Long-Distance Walking, USA
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Off-Trail Days 2006: Crocs & Ewoks in Damascus, VA

From my paper journals:

MAY 19, 2006, 5:56PM

Well, it doesn’t get much further from the rock fields of eastern PA than a bluegrass band doing old-time standards on a stage in south-western Virginia:

We got in last night after an 11-hour drive down I-61, arriving via winding back-roads smothered in fog at this tiny Trail town. There is a good crowd of hikers, numerous gear stalls, food, and the town itself. I may even sleep some real sleep tonight…

Mark the banjo-freak

“Oh the days are long

And the nights are lonely…” ~ bluegrass song

Footwear adjustments, Palmerton

Mark arrived [the morning before] in a [rented] Chevy Malibu and we raced into Palmerton for showers at the town hall and the PO for my bounce box, the laundromat and the IGA where thru-hikers get free fruit.

An awesome breakfast at Bert’s Diner…

..affirmed our opinion that this was an underrated Trail town. Then we drove the half-hour to Delaware Water Gap. Mark found Chronic and we convinced him to join our escapade. We were soon heading south through intermittent storms that washed over the highway and wiped out all visibility…

Chronic was talking incessantly about girls. Suddenly David snapped, “Don’t you EVER shut up?” An awkward silence descended on the the car for a couple of hours before David attempted an awkward apology and things gradually livened up…

We didn’t know where to camp, and ended up with Chronic hammocking, Mark in his bivy, me in the back seat and David in the trunk. He tossed and turned a while — he’s tall. I got about three hours’ sleep but was warm.

I’m camped in the “party” area among a sea of tents and tarps and hammocks:

My hangout in "The Ewok Village"

MAY 19, 2006, 5:47PM

I should be enjoying an afternoon nap and easing myself out of a post-drinking low. But I’m siting on a bench near the car. My fleece bag liner and some of my clothes are spread over the car in the last gasps of the sun. I threw my hammock and sleeping pad and pack in the laundromat dryer .

What a crazy night. The area called “Ewok Village” where I put my hammock turned out to be the epicentre of the Trash component. An attempt at a late-afternoon nap was a dud: the singing and bellowing and grunting and cheering, the beating of drums, began early, as did the drinking and imbibing of God-knows-what.

I took a beer grudgingly up to a bonfire:

Chronic and I went down to another fire in the heart of this throbbing jungle peopled by humanoids in various stages of revelry…up the bewildering range of muddy tracks…navigating our way by random impulse to the big tent organised by Miss Janet’s crew and its own bonfire…I kept losing my balance…

We stood there a while watching the savages dance, entranced, round the fire, to the beating of exotic drums…

Hikers are essentially hippies with hiking poles…

Storm clouds moved in, dancers and other revellers migrated between fire and tent as the showers came and briefly dissipated. I stumbled upon my bed more by luck than deductive reasoning. I was less than meticulous with my procedure. Woke up in a wet hammock with a wet bag and a wet pack…

Formal black attire was essential

Had breakfast at Cowboy’s, most hikers still out cold within their sodden shelters in the Flanders-like fields.

Primitive life crawling from the primeval ooze

I went to a workshop and later joined Chronic, both of us clad in our waterproofs, for the Trail Days parade, hundreds of hiker freaks parading through town, throwing water bombs and shooting water guns, at each other and the numerous local spectators who lined the road, grinning and having just as much fun…

With Chronic (R) in water-balloon-proof assault gear

My name is there if you look hard

MAY 23, 2006, An outlook approx 1.5 miles south of the Delps Trail junction, PA

Sunday at Trail Days saw things winding down at last. I was tired and retired early after another session around the bonfire. This one was more subdued and took a while to get firing. A guy started an amazing performance with whirling chains attached to flaming torches, while the ubiquitous bongos pounded. Finally, the dancing got underway…

I wove my way back to a completely re-tuned hammock. Choruses of appreciative cat-calling that reached me before I slept told me that the dance was evolving as planned…

A pretty good night’s rest, then up early to shave with heated water and tiny mirror. Free coffee and donuts at the ‘Backpacker’ stall. I joined a group of 10 for a short hike south up the AT with the founder of Go-Lite gear. We stopped in a clearing where he talked about lightweight hiking and I became more interested in the idea of tarp camping. I love the comfort and feel and look of my hammock but have been sleeping cold most nights. Later they drew raffle tickets and gave away gear. I won a water bottle for my quiz answer: “How many 8,000m mountains are there in the world?” (14). 

We farewelled Chronic at Delaware Water Gap yesterday morning, and David elected to stay in Damascus, score a ride north the next morning, or even start hiking north from right there; as he put it, “Ah didn’t come here to hike the whole Appa-latch-an Trail, ah come out here to have fun.” So he settled his debts with Mark and off we went.

It’s good to be back on the Trail after a five-day respite. Our time in Damascus was worthwhile and affirming, but it was a long break from the real mission.

I’m alone again now…

Hiker heaven, Cowboy's

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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