Were you there? I was!
Last weekend, I was able to attend Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, with a friend, Becki, and her three year old son, Will. For those that are unfamiliar, Trail Days is a giant festival, with vendors on site to repair or replace equipment, lots of food, a bunch of giveaways, an auction, a hiker talent show, the famous Hiker Parade, and a bunch of other things I am forgetting about. It may not be completely “Appalachian Trail”, but it is certainly a lot of fun. If you have never been, I highly suggest checking it out.
Our adventure actually started on Friday evening, when we began the nearly six hour drive south. I knew we would not make it all the way to Damascus on Friday, but figured if we could get an hour or two away, then the drive on Saturday would not be too bad. Driving with a three year old is an adventure unto itself, but I quickly found that a big jug of animal crackers goes a long way toward keeping said child happy. And quiet. Sort of. My truck will never be clean again. But once he fell asleep, he was an angel, though!
We pulled off the highway about 90 miles from Damascus. It was late, and I was not sure how plentiful hotels would be as we drove south. Note to self #1 – make sure to verify if any large colleges in the area are having graduation the same weekend, since finding a hotel can be difficult when all of those moms and dads are in town. Alas, we did find a place to sleep for a few hours.
Saturday dawned as a sunny, but cool, morning. We had planned to use Will as an alarm clock, because “he is always awake by 6:30”. Well, apparently Will had a power outage overnight, because the alarm clock did not go off until after 8! Oh well. Once showers and morning routines were accomplished, which included a not-so-brief hide and seek game (hide and seek in a hotel room is hard!), we were on the road again, getting to Damascus about 10:30.
Once there, I made a bee-line for the vendor area, as that was one of the main reasons I was there. I had a list of gear items I wanted to check out first-hand before I start purchasing stuff.
I have to admit, I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what I found. It seemed that a lot of the vendors were there displaying a few items, but were not really selling anything themselves. More than once, I was told I could order the item, or walk across town to one of the outfitters to purchase it. Guess I am used to motorcycle events, where everything is for sale at the actual vendor table. That said, though, the vendors were extremely friendly and informative.
I was able to get a good look at one of the tents I have been considering. The Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 was set up, and I was able to climb in and see how I liked it. It was a bit shorter than I thought it would be, and I am pretty sure that my sleeping bag would touch at one end, but the construction was top-notch. One of the owners came over and gave a quick demonstration of the three-way fly, which allows for different configurations to match the weather. They had a good deal on the tent there, but I was not completely sold. I still have a couple other tents I want to look at first.
One thing I saw that I thought was noteworthy was the “AWOL AT Guide” booth. AWOL himself was there, representing his creation, a wealth of information in a compact book. What was notable was that he had taken a copy of his book and taped up every page of it so that everyone currently hiking could put a sticky arrow pointing to where on the trail they currently are. What a great concept! I cannot wait until I can put my own arrow up next year.
We made our way down the row of vendors, stopping here and there to take a closer look at a few items. Will had a lot of fun at the hammock vendors, and most of the booths that had stickers were ransacked as he turned himself into a walking billboard. We made one pass down and then walked into town for some lunch and to watch the Hiker Parade.
After lunch at the Blue Blaze Café, we stopped at Mt. Rogers Outfitters. What an amazing store. Had they not been over the Fire Code’s max capacity, we would have spent more time in there. I already have plans to visit again in a few weeks, once they have restocked from the weekend.
We walked back through the vendors on the way back to the truck. While Becki took Will to the playground, I stopped to meet Zach Davis of Appalachian Trials fame. It was great to finally meet him. He signed my copy of his book, and introduced me to a group of current hikers whose names I have regrettably forgotten. (Note to self #2 – Always carry a notepad to jot down names. If it is not written down, it is forgotten. Note to self #3 – Take more pictures!) I was able to ask a few questions of the other bloggers, but they were quickly and easily distracted when a pizza showed up. Do not worry, I made sure I still had all my fingers before wandering off. It was great to feel like a part of the community, and I cannot wait to start writing for Zach’s website next summer.
I wandered down to the playground and found Becki and Will, who was getting a monster truck painted on his face. “Don’t mess with the monster truck.” Cute kid. After a quick ice cream stop, we headed back towards Tent City, for the Backpacker Magazine giveaway. They were giving away a ton of items and something like a dozen full “kits”, including backpack, socks, water filter, stove, gift certificate for boots, and who knows what else. Not me, for sure, because I did not win. But it was festive to watch the winners get excited when their names were called.
Unfortunately, due to some prior commitments on Sunday, we had to head home and were not able to spend the evening in Tent City with all of the hikers who had gathered. Looking back, I would have liked to have at least walked through and talked to a few people, to get tips on gear selection and just see what everyone was using. While I have a fairly decent background in backpacking, I still feel like a rookie, especially with regards to all of the gear advances that have been made while I was absent from the sport.
As I mentioned, I already have plans to revisit Damascus in the near future. And I will plan it better, bringing some Trail Magic with me. Hopefully, there will still be hikers in town that I can talk to. And soon enough, those NOBOs will be reaching Harper’s Ferry. Hmm… may have to start planning a pizza party on the trail or something equally appetizing.
After a late night of driving, for some reason I was wide awake early Sunday morning. So what do I do? I grab the iPad and start surfing the vendor websites. While checking my email, I noticed that I had one from REI announcing their Anniversary Sale. An hour later, I was driving down to the store to check the sale out. As is usual for this area, there were lots of customers and only a few workers, so everyone was irritated with the service. Or lack thereof. But eventually I got (some of) my questions answered.
I received some contradictory advice about a pack, which immediately seemed like an off-the-wall suggestion. Every other time I have mentioned about doing a Thru Hike, whether at REI or elsewhere, I have been directed towards a certain size of packs. This time, I was pointed to a pack that was easily 20L/1,200 ci larger than any previous time. Maybe I am wrong about needs, but I really do not want to carry an 88L pack. So I will keep looking.
They did have the other tent I was considering on sale. A really good sale. There was not really space to set it up in the store, and certainly not enough staff members to assist, so I bought it. I figure I can take it home, set it up, and if I do not like it, I can return it. REI membership rocks in that respect. I will most likely be back before the sale is over, looking at boots and sleeping pads, among a few other items.
So as you can see, it was a very busy, information-intense weekend. And I loved every second of it, being immersed in the A.T. like that. I would love to hear your thoughts or gear recommendations. Please use the comment box below or the Contact Me page up top.
Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”