5/18 The Parade – Damascus (0)

May 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Today was a strange and emotional day.  We were less lively after our second night of imbibing and the dark clouds had an ill effect on our spirit.  Despite the early rain, however, we got ourselves up and faced day two of hiker insanity.  The missions in town were extremely kind to us and went way out of their way to bring in disaster relief vehicles (which make interesting implications about us) to offer showers and laundry.  They also set up in a large building across the street and offered fruit, sandwiches, and snacks all day long.  We patronized this building more than we would like to admit.

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If you feed them, they will come.

Around mid-afternoon we headed to the hiker parade.  The parade has a longstanding tradition in Damascus as the biggest water fight in Virginia.  The tradition started when Trail Days started, rather informally, and the locals noticed the strong odors that hikers brought with them.  Eventually, they couldn’t take the smell and started spraying the hikers with their lawn hoses in a moment of benevolence.  What they saw as a free shower was interpreted by the hikers as playful warfare and the hikers began to retaliate with squirt guns and water balloons.  Eventually this exchange turned into the modern day hiker parade, where all the thru hikers march, in order of which year they thru hiked (since there are many returning hikers) through the center of town and the locals line the streets, with each side spraying each other mercilessly.

We were waiting (on food, of course), and so got a later start than we meant to and rushed to reach the back of the parade, where the thru hikers were for this  year.  We saw some friends and jumped into the middle before we could reach the back, which ended up being a very fortunate occurrence.  We had just started marching when we heard the ambulance.  Water was flying everywhere but several hikers jumped out of the way just in time for the ambulance to tear down the street past us.  It was going against the parade, headed for the back of the group, and at first everyone thought it was part of the parade.  Since it was most people’s first parade, we assumed the town was messing with us, especially as children were still spraying us with super soakers.  Following the ambulance came several police cars, though, this time with a bullhorn telling us to move and clear the street.  People stopped marching and a confused murmur worked through the crowd.  Then word from the back of the parade started to reach us.  So did the screaming, and a few crying people.  There was music playing and everyone seemed to be trying to decide what the appropriate reaction was.  There were still a lot of people laughing and spraying each other as the word slowly made its way through the parade that something had happened.  The message was that some of the hikers were hit.  There was a girl who was dragged by the car and a dozen hikers had actually lifted it off of her, its wheels still spinning. We could hear helicopters coming and more ambulances.

The majority of police vehicles, ironically, seemed to be at the campground in case the hikers got out of hand;  As a result, most of the policemen flew by us on bicycles or by foot, trying to maintain order with whistles instead of sirens.  The choppers were circling overhead and had everyone scared now.  There was total pandemonium and it began to feel more like a mob, frightened and energized, than a parade.  Then suddenly someone anonymously started singing the star spangled banner.  In the most surreal experience of my life, everyone joined in.  The whole crowd,  hikers and townsfolk alike, sang the entire star spangled banner at the top of their lungs while I tried to find words to explain to Sprouts what was happening.  “In America… when bad things happen… sometimes we… sing.”

After the strangest moment of patriotism in my life, the crowd dispersed and we went back to the campground, trying to distance ourselves from the chaos and clear the road for paramedics.  Not knowing what else to do, we regrouped at the mission and ate free food.  There was a lot of comfort then in a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  We celebrated Hagrid’s birthday and talked for a while about nothing, avoiding the day’s events.  That night we regrouped with familiar faces to go out for food again (the restaurant had more food tonight and had raised their prices already).  Things began to get back to normal in the evening and we had a quieter night that night, sitting around the campfire and talking with some of the other hikers that we’ve grown closer to.  We went to bed earlier than the past two nights in anticipation of HardCore, which we were eager to participate in after the madness of Trail Days.
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Birthdays on the trail.
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This guy tried to eat 100 poptarts for a bet. He did not succeed.