Angels and Demons

Drifter hand heart

Many folks have inquired about the delay in publication of Wander Women, my newest book that chronicles the adventures of one trail angel (me) and ten young SOBO thru hikers in 2012. Until I read Badger’s “Thru-Hikers Code of Conduct” blog on Appalachian Trials, I had only one good answer for Wander Women‘s delay. I was holding out for a traditional publishing contract, one that would provide the maximum exposure that Wander Women deserves. Now I have a much better reason for the postponement.

Here it is: “The Thru-Hiker’s Code of Conduct

Thank God I read this post, especially the letter Badger shares from Baxter State Park management to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Imagine. If I had already signed Wander Women over to a major publishing house, I’d be contributing to the very real, very serious issues that are outlined in that letter. I’d be part of the problem when I’d much prefer to be part of the solution. Sounds like the AT Conservancy could use a trail ANGEL right about now. Not another enabler.

Allow me.

I’ve hiked to Katahdin’s summit on three occasions, and I’ve camped and/or hiked in Baxter State Park countless times besides. I’ve hiked in sleet, snow, and sweltering sun. But I’ve never witnessed the scenes described in the letter from Baxter. Perhaps because my last summit was more than ten years ago, long before anybody even considered Baxter Peak the kind of place where you wanted to break a “mass gathering” record. Back then, we brought only water to the summit, maybe a can of beer. We left no trace because why would we? Nobody had to tell us that Baxter was a gift to this great state of Maine and we weren’t supposed to leave our shit all over it as a token of appreciation. We knew not to bring our dog. If the parking lot was full, we turned around. For camping trips, we reserved our spots in the beginning of January. We even stood in the cold and the snow for the privilege of enjoying the Park.

All it took for us to truly understand Percival Baxter’s mission was one face-to-face bull moose encounter at Sandy Stream Pond, one quick glance from Chimney Pond toward the summit, the mossy woods near Katahdin Stream, canoes resting on the banks of Daicey Pond, the remains of logging camps from bygone eras, camping under red and orange foliage at South Branch Pond. All it took was an intense desire to experience the unique beauty of Baxter State Park. The beauty and the grandeur. Nothing else.

Just another challenge. Embrace!

Accounts of hikers behaving badly in the Park’s letter makes me ashamed of myself for associating with any individual from this particular segment of the AT community. I can’t believe I reposted photos like the one that I referred to as “the best Katahdin summit photo ever”.  Go ahead and look. I’ll give you until New Year’s Eve. There are more than fifty AT blog entries to choose from, although thankfully only a couple of them are subject to the delete button. But do it soon because anything I wrote that sounds like it condones behavior outlined in the letter will disappear forever on New Years Day.

You Go Girl!

A few wander women I followed had very real goals, like demons to exorcise, or health issues to overcome, and the wilderness for them was a bit like what the PCT was for Cheryl Strayed in Wild. It was healing and revealing. Our nation, obsessed with long-distance-hiking thanks to successful media campaigns –  will hear true accounts of achievement, not entitlement, in the new Wander Women. That is, unless I use those examples of entitlement to further my cause in offering a solution rather than glorifying a problem.

My 2015 draft will focus on the hiking purists I followed, not the party girls. I’ll concentrate on those who made this trail angel proud, who cherished the AT and worshiped the goddess of Leave No Trace. The celebrations I witnessed at their journey’s end on Springer Mountain, Georgia were festive and congratulatory. But they were also introspective, private, and spiritual. No need for mass quantities of anything or anybody. It was an honor to witness and participate in some of these.

Wishing all Wander Women Happy Trails

Sadly, a few wander women exhibited a degree of the entitlement that Badger touches upon in his response to the Baxter letter. These are the wander women that no longer keep in touch with me. I’m not their trail angel anymore. They have moved on, and so have I.

Although it has always been my intent to give proceeds from Wander Women back to the AT, I cannot be hypocritical solely because I want my book on a shelf at Barnes and Noble.  I will not put a feel-good spin on Wander Women when codes of conduct need writing – and meetings need arranging – to discourage bad behavior on the AT.  I have absolutely no desire to send yet more folks onto the AT by sugar-coating it. I will rewrite my book, which allows time for the current wave of long distance hiking hysteria to subside, and park management to regain the upper hand.

Thanks for listening, Happy New Year, and Happy Trails.

Meg Wilson (“Auntie”)

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