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Hitting the trails in the buff

By Christina Stoltzfus
Blast Oregon Bureau

At this time last year I was almost finished hiking the Appalachian Trail, or the AT. The 2,158 miles that I hiked during the course of 6.5 months were life changing for me in many ways. An interesting aspect of spending so much time away from civilization was the way that I lost consciousness of time.

While ordinary holidays are often forgotten when one is hiking, away from the bombardment of commercialism and the curse of clocks and calendars, there are several "hiker holidays" that gain popularity as word of them spreads along the trail.

Trail Days -- called Trail Daze by some witty hikers who had prior experience with the celebration -- draw hundreds of hiking fanatics to the small town of Damascus, Virginia, just miles across the North Carolina border for the northbound hiker. Thruhikers attempting the trail might hitchhike ahead or back to make the weekend party, past and future thruhikers drive into town, many choosing to hike segments of the AT while they're in the area. Representatives toting their company's latest in backpacking equipment are always present as well. The tiny burg allows tents to be set up and campers to park on city property to accommodate the huge influx of rowdy hikertrash.

The small town attempts to lend festivity with speeches, live music and booths in the park, and the Hiker Parade, which consists primarily of the high school marching band and scruffy folks in boots walking down Main Street. The majority's idea of a party, however, is to get shit-faced early in the afternoon, hang out with friends until the wee hours, all the while drinking alcohol out of Nalgene bottles. It's a typical hiker thing.

My hitch back to Damascus for the celebration was a memorable one. I was approximately a week north of the town when the weekend of Trail Days approached. Three other hikers and I decided to try to hitchhike back after cleaning off the trail stench in a hotel shower. We stood by the onramp to the highway, thumbs out, with signs that read "DAMASCUS PLEASE" and "WE'RE CLEAN."

We got a ride quickly with an opthamologist who was headed to Trail Days himself. On the way, however, he asked if we would mind if he stopped at his home to feed us dinner. We didn't refuse; it was one of those magic moments that seemed to occur frequently with people we'd come in contact with along the Trail.

Another holiday occurs on June 21, the Summer Solstice. Though not publicized in the manner of Trail Days, Naked Hiking Day is almost as well-known among hikerfolk. It's a celebration of the commencement of summer, an expression of the freedom of being in the midst of nature, and basically an excuse to get naked.

My personal reaction to the holiday was "All right! I'm definitely going to hike naked. What a kick!" But as the day approached, I began to wonder what new packrub might accrue, and why I would want to expose my "trucker's ass" (pimples caused by sweat and friction of the pack). I ended up being in a town on the day of the Solstice, and my decision to hike fully clothed to the shelter that night was blindly wise. It turned out that there was a church group of teenagers there when I arrived. Then again, that would have been interesting, as well.

I later talked to many hikers who claimed to have bared it all for the day and heard tales of even more. I myself didn't have the pleasure of seeing any hikers wearing only a pack and boots frolicking down the trail, at least not on that day. I did talk to one adventurous woman who shed her clothes for the day. She told me that she kept several bandanas handy in case she met up with any families or forest rangers. This attitude was common with many of the hikers who participated in the holiday; they were were expressing the prevalent intentions of thruhikers -- to have fun and experience hiking in a new way.