Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia is a celebration. Thousands of people from all over the world infiltrate the quiet mountain town to celebrate the journey of the white blaze. It’s truly captivating to witness the energy that fills the streets. Up until this time in my life I had been unable to fully grasp the true meaning of Trail Days.

Years ago, before I had hiked the AT, I could see the excitement on the faces of the people who would pass me by waving the flag with the year they had thru-hiked on it, but I never felt what they were feeling. I had forever longed to feel that energy.

_MG_6405 _MG_6608

I wasn’t sure what Trail Days would bring for me this year. It had been two years since I attended the festival last. I was anxious on the ride in. In the two years I was absent I had thru-hiked the AT and the PCT both, and in the time leading up to Trail Days I knew that familiar trail faces would take me back to the walks I had completed in some small way. And I was right. Bumping into people who shared those trail experiences with me hit me way harder than I could have imagined.

_MG_6593

For the first time in months I was called “Big Ups” again. This was my trail name. It was granted to me early on hiking the AT. My head would snap and I would stop dead in my tracts as soon as it was called. Although these people only knew me for a short time, they knew the real me, they knew me in my happiest moments.

_MG_6596 _MG_6616

I just stood there grinning as we caught up. I could picture vividly each of their packs, what they wore, and where I had hiked or camped with them. They would tell stories, some I had forgotten, of how my sarcasm and overwhelming positivity cheered them up in some way. It’s amazing how much you can remember. I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for those kinds of encounters. Each person I bumped into, whom I had hiked with, brought a different tear to my eye. I was filled with joy.

As if seeing fellow thru hikers wasn’t enough, we teamed up with IceMule Coolers to provide trail magic to hikers making their way to Damascus. We intersected the AT on Tennessee 421 in Shady Valley, about 15 trail miles from town. After two years of collecting the generous handouts of trail angels, I was extremely excited to give back to the AT Class of 2016!

_MG_6391

After many years of attending Trail Days I finally learned for myself why it was so special. A thru-hike is about the journey. Significant meaning comes from the people with whom you share your experience. I didn’t realize, but there are people all over the world who remember me as I have remembered them.