Trail Days, Damascus, V.A.

After having spent 2 nights at Hungry Mother State Park we decided to lock up the camper and head a few miles south to Damascus, Virginia. Damascus was having their annual Trail Days Festival, celebrating current and past thru hikers of the Appalachian Trail. This town gets together to throw a big party, and their hospitality was unreal.

Hikers were hitching rides into town from every direction. The town baseball fields, and sections of woods behind them, were temporarily turned into “Tent City”. The Damascus fire department, library, and local church were doing laundry for hikers, feeding them, giving free haircuts, foot massages and even had a movie night. There were two small strips of vendors scattered throughout the festival, all outdoor companies showing off their latest merchandise and fixing and replacing everyone’s gear for free.

After setting up our tents we took a walk around the festival, Purdy dropped his backpack off with the manufacturer to have a zipper replaced, and we got to meet his trail family. Everyone we met seemed surprised to know that Purdy is a ball busting, movie quote junkie not only on the trail,  but off the trail too. Everyone of Purdy’s trail friends that we met were really awesome, we had a great time hanging out and talking, they were all hiker hungry and we sat and watched them eat for most of the daylight hours.

After the sun went down things started to get crazy in Tent City.

As the sun started to set people began howling throughout the festival, echoing off of one another. There were a few people set up in Tent City making food for everyone, and before long everyone had full stomachs and were well into their share of alcohol and other things. We took a walk onto the woods once the sun went down and witnessed a Alice in Wonderland/Mad Max party winding through the paths of the woods. As we walked through there were small groups of people huddled around fires singing, dancing and eating. As we went further into the woods the camp set ups became more elaborate and crazy. People had huge tents set up blasting techno music, with large bonfires. At the end of the path of parties we came to the mother of all bonfires where there was a drum circle surrounding it and people dancing and chanting around it. At one point I asked Purdy where he had taken me and his only response was a giggle, haha this place was unreal.

After having our fill of debauchery for the night we decided it was time to head back to our tents. In the morning we had a $5 all you can eat pancake breakfast from the church, picked up Purdy’s pack and before leaving gave one of his friends and her dog a ride to the food store to stock up for another night of Trail Days. We knew that one night was plenty of Trail Days for us, so we headed back to Hungry Mother State Park for one more night in the lap of luxury.

Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, V.A.

After a slow drive down to Virginia we arrived in Marion where we spent 4 nights at Hungry Mother State Park. For the first 2 nights the campground was very quiet with only about a quarter of the sites filled. The park isn’t too big, but it has a some nice trails, a beach for swimming and a boat ramp for non-motorized boats.

After a quick set up at the camp site we drove about 20 miles west to pick up our friend Purdy at a general store that seemed to be in the middle of no where. Purdy is thru hiking the Appilachian Trail and just passed the 500 mile mark on the trail. Paul and I hosted him for a few days in the camper. We cooked him hot meals, watched movies, and gave him a bed to sleep on, making him a very happy camper.

Our fist two days were spent hanging around the town of Marion and relaxing at the campground. Friday we decided to head down to Damascus, Virginia for a thru hiker festival called Trail Days (post to follow). We spent our last night in the camp enjoying their hot showers and laundry facilities before we had to pack up and head south to the Smokey Mountians!

We did it!

We started living our version of the American dream this week. Wednesday was an emotional good bye and we spent the first few hours of our trip pretty quiet, processing the fact that we are actually doing this. It wasn’t until we started to see the mountains of Virginia that we actually felt like it was real. 
Our drive down to Virginia was thankfully uneventful. The camper and the truck handled the ups and downs of the mountains well. 

National Park Passport

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Last summer I picked up a National Park Passport at Mount Rainier National Park. I love this little book! The National Parks Passport is a small pocket sized book, it has descriptions of some parks/regions, comes with a foldable map, and has spots for stamps and stickers that can be found in each park. At each park’s visitor center there is usually a few different stamps that visitors can stamp their books with, and at least one of those stamps will include the date. This year marked the National Park Centennial and many parks created centennial stamps for visitors. I love collecting the stamps at each park, it’s free and a nice keepsake in a compact little book. When traveling I try not to load up with souvenirs, once we are on the road there won’t be any room for things like that anyway. As we travel I can’t wait to continue stamping my passport…

Assateague, Maryland

After having an amazing night in Ocean City, New Jersey at our friend’s wedding, Paul and I decided we needed a quiet night to unwind and relax. So, Saturday morning we made our way down to Assateague National Seashore in Maryland to camp for the night.

Getting to Assateague was quick and easy, we took the Cape May car ferry to Delaware and then drove the last hour down to Assateague island. When we got to the park I realized that I had mistakenly booked a campsite in the state park which is also on the island, instead of in the neighboring national park. After checking out the sites in the state park, and not being satisfied (it’s set up for large RVs), Paul and I both agreed to go take a look at the national park. After looking at the map we decided to camp in the national park and we were lucky enough to have a park ranger give us a list of available camp sites to pick from! Paul and I drove around the park checking out the different sites to decide where we wanted to set up camp. To some people the idea of scoping out the camp site might be crazy, but we take our spots seriously. Assateague National Park offers a few different camping experiences, with sites designed for RVs and campers, sites situated on the bay, some on the ocean, others you can drive right up to, and then some you had to walk to. Assateague also has back country camping for those into backpacking. While we would have loved to back country camp, we wouldn’t have had the time and ended up choosing a site that we had to walk to. Before setting up camp we drove over to the bayside of the island to watch the sunset. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets but this was one I won’t forget, it was beautiful.

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After taking in the sunset we headed to our site to set up camp. Our spot was located on the other side of the island in the middle of beach dunes close to the ocean. The campsites are outfitted with fire rings and picnic tables to make for a comfortable camping experience. There were others camping around us, but the dunes sheltered us from any noise and light that might have been coming from their sites. As we sat by the fire that night we could hear the waves crashing against the shore. We woke up early the next morning to watch the sunrise from the beach. I can say that I haven’t been to too many places where you can see not only a breathtaking sunrise over the water but a sunset too.

Assateague offers its campers beaches and trails, but it is most famous for the wild horses that roam the island. As soon as we crossed the bridge onto the island we came across horses grazing on the side of the road. The horses on the island are very unique, having little to no human contact for their entire lives. These horses have adapted to survive on this island through hot summers and brutal winters. Most campgrounds have short barn fencing surrounding all of the sites to keep the horses from coming in and stealing your food at night. The horses are docile and keep to themselves but are a unique aspect that no other national park has to offer. In the summer months the horses escape the heat and the bugs by spending their days on the beach. As the weather cools the horses make their way to the bayside of the island to protect themselves from the harsh winds coming off the ocean.

I’m bummed we were only able to spend one night in Assateague, but now I know in the future that it is definitely worth another trip down there.