Drinking in the Laundry Mat
The heavy raindrops pinged off the hood of my rain jacket, which was meant to keep me dry but I knew by now that hiking in a rain jacket only meant getting drenched by sweat as opposed to fresh mountain rain. I only chose the latter when the temperatures were warm enough to ensure hypothermia may not be a result of bathing in that fresh mountain rain scent. It was only mid-April and in the mountains you could still be expecting snow if the weather conditions were perfect. So I walked on in my non-breathable, nylon rain jacket and thought back on how I got here. This day had been planned to be spent indoors, avoiding this storm.
I think back to a couple of afternoons before when we walked into the town of Damascus, Virginia. With a population of just under one thousand people, it was one of the bigger towns we had been in. It was also the most hiker friendly of them all, touting itself as Trail Town, USA. It had been a twenty six mile day into town for us, after participating in what hikers called the Damascathon, and the reward was a café where the servers didn’t even look at you funny for smelling so bad. We ate our fill and got a bed at a glorified bunkhouse for only $6. This was indeed a town for a hiker.
We took a zero day the following day and hiked no miles. That evening we asked around for where the local drinking hole was and when we finally found the answer, we balked. “The laundry mat,” the girl at the counter of the only convenience store in the town told us. Damascus had that small mountain town feel but this still surprised us all. So we bought our beer right there and then and headed for the laundry mat. This being a small town, getting around was easy for those of us on foot, particularly because the laundry mat was only across the street. I had been there earlier in the morning doing a load for Gonzo and I.
As we walked in we made sure to keep out recent purchases down low as not to attract any attention but as soon the door shut behind us we found out that we must have been the last hikers in town to find the “secret” spot. Lined up in a row under the one TV inside the place was a band of hikers sitting in plastic chairs. We fell in line as another episode of Ancient Aliens came on the History Channel. Few people with a functioning remote will sit and watch this TV show about conspiracy theories but to a handful of hikers who live in the woods, it is award winning entertainment. We sat and sipped, talked and laughed, thoroughly enjoying the nightlife at the 24 hour laundry mat. All the while locals did their laundry.
After a while a small lady in her late fifties or early sixties came of to speak with us. She knew right off, as most people do, that we were thru hikers. She asked us how we were doing that night and how long we had been walking, along with many other of the same questions that interested people the most. We talked to her for some time and right before she finally turned to leave she said that she was the owner of the establishment and that we should pay no mind to any locals that gave us trouble, saying, “This town has a couple no accounts.”
We sheepishly thanked her and said good night as she left, not knowing that the whole time we had been sipping Bud Light which was not so sneakily concealed under brown bags that we had also been talking with the owner. How hiker friendly could this town be that she didn’t care about us loitering and drinking in the laundry mat?! It was the only laundry mat and town and at one point during their stay nearly every hiker does a load of laundry here, but at that point in time we were not even proper patrons. Even further, she referred to someone as ‘no accounts’ and it wasn’t us, despite our current status of drinking in a laundry mat! We had become quite used to stares, off hand remarks and the occasional displeased local and were surprised to be in a town where we weren’t the ones considered a ‘no account’.
Everyone went on with their business. The locals did their laundry and we continued drinking. Before it got too late, the hikers began to trickle off to their hotels and hostels. After the sun goes down, there isn’t much for a hiker to do so we had all learned to rise and fall with the sun.
The next morning the sky looked a little tense. The forecast confirmed some bad weather was headed our way. We found ourselves in a tight situation. Most hostels and hotels wanted you out fairly early in the morning but we wanted to wait out the impending thunderstorm before we walked out of town. We only had one place to go, the laundry mat.
So there we all were again among the washers and dryers and the lone TV. The locals were back to doing laundry and we were back to watching the screen, this time the Weather Channel. Hikers not being the sort to waste anything, someone walked in with the remnants of a thirty pack of beer from the night before and began to pass them around. This watered down excuse for beer was barely manageable the first time we drank them and even the thought of having it for breakfast made my stomach churn. Still, there were many among us who managed to get it down.
As we waited for the big colorful blob of dark green, yellow, and red to catch up to us, we readied food supplies, packed up all of our gear and of course drank. But this time around we had a new set of locals on our hands and no protection from the owner. It didn’t take long until a rotund woman in the later years of middle age came over to the hiker infested half of the laundry mat. “I know that’s not BEER you’re drinking in this laundry mat,” she barked at Duffle Miner and his can of
Bud. “And get off that dryer! You’re going to throw the rotation off balance,” she yelled at Maineiac. He slinked off the machine, Duffle put down the beer can and the rest of made slow and precise movements to gather our belongings.
She went off into a diatribe about the yearly influx of rowdy and mannerless hikers. It was a story we had heard many time before and would hear many times after. There was an understandable argument against “Hiker Trash”, as we called it when a hiker partook in an activity they would have never done before living in the woods for several months, but it always seemed to come from a much less accomplished sort of trash.
It was true that it wasn’t even noon yet and it was true that we were indeed drinking in a public area and deserved a good berating. Still, that makes it no more easy to stand there as some who walked to that location from several states away and oblige an obese human who probably can’t comfortably make a pass through the grocery store with out getting short winded, also knowing that they have probably never had the courage to foster a dream most people think is insanity and then have the guts to go out and do it. Such a point of view decriminalizes a day off and a couple brews with your pals.
Regardless of how we felt, at heart thru hikers are not the sort to pick a fight or not know when they have over stepped a line. So despite the encroaching arrival time of the storm we had been waiting out, we set out for the trail. Twelve hikers in a clumped up bunch hiked out of Damascus just as the rain began to set in. It was a fourteen mile day to the next shelter and we walked the entire way listening to the rain ping off the hoods of our rain jackets.
This story aside, hikers a by and large treated with an unbelievable amount of love and respect by the people the encounter and vice versa. We hikers know we rely on the good hearted people we encounter and we do appreciate it in a way that most of us can only express by passing it on to other in need. But you do occasionally meet a person who thinks you're just a no account drifter plaguing their town.