Trail Days in Damascus Shows the Hiking Community at its Best
The annual Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia is one of the outdoor world’s marquee events. For good reason. It was started in 1987 with the idea of bringing together hikers from previous years. It has succeeded signally in that regard; but it is also a lot more than that. The whole outdoor community seems to be on display.
For starters, Damascus is the perfect place to have the event; it is widely known as the friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail. Instead of having to hitch into town, hikers follow the blazes right down the main street, passing by top-notch outfitters, Mount Rogers Outfitters and Sundog Outfitters. The streets of Damascus are lined with comely bed and breakfasts, hiker-style eateries, and graceful churches that open their doors to hikers. No wonder hikers like it here! In fact, one hazard of thru-hiking is that many thru-hikers have gotten ‘stuck’ here in Damascus, and cling to the comforts of civilization, rather than head back into the mountain and 500 miles of Virginia.
The timing of Trail Days is also carefully planned (with the great exception of rain, which has dogged the event). Thru-hikers in the midst of ‘the bubble’ of thru-hikers, making a normal pace, would normally be right in this area. This allows them to be feted as the current year’s class, as well as make any gear adjustments they might need to make. Speaking of gear, seemingly the entire outfitter business is habitually on hand for Trail Days, displaying the latest in gear. Some of the displays are truly eye-opening, such as anti-gravity gear and lightweight, self-adjusting tents.
Local building fill up for presentations and seminars by such trail luminaries as Jennifer Pharr Davis (AT speed record)and Warren Doyle (16 time AT hiker!). I, myself, have given presentations at Trail Days (this year I will be doing two–one on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and one on the Camino de Santiago) and been very happy about the attendance, with crowds spilling out of the door of the River Rock School. But I am all too aware of the need to be especially on cue during Trail Days weekend for a couple reasons. First, hikers are an extraordinarily knowledgeable and well-read group of people. But even more importantly from a speaker’s standpoint, hikers–as a group–are the greatest raconteurs I have ever come across. They can spot a dullard or a drone in a hearbeat, and word travels fast. So speakers at Trail Days had better take their PR caps off and put on their entertainer’s fedora.
I highly recommend attending Trail Days not just to hikers and ex-hikers, but wannabe’ hikers. They will be able to imbibe the non-pareil culture of the Appalachian Trail and should come away raring to take on the world’s greatest long-distance hiking trail.
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.