Trail Days (May 19-21)
This month, and especially this week, the big question on the trail is, “Are you going to trail days?”
Trail days is a large hiker festival that caters especially to current and past thru hikers. It is held in southern Virginia, in Damascus. Trail days is a very popular event for hikers. I wanted to experience trail days even though it would take me off the AT for an entire weekend. At this point in my hike, I was north of Damascus by over a week of hiking, but was able to find a hiker shuttle to get me back down there.
On the hiker shuttle ride down, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. This will be the most time I’ve spent off the trail since I began this hike. I have already heard several rumors of wild trail days partying, but I am hoping there is more to the event than that. Despite my doubts, I feel very curious about what I’ll see there. It seems fitting to take a chance and hope for the best- just another part of the adventure these days.
I see all kinds of things at trail days, too much to cover in a single blog post. I know I’m going to enjoy the weekend when I find a brochure with a list of events- everything from learning to identify birds by their song to Warren Doyle sharing slides from his countless adventures on the AT.
Needless to say, Damascus is packed. I talk to many thru hiker alumni who are here to reconnect with friends from the year they hiked. Different groups such as local churches offer free food throughout the weekend, which I take full advantage of.
One highlight of the weekend is seeing Warren again. I feel proud to be able to tell him where I am on the trail and that I’m still hiking. I attend one of his lectures entitled, “My Forty-year Love Affair with the Appalachian Trail”. For this event he projects slides in time with specific meaningful songs he has chosen. It makes for a poetic presentation. Just as before, I leave with much to think about- all the lessons that can be learned and meanings taken from a thru hike.
Saturday afternoon I stand with my “class” of 2017 to walk together in the hiker parade. (Really all the classes kind of meld and move together down the streets.) As we wait to begin, we stand sweating under a hot sun, watching dark clouds gather above. Sure enough, soon we are walking through an afternoon thunderstorm, which only adds to the festive spirit. I hear many around me say, “What’s a little rain? We’ve hiked through this before, we’ll hike through it again!” There is a lot to look at. Many of the hikers have raided the local thrift store for the wildest clothing they can find. Bright dresses are a big hit. The entire way I am surrounded by cheering, gleeful hikers, and the enthusiasm is catching. Locals and family members stand under porches and awnings, waving and cheering us on. The local kids and fun loving adults are armed with squirt guns and hoses, spraying us with cold water as we walk by. It is an event to remember, and perhaps revisit some day. Once again I’m impressed by the encouragement and support I feel even from strangers for my hike.
I leave trail days feeling well-fed and refreshed, ready to seek out the wooded path again after a good break.
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