About the Author: Pat-Rice Z is a Jersey girl who has relocated to the DC area. She is a 2019 AT Thru-Hike hopeful who is considering going NOBO or leapfrogging, however the adventure unfolds. You can find her on Instagram @halfway_to_the_sky.

To see all of Patrice’s posts, click her name above!

Week 7: May 14-May 20

Oh Trail Days, I always wondered what it would be like to be a hippie at Woodstock and because of you, I finally know. I wrote my last post waiting to hear news about the hikers stabbed north of Damascus. Unfortunately, the male hiker, Stronghold, passed away. He was a veteran and he came to the woods for many other reasons similar to most hikers, for nature, for fun, for a challenge…I will always remember him because he will be the hiker taken during the year I hiked the AT. News of the violence was saddening and disappointing however I did not fear going back to the trail. The trail is my refuge so on a very rainy day, my hiking partner Pusher and I left Boots Off Hostel and continued down the trail.

We continued 0.2 and then were greeted by trail magic. Well really it was a Riff Raff member called G-Hippied offering grilled cheese and soda. “Take a zero with us at Dividing Ridge camp ground! We have food, a pig roast and we will slack pack you to Damascus!” We looked at the rain and then back at the grilled cheese and well, we weren’t too hard to convince. We jumped in the van and were taken 5 minutes down the road to Pre Daze with Riff Raff. What is Riff Raff? Hard to explain really but they are a group of alumni hikers from every year who come back and feed hikers of the current year. Anyone can join the party but not everyone is “shirted” (given a shirt and inducted). What is Pre Daze? A giant hiker party that takes place in Hampton prior to Trail Days in Damascus. Their parties are a bit crazy but I never have had a difficult time saying no and knowing when to retreat from a party. 

G-Hippie slack packed us for 21 miles from T-91 back to Watauga Lake. This will be the only 20 miles that I actually hiked SOBO. What slack pack means is that you hike the trail with only half your stuff while someone else watches it, your backpack is lighter and you can move faster. The area between Hampton and Damascus is absolutely beautiful. You come out of the woods and walk across grassy fields with cows and then back into the woods. When we finally left Hampton for good we were greeted by more Trail Magic and then decided to stop at Rabbits Hole hostel for milk shakes (they had lactose free!!). 

My friends and I stayed at the last shelter the night before we walked into Damascus. That morning I woke up needing to use the bathroom so I walked 200+ feet away from our tents and settled into my squat…only for a hiker to pass me with my pants down and butt sticking out. I hadn’t realized that the AT curved around. I had been spotted pooping, oh well.

When we first got into Damascus we were greeted by church people which was wonderful but then were immediately overwhelmed. Food here, camp there, resupply there. Walking into Trail Days was disappointing at first, we had to walk a long way with our heavy packs and had no idea what to do. Should we pay to sleep at Tent City? What about church hostels? We somehow ended back on Odie’s hiker bus and settled in at Tent City in the “quiet section” (HA!)

Church groups from all over came to Trail Days and ran events and offered free food, showers, foot rubs, etc! I didn’t pay for a single meal the whole 3 days I was there! 

The church people were located in one side of tent city and on the other side…in the woods is where all the “sinning” was happening (my joke). In the woods, groups of people were hosting raging parties. There was a drum circle that would go until 4 am every morning and people were practicing spinning fire.  It was literally like Woodstock.

I loved Trail Days especially because I was able to get all my gear fixed. Osprey and Big Agnes were present. I find it so cool that these big companies fix and repair gear instead of throwing away! My hip belt on my backpack no longer fit me due to losing weight but Osprey was able to make the adjustments (for free) and I did not have to purchase a new bag. 

My friends and I also participated in the hiker parade. All the hikers went to the thrift store and all the men bought dresses. My one hiking partner is 72 and he picked out a maroon dress with a cocktail purse. I somehow found and was able to fit into a little girl’s tutu and little boy’s Ninja Turtle shirt. These outfits were for the hiker parade where hikers walk down Main Street and get sprayed down with water guns by the locals. I loved Trails Days and would recommend for all hikers to attend, you can avoid the crazy parts if you want to. I got to catch up with hikers that I haven’t seen in weeks, people I started out with but passed. I might not see some of these people again which is saddening but I am so excited that I have made it to Virginia! I’m homeward bound! Happy Trails!