My Walk in the Woods, Ch 6

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Six (May 15th-18th)

Day 38: (VA)  Hitch-hike to Damascus for Trail Days

I don’t sleep well, too amped about finding a way back to Damascus for the start of Trail Days. The four day annual festival attracts hundreds of AT hikers (past and present), hiker likers (a type of groupie) as well as vendors, entertainment and various silly events.

Pack, check out early, get juice and pre-packaged breakfast from the convenience store a dozen yards from the on ramp to the freeway. Sit on the guard rail with my sign for an hour before a retired big rig trucker rolls to a stop in his small rig. Get out at Rural Retreat, close to I-81. Choose a strategic spot where traffic slows and there is a large shoulder. Frantic young guy in a cramped Japanese hordemobile jams my pack into the overstuffed back seat and coaxes the engine to interstate speed. Rattling and whining makes conversation difficult. In Marion a rusty belching van pulls over and the side door slides open. A cloud of cigarette smoke stops me in my tracks but I forge ahead. Friendly hillbilly family of smokers with questions like What in hell you doin boy? At Glade Springs am released into fresh air; immediately get a ride from QUIET PAUL who is also going to Trail Days. He leaves me speechless on main street four rides and five hours after leaving Bland.

The excitement is palpable, groups of shaggy vagabonds (some in kilts) loiter on street corners and benches. A helpful person with a clipboard recommends I go to the large church ahead for a meal ticket to tonight’s potluck dinner Feed the Hikers.

I drift to the edge of town where a massive field has been fenced off to contain the unruly horde. At the gate I check in and receive an event bracelet I will continue to wear until it falls off in a couple of weeks. There are already a smattering of tents set up but by this weekend it will be a congested sea of colored nylon domes and coffins. I choose a random site to camp and dropped my load.

Feeling unencumbered I return to the church parking lot where organizers are preparing tables for a series of hilarious eating contests. Most memorable is the sheet cake contest dominated by CHEWBACA. The growing crowd is now ravenous and the line forms for the potluck dinner served in the basement of the church.

I buy a six pack and am drawn to the barbaric electricity being generated at the newborn Tent City. Among the throng I see my nemesis COOKIE MONSTER and I approach him to give my review of his product. All apologies and forgiveness when he invites me and several others into a dome tent designed for four and sparks up a fat doobie.

Good and stoned, we stumble several blocks to an auditorium showing a pre-screening of Grizzly Park, a new teen slasher flick filmed in the nearby woods. The movie has begun, the theater is full and we have to stand in the back. It is dark and I am sober when we exit for New Bohemia.

The first of the nightly bonfires illuminates our way; brave individuals approach to toss more fuel onto the towering inferno. Tables have been set up and leftovers from the generous dinner are gobbled up. I crash very late (midnight) tired but elated from this long day.

Day 39:  Trail Days in Damascus, VA

My body automatically wakes up early, ready to move, so I put my laundry in a sack and leave my camp crocs on thinking it will give my feet a break from the trail shoes.

It is about a mile and a half from tent city to the laundromat on the other side of town. While waiting for the washer and dryer to finish working, I meet FANNY PACK who is an AT veteran and is in town for the fun. He gives me a number to call and offers to give me a ride back to Bland when Trail Days is over.

I get breakfast then head back through town, stopping at the library to use a computer to send emails. By the time I return to tent city my feet are hurting from the crocs and I have to break out the first aid kit.

At lunchtime I make another trip (this time in shoes), first to the church parking lot where a huge disaster relief trailer is parked to provide shower facilities to the unwashed masses. Next I push through the crowd in the park where the vendors, food booths and stage are located. I sit in the shade with a big burrito watching my fellow riff raff go by.

Back at camp after sunset, the bonfire is blazing and the drum circles are thumping. I roam to the far recesses of Bohemia looking for the reputed debauchery and hedonism the hiker’s camp is known for. Exhausted and disappointed, I return to my tent regretting the half dozen miles walked today. My feet are dried out with painful cracks. Tomorrow I will need to buy superglue.

Day 40:  Trail Days in Damascus, VA

It is a sunny Saturday and the town is bursting with trail folk. I wait for a seat at a busy tiny diner Damascus Eats (the food is worth it).

The shower at the church trailer is not as soothing today since they are out of hot water. Thankfully, organizers have arranged for shuttle buses to stop at points of interest and I get a ride to the Food City for groceries.

It is time for one of the highlights of Trail Days: the Hiker Parade down main street. It is a poorly kept secret the townspeople have stocked 50,000 water balloons. Every water pistol and supersoaker in the area has been acquired by wary hikers. Showdown is at noon and I am wearing clothes that could (always) use a wash. The liquid fusillade through the gauntlet is an intense cathartic baptism.

Back at the park, people sit on the grass near the stage and enjoy a stand up routine by a hiker named PUNCHLINE. The rest of the Talent Show makes me wince and groan. At the final bonfire I wander around looking for people I know. There are rumors of cop busts for weed so paranoia is running wild.

Alcohol, however, is flowing freely and this party will not end before dawn. I on the other hand, am done with Trail Days and despite the party noise only yards from my head am asleep early.

Day 41: (VA)  Ride back to trail near Bland, 20 mile hike to Dismal Falls trail

I am more than ready to get back on the trail. I break down the tent and pack my gear as a few intoxicated zombies wander the sea of tents looking for a place to crash. Once more I navigate the streets of this hospitable town and have breakfast at the same In the Country restaurant I visited on my previous trip through Damascus. I meet FANNY PACK at the laundromat at 8:30 and we have a friendly drive back to the trail crossing near Bland. Mahalo brother!

Despite constant rain I crank out a big day. End up camping at the sidetrail to enigmatic Dismal Falls.

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