After hitching into Damascus from Low Gap (14.5 miles shy of town), due to food poisoning, my first stop was Dollar General. I purchased Pedialyte, Imodium and Tums. I then wandered down to Woodchuck Hostel where I was able to shower and wash my stinky clothes. If it hadn’t been full already, I would’ve stayed there because the place and staff were amazingly friendly! They even give you clean loaner clothes while you wait for your laundry.
Feeling slightly better, I received a call from Rigga saying she and the rest of ‘The Fam’ had just hiked into town. I met up with them so we could all set up together in Tent City. There are two sections of Tent City–the field and the forest. The forest section typically fills up faster because it’s near the river (water source) and obviously cooler (shadier). Luckily, we got there early and managed to set up by the river in the wooded area.
There are other groups from the past that set up special camps and make a return annually. Riff Raff, Billville, Miss Janet, Mellow Camp, etc.
The Fam pretty much took it easy Thursday night. I was unfortunately still suffering the wrath of food poisoning. Having to walk a several hundred yards to the porta potties every hour was not fun, but I was thankful to have them! Friday morning, we decided to visit the vendors (who offered free gear repair), enter raffles, and check out live music in the park. We also decided to shop the local thrift store for some new outfits. I must say hiker trash can clean up fairly nicely! We all got entirely new looks for about $3 each.
There were various events/classes available throughout the weekend, such as ‘Learning to Identify Edible Plants’, but my stomach was too unstable for me to attend. I tried to enjoy as much as I could, but it just wasn’t the same. Each day I told myself “tomorrow will be better.” The one event I did feel well enough for was a lecture by Jennifer Pharr Davis.
In 2011, Jennifer set the record for the fastest thru-hike of the AT with a time of 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. That’s an average of 47 miles a day. I have yet to do 30 miles in a day, what an achievement!
Something else I was able to enjoy was the hospitality of the “One Way Ministries” Group. They had free coffee and snacks, volunteer doctors (general and pediatrists), feet washing/massaging, etc. available all weekend. A big thanks to them for all of their time and love!
Friday night I ate dinner at the Old Mill, a new restaurant in town. I was slowly gaining back my desire for food.
I really enjoyed wandering around town in Damascus–it’s a cute hiker friendly town. Locals in hiker towns are usually very kind and willing to help. They know what you’re doing and why you’re there. If you go into a town that is too far off the trail, you start getting some strange stares and questioning eyes. I think people often mistake hikers for hobos. Considering the look and smell, I can’t blame them!
Another great aspect to these trail towns is the fact you see more people you know there than you do in your hometown Walmart. In fact, you often see dogs tied up outside of the businesses..and you know their names, too.
What I love about Damascus, more specifically Trail Days, is that most hikers plan to attend the event no matter where they are on the trail. I was able to see and catch up with people I haven’t seen since the first few weeks.
Rigga and I were especially surprised to see Teddybear. We heard he had gotten off the trail due to knee issues, but it turns out he’s still holding strong! He says he’s been following our entries in the shelter journals, so we plan to leave him some words of encouragement.
Saturday morning, I was still showing symptoms of food poisoning. I decided to see one of the volunteer doctors at One Way Ministries. He told me I was basically doing all I could, and that it was important to stay hydrated. He recommended eating yogurt and taking probiotic pills. I went to the grocery store immediately and loaded up, then back to my tent for a nap.
A few hours later, I woke up to participate in the Hiker Parade. I really did not feel up for it, but I knew I would regret not participating. The Hiker Parade is organized by year. Hikers from the previous years line up first in order of the year they hiked, and the newbies like me bring up the rear. The locals line the streets to gander at the silliness, and their children spray the hikers with water guns. Fun for all!
It was after the parade that I finally even to feel myself again. Not sure if the probiotics kicked in that quickly, or the bad bugs finally completely evacuated. Either way, I was thankful. The Fam went to the Damascus Brewery to try some local brews and we were pleasantly entertained by a wonderful bluegrass band.
After the brewery, we walked back to Tent City. I had been hearing this roaring noise each night coming from Miss Janet’s area that sounded like a native ritual. I decided to wander over and scope it out. Around the biggest bonfire I had ever seen, people were walking, swaying and dancing to the beat of drums. The drum circle was made up of hikers from the past and present who just willingly came together and would play each night, nearly until the sun came up.
The occasion was amazing to witness and experience. The speed of the dancing naturally changed with the music that fed off us hikers who were influenced by one another. It was surreal to see how well everything meshed together considering none of it was planned or rehearsed. Honestly, it was a special feeling that must be experienced, not explained. Given the right place and time, people just unite and harmonize.
Sunday, we took it easy and enjoyed some greasy carnival food and music. It was the last official day of Trail Days. I was able to treat two of my favorite younger thru-hikers to some ice cream.
I also purchased some new hiking shoes at the festival. I’m a huge fan of Salomon trail runners, and one of the vendors had some for $55 (half off). The new pair feel a little less durable than my gortex pair, but they are definitely more breathable and quick-drying which is perfect for the summer.
After making my final purchases, Rigga, Rebel Yell and I stopped to eat lunch at the picnic tables. We met a section hiker named IIWII (It Is What It Is). He was very kind and treated us to a funnel cake and milkshakes. I was feeling well, and finally had my hiker appetite back, so I enjoyed my fair share. The funnel cake was gone in minutes! Thank you, IIWII! From the journals it appears you enjoyed your section hike. Can’t wait to hear about your thru-hike in the future–it will be here before you know it.
Monday was a sad day. I knew I was leaving to go home for my brothers graduation the following day, and that I would be separated from the group. We all ate breakfast together that morning and said our goodbyes. Rebel Yell and I got a hitch back to Low Gap to finish the 14.5 miles into town, while most of the rest of the group hiked on from Damascus. We left with the mindset that it was “see you later” more than “goodbye”. Hopefully, after a couple weeks we would meet up again.
Rebel Yell and I began our 14.5 mile hike around 2-3pm and FINALLY (officially) reached the Virginia state line and Damascus–woohoo!
Below are some additional moments I captured during the Damascus Trail Days: