From Denton to Damascus - An Appalachian Trail Days Weekend

Posted by Whole Earth | 06.03.2024

Vendor tents at the Appalachian Trail Days Weekend in Damascus Virginia


From Denton to Damascus -

An Appalachian Trail Days Weekend 


Like many of us, I have had a romantic fascination with the Appalachian Trail since I first picked up A Walk in The Woods over 20 years ago. Bill Bryson’s tale of exploring this great American wilderness has lit a fire in the lives of many potential hikers, challenging us to get out there and embrace the outdoors.


As my love for the outdoors grew, the AT always held a special place in my heart. Over the years I have read many accounts of thru-hiking (see my recommendations at the end), immersed myself in the online hiking community, and whenever possible, ventured east and put my foot on the AT, even if it is just for a mile or two. As soon as my boots hit the fabled trail, there is an instant connection with those who have gone before and those who will come after.


The inaugural Trail Days was in 1987, an idea born from the celebration of the trail's 50th year. During Trail Days, the sleepy town of Damascus, Virginia swells from 800 permanent residents to over 25,000 people. This year I decided I wanted to be one of those people! With this adventure in mind, I went to Whole Earth store at Mockingbird Station in Dallas, and spoke to Dana and Ruth who helped me pick out the perfect pair of Oboz Sawtooth boots. My previous big box store boots had recently met an untimely end on a local trail when the sole decided to depart from the rest of the shoe with several miles to go.


I packed a carry-on bag, kissed my wife goodbye, hopped on a standby flight from DFW to Charlotte, and then headed through the Great Smoky Mountains to Virginia.


Although hikers past, present and future are the core attendees of Trail Days, the town was also awash with trail angels, volunteers, people who love other outdoor pursuits, as well as anyone who simply wants to connect with the outdoor community. Walking around town you immediately are drawn to the variety of accents, both regional and international, as well as the diversity of the visiting population. Hugs, tears of happiness and “tramily values” permeated the town. Damascus became an international crossroads right in front of my eyes. It really showed me that the outdoors is truly for everybody, and every body.


I was also struck by the large number of simple acts of kindness being offered by local churches, businesses and volunteers. Meals, showers, laundry, transportation, simple conversation, anything that was needed was provided with a smile and loving heart, with nothing expected in return. Homeowners opened their yard to hikers to pitch their tents for the weekend. Kindness, or trail magic, in its purest form.


A battered Appalachian Trail sign



Aside from vendors and outdoor related booths (the anchor of Trail Days) there are many talks and presentations given by those who wish to share their knowledge and experiences from the trail. I had the pleasure of listening to Warren Doyle, an 18-time thru hiker, "Speak." He promised to not talk about pack weights, gear or logistics, but rather how to open ourselves up to the gifts the trail has to offer. What stuck with me in particular was the releasing of fear. When we open our heart up, Doyle said, we release fear and allow hope, joy and happiness to enter. He finished by asking a very poignant question - If we want to experience a different life on trail, why would we bring the baggage of our old life with us?


Despite heavy rains rolling over the mountains, I made sure that I made a talk given by Jennifer Pharr Davis (author of Finding Odyssa, as well as other wonderful books) who completed the AT in 46 days, averaging 47 miles each day. She spoke poetically about the rejuvenation of the outdoors, however you experience it. From record shattering trail running to providing trail magic, how we choose to connect to the outdoors does not determine the level of what we receive in return. We need to open ourselves up to the gifts the trail has - A theme that would occur again and again over the weekend.


One of the most quirky and fun customs of the trail is the assigning of trail names. Trail names are given at an undetermined point during a person’s time on trail, bestowed in most cases by a fellow hiker who experiences or sees something in the other hiker that organically produces a new name. Hearing stories of trail names was one of the great delights of the weekend, as they almost all led to hilarious stories that provided connections between the parties involved. Although this may seem like just a silly tradition, it embodies the spirit of creating a new persona on the trail, and shedding what we need to get rid of.


Alasdair Green at Damascus Virginia Appalachian Trail Days


I sat at the main stage listening to one of the many bands who performed this weekend (Orbital Planes, check them out!) I could not help but think about how we live our lives every day. Trail Days subtly promotes, or perhaps, at a minimum, embraces and accepts, an alternative way of living on and off trail. There was a simplicity and joy that was a common thread throughout the entire event. People who decided that the lifestyle that is often sold to us is not the one that actually leads to contentment. Less materialism, more meaningful connections, and more simplicity are, in many cases, what fulfills us the most. It is worth asking ourselves, is what we are working so hard for every day bringing us the joy our soul needs?


As I left Trail Days, I felt surprisingly emotional mulling over the lessons, feelings and conversations that had taken place. I wondered how best to bring those back with me to Denton in a meaningful way. It would be foolish of me to leave my experiences there, so I decided that being purposeful in not letting them wither away is crucial. I will continue to embrace the outdoors, without defining what that looks like. I will not be afraid of new challenges, as well as opening myself up to new joy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I shall continue to be purposeful in connecting with those around me. Our relationships with friends and family are what truly holds us together in both times of joy and sorrow, and bringing some trail magic and tramily principles home with me will allow me to carry a piece of trail life with me every day.


- Alasdair Green (no trail name yet!)


Books that inspired my love for the Appalachian Trail:

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail - Bill Bryson

The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey- Derrick Lugo

Unlost: A journey of self-discovery and the healing power of the wild outdoors - Gail Mueller


A Special Thanks to:

Warren Doyle 

Jennifer Pharr Davis 

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy 


See Alasdair's Appalachian Trail Days weekend video!




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