Trail Days: Super Fun or Super Overwhelming?

Tent City: the perfect place to go if you want no sleep, endless bongo drums, and a relentless hangover. I learned this the hard way. My friends and I thought we were being smart by setting our tents up in the shade near the end of the grassy field… however, that happened to be the entrance to the cursed tent city inside the woods (the party zone).

Trail Days as a Hermit Hiker

Trail Days is tons of fun — unless you have become a withdrawn hermit who lives solely in the woods for the past month. In which case, Trail Days is comically overstimulating and exhausting. Coming off of regular seventeen-to-twenty-mile days and going straight into a party zone is a sure-fire way to crash. I was too exhausted to party, too anxious to meet new people. Every day was an endless stream of blaring music and bongo drums — I swear to god those will haunt me on trail.

My friend actually set up his tent horizontally twenty feet directly in front of the entrance to the woods — leading to hundreds of drunk people stumbling over it in the middle of the night, cracking me up endlessly.

Eventually, this blossomed into a boombox right next to his tent complete with a dance party, which I found to be hilarious the next morning. I was one tent away and slept through the whole thing.

Chilling Out

On the second day, I sat on the bench next to the Damascus Outfitters, the toes of my trail runners inches away from bricks with the names of past thru-hikers. My friend Jimmy was next to me again, about to leave to head back on trail.

We joked about the thru-hiking community, the absurdity of Trail Days — everyone gathering and dressing strangely and adopting an alternative lifestyle, so clustered together a gaudy paisley print from Jolly Gear becomes the norm. There is something incredible in a group of people working so hard to be outside the norm that they create a new normal inside the small town of Damascus — an explosion of rowdiness, mismatched vibrant colors, dirt encrusted legs and trail runners like some smelly beautiful firework.

And here we are, sitting on a bench beside the trail as I watch the same thru-hikers walk back and forth. Without coffee and then with, without hats and then with, without gear and then with. And then I don’t see them again, and am still sitting on the bench, talking to Jimmy.

The feeling of stillness as other thru-hikers walked back and forth made me realize I needed to have more moments where I just sit more often. Not just because my feet are tired — but because my mind gets tired of moving too. I start to dissociate when I’m walking all day, my arms become robots moving my trekking poles, my mouth senselessly yapping, my surroundings blurring by in heaps of indistinguishable green. And I can’t remember much at the end of the day, just that there are a lot of damn trees — and what the hell deeper meanings am I supposed to find in a lot of damn trees that will help me figure out a deeper connection to nature and myself?! The only depth I seem to be getting is deeper into my trail runners as I wear them down to nubs.

We discussed the importance of slowing down and sitting for a while. Even when you just sit at a stump to take a break, it becomes more than a stump, then it’s the stump you took a break at, the stump you saw a lady slipper at, the stump you thought about taking a nice nap in the moss at. And you look back, and the stump has become all those things in the fifteen minutes you spent catching your breath. And then you move on, past an immeasurable amount of stumps that don’t become anything more than unremarkable blurs of brown — unless you stop for a while at them.

And there, sitting and talking to my friend, I realized he was a stump. Not really — but he was like the stump that helped me to catch a breather.

Again, I had gotten caught up with the idea before Trail Days of meeting tons of new friends, flitting around to hundreds of hikers and getting to know everyone that I forgot about how overstimulated I can become with mass amounts of people. The first night, I went to bed at 8:00 p.m. The next morning, I welcomed the opportunity to work at the Trek booth — it gave me something to do and a way for people to come up to me and talk rather than me having to go introduce myself. (Though introducing Shitwater Fireball Queen of the Salamanders is tiring in its own right, though funny.)

Meeting Awesome People!

Meeting Zack, Chaunce, Elise and Katie in person was incredible — and soon enough Zack and Chaunce were encouraging my most reviling poop story out of me (just like a charming pair of laxatives themselves) on their stupidest thing you’ve done this week on Backpacker Radio.

Somehow we wound up on the news — just as I was talking about using my bidet incorrectly lmao

“You’ll keep thinking about this for a few hours afterwards,” Chaunce laughed — and she was right, I definitely did. Spending time with them made me feel excited and accepted in the hiking community. I used to listen to their podcast, less than a year ago almost 24/7 as I worked at my desk job and secretly planned my thru-hike. They made thru-hiking seem less terrifying for me and is a part of what inspired me to start thru-hiking this year.

Writing for the trek and talking on the trail correspondent podcast has helped inspire me to take time to reflect and write down my thoughts and realizations from my time on trail. Meeting everyone I’d worked with online and listened to on the podcast confirmed what I had felt from the vibes on the podcast and online — they were all really awesome and genuine people, the best kind of hiker trash.

Later that night, I gave the crazy woods party a more determined go than my earlier 8:00 bedtime. The woods were less terrifying, and were full of luminescent fairy lights strung throughout the trees, a giant bonfire with hikers running wild around it, and a miniature rave scene inside a large tarp. And suddenly, as I was walking through, everyone from my tramily appeared in front of me — and the night seemed alright.

I realized how fulfilled and happy it made me to see the friends I already knew in a crowd of hiker trash, to fall asleep in tent city surrounded by tramily I’d hiked over 200 miles with, and to spend four hours sitting on a bench, watching thru-hikers pass by while talking to a close friend.

Now, these people I’ve spent time settling down in shelters with — people who used to be strangers on the trail with more funky colored clothes with Darn Toughs and Altras and Hyperlites and beards and long legs and Ospreys and everything in between — just blurs of bright colors passing by — have become close friends without me even realizing it. These friends I have taken time to get to know, to experience the trail with — the rainy days and the sun burns, the ascents and descents — have become sanctuaries where I can catch my breath, spend time with and remember all the small memories we’ve shared through the miles. Whenever I see them and spend time with them, I am reminded of how far we’ve walked, everything we’ve seen along the way, and how strong we’ve become since.

The massive bonfire at trail days

I am struck by the value of taking some time to experience stillness while the world moves around you — with a friend and without. On trail, I plan to make time to stop at mountaintops or near quiet streams to just watch everything pass by for a few moments. To ground myself in my body again, and feel the earth’s steady movements through the wind in the trees and the water through the rocks. We all have the ability to experience stillness in a world of movement. We all have the choice to continue on, or to sit with a friend for a while, talking about the movements we’ve made in life. Especially on this trail, where people have walked the same path for decades, legends and dreamers, poets and FKT setters. We all walk the same way — one foot in front of the other. Sometimes though, it’s best to sit for a moment and try to make a home inside the present moment. When the future rushes by quickly and your scenery is always changing in a green blur — it’s important to sit sometimes and listen to the birds or look at the way light falls on a mountain. On trail and off, everything can pass quickly and become overwhelming.
However, if you can learn to find a sense of stillness in yourself, you can move through life with a little more peace than before.

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Comments 3

  • thetentman : May 26th

    Nice post. Glad you are taking the time to appreciate how lucky you are.


  • JhonYermoAdan : May 26th

    Thanks for the heads up // warning. Sure sounds like a cluster fu**

  • Trishadee Newlin : May 26th

    Great write up! I think you really nailed the juxtaposition of the weekend vibe. It was fun to cross paths with you for a bit in the trek booth! I look forward to seeing you up here in New England!

    Happy hiking!


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