I’m posting descriptions of my past favorite trip – the Appalachian Trail.
You really have to seek solitude when hiking the AT. This may seem counterintuitive, but folks and friends are everywhere. This is probably because of the strength of trail culture and shelters.
Trail Names (an important trail culture component)
Hikers use trail names in place of their given names. Instead of saying, “hello I’m Bob,” a person might say, “hello I’m Breaking Wind (or the appropriate trail name).” It takes a little getting used to and seems slightly absurd at first. Most names are given by other hikers because of a trail conversation/ event. I do not know how this tradition started although this certainly aids hiker name recall.
My trail name, drum roll please, is Quality. I do like the double entendre. If someone introduces themselves as Quality, that may be me! I received the name when I asked Pushing Up Daisies about her trail name. Someone asked her how she felt at the end of day, and she responded she was pushing up daisies. I told her she should have said she was absolutely fabulous or quality. Voila, she said I had my trail name. Since I did not want to known as two tee-tolling women from the UK (AbFab), we agreed upon Quality. I try to do the name justice everyday (e.g., helping elderly women across the trail, rescuing damsels in distress…).
Many hikers stay or tent near three sided shelters. While people may hike individually or in pairs during the day, they congregate in the shelters at night.
Most shelters have trail registers where people leave messages for one another. It is fun to see how friends on the trail are doing, and news moves fast up and down the trail. My trail society/friends is currently about 50 miles up and down the trail from my current location. I have received messages from people both ahead of me and behind me.
Humans are not the only creatures living in the shelters. They also support a healthy rodent population. Hikers are advised to sleep with their heads away from walls because mice like to scurry along the rafters or sideboards. Also, folks should leave their pack pockets open, so a mouse does not have to chew a hole in the pack to gain entry. This takes a little getting used to at first (e.g., mice seem to roar when scurrying along). When tenting one time, I left my hiking poles near a friend’s hiking sticks. A rodent gnawed at both (more so the wooden sticks) to eat the salt from sweat.
I will save the AT Profiles in Courage for future emails. I have met and hiked with some interesting individuals whom I plan to keep in contact with – artists, basketball players, epic outdoor enthusiasts. I will make one exception given all the activity in the Middle East. Power Ranger (note he does not care for this name) is the strongest hiker I’ve met on the trail. He is also an Army Ranger who is about to retire after 20 years. He can hike (with a full pack) farther and faster than most folks who are only slackpacking. It just makes me feel a bit safer.
Coming into town is an experience in itself, but it often involves hitchhiking (something new for me).
Hitchhiking is also called yellow blazing. (The AT is marked by white blazes, and blue blazes mark short cuts or water sources). The first rule I’ve learned is that drivers usually prefer to pick up a dirty, smelly female hiker over a dirty, smelly male hiker (go figure). So let a female hiker flag down a car and hop out when the vehicle stops. Folks connected to the AT or anyone who drives a pick up truck most often provide rides. Tonight, I was walking along the side of the road when I guy just pulled up and asked me if I needed a ride – Trail Magic at work.
I am now in Erwin, TN. I have hiked a little over 200 miles to date, and my strength now approaches my enthusiasm. It is difficult at times, but my blisters are healing. The leg chaffing is reduced. My shin splint subsided after a few relatively easy days. My new hiking poles help a lot, and I can crank out 20+ mile days when the occasion demands it. I just feel healthy.
My next email will be from Trail Days in Damascus, VA. Somehow I think this road to Damascus is slightly more debauched than Paul’s. There is an enormous buzz about the festival on the trail, and I look forward to experiencing it.
I do like the trail!
Justin or if you prefer, Quality