That was the holiday I could always count on seeing my sumer friends. No matter what else was going on over the summer months, July forth sacred. Everyone just HAD to come back to the beach.
What the 4th of July is to summer towns, Trail Days is to the hiker population. In the small town of Damascus, VA, present and past AT hikers gather to see old friends, participate in the hiker parade, and dance around the bonfire/ drum circle.
My 4th weekend in Virginia, I jumped in the jeep and drove the 2 hours south from Roanoke to Damascus for Trail Days, May 16-18.
I arrived in Damascus later than I had anticipated (why does work always get busy on the Friday before a weekend you have plans?) which meant I was setting up my tent in the dark. (As I often had on the trail!) Then I headed over to the bonfire to see if I could locate some hiker-trash friends.
Here's a life fact: in the dark, every scruffy, bearded guy looks exactly the same. There was no way I was going to recognize anybody in the dark. Yet I was still a little wired from the drive down. So I headed over to the Blue Blaze for a beer.
Nobody I knew was to be found at the Blue Blaze, either. But it was Trail Days! So I quickly found some new friends!
I was talking to some guy at the bar (Southbounder 2011) when a very, very drunk woman stumbled up to the bar and asked us where we had met (we apparently looked "very cute together").
"We met here." I said.
"Oh! and you are coming back to the place you met on Trail Days! How sweet."
"Um, no." I said. "We just met."
"Did you do the whole trail together?" she said.
"I hiked south in 2011," the guy said. "She hiked northbound in 2013."
"And you've kept in touch since your hike?" she said.
"Yes we have!" I said.
Then another hiker (Jukebox) whipped out his phone and took our picture together. "You really do make a good couple." he said.
I turned to Mr. Southbounder 2011: "I'm Pink Lady." I said. "What's your name?"
(It was Lieutenant Dan. One of 4 Lieutenant Dans I met at Trail Days.)
I had packed for Trail Days the weekend before. When it was 85 degrees. So I had my summer weight sleeping bag and lightweight clothes. A fleece instead of a jacket. Cotton socks instead of merino wool. When the temperature dropped to 34 degrees that night, I was quite unhappy with my packing skills. I woke up feeling like the top of my head was going to fall right off! I pulled every article of clothing I had brought out of the clothes bag and put every single one on. I was especially happy to see that I had packed a fleece hat in the bag that I had forgotten about. Better, But still an uncomfortable night.
Saturday morning, I arose, shivering, and did what always warms the body up after a cold night: I got moving. I joined a bunch of other hikers at an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. (My super power hiker eating skills have abandoned me. Fine, since I'm not burning nearly as many calories as last year) Yet, I still hadn't seen anyone I knew.
I went to a talk at 10 by Cindy Ross, about the next steps in the "Walking off the War" projects. Great speaker, great program. And finally! Some familiar faces -- Fancy Feet and Lt. Dan from the night before!
Then came the hiker parade. Last year, the hiker parade ended in disaster. I was excited to experience a parade with a happy ending. It did not disappoint.
Later in the afternoon, I headed over to the "Hiker Yearbook" photo shoot, where I saw more friends.