Monday, April 28, 2008

Thru-Hikers Are Not Through Yet

OK, so why do I like backpacking on the Appalachian trail in the Smoky Mountain National Park each spring? Because you never know who you will meet up there, but you can bet they will have a story. These are three of the five guys I spent my first night with at Davenport Shelter. I know them only by their trail names, which is the only way they all seem to know each other. Resin, on the left, is only 18 and wanting to experience the world before he starts college. The guy on the right is older than me and well educated. Rainfly, with the orange bandanna on his head and writing in the trail journal (see my blog dated April 22nd), is in his 40's, a high school drop-out. We slept on the wooden plank bunks in this shelter. I enjoyed talking with all 5 of the hikers and they loved me because I hiked uphill several miles with homemade brownies to share with them. I also gave extra food to two of the guys who were running low.
All of the backpackers who I meet at this time of the year are thru-hikers. These adventurous souls start in Georgia in early spring with the intent of walking more than 2000 miles until they come to the end of the trail in Maine. Every year several hundred hikers start but only 10% finish the entire trail. What I like about them is their attitude. I meet dozens of them in April, 200 miles into their trip, and they all still think that they are going to make it to Maine, or at least they express a lot of hope as they nurse blisters, sore backs, shoulders, hips and feet. They come in all sizes, shapes, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, American-born and foreign. Most are starting out alone but end up with a network of hiking friends all known to each other by their trail names. In the photo above are the first two women thru-hikers I met this year, HiLo and I-trod Along. They walk the same pace so they often walk together although they started in Georgia separately.

This is where I spent my second night, Cosby Knob shelter. There is always a spring for drinking water near the shelters. Here you can see two thru-hikers, Willow and Gentleman Jack, fetching water.

There are lots of chores to do when the day's hike is complete. These two women thru-hikers, Longwe Tru (an attorney) and Pickwick (a lab tech), are preparing dinner. They also are hiking alone. Actually Pickwick (with red bandanna) is not a thru-hiker. She has already hiked the entire Appalachian trail and is just doing a section of it this year.

The thru-hikers generally retire before dark. They make their own space within the confines of their sleeping bags to read, write in their personal journals, or sleep (toss and turn like a rotisserie many of them have told me). Willow, Pickwick, and I extend the day with a pajama party discussing gear, trail food, guidebooks, maps, and life histories. I could be friends with any of these women, I'm sure. You should know that Willow never backpacked before and she is 53 years old!
After I return home, I continue the journey by logging on to: and looking for some of the hikers I have met who are submitting journals. This year I can follow Gentleman Jack and Longwe Tru. You can too. Just click on the link above, select Journals, and sort by trail name to find Gentleman Jack and Longwe Tru. Carefull though, there are hundreds of hikers that might drag you along and you could end up hiking the Appalachian Trail yourself someday!

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