I didn’t really plan to go to Trail Days this year, but the timing of my hike put me right in the middle of it. This was my second Trail Days (the first being in 2008, the year after my through-hike), and I was kind of dreading it from the start.
First, let me start by saying my distaste for Trail Days has nothing to do with the quality of the festival, or the people there. The people are great, and the festival is one of the most amazing experiences you can have as a long-distance backpacker. I don’t like being there because I’m a very introverted person, and big crowds make me very uncomfortable. When the population of Damascus swells from less than 900 people to around 20,000 people for the weekend, that crowd is bound to be overwhelming.
So let’s start with the really great things about Trail Days. My favorite part is that almost every cottage industry in the backpacking world has a booth set up to show their wares that you can otherwise only find online. Six Moon Designs, Mountain Laurel Designs, ULA Equipment— everybody has their packs and tents on display and for sale.
Then there’s the general community of weirdos. Say what you will of the hiking community, with its party animals, grumpy old men, social outcasts, and oddballs of society, but it’s refreshing to see such a large group of people with a shared love of the trail and general distaste for the normal world. I’ve always been among the part of society that is less accepted by the mainstream, so seeing so many like myself, letting their freak-flags fly, gives me a bit of a sense of community. I may not feel any connection to sub-communities like the traveling frat party or the Whiteblaze forums, but they’re still a part of the overall culture.
I stuck around to meet my good friend, Tom, and then to meet Damien, who is hiking the trail with his wife and three children. It was a great relief to meet close friends amid the crowds, like spots of calm in the sea of craziness.
But I can only take the party in very small doses. I get freaked out by crowds of even 10 or 20 people at campsites on the trail– a crowd of ten thousand or more is a living nightmare. I hightailed it out of town on Friday afternoon, hoping to beat the crowds that would soon be swarming out of town. I missed almost all of the official festivities, including the hiker parade, film screenings, free hiker buffets, and more. But that also let me miss the massive crowds of hikers and trail groupies swarming the town. There would still be hundreds of people on the trail in the next few days, but most of the crowd stayed in town, just the way I like it.