I was going to try and explain Trail Days on a day-by-day basis. But I met so many people and did so many things that it's just not going to work. So I'll just describe some events and hope they make sense. Chronologically it might be a little weird.
I've never seen so many thru-hikers in one place. Many of this year's hikers were here, hundreds of past hikers. Streets were lined with Gore-Tex and Duofold-covered scruffmonkeys like myself, Teva- and Osprey-wearing guys in their 20s and 30s. White-bearded men with corded calves tell of when they hiked to random passersby, sundress-clad girls run barefoot through town. College guys show off their crewcuts, "AT" shaved into the backs of their heads. It's quite a mix.
I went to a couple of slideshows on the AT, both quite encouraging. Everybody I met was a thru- hiker or a past thru-hiker, all assured me that of course I could make it to Maine. People dashed up to me, asking "Are you Waldo?", having written to me on my web page. I must admit, I did deny it a few times.
I bought a new pot at a local outfitting store, along with a pair of rain gaters so I don't have to carry rain pants. I stocked up on mac and cheese, as Kraft was giving the stuff away.
I made my juggling clubs into flaming clubs, wrapping them with washclothes I'd bought at the Dollar Store. (Guess how much they cost?) I juggled them as a comedy routine at the talent show, earning me 13th place and the prize of a t-shirt.
I met the Traveling Garveys, a group of past thru-hikers who describe themselves as follows:
"A trail family of devoted yet unworthy followers of 'the most noble thru-hiking guru,' Ed Garvey, who had friends meet im at road crossings with rides, food and (especially) good spirits during his groundbreaking 1970 hike from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. It is toward the pursuit of these 'good spirits' that all dedicated 'Ed-Heads' are committed."They treat all of this with much good humour and silliness. They agreed that I was, in fact, Garveying my way up to Maine.
I met Mike Henderson, who had e-mailed me before, who gave a wonderful slide show on his 1992 thru-hike. He works for Royal Robbins, a hiking clothing company, and gave me one of their loose- mesh shirts to wear while hiking. Trail Magic.
I met Allyn Morton, representative of Technica boots, who told me to call him up north, that perhaps he could arrange to get me a pair of their Pegasus Dry boots. My Asolos should be worn out by West Virginia. Nice to have arrangement made.
I danced to late-night drum solos, some of which went until dawn. A few people had brought African rhythm drums, some other percussion instruments. All were quite good. I hacky-sacked for hours, meeting dozens of people in the process.
I was grabbed while on a bridge, asked if I'd help catch ducks. I didn't know what the woman meant, but she seemed desperate, so I agreed. What I ended up doing was helping stretch a mesh fence across a river, fighting the insisting current, and catching rubber ducks, judging the winner of the Rubber Duck Race. It was #49 -- seven squared, 42+7.
I met two thru-hikers that are close to my age, both females. Yogi and another girl, both weeks ahead of me. It never occurred to me, until I started hiking, that I'd be one of the youngest on the trail. It all seems quite irrelevant while hiking.
I ate apple cobbler and sat in the street, talking to new friends until well into the morning. I sat on the roof of a pizza place, slurping up hot cheese and sauce, enjoying the breeze on the humid afternoon.
I marched down the street in the Thru-Hiker's Parade, waving to children and withstanding welcome attacks by past hikers armed with squirt guns, moving to the beat of the band ahead playing Beatles songs.
I sat in the shade of an oak and watched people walk by, feeling lazy and happy for it, drinking orange juice and sharing Nilla Wafers with other hikers.
I spent long nights in my hot tent, trying to sleep in my self-made sauna. It's time for my sleeping bag to go.
I wrote long letters to friends, telling them of my trip, for most are too lazy to actually read my web page. It is the first time I'd written to many of them, and I find I cannot find the words to describe my adventure thus far.
The three days were a blur of fun and relaxation, a break that all of the hikers surely needed. Despite, I felt guilty after a day off the trail. It really is difficult to not hike, to know that you're not making milage. It just doesn't feel right.
I found a ride out on Sunday afternoon, getting back to Hot Springs with Yogi and Boo-Boo. They were going to the Duckett House Inn, returning with their two dogs. Twinkie the Kid and I slept in the van most of the way, waking to dog vomit congealing in the carpet fibers in front of us. I felt similarly, growing car sick quickly. I really do think that my body freaks now, moving when I'm not putting effort into it. I threw myself out of the van at Duckett House, lying face-down in the grass and inhaling. I felt better instantly. Is it possible to be phsyically nature-addicted?
Yogi and Boo-Boo gave us a ride to downtown (for lack of a better word, when dealing with a town with a population of just over 600) Hot Springs, where we spotted M.C. Brandy, sitting on the deck of the Bridge Street Cafe. We sat down to eat, Brandy offering to pay for it. He introduced us to Kristen and her husband (name forgotten), who had wed just five days earlier. Their section-hike to Erwin was their honeymoon. We all had a great conversation, sitting on that deck, listening to Paul Simon's "Graceland", watching the crescent moon - The Moon of Births of Elk and Deer - set over the river, eating pasta with pesto and olive oil-dipped bread. I honestly could not, right then and there, think of any place that I would rather be, anything that I would rather be doing, than sitting on the deck, listening to Paul Simon, watching the crescent moon set, eating pasta and talking to some wonderful people.
Crag and Jim (aka Syd, aka I Go Up I Go Down) came by as well, making things that much more interesting. We left just before 11, moving down to a motel where Crag, Jim and Snail No More had a room. They told me that The Brothers, the girls, Botony Boy, Florida Dave, Blaze Blind, Purple Pirate -- the whole gang -- had left town the day before. They'd all had their own little Trail Days right in Hot Springs. It sounded like fun. Crag played the ol' guitar again, I worked on journal entries, we all talked until after midnight. The newlyweds invited Neven (Twinkie the Kid) and I to stay with them, for they had a room with space down the road. We accepted, and we soon left to retire for the evening.
That evening, lights off and windows open, the four of us lay in the dark, unable to sleep, talking of comics, from Mutts to Calvin and Hobbes, Mother Goose and Grimm to Zippy. Never a slow moment on the Appalachian Trail.