Damascus Virgina is a small community just across the Tennessee state line. There are several trails that go directly through the town limits including the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, Bicycle Route 76, and of course, the Appalachian Trail. Although it’s status as the AT’s friendliest town can be debated by many, it is nonetheless a primary stop for those doing a thru hike. W and I chose this as our starting point and we would spend the next several days hiking through some of the best scenery Virginia has to offer.
We spent the first couple of days climbing and descending several smaller mountains before we would reach the heart of Mt. Rogers NRA and the surrounding highcountry. Once we reached Whitetop Mountain and the Grayson Highlands, I knew we had made the right decision to hike in this place. I had seen several Appalachian Balds over the past couple of years, but what the high country around Mt. Rogers had to offer was truly unique. It has often been described as a slice of Montana set in the middle of the southern Appalachians. The broad expanse of grassy land was interspersed with many rock outcroppings, the most spectacular being Wilburn Ridge. I was especially enthralled with the wild ponies that the Forest Service uses to help keep the balds clear. The Appalachian Trail also traverses Grayson Highlands State Park, creating a large C shaped portion of trail. By the time we reached the Fox Creek Trailhead, we had seen the best of Virginia. I had also made a very important contact during our hike as well.
A few days into our hike, we met the ridgerunner, an individual whose job it was to hike the same portion of trail we had just hiked once a week, performing visitor contact and shelter and maintenance upkeep as well. I mentioned that I had just returned from a month-long hike in Maine and was not ready to deal with the world back home in Tennessee. When I asked him if he knew of any job opportunities in the area, he suggested I check with the Forest Service. After our hike was complete, I stopped in their office and spoke with a person who was their dispersed recreation technician. He was responsible for all the trails in the backcountry. When I explained my situation to him, he suggested that I might want to work as a backcountry ranger. It would be volunteer position and he offered fifteen dollars a day and a place to stay. Considering what I had just seen the past few days, I eagerly accepted and by the end of that week, I had gone back to Tennessee to pick up some personal effects, and drove back to Mt. Rogers. This would be my home for the next couple of years.