Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Looking towards the AT: Damascus, VA to Atkins, VA

Section: Virginia, from Damascus to Atkins 
Region: South
Miles of trail: 75
Highlights: Virginia Creeper Trail, Mt. Rogers, Grayson Highlands State Park, Konnarock Crew HQ,

Reading through the Appalachian Trail Thru-hikers Companion (2014 ed), several highlights stood out. I actually have been reading through the book and literally highlighting points of interest, and this 75 mile stretch has not disappointed. 

Unlike my brother, I tend not to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the AT - not that I'm not excited, of course, I just tend to be more of an experiential learner. I will remember something once I've done it. Through the first push in Virginia from Damascus to Atkins, I can say that I've experienced part of the Appalachian Trail first-hand. 

Before I get to that, the first thing that really stood out to me was the Virginia Creeper Trail mentioned in the book. Although I'm not sure how much time we'll have for side-trips, the trail follows an old railroad bed and something about that just seems alluring to me. Maybe it's because I have an affinity for rusting things of bygone days and this trail has plenty of trestles and bridges; regardless, it seems worth checking out. 

Now, on to Grayson Highlands State Park. Although it's been awhile since Andrew and I hiked through the namesake highlands, reminiscent of some epic Scottish imagery with rocky outcroppings and swaying grasses and a view as far as the eye can see, I can vividly remember the hike itself. Namely, I can remember the plentiful rhododendrons that checkered the trail and the abundant resting points where one can sit and gather their thoughts amongst the stones. However, I'm an eager hiker,and probably prodded my much more thoughtful brother along through this beautiful wilderness.

The Highlands do have their own special lawnmowers, though, in the form of feral ponies who live in the hills. Although considered wild, the descendants of introduced ponies are checked on for health problems and auctioned off if the herd grows too large. Although we didn't see any of the ponies on our previous visit to the Highlands, I look forward to seeing them as we hike through the park on the 2.8 mile stretch that winds through.. And if we don't see them? Well, I'm not above waiting around until I do catch a glimpse of a pony or two. Ponies, you guys, ponies! Fortunately, the State Park does have campgrounds closeby and available for use should I decide that we absolutely can't push on until I have my fill of pony viewing. 

Before we get to pon Grayson Highlands, we will meet Mt. Rogers (which, I admit, I read in the guide book as "Mr. Rogers), Virginia's highest peak. From there, we'll pass through Rhododendron Gap which from the sound of it is absolutely crawling with the equids I so desperately want to see. 

Another place of note is the Konnarock crew HQ. Apparently thru-hikers are urged to volunteer a week of their time and services to help improving the trail. While I don't know for certain if this is for us at the moment, I do think it's a worthwhile endeavor to check out since the Trail depends on volunteer help to keep up and running. 

That's all for now: next time on LTtAT, we'll still be in Virginia! 

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