When you’re a thru-hiker, at least a NOBO, Damascus is kind of like Mecca. Well over half of hikers quit before they get here, so it’s kind of a big deal. It’s also the site of Trail Days, the largest festival on the AT. Having attended Trail Days, it was nice to come back to a familiar place.
I’ve been traveling with the “Hoot’n Hoodlums” –a group of hikers some thirty members strong. Started by Hoot and Gritz, the story as I know it goes like this:
Gritz: “Hey, that’s a Great Horned Owl calling!”
Hoot: “No man, that’s a Barred Owl. They go HOOOOOWAAAAHHH.”
Hoot: “No, no. HooooWWAAAHHH”
…And the Hoodlums were born.
I lost most of the Hoodlums after that night at the Barn. I zeroed at Mountain Harbor (never try to out-drink Texans…) and most of them got a day ahead.
The night before reaching Damascus, I managed to catch up with Gritz. His girlfriend Sam recently joined him on the trail, so he’s moving a bit slower than usual. Endowed with the gift of gab, and southern charm, he’s the kind of friend you can call at 2am to get your car pulled out of a ditch.
A native Georgian with long dark hair and a gold ring in each ear, he exudes a presence I can only describe as “pirate born centuries too late.” Indeed the Hoodlums are band of traveling pirates. We roll into town, pillage all food and ale we find, then drift back to the mountains from which we came.
There is but one within rule to this tribe of wandering nomads. Pack out ALL trash. Some weekenders left five pounds of Mountain House wrappers in a fire pit? It leaves on our backs. Period. Should you be traveling the AT and hear HOOOWAAAHHH’s in the distance, take heed and practice LNT!
I made it into Damascus around 4:30pm on the 1st, shortly after a baby bear sighting. I passed fellow Hoodlums Mohican and Tumbleweed on the way down. To my surprise, the grill I ate at during Trail Days is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so I went into an outfitter and asked around. Having a guidebook is great, but it’s so much better to ask the locals.
Compared to the buzz of Trail Days, Damascus this time around seemed more like a ghost town. The outfitter recommended Hey Joe’s. I walked in to find the room full of friends. Nine Lives, Elba, Suspect, Tuneup, and Lone Star were at one table, and a few others I knew by face only were nearby. I scarfed down an “Everything Burrito” and several Budlites.
Everyone except Nine Lives had decided to stay at Woodchuck’s hostel on the edge of town. I met Nine Lives in Hampton. He’s an interesting guy, deserving of his own post. I’ll get to that when I’m in the mood. The bar began to empty, and I walked to Woodchuck’s with Elba, a 24 year old Optometry student from Alaska. I met her a couple days before, and unfortunately she’s on the “cool people I cannot keep up with” list. As with everyone on that list, I’ve learned to enjoy their company while I have it.
The hostel was buzzing with good conversation, and what smelled to be an epic meal on the brew. An hour or so later Nine Lives strolled in, after trying to spend the night at “The Place” a donation-based church hostel in town. He was pretty tipsy and was interrogated a bit by the caretaker for it. Nine Lives is sixty-eight, and retired as a patent lawyer in New York.
“I told that guy I needed a place to sleep, not an interrogation. Then I told him to go fuck himself, gave him the bird, and walked out!” Nine Lives is kind of awesome.
Soon the feast was on. A fellow thru-hiker named Tron cooked barbecue chicken, with a full compliment of southern side dishes. His price? For me it was dishes. Well worth it.
Woodchuck made breakfast around seven this morning, and I find his hostel quite endearing. I sat on the porch with Nine Lives and Elba, talking till 9am. I bid them both farewell, as they packed and left. As usual, I was one of the last ones out.
I walked to Mount Rodgers Outfitters, bought a summer-weight sleeping bag, and a few other odds and ends. There is a cross-fit gym next door, that sells Lems and Altra shoes. I swapped my heavy, swampy, waterproof Keen’s for a pair of Altra trail runners. The lady who ran the place was great, and even offered me 30% off a pair of Lems when I talked them up.
Last on the list was a trip to the post office, where I mailed my winter bag, and 70% of my clothes back home. With highs in the mid 80’s and lows in the mid 50’s, it was time. I shaved somewhere between three and five pounds out of my pack.
At the library I met back up with Turtle Goat, and it looks like most of the group is getting some last beers, then hiking out. We’ll probably only go a few miles out tonight.
From what I understand, cell service in VA sucks for AT&T. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to update. I’ll update as able.
Take the best of care my friends.