Good times in Damascus, Virginia
For the fifth year in a row, we attended Appalachian Trail Days down in Damascus, Va., aka “Trail Town USA.” Every year, up to 20,000 tourists make their way to this tiny town of fewer than 1,000 people around the middle of May. And every year more and more folks visit our booth. Nearly 400 people attended the Saturday raffle, along with 20 hikers who gathered round for our first “How to Set Up Your Tarp” clinic with our Chief Adventure Officer (aka CEO) Mike St. Pierre and Ambassador and professional thru hiker Ashley “Bloody Mary” Hill.
“It was rad,” Hill said of the event. “Appalachian Trail Days is the largest outdoor, long-distance hiking event in the country, so there are a lot of veteran hikers and new hikers. People feed off each other; the veterans let the new hikers know they can complete this monumental task. And the veterans and other tourists get to be around the energy of people starting a thru hike; you can feel the enthusiasm and excitement! There’s so much community, culture and love surrounding this event.”
Veteran thru hiker Matt “Porter” Laclair finished the trail in 2011, and has come every year since to work at the Hyperlite Mountain Gear booth. He summed up his Trail Days experience for us.
“It’s keeping tabs with people who were on the trail and who come back, like ‘Mofo’ who drives me crazy every year,” he says, laughing, a beer in hand. “But really, it’s just a time to reconnect with the community. The AT community is very special. When you’re on it you find out people are just people. There’s no race, color, gender and everybody takes care of each other. As soon as you get off the trail, you’re back at work and nobody cares. Attending Trail Days is a way to reconnect with that communal ideal three days per year.”
Grassroots Team Member Kendra “Lays” Jackson and her partner, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Tent Maker Tyson “Tenderfoot” Perkins are two ultralight newbies on the trail, though they’ve already made it to the 890-mile mark. They returned from Waynesboro, Va., to work the booth for the festival. The event, they both agreed, offered them the opportunity to keep tabs on people they had met earlier on the AT and to experience the community from different perspectives.
“I really liked seeing the event from the vendor’s point of view,” Lays explained. “Working at Hyperlite Mountain Gear, I got to see people get really stoked on a company and its gear. As well, I got the opportunity to update our gear and connect with vendors whose gear has really helped us on the Trail. I had the chance to thank them.”Click to view slideshow.
Tenderfoot brought a unique point of view as one of the company’s lead tent makers (who got a five-month sabbatical from work to hike the trail). “I was psyched to be able to help people improve their shelter systems,” he explained. “But, I also loved connecting with a lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise have connected with. It’s not like you’re the kid going up to the table asking for stickers; you’re on the other side of the tent with the crew. It’s a really cool perspective on the whole thing.”
All in all, Appalachian Trail Days 2016 was a huge success for us, stated St. Pierre. “This is our biggest event of the year; we love the thru hiking community,” he explained. “I’m stoked to educate people about ultralight backcountry gear and techniques. It’s awesome to give people a shakedown and help them dial in what they really need, which is basically a lot less. I helped a lady today drop five pounds and I gave her a list of things to exchange that will help her lose another five pounds. It really bummed me out to see that she was having such a bad experience when it was totally unnecessary. She had already had three shakedowns! It took a long time to turn her around, but she walked away with a really small bag and was pumped.”