AT Mile 470 – Hardcore Damascus
On Thursday we arrived in Damascus, VA, for Trail Days. Hiking in felt like a strange pilgrimage to Mecca. Section hikers flock to get a few days of hiking in before or after the festival, and thru-hikers far and wide plan to either hike in on time or travel from other areas on trail. Hiking enthusiasts come from all over the country, and previous thru-hikers have alumni reunions. It’s the biggest party for hiker trash that’s ever been thrown.
In addition, my friends and I signed up for Hardcore Damascus, a two-day trail work volunteer program with Konnarock Trail Crew and the ATC. It was an incredibly rewarding and humbling experience. I’m thrilled we volunteered our time. I’ll never look at a clean section of trail or a set of rock steps the same.
The most remarkable part of Trail Days, aside from the dirty hikers, is Tent City. The woods behind the ball fields quickly begin to look like scenes from old episodes of Survivor. There are strange and slightly dangerous competitions, hundreds of oddly dressed and dirty people wandering about, huge bonfires, and tons of food, drink, and questionable substances consumed. Drum circles begin at sundown each night and seem to go on infinitely. Listening to the dull, thudding heartbeat of drunk people banging on industrial plastic drums, I can’t help but marvel at the community the Appalachian Trail has created.
Trail Days was super fun. We walked in a parade, hung out with our friends, and partied a little. Isaac attempted Trekking Pole Javelin in Tent City, which was hilarious. Our friend Yuengling dominated—evidently he did javelin in high school.
I suppose at this point we’ve become accustomed to hiking. I’m also at a point when I’m never not hungry. I’m either ravenous or “Yeah, I could definitely eat.” I can’t quite put down an entire large pizza, so I guess I’m not at hiker hunger level yet. But my metabolism is certainly impressive.
I am finally at a place where hiking is just, ya know, hiking. It’s not exhausting anymore. In fact, it feels good most of the time.
During Trail Days Isaac convinced me and the guys we’ve been hiking with to sign up for Hardcore trail maintenance. Hardcore is a couple of work days with Konnarock Trail Crew that is held every year after Trail Days.
This year we worked in the Grayson Highlands, an incredibly gorgeous stretch of trail in Southern Virginia. True to Grayson Highlands tradition, we were harassed by ponies on our lunch break.
Most of the work was moving big rocks and creating a few stone steps. It’s incredible how much work that takes. I am so glad we took the time to volunteer, because it honestly makes me appreciate the trail so much more. Countless hours have been spent making this trail beautiful, and it’s great that we get to enjoy it.
Konnarock works year-round to keep a huge section of the trail in working order, and during the summer they have multiple weeks of volunteer work that you can sign up for. I cannot recommend volunteering with them enough. Just be prepared for tough work.
In Other News
We did some other cool stuff this week, too.
We officially left Tennessee! The next few months will be the longest time I’ve ever spent out of my home state.
The mountain laurel and rhododendrons are in bloom, and it’s awesome.
We went through some incredible country on the TN/VA border this week. This barn is an AT icon, and for good reason.
This is the view from the trail by that barn. This farmer has it made!
Oh, and we saw our first bear yesterday! It was hanging out by the water source near Saunders Shelter right outside of Damascus.
We also made the discovery that Katahdin should be open by next week, so the time has come. This Saturday our friend is picking us up and we’re headed to DC to catch a train to Maine. It’s flip-flop time!
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