Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Trail Days 2015

The champion Chewbacca winning first place in the Hiker's Eating Contest at Trail Days 2008 
This too could be you. Well at least if you are an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker this year. If not...no worries...you too could witness this level of not only hiker commitment but food induced intoxication and unrivaled elation.

Trail Days is happening this coming weekend in the tiny town of Damascus, Virginia. The first town that one walks through on the AT is Hot Springs in North Carolina (home of Trail Fest), but the second town that the hiker literally treks into is here, crossing a state line and marking the passing of a major mile marker. In Damascus, the thru-hiker is now nearly one quarter of the way to Katahdin. If you make it past Damascus, you're damn likely to make it to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia which is nearly half way....and if you don't quit there the odds are you'll to make it Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Summitting Katahdin
I remember very well, trekking into Damascus. My feet were sore and swollen and it was hot and buggy. I had never been more happy to see a wooden bunk bed (sans a mattress) at The Place where I could shower, sleep, and put my feet up for the price of a minimal donation. However if this were exciting enough, I also happened to be hiking into town during the most important weekend on the Trail. Other hikers who were not as lucky hitched forward or even backward to make it here for this event. You see not only does Damascus have everything a  hiker could possibly need: cheap bare-bones hostels, diners, an outfitters, a barber, and beer but one a year this town welcomes its hikers with open arms by throwing them a festival all their own...complete with a free thru-hiker feed at the church, free hair-cuts from the ministries, free gear repair, an Alumni Thru-hiker Parade, a Thru-hiker eating contest, a Thru-hiker talent show, a Thru-hiker Prom, and a spot to throw your tent in town for ($5 for 3 days) in Tent City when you need to collapse.

Trail Days has grown since I last attended while thru-hiking the trail in 2008 and is now also chock full of live music and speakers as well. You can find me at the Town Hall on Friday giving a slideshow presentation about the edible and medicinal plants you can find along the Appalachian Trail, followed by a plant walk on the AT where you can meet the plants in person. Jennifer Pharr Davis - a record holder for fastest AT thru-hike and Warren Doyle who has hiked the trail over 15 times (when I met him on the trail in 2008 with just a daypack and wooden staff, this is what number he was at, so I imagine he's knocked it out a couple of times since). Scot Ward will also be doing a presentation on the Lakes to Ocean trail that he spent over 18 months mapping and hiking. As for the music, you can stomp your hiker feet to Fat Katz and Scratch River Telegraph Company. Outdoor gear vendors will also abound peddling their goods and offering fitting assistance.

At this point though, I must confess... when I happened into town on Trail Days weekend as a thru-hiker I wanted to party and did for all of one night but was really too exhausted to enjoy all the festivities and overwhelmed by the masses of people. I did my best, staying a full 24 hours and then hoofing it out of town as fast as I could to get back on the trail before the rest of the hiker mob departed the following day, descending upon the next so many miles of good camping spots and lean-tos. I'm convinced experiencing Trail Days as a non-thru-hiker is really where its at. The weekend will be far more fun without having to think about resupply and hauling a 30 pound pack  20 miles down the trail the next day!

Half Elvis, Micro Manfeet (me), FreeWil, and Banjo in the 100 mile Wilderness, just two days from Mt. Katahdin

If you are a thru-hiker alum looking for a little taste of that camaraderie you remember so well from the trail, this is the event to attend. If you've dreamed of hiking the AT and want to learn from all those who have done it or are in the painstaking and breathtakingly beautiful process of doing so, come hear their stories. If you just want to get your party on with some  hella inspired and impassioned people, then get your bootie to Trail Days!

Friday 5/15, 2:30 pm (no cost)
Identifying the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Appalachian Trail
Town Hall, Damascus VA
Friday 5/15, 3:45 pm (no cost)
Plant Walk Along the Appalachian Trail
Meeting at In the Country. 1-2 miles roundtrip or 90 minutes. Difficulty level: easy
Vending All Day 5/16 and 5/17