Sunday, July 24, 2022

Thru Hikers and Me

 For those who find walking from the kitchen table to the refrigerator a journey, the idea of thru hiking would be as appealing as my imagining Mr. Trump plopping his ample posterior back in the Oval Office in 2025.

But for me, there is something magical in these men and women, boys and girls and a few geriatrics putting one foot in front of another, Forrest Gump style, from the first hint of coming spring until the changing leaves of fall beckon. 

And sometimes, in the deepest heat of the summer, their lives and mine intersect for a nanosecond. So it was yesterday.

The Appalachian Trail stretches for over 2000 miles from its southernmost tip to its northern edge. My son went to college in New Hampshire and the path of the thru hikers took them right through the middle of his campus. And on occasion into the house where my son was staying. He would say that sometimes you could literally smell them coming, the months of accumulated toil and variable weather leaving a calling card that was testament to both their perseverance and perspiration.

Our family likes to hike, but what we do should not be given the same name as their task. On most mornings when we are in the Berkshires (except when the snow, artificial or real, demands our attention on the slopes) we take an hour or two to give ourselves modest challenge, to get the heart pumping and the muscles moving. Sometimes, we walk the tiniest sliver of the route as those who have committed to something enormous in scope.

I am 70 with feet as ugly as a political campaign and a mind wholly useless at everyday tasks like boiling water or following the most mundane instructions. So the chance of me ever performing this 2000 mile plus feat is about the same as my parting the Red Sea. No, less.

Yesterday, my son and I found ourselves on a small stretch of the AT (for us, in the know, that is shorthand for the Appalachian Trail). I remarked that I thought it was late in the season (by their calendar) for thru hikers to be still this far south. I was wrong. Over the next ten minutes, at least three, maybe four, passed us (we were not necessarily slower, just hiking in the opposite direction).

In my mind, this was almost the same as bumping into a few NY Yankees on the street (maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, more on the level of running into a few Knicks).

And I took the opportunity, whether those trekking North were interested or not, to do a brief interview of two. I flunked the first test in flame out fashion.

My son always reminds me that not everyone gets my terrible sense of humor. That they don't always understand that I am only kidding when I say something that sounds discordant when it reaches their ears. 

So, the first contestant in my game show was a nice young lady who gave me a brief synopsis of this her first (and, she said, last) AT expedition. I congratulated her on her effort and exchanged a few more minor pleasantries. As we were concluding our ships passing in the night time together, she mentioned she was from the South. My political antennae now acting like a third rail I replied that she was still welcome as long as she was thru hiking. The attempted joke falling flatter than the Sierra. I could almost see the question mark above her head as she mumbled some response and headed on, sure she would be less accommodating to inquiry from strangers the rest of her trip.

My son had wandered up ahead, but was unfortunately still in earshot and reprimanded me for my comment that had missed its mark by the full length of the AT.

Luckily, not five minutes later I was given a chance at partial redemption. Another young thru hiker arrived where we were standing. This time it would be only compliments and no hint of controversy in my remarks.

First, all these hikers seemed remarkably "unscented". As though they were just out for a bit of a stroll, not well over a thousand miles and several months into reaching a goal that took them off the beaten path onto a road less traveled by bathtubs and showers or washers and dryers.

The gods shined on me, as this young lady was delightful, all smiles and sunshine and not in a rush to get past my inquisition. She allowed my son and me nearly 15 minutes of her time before we told her she should catch up to her friend, with whom she was on this quest and meet up with her mom and dad, who lived in the area and were meeting up with her later in the day (where she would spend the night at their home, with all the creature comforts, before returning to the same spot the following day, to continue, step by step, and inch by inch, onward).

So, my angst at my mea culpa was somewhat mollified by the good graces of my do over.

As my son and I finished our day on the mountain and returned to the car, I am sure he hoped I had learned a small lesson in the way I speak to those who don't know, and may not appreciate my particular method of communication. 

And sadly knowing I had not.

To all thru hikers I may meet in future days. I admire you for everything you are doing. And I apologize in advance if I leave you wondering if there is a more remote path where you can enjoy your time in the mountains, without the intrusion of those like me, who may be the very reason you are months removed from the daily noise of society. 

Even the AT not giving full protection from this particular storm.


Anonymous said...

I can picture this in action so vividly.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful accounting of your encountering(s)


Anonymous said...

People love to listen to you. When you go to a Yankee game, are the people sitting to your left and right wearing earbuds? If not, you have nothing to worry about --RE