I have never been much of a camper but it was something I always felt I needed to do more of. I felt in order to “know myself”, I needed to put the phone down and spend more time outdoors. So without any research or knowledge, when Andrew approached me asking if I wanted to go camping this past weekend, I said yes without hesitation.
We jumped into the car and headed to Damascus, Virginia. I was told Damascus was a stop on the Appalachian Trail and current hikers would be camping as well. So I figured we would be camping in the woods and see the occasional hiker passing by the street. I shrugged it off, pulled my hat over my eyes, and slept the majority of the trip.
After 8 hours of driving we knew we had come upon Damascus by a subtle sign that welcomes visitors to the small town of 800 residents. After the half mile drive down main street which included a single gas station and a single bar, our car turned right and I was immediately overwhelmed by dreadlocked, mohawked, and bearded hikers embracing the small town with music, dancing, and tents, hundreds of tents. I quickly realized how little I knew of the Appalachian Trail and even less about those who chose to hike the 2200 mile trek.
Ranging from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is attempted by hundreds of people every year. Those attempting the trail generally start their hike mid-March and about two months later find themselves close to the small town of Damascus. To celebrate their journeys, the people of Damascus throw the annual event know as Trail Days to honor past alumni of the trail, present hikers, and friends and family of both.
Upon placing the Lems-Mobile in park, we were immediately greeted by our friend Damien who runs minimalist shoe blog, ToeSalad. With the help of KickStarter.com, Damien is currently hiking the trail with his family of five. I immediately envied his son who could have been no older than twelve years old and could probably put our tent, whose instructions I read on the way down, together with one hand.
We unpacked our car, and took our trek into the woods where we would be pitching our tent amidst the hundreds of people who were taking the weekend off of their 6-month hike to celebrate their adventure. With our cots, grille, and 7-person tent, we stuck out as sore thumbs, however were welcomed with open arms. We quickly met “Chosen One” and “Bear Claw” and upon learning their names I subconsciously must have rolled my eyes because “Chosen One” immediately began to tell me a story.
Hikers of the trail adopt “trail names” different than what they are called in the real world. “Chosen One” received his after a woman approached him in a restaurant and told him he was sent from up above. Most names are not as mystic and often are self-proclaimed including “Snake Bite”, because it sounds cool and “Johnnie Walker, because, well, he likes whisky.
The fact that I couldn’t put my tent together did not allow the “thru-hikers” to stop from welcoming me into their circle and I was quickly befriended by dozens including “Catfish”, “Biohazard”, and “Bart”. A relaxing weekend of camping and “finding myself” was about to be replaced with becoming engulfed into a culture that I never knew existed. Instead of resisting the embrace I gave in: drinking, playing bongos, and storytelling for the next 48 hours.
In two days of camping with these people, I learned that I would never be one of them. I quickly realized that I was extremely too domesticated and pampered to be able to quit my job, become homeless for 6 months, and walk 2200 miles. Although I am not sure I will ever really understand the lifestyle, I cannot help but commend them.
We often read articles and quotes praising a life of spontaneity while simultaneously striving to achieve some level of it in our daily lives. Easier said than done, routine often takes over and although we may buy a Groupon for skydiving or plan that cross-country road trip, most of us will never reach the level of spontaneity these individuals incorporate into their daily lives.
So scoff and roll your eyes at “Catfish” and “Biohazard” all you want. Odds are, they will offer you a beer or their extra pair of socks as a “pay it forward” type gesture called “Trail Magic”. Rain, rattlesnakes, and a broken tent give them enough reason to lose sleep that they have no time to worry about judgement. And even if they did, they take solace in the fact that while you are googling images to become your new computer background, they are the ones taking the pictures.