Trail Days: Part 1
Waking up in the morning is an elusive thing to articulate. We slowly and sensitively shift gears from the unconscious to the conscious. We become aware that we’ve left the world of dreams and are back in our familiar waking life. I find it calming and comforting some mornings, and other mornings I awake in a confounding disposition. In a funk. I slowly open my eyes as the first thought makes it’s way into consciousness. Do these initial, waking thoughts have a lasting influence on our attitude throughout the day? And do my unconscious thoughts influence my initial, waking thoughts. I think the answer is yes on both accounts.
This morning I woke up in a funk.
“Ya’ll need a ride to Bland?” a man’s voice called from some distance as I opened my eyes, slipping into the waking state.
“Yeah!” I heard Q tip respond as I became aware of the spacial arrangement between our tents, “I can be ready in fifteen minutes!” He continued.
I laid there in my tent, blissfully paralyzed by my desire to drift back into sleep, “what’s going on?” I groaned.
“Some guy just offered us a ride Romeo, get your shit together,” Q tip replied.
I knew he was right, but in this moment my desire for sleep seemed to trump all other rational thought process. I had to fight the urge.
Get up. Don’t be lazy. You can sleep later.
I needed to get moving. The sounds of Q tip and Sundance getting their equipment together inspired the best spirited response I could muster. I willed my tired muscles into action; opening my eyes widely, lifting my back off my sleeping pad, and collecting my awareness as hastily as I could. Another day foisted itself upon me as I rushed into action against my languid desires.
An hour later we were driving back into Bland. The guy who offered us a ride was another former thru hiker, who also had the intentions of driving hikers to and from Bland all morning, as it seemed to be a hot spot for our bubble, and the place where everyone was shuttling southward to Trail Days.
In another hour Q tip, Sundance, and I were crammed in the back of a minivan, our shuttle, with three other hikers in toe, on our way to Damascus. I tried to read a book as everyone was conversing around me, an attempt that always goes in vain as it’s impossible to internalize the written words while curiously listening to the conversation at hand. I eventually closed the book and took part in the dialogue for the last ten minutes of the car ride, never truly committing to the reading or the conversation, one foot in each world, half assed and without focus.
As we’re dropped off roadside in Damascus, I check my phone for texts from Muffin Man. I call him and he informs me of his hitchhiking adventure with Scarecrow, and how with the help of Trucker Tom he was able to make it all the way into Damascus in one night. They ended up camping out by the river just outside of town, and we were on the other side of town, about three miles away.
“We’re going to Tent City. It’s behind the baseball fields across the street from the church. It’s five dollars to camp there, but it’s where all the action is. Come meet us and get a spot before it gets too crowded,” I said into the phone.
“You guys should come by the river. It’s free and we have beer,” he replied.
Sundance and Q tip were already making their way to the parking lot area, where vendors and tents were set up selling equipment as well as exchanging money for wristbands which allowed hikers access into Tent City.
“We’re going into Tent City, I gotta go,” I hastily ended the conversation, “I’ll call you back dude.” I hung up.
Tent City is essentially a cluster of tents in the woods. Literally over a thousand tents all within a mile walk of each other. One right after another, set up around various footpaths all adjoining and looping around the forest behind the several baseball fields that separate the woods from the pavement of town. Tents were even overflowing into the fields adjacent to the woods. Sundance described it as “the shanty town” as some hiking groups really took the opportunity to set up shop, decorating their nook of the woods in flashing lights, signs displaying their group’s identity nominally, with large tarps over makeshift campgrounds separating one nook from another. Large fire pits and vendors occupied the more open areas of the woods, and it seemed as if every available space was soon taken up in a frenzy. The area became loud and rambunctious rather quickly, with over a thousand hikers cluttered together with the intentions of partying all weekend long. “Tent City” really is the perfect term for describing such a scene. Smells of body odor, spring flowers, and marijuana filled the air, and sounds of laughter and bluegrass music playing through portable speakers filled my ears.
After convincing Muffin Man and Scarecrow to join us in the middle of all the action, I became ecstatic to uncover what this weekend had in store for all of us. We set up our tents all within a few yards of one another, close enough to call each other neighbors. Sundance and I then made our way into town to procure the necessary poisons, the fuel of party fever, beverages to inebriate our psyche and potentially damage our livers; alcohol. The cheapest liquor we could find, as well as the cheapest beer.
Making our way back to Tent City with grocery bags full of Four Loko, Mad Dog, Natural Light, and potato chips, we showed the caretakers in the parking lot area our wristbands, proof that we paid the five dollar fee, and meandered through the shaded cover of the forest. Walking through Tent City, one could glance left to right and find various circles of hikers confabulating, smoking pipes and cigarettes casually, laying out on blankets snacking and playing acoustics, or sipping from plastic red cups between sharing trail stories. The atmosphere felt soothing yet momentous, like something cathartic was about to happen. The setting of the sun and the rising of the moon would welcome the start of this whimsical woodland party.
We confidently referred to ourselves as The Goon Squad, wrote it down on a piece of cardboard with a black sharpie marker and nailed it to a tree. This piece of cardboard signified our campground and group identity. All those passing through our neck of the woods would see our territory had been marked. This was not an aggressive gesture, on the contrary, we invited all hikers who were passing through our camp to gather round and have a beer on us, if they chose to stand near our campfire.
“I don’t know if I wanna drink yet. I have a lot of writing I need to catch up on. It’s only 3 o’clock,” I said reluctantly to Muffin Man.
He smiled, “Exactly dude. It’s 3 o’clock and we’re at Trail Days. Why isn’t there a beer in your hand?”
I laughed and shook my head, unwilling to let go of the plans and expectations I had set for myself. I always seem to be running around in my own head, plotting and planning while simultaneously not taking action. A bad habit I had been consciously trying to break.
“I’m just not ready to start drinking yet dude,” I was being coy.
I didn’t get any writing done that day. A few hours later I would find myself drunkenly dancing around with my shirt off in the woods to LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” blaring over portable speakers.
Let me back it up some and provide some context. I sat in my tent staring at my iPad, proof reading material I had previously written, hoping to fine tune some things. It wasn’t working; I was once again absent minded from the task at hand, and failing to ignore the line of thought urging me to drink, be social, and rage with my friends.
Why am I not drinking with everyone?
The futility in attempting to write when my head wasn’t in it finally dawned on me and I grabbed my bottle of Mad Dog and started chugging. With half the bottle gone I grabbed my can of Four Loko and a 5 Hour Energy and unzipped my tent to join the goons. Opening a can of Four Loko made me feel like a high schooler again. I felt ridiculously immature drinking it, but that didn’t stop me.
Sundance walked up to me holding his own can of Four Loko, “Did you know they took the caffeine out of these things?” he asked me, gesturing to his can.
“Yeah. That’s why I bought this 5 Hour Energy,” I replied, smiling deviantly.
“I think people were dying because of it,” he said dryly.
For some reason this made me laugh morbidly, “I didn’t plan on living forever anyways!” I retorted.
Drunkenness ensued. I began to feel the familiar tingling sensation passing through my body and how humorously difficult it became to hold myself upright. When I feel myself becoming “tipsy” I decide it’s more effective to lean on one leg or maybe sway a little, as apposed to standing up straight. I also find that normally mundane notions take on an added comical appeal. Sundance was wearing sunglasses. Sober me would think nothing of it, drunk me thinks it’s absurdly funny.
At nightfall we were standing around a fire pit at another campsite who referred to themselves as Riff-Raff laughing and cajoling one another into drinking more when the sound of dance music came creeping up behind us. We turned from the fire to face the familiar sounds of the song “Sexy And I know It” and a conga line of about thirty hikers being led by another hiker wheeling around a giant portable speaker with the volume cranked. My eyes widened with excitement. Vigorous excitement.
“Let’s go!” I shouted as I broke from the camp circle gathered around the fire, rushing to the middle of the line and rolling my shoulders rhythmically. I turned around and waved my friends over. Muffin Man and Sundance ambled over smiling at the ridiculousness of the situation; a conga line forming in the middle of the woods, being led by the sounds of “Sexy And I Know It” on repeat, with hikers drunkenly dancing. Waving their arms, fist pumping, gyrating hips, and head bobbing to the beat.
“I fucking love this song!” I shouted at the top of my lungs in Muffin Man’s face. I began dancing my heart out. The conga line grew exponentially as it made it’s way through various campsites all over Tent City. Other hikers saw and heard what we were doing and so many of them couldn’t ignore the urge to jump in line for the sake of having a great time. It was as if the song had given everyone free reign to abandon reason and be as silly as they pleased. Taking full advantage of my inebriation I took off my shirt and began swinging it overhead. Everyone was dancing and laughing without a care.
The conga line eventually made it’s way to the largest fire pit in Tent City, somewhere in an open field, where everyone gathered around and dancing fervently. The electronic dance music on the speakers ceased and was replaced by a large drum circle conjuring acoustic sounds. Things now were beginning to feel much more tribal, minus the violence that comes along with it. A circular line formed around the fire and everyone rhythmically swayed to the percussions. Standing even remotely close to such a large fire pit felt immensely hot, and people would regularly drop in and out of the circle because of the overwhelming heat being generated. The tinder being used for such a roaring blaze consisted of thick logs and wooden pallets. The kind you would see in a warehouse store used for holding heavy merchandise. Off to the side of all the action one could find the enormous pile of logs, branches, and pallets. The sheer presence of big wooden pallets being used for kindling set me off laughing. This party was crazy.
The tribal nature of the fire pit circle was typified when a sinewy hiker lifted one of the wooden pallets from the pile above his head and marched it over to the fire circle. Everyone began cheering loudly upon noticing his presence. I looked around to see hikers raising their fists and shouting, “Yeah!”
His eyes widened as he looked around nodding to everyone cheering for him as he held the pallet firmly overhead. Then he began shouting too as the drumming became more and more frantic. At first I was perplexed at what kind of scene was unfolding before my eyes, then I found myself amused when viewing it from an anthropological standpoint. The cathartic moment came when the hiker gripping the pallet flung it into the fire and everyone erupted into even louder shouting and cheering. I cheered along with everyone, shouting and fist pumping as loud as I could. I began laughing loudly as I turned to face Bad Apple, a fellow hiker whom I had come to know over the past few weeks.
“That was like a sacrifice!” he said to me brimming with laughter.
I laughed with him, hysterically, as I almost fell over while still holding onto a beer. His analysis was succinct and spot on, we did indeed sacrifice the pallet to the almighty fire pit. Then, amongst the chaos of laughter and percussion a chant began to take hold around the ever growing circle.
More fist pumping took place to match each syllable of the chant. Myself and everyone around me joined in as an immense feeling of pride came over me. I felt the words deep in my bones as I shouted along with everyone in the most primal matter. “Hiker Trash” is an identifying term used for hikers all along the trail by people who don’t necessarily take kindly to dirty hikers passing through their town. This term is used to insult, if not degrade, hikers passing through town. Hikers have always been impervious to such insults, laughing them off, and even disingenuously calling each other “Hiker Trash” just for laughs. Now it was being chanted by an insurmountable amount of hikers around the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen. The term lost all of it’s insulting character as the prideful chant grew louder amongst the crowd. It was now becoming a venerable badge of honor. In that moment, in the midst of chanting tribally, I’ve never felt more connected to the identity of being a thru hiker. I’ve never felt more proud to call myself Hiker Trash. As the night was winding down it occurred to me that it was only Thursaday night, and this weekend long party was just getting started.
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