Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s second post from the trail . . .
It turns out that I was better prepared than I originally thought. My first day I hiked 16 miles and even though my feet and legs were sore in the days that followed, I was exceeding my own expectations. There were days when the trail turned into a river and the nights were below freezing, but I was settling into trail life with ease. I even made a few friends. In Hiawassee, GA I got off the trail for the first time in order to stay at the Blueberry Patch Hostel. It was my first time hitchhiking and I had been looking forward to the experience for the past few days. Ramon, one of the guys I had met at Hiker Hostel on my first night, and I stopped at the road and I asked a couple day hikers for a ride. I was disappointed I didn’t get to thumb it, but I also knew it was harder to say no to someone’s face than it was to pass by a couple anonymous hikers on the side of the road.
The hostel was a Christian Ministry that provided a shower, bunks, laundry, a chance to recharge my phone, and an amazing breakfast with pancakes and blueberry syrup, hash browns, homemade biscuits, and eggs. Gary, one of the owners, gave Ramon, a few other hikers, and me a ride into town in order to resupply. The other two hikers who came with us were a couple from Fayetteville, NC. They had already acquired trail names and were known as Crybaby (she hadn’t handled the uphills too well the past few days) and Batman. Batman was carrying over 60 pounds (I had left Springer Mountain with about 27 pounds); including a five pound hatchet. They were engaged and hiking the trail in order to raise money for veterans and could not have possibly had less in common with me. They had grown up with little money and had been homeless for a brief period before coming on the trail. She was 17 and hadn’t graduated from high school while he was 23 and had recently gotten out of jail. It was there that he found religion and every chance he got he told us how thankful he was that God had given him the opportunity to hike the trail. This trip was already the longest period of time he had ever been out of Fayetteville. I saw some of the gear that they were carrying and wasn’t sure how far it would take them: their Walmart sleeping bags didn’t look like they would cut it and the blisters on their feet were some of the biggest I had ever seen. Despite our differences, we were all on the trail for some of the same reasons. I wanted to challenge myself mentally and physically and I was finding out just how satisfying it is to get up early in the morning, walk 15 miles, and sleep outside each night. There was a great simplicity in this lifestyle; no obligations or responsibilities other than walking a little farther each day.
“Neon” looks ahead to a beautiful AT sunset.
I was also finding out about the social aspect of life on the trail. I saw some of the same people each day; one day I might walk farther but then the next day they would catch up. Every night we hung out around a fire until hiker midnight (9 PM) and on occasion someone might pass around a bottle of whiskey or moonshine. There were people from 14 to 70 and from all over the world with vastly different life stories. We were all bonded by a common goal: Katahdin.
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