign the logbook. Most people just write a name/trail name and maybe a couple words, but every so often there are long/profound/rambling observations. A few favorites, all from hikers (compare these to those at the church in Booneville):
5/30: “Time to hit the dusty trail. Also time to put in more miles in Virginia than I’ve put in the last three states.”
6/7: “Reality is a symposium of thoughts from the collective. I couldn’t, and I doubt now that any one person could, possibly relate to you what reality is. Other than just saying that reality is relative, it’s a hard thing to put your finger on, from this standpoint.”
5/22: “This place smells like hippies and I smell like a hobo.”
5/11: (In verse) “U can HIKE / At NITE / U will B / All RITE / Out of site.”
5/11: “Smashin’ good time and we didn’t even smash a thin.”
5/4: “Slept great last night and plan to repeat that tonight. But first, pancakes!”
5/30: “I found god in a boxcar.”
4/29: “Damascus: Came, saw, left.”
I get taco salad, coke and a milkshake at the dairy bar, then return to the library and catch up with yet another blog post (these things take a while to put together, although assembling them is also my favorite part of the day). After that, it’s dinner – a calzone and spinach salad from the pizza place in town. It’s a little classier than the night before, but I also know that tomorrow morning will start out even rougher.
Read on … day twelve.
Go back … day ten.
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