The Road to Damascus
By Mike Martin (photos courtesy of Ty Brady)
I had the privilege to represent Backpackinglight at Trail Days in Damascus, VA last week with fellow BPL staffer Joel Walthall.
We had a booth in the vendor pavilion where we answered questions, handed out trial subscriptions, and wowed visitors with titanium sporks.
I held two "Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking" Seminars and led an instructional hike. Overwhelmingly, the traditional hikers we met were to very receptive to lightweight techniques. Plus, I was struck by how much of the gear and techniques that we lightweight folks take for granted, and would think that are widely known, are actually new to many mainstream hikers. A lot of people at the seminars and hike had never cooked on an alcohol or esbit stove, never seen a quilt, never considered a tarp instead of a tent, etc. Here I'm showing a Cuben Fiber Tarp to a class at the "Rock School".
For our instructional hike, a group of us headed South on the Appalachian Trail carrying lightweight packs. The fast-hiking guy in front of me is longtime BPL member Tom Clark whom I had the pleasure to meet for the first time. (Please take a look at Tom's excellent forum thread for his take on Trail Days.)
During the hike, we set up three different types of shelters: A lightweight freestanding tent (Black Diamond OneShot), a floorless shaped tarp shelter (Golite Hut 1), and an extremely light Cuben Fiber Tarp (BMW Stealth NANO One). We're setting up the Nano Tarp over a Quantum Bivy Sack.
And, here it is pitched to aesthetic perfection:
A future lightweight hiker takes refuge in the OneShot:
We cooked a hot snack over lightweight alcohol and esbit stoves and cooksets:
Here, we're scouting for Pterodactyls as we heard they were preying on unsuspecting hikers in the area...Or, I'm hanging a bear bag - I can't remember which.
In addition to Tom Clark, Joel and I had the good fortune to meet several other "friends of BPL". Here Grant Sible from Gossamer Gear and Russ Zandbergen of Caldera Cone fame secretly discuss a Microsoft/Yahoo style merger to dominate the lightweight hiking universe.
Meanwhile, twenty yards away, Ron Bell from Mountain Laurel Designs has finally solved the tarp condensation problem with his new innovative double-walled tarp:
The Six Moon Designs booth was directly across from Gossamer Gear's. Both companies had their 1-pound shelters out so passers by could compare the "One" with the "Refuge X".
Jack Tier from Jacks 'R' Better is modeling his JRB Down Hood and Sleeves with a Bozeman Mountain Works Cocoon Vest. Jack claims the lightweight combination will keep him warm down to zero degrees!
By far the most memorable person I had the chance to meet at Trail Days was Eugene Espy, who is purported to the the second person ever to thru-hike the AT in the early 1950's. He told tales of his hike before much of the AT infrastructure existed - even before there were mice in the shelters!
The entire town of Damascus really came out to support this event. It was amazing how welcoming they were to the thru-hiking community. There were free showers and medical check-ups, free food, music,... even haircuts.
Free Gear repair in "Tent City":
The town of Damascus evidently takes its Bingo very seriously as shown by their state-of-the-art Bingo Training Center.
A few days Ultralight walking to either end of the trail...
Some other backpacking magazine was also there, but our stuff was way lighter!
It was a great experience for me to go to Trail Days. I had the chance to meet a lot of wonderful people, spread some lightweight goodwill, and absorb first hand a bit of the AT thru-hiking culture. Someday, if I can ever get an entire Summer free from other commitments, I'd love to take a few thousand more steps along the trail...