After lunch at a local pub and a shower down the hall I walked to the Dunacannon, PA post office to pick up my drop box of food. The sun was low enough in the sky for me to consider venturing onto the baked sidewalk.
The post office attendant handed me a box, and a letter. The unexpected envelope was from Steve, a former AT thru-hiker. Steve hiked the trail 45 years ago. We were connected through family friends. He’s been following this hike since the beginning and today offered a story of his time on the trail in 1973.
Steve found himself hiking alone, without his original hiking partner, here in Duncannon PA. He felt discouraged but was inspired by a fellow hiker, a woman who had also started hiking with a partner but now hiked solo. She carried a hiking stick. That day Steve picked up a hiking stick as well and carried it all the way to Katahdin.
“Your partner has left you and this will change everything but if your will is to continue you’ll find your hiking stick to carry you North.”
His letter was in response to my decision to hike on without Sadie. I’ve received a lot of support for my decision and it has made the transition much easier. Thank you for those that reached out.
Since hiking alone I’ve reflected a lot on the relationships I’m forming out here and the support system I have back home. The AT is a notoriously social trail. The community of hikers is large and strong. The community of trail angels, trail towns, hostels, former thru-hikers, restaurant owners and shuttle drivers is even larger. Year after year people from Georgia to Maine go out of their way to help thru-hikers. While a thru-hike is very much an individual journey, no one can do it alone.
On June 2 me and fellow hiking friends walked out of Daleville, VA. Not long into our hike we came across a pickup truck freshly parked on a back road. Every hiker perks up at a parked car. Trail Magic usually comes from parked cars. That morning two guys from Raleigh were preparing freshly cooked BBQ, potato salad, beer and soda. It was 9am. The BBQ had cooked all night and they woke up at 5am to get to this spot.
Spencer is a former thru-hiker, Warp Speed was his trail name. I heard a bit of his story.
I already cannot wait to be a former thru-hiker and give back to this community. People like Spencer make wonderful moments for this journey and it seems the joy flows both ways.
Devils Backbone Brewery is quickly becoming one of the most supportive spots for AT hikers. Though it’s not directly on trail after hearing enough positive words about the place I decided to get a ride at the road. That day there were two former thru-hiker ladies giving out ice cream sundaes, beer and chips. One of them gave me a ride to the brewery.
Before I could sit down, a voice called out to me ‘Does your dog need water?’. I saw a tall, thin, elderly man sitting in a rocking chair. He walked over and what commenced is one of the most entertaining conversations I’ve had yet.
After that initial conversation OJ continued to ask me and fellow hikers if we needed anything. He brought napkins and ketchup, and continued to thank us for stopping by. He made us feel welcome during a journey that takes us away from familiarity.
In Waynesboro, VA — the doorway to Shenandoah National Park — I was hiking out later than my friends (see Freedom of a Challenge post) and trying to figure out how to get back to the trail. After I checking out of my room, I walked to the front of the hotel and saw a hiker being dropped off. Perfect. The driver was a man wearing a kilt. I asked about a ride and he was available. As I hopped into the front seat I asked what I owed him. “Nothing”, he replied.
Katz — named after the character from Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods — lives in Waynesboro and is a part of a trail angel network.
Noble. The word feels grandiose for the minimal and uncomfortable nature of this hike, but there’s something to it I feel. There are people at home, friends in foreign countries, my family, people I’ve never met, all who believe in this hike. We all have challenges, and obstacles we’ve overcome. Struggle isn’t unique to a thru-hike. Goals are something we all have. Tough days when you don’t want to keep moving forward — most people can relate to that experience.
A thru-hike brings together and distills those familiar aspects of life. Supportive parents, trail angels, friends and complete strangers all see that, feel it and some are inspired to help us along the way.
“It is amazing how divergent, scattered pieces can coalesce to yield a supportive path forward.”
Steve wrote it so poignantly in this letter. This’s is my journey and I will complete a solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, but I will not have done it alone.