Trail Days 2016: One Experience
Trail Days Festival is a magical time for thru hikers! For 30 years, Damascus has honored hikers with a weekend event. Current hikers get off the trail and congregate there and past hikers reunite. There were endless possibilities of things to do. This blog is a chronicle of our experience at Trail Days 2016.
Life is simple. On the way to Trail Days, we hopped in a van with 5 other hikers (Frickles, Commando, Packrat, Gently, & Scarface) that they rented from Enterprise. Being in the van, we realized we could go anywhere we wanted! The world at our fingertips! The amount of choices available was overwhelming, compared to when we don’t have a vehicle and go with whatever is within walking distance.
Once we arrived, we were faced with more decisions. Where would we stay? Eat? Which events? etc. We opted not to stay in Tent City because we were also using the time to rest from the trail. Tent City is an all night party so we stayed in a smaller tent village by The Place, which is run by a church. Much tamer crowd.
Ultimately, Trail Days was a wonderfully reassuring experience. The community comes together to love the hikers. We were greeted with free, hand knitted hats, baked goods, and bottled water within 10 minutes of getting out of the van. It was like that all weekend. Trail angels everywhere and an entire event celebrating this crazy obsession with the AT.
The annual hiker parade was unlike anything I’ve ever seen! There is a regular parade followed by past & current thru hikers lined up by year, as far as the eye can see. Everyone on the sidelines has water guns and sprays down hikers! Such a fun & unique parade!
Claudia participated (& won) a photo scavenger hunt hosted by Appalachian Trials. It was an all weekend event that made us do all sorts of fun things like kissing a blaze, headstands, cartwheels, hugging strangers, etc.
One Way Ministry is an incredible organization that provides limitless support to thru-hikers and party goers alike. For the weekend, they offered foot washing & massages (Again, this is for thru-hikers. Our feet are disgusting.), haircuts, goodies and supplies, museum exhibit, gear repairs, free showers and toiletries. The most tangible thing Jesus ever commanded us to do is wash feet. John 13:1-17 How ironic that it is rarely put into practice?! It isn’t just about the physical washing, but also about how we treat one another. It was humbling to be treated so well at One Way. Showering once a week, doing laundry every couple weeks, and living in the elements does not always result in a feeling of worthiness. It’s easy to write people off as “hiker trash” or in city life “hobos” or “homeless people.” You never know when you might be that person!
We topped the weekend off with a community church service at gazebo. This was our first formal church service since beginning our hike. The music and message were fitting and it was a joy to see the community come together in this way.
Friday night, we went to the Damascus Brewery and listened to a group playing blues and classic rock. Best band we saw at trail days.. if only we knew their name! Lollygag enjoyed that the drummer kept an even tempo when the lead guitar really got into his solo.
Saturday, I (Lollygag) went to the open mic tent thinking I would listen for awhile. There was no one playing, and one guitar player trying to figure out the sound system. Once the guitar got going, I grabbed a Djembe and joined in. It was great to play drums again! After a few songs, the guitar player took out some custom-made steel-type drums, made out of a propane tanks. These were puzzling, but since they were tuned to certain scales, there were no wrong notes! One guy even stopped to listen to us play!
Saturday night we went to the park to listen to the Calamity Jones Band. We were curious about what goes on in tent city (Drum circle?), since there were only a handful of hikers in the park. We decided to stick with the park since it was about 200 yards from our campsite, free, and was 200 yards from our campsite. We’ll save the drum circle for another year. Calamity Jones Band covered a lot of genres, mostly bluegrass, classic rock and country. It made our night when they played Rocky Top! They made Damascus feel like Neyland Stadium for a few minutes. We stayed up well past our normal 8:30PM hiker bedtime, but couldn’t make it to the end of their set. We could still here them finishing up from our tent so we didn’t miss out on anything.
Not only did we get to reunite with a lot of our hiker friends, we were able to meet some “trail celebrities” as well!
- Zach Davis, author of Appalachian Trials- although we’ve been blogging for the site, this was the first time we met in person. He hosted a small get-together for the bloggers and it was much appreciated!
- Real Hiking Viking @therealhikingviking was all over Trail Days! He’s in Class of 2016 (and 2013) so we saw him during the parade and hung out Saturday night.
- AWOL had a great booth (seen below) where he took his entire book and laid the pages out one after another to see the entire elevation profile of the AT! Everyone was invited to mark where he/she had gotten off of the trail to go to Trail Days (for us, Bland, VA). This was a way to see where our hiking friends were at and vice versa. AWOL’s book is so popular and prevalent on the trail and hikers often talk about him. For example, “AWOL said it’s going to be an easy day.”
- Gene Espy was the 2nd person to ever thru-hike the AT. He was honored at this year’s festival. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to talk to him but Claudia did see him posing for some pictures!
- Lastly, we finally met Miss Janet. She is a legendary Trail Angel that volunteers to help hikers full time. She gave her first hiker a ride as a teenager and hasn’t stopped since then. There are countless stories about her generosity and devotion to hikers. We have her cell phone number but we haven’t had to use it yet. We haven’t seen the Trail Angel documentary, but apparently she is featured.
Trail Beta for Future Hikers
- Logistics for Trail Days are based around finding a ride there and finding a ride back to the trail. You may be lucky and walk right in to Damascus in time for the festival. Most of us are not that good at timing.
- Try to get to a major road in order to find a ride. We got off in Bland, VA and got to the festival fairly easily. You can hitchhike or rent a vehicle from Enterprise. They will deliver to the DQ in Bland, which is only a few miles from the AT.
- There is a ride share program that you could check out via Facebook. There is also a physical sign-up sheet at The Place where you can write your name/number and where you’re trying to get to. We were able to find a ride back to the trail with our friend Pantry’s parents. However, while we were waiting, we received a call from someone making sure we had a ride back. People are so ridiculously generous. You’ll find a ride. Don’t let the logistics keep you from Trail Days.
- There is so much to do and you won’t be able to do it all! Try to rest and recover. Get a printed guide when you get there and pick a few priorities.
- A shuttle system is available during the week of the festival. Don’t walk extra steps, they don’t count!
- Lastly, there is so much good food in Damascus. Some of our favorites are Bobo McFarland’s, Hey Joe’s (margaritas and burritos), and our favorite, MOJO’S TRAILSIDE CAFE. We’ve eaten there 3 times… Excellent breakfast and I’m craving it just writing this. Yellow Deli was amazing as well. It is a food truck that was there for the weekend so I’m not sure if they will be back every year. It is run by the 12 Tribes of Israel. Damascus Brewery had excellent beer and a food truck on site. We tried the Imperial Red, Chocolate Stout, and River Rage IPA.
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