The transmission of information along the Appalachian Trail is fascinating, a topic worthy of a sociology student’s research project. Most of the time, information is passed along in the shelter registers or through word-of-mouth by exceptionally fast or slow hikers. And, then, sometimes, news is conveyed by flyers and signs stuck to signposts or trees in the woods. All of these forms of communication were used to announce the Captain’s Party.
The Captain’s Party is a beloved tradition on the Appalachian Trail. The Captain is a hiker who lives just off the trail in Virginia, and once each year he throws a celebration for the thru-hikers who stop by his yard two weeks after Trail Days. From what I can discern online, it seems that 2014 marked the 10-year anniversary of the hiker feast, which always includes lots of food, alcohol, games (the “Hiker Olympics”), and a campfire, where live music may be found.
I don’t know whether I would have stopped by the Captain’s Party, were it not for Quiver’s fond memories of the event from years past and his insistence that we join the celebration. As it was, my then-19-year-old sister decided she could spend a week on the trail, and we arranged to meet her at the Captain’s Party because, weeks out, we were able to tell her exactly when we’d be there.
There is always something comical and a little uncomfortable about the collision of our various lives and identities, and the night my family was introduced to my trail world was no exception. Suddenly, my little sister, who, as she joked the next day, hadn’t before been to a boy-girl party, found herself in the middle of the woods with a bunch of stinky, hairy people who were devouring everything in sight, smoking quite a bit of marijuana, and drunk on moonshine. There was even a naked hiker walking around, trying to clothe himself in aluminum foil. (Because, you know, what party is complete without an aluminum foil-clad man?)
I’d definitely attend Trail Days again, if for no other reason than the chance to catch up with old friends, but it’s grown into something that I think feels a little too large and unruly. Meanwhile, the Captain’s Party seems to serve the same function that Trail Days once did: It gathers a bunch of friends together on the trail and builds community by allowing everyone to share in a joyful celebration. I was very glad I was able to attend.
My sister was, too. She said that she loved how quickly she was welcomed into the trail community that night. (While she didn’t partake, she enjoyed the flirtations and invitations to smoke pot that were directed her way.) The next morning, as she approached the zipline leading from the Captain’s onto the Appalachian Trail, a young man helped her across and, eying her long braid, christened her “Rapunzel.” And, thus, she became one of us.