Welcome to Trail Days, the eclectic annual celebration of all things hiking and the official party honoring the Appalachian Trail.
Each year, more than 20,000 hikers and outdoor enthusiasts converge upon Damascus, Va., population just over 800. There, they march in parades, screen movies, buy and sell gear, and more. Above all, they pay homage to one of America’s best known National Scenic Trails, the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.
Fortunately, my second trip to Trail Days, May 19 – 21, was less focused on my aching thru-hiker legs and was more tuned into the people and characters around me. Below are my three-favorite people from this year’s Trail Days festivities.
Meet Huggybear, the big, boisterous bearded man in a dress. Clad in a thrift store gown and standing well over six-feet tall, Huggybear could rarely be seen frowning under his red beard.
With Huggybear, I found far more than just another Trail Days character. Below the surface was a genuine guy who had invested much of his time, before the trail, into enriching the lives of people with developmental disabilities. We even discovered we had some mutual friends!
The last time I saw Huggybear, he informed me that his quick-drying dress was the most comfortable thing he’d ever worn and that it was going with him north… to Maine.
Behind Mcqueen’s stoic indifference is an individual with a passion for adventure and a zest for life. Mcqueen jokingly told me stories of impromptu 35-mile days along the Appalachian Trail and hinted at his plans to crush the challenging “Four State Challenge” that lay ahead.
To fulfill the challenge, he would pound out nearly 43 miles on the AT in 24 hours, passing through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania along the way.
What really set Mcqueen apart from many of the other thru-hikers I met was that he is doing more than just hiking the trail for himself. He is giving back by cleaning up trash along the Appalachian Trail.
Mcqueen is one of fifteen “Groundkeepers” sponsored by Granite Gear to continue what our Packing It Out initiative started just two years ago.
Last but not least is “Lizard.” A roughly 8-year girl who, though not a thru-hiker, was the most determined person I met at Trail Days.
Soaking wet and shivering, Lizard made a point to be front row at the Granite Gear raffle. She would peer and reach toward every backpack that came up for grabs.
Unfortunately, Lizard didn’t win anything but upon hearing her mom’s name called from the raffle bucket, she screamed over the roaring crowd, “THAT’S MY MOM!”
If you deviate from the Appalachian Trail corridor, the names above may become a source of confused looks and questioning stares. Here in Damascus, though, you’ll be greeted with a smile and a fist bump.
So whether you find yourself hiking thru or driving through, I recommend finding yourself in this small town come the middle of May. Until next year, see you on the trail!