Another year of Trail Days has come and gone. As always, we had a blast, saw lots of old hiking buddies, ate too much, stayed up too late, and in general, partied like it was 1999. We left early Friday morning (and I do mean early! we got up at 3:30 AM) drove to Big Western City, through a snowstorm, I might add. Our flight to Newark left on time at 7:30, and though it was a bumpy ride, we made it there. Late. Having only 45 minutes to connect, I was pretty sure my luggage wouldn't make it to Charlotte, but it did. Rented a car, then drove the four hours from Charlotte to Damascus, which put us into our friends Trace and One-Third's home just in time to throw on a jacket and a hat and head out to the campground for the bonfire.
Ah, the campground, also affectionately known as "The Ghetto." It's a section of land outside of town that the city allows hikers to camp in during Trail Days. Imagine a parking lot, some port-a-potties, and then trails weaving in and out of bushes, trees, weeds, and mud. That's where the hikers who pour into Damascus by the hundreds get to camp, and pay $5 for the privilege. I completely understand the city charging hikers for the camping, because they have to pay to clean it up when everyone leaves and to police it while they are there. We are lucky to have had places to stay in Damascus every year that we've gone for Trail Days -- I don't want to camp in the ghetto. Not to mention that, according to rumor, it's a Superfund cleanup site.
Anyway, every year there's a huge bonfire in the Campground. This involves a massive fire, lots of folks gathered around it drinking beer, several drum circles, people playing guitar and singing, drunken shouting, occasional dog squabbles, etc. General hiker stuff.
We didn't see anyone we knew at the Bonfire -- it was mostly this year's hikers -- so we walked all around the Campground, past the Riff-Raff site, Billville, and the Quiet Zone, and then came back to the house for some well-deserved sleep.
The next morning we had a light breakfast and were getting ready to head out when Slogger looked out the window and saw Firefeet walking by (we found out later she was on her way down to the Baptist Church, where they have a trailer with FREE! SHOWERS! for HIKERS!). Now Firefeet has special significance for me, because she and Chickflick saved Slogger from hypothermia when they were all hiking together in 2003. Needless to say, I was excited to meet her.
After our chat with Firefeet, we headed out to the vendor area to give it a walk-through and see who we would see. First person we run into: Tangent, our buddy from the Nekton Dive cruises we've been on. And that was only the beginning, as we spent time chatting with Grampie, Texas Jack, AT Troll, AWOL, Carolina Cruiser, Moonshadow, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Rain Queen, Karma, Mellow Yellow, Jen, and too many others to name. Needless to say, we did more talking, laughing, and hugging than we did looking at the vendors. It's always fun to be with the popular kid, and Slogger definitely fits that bill. The fact that he almost died this year made it even more special for folks to see him and talk to him.
And that's pretty much the way the weekend went. The highlights were the parade and the reunion dinner for Slogger's class of 03.
The Trail Days parade is both an opportunity for this year's hikers and previous year's hikers to get out and strut their stuff, and an opportunity for townspeople and hikers to blast each other with water balloons, water guns, and everything else wet they can get their hands on. The water fight wasn't quite so big this year, but there were lots of hikers in great getups.
That's 42 in the flowered outfit.
And Mala as the "Harmless Hiker."
All in all, it was a great time. Perhaps we stayed one day too long, as the festival ended on Sunday and we left town on Monday, but it was a chance to rest up, have a nice dinner with Seneca Lou, Tom for Short, and Trace. Monday morning we drove back to Charlotte and did the whole trip in reverse, which still took us 14 hours. Today we are recovering.