Backpacker

Trail Daze

Source: Hikers gone wild: Revelers get down in Camp Riff Raff at Trail Days in May 2017. 

CHARLES CHESNUTT LEADS A DOUBLE LIFE.

In one, he works as a costumed historical guide on a cruise ship plying the Mississippi through the Big Easy. He’s 37, bearded, and used to be a lawyer, which becomes clear whenever he opens his mouth. But in this crowd, Charles Chestnutt is Disney, has been ever since he hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail in 2005. And Disney is a fun-loving guy.

At the moment, around 10 p.m. on a steamy night in May, as hundreds of AT aficionados are gathered a few miles from the trail at a sprawling campground in tiny Damascus, Virginia, Disney is stalking a winding path and towing a boom box that blares electric through the nearby scrub pines. “I’m sexy and I know it,” come the lyrics above a pulsing techno beat. A high, gleeful wail of synthesizers ensues, and Disney responds with a sinuous swirl of his midriff. He’s not svelte, certainly, but he is peacock proud. And he’s not alone. Behind him in a loose conga line are two dozen other revelers, each one bearing a bright-green glow stick necklace and a plastic cup of cheap beer, each one mouthing the lyrics of LMFAO’s 2011 hit.

I got passion in my pants

And I ain’t afraid to show it

(show it, show it, show it).

The line snakes its way into the crowd, injecting its energy into the already raucous scene. This is Trail Days, a yearly coming together of the hiker tribe for four days of fun. The festival draws thousands of trail lovers and boosters—from newbie dayhikers to grizzled Triple Crowners, from gear companies to this magazine—to the southern Virginia burg for clinics, gear repair and prizes, and music. Attendees divide up by allegiance, joining one of the long-established “camps” or, for the unaffiliated, setting up in Tent City. By day—and especially by night—it’s the biggest party on any trail.

Disney represents the faction that comes here to go harder than anyone else. He’s part of a crew called Riff Raff, a loose contingent of 80 or so hikers who do Trail Days with uncommon verve. Riff Raff is a rowdy bunch, established 11 years ago and roughly 75 percent male. Members gather en masse but once a year, at Trail Days, and they subject their novitiates to a formalized initiation rite. Each worthy Riff Raffer is inducted at a “shirting” ceremony, at which he

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