Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s sixth post from the trail . . .
I had been looking forward to my time after Trail Days because I figured I could relax and not worry about getting anywhere by a certain date- my only deadline was the cold weather in Maine. The first day out of Damascus we walked through the Grayson Highlands, one of the sections that I had heard so much about. As soon as we walked through the gate into the highlands, a wild pony started trying to bite Turbo’s backpack. We had heard the ponies can get aggressive and when he came after me, I put my hand on his head to hold him off and wielded my trekking pole like a weapon. Once we got farther into the highlands, we saw more and more ponies grazing in the fields. They brought these ponies in specifically for this reason- the highlands is a large open area devoid of trees and with large rock formations. They want the ponies to graze there in order to maintain the grassy areas. The rest of them were friendlier than the first and let us pet them without trying to bite us.
Since so many people had either slowed down or sped up to make it Damascus for the festival, there was a huge bubble of people leaving at the same time. There was also a lot of rain in the week following the festival and so everyone wanted to stay in the shelters to avoid getting wet. Every night the shelters were full and there were sometimes up to 20 tents set up around them as well. The rain was starting to get frustrating- wet boots and clothing for days on end was getting old. Every time I started to complain in my head, I started to think about Jennifer Pharr Davis. I was reading her book about the endurance record and she is a badass. She got hypothermia, had shin splints for 1000 miles, and overcame a bunch of other problems to finish the trail in record time. Every time I felt down, I reminded myself that if she could deal with all that, I could deal with a little rain.
I was also starting to make up for my lack of trail magic before Damascus. In Troutdale, VA there was a hiker feed put on by a local church. They put up flyers at each road crossing telling hikers about it and about 35 people showed up. All the churchgoers brought in food and there was enough so that everyone could stuff themselves. There was some intense preaching after the meal and I’m not sure the preacher realized that the hikers were a different audience than he was used to, but it was worth it.
The next night we made it to Partnership Shelter, one of the shelters on the trail that you can order pizza from. There was a big group of people and it was this girl Smokey’s birthday so we ordered a bunch of food, ignored the no alcohol signs, and went into town to get some beer.
Turbo and I were settling into a new kind of hiking- one that involved a lot more drinking. The next day we were walking along the trail when we came upon two hikers, Twoper and Bait, who were handing out beers on the side of the trail. We hung out with them and then walked along into Atkins, VA. Turbo and I were planning on doing a few more miles but decided to hang out in town for a bit. We were being classy as usual and decided to sit behind the gas station with a couple tall boys. The longer we sat, the less we wanted to keep hiking. Luckily, Lumber came by and said he had gotten a hotel room and had extra room if we were interested. We definitely were. Also staying in the hotel were Red Velvet, Predator, Hagrid, E.T., Promise, and Gigs. We hung out and I ate an insane amount of candy- 1 snickers ice cream bar, 1 bag of Doritos, 1 bag of cheese puffs, 1 package of Twizzlers pull n peel, 1 bag of Snyder’s honey mustard and onion pretzels, 1 sleeve of double stuff oreos, and probably more that I’m forgetting.
We got breakfast in the morning and then started hiking. Before we could get very far though, we came upon some more trail magic. The mom of someone hiking had a cooler full of soda and beer and a table full of fruit salad, hot dogs, chips, candy, taco salad, and more. I had ordered two breakfasts at the diner that morning and then ate a lot at the trail magic so I had to lounge around until noon before I could walk again. I was walking with Hagrid and we were planning on doing about 20 miles, but we got to a camp spot with a bunch of people that we knew and decided to stay there. Squirrel had packed in some whiskey to celebrate us getting 1/3 of the way and passed it around while someone else cooked up hot dogs for the group. I was excited to have gotten that far, but there was still a long way to go. I was also starting to get the “Virginia Blues”. Virginia is over 500 miles and much of it is just green tunnel; hiking in the trees with no views. It is easy to start thinking about how far you still have to go and get overwhelmed by the length of the trail.
While the hiking might have been boring, the bubble was still together and we were having a lot of fun. There were about 30 of us who had been seeing each other consistently since Damascus. We would get split up, but then a hiker feed or stop in town would bring us back together. In Bland, VA there was another hiker feed that we all went to and then we planned a birthday party for Fresh Step at Dismal Falls in two days. Dismal Falls was supposed to be an awesome campsite and swimming hole and it was also just a few miles past a road crossing with a grocery store that sold beer. We all packed in food and beer, swam, and hung out by the fire. Before I had started the trail, I had a vision in my mind of what the trail would be like. I had underestimated the social aspect of the hike, but Dismal Falls was the kind of picturesque camp spot that I had envisioned beforehand. Simply put, the trail was even better than I had imagined it.