Well, it looks like Watauga Dam Rd is just about 35 miles from Damascus. Then another easy access point would be Tn 91 at mile 439 (Damascus is mile 461). If shelters are a big deal to everyone then Watauga is a pretty sweet start point; shelter every 7-11 miles. If we leave from TN91 and want to camp near shelters, we'll have an odd distance day to stay at shelters.
Both starts will get us at least one climb that should make a non-thru breathe a little harder, but nothing really difficult. I remember this being a pretty gravy stretch of trail, but that was after putting 400 miles on my boots.