Baltimore Jack: A Sighting
Folks, by this point I think we all know it’s true: the hiker community is tight. We’re all only 6 degrees of separation from Trail Legends like Miss Janet, Baltimore Jack or Bob Peoples. Hikers share a common (mal)function in the brain, a similar misfiring of neurons, and I am almost daily reminded of it.
Before I left Hot Springs, I was yard saling (read: had all my shit drying out on the lawn) in front of the Hiker Ridge Ministries building. A raggamuffin looking man approached the table where I was sitting with 5 other hikers and immediately began: “You guys are gonna want 5 days of food to get to Erwin. You’ll get there on the 6th day. Miss Janet is in Erwin right now. You can do laundry at her place. Her dauhter might be there. Do you have Miss Janet’s number?” Everyone readied their pen to take it down when someone boldly barked, “Yeah.” “O.. K.. well, make sure your friends have it,” the said mysterious man.
A hiker asked, “Is there a movie theater in Erwin?”
“Yes. People keep asking me that. You want to see the Avengers? What are you, nine!?” he replied. The Avengers fan turned his face away.
Another hiker asked, “Hey, did you hear about what’s going on in Baltimore?”
“I’m actually from Boston,” he said.
“Oh, I thought Baltimore. ‘Cause you’re Baltimore Jack.”
“Huh,” I thought. I’d heard of Baltimore Jack in 2011. I’d heard positive and negative things, but mostly that he’s on the Trail every year and some how I had often narrowly missed him.
“Where in Boston?” I asked, being a Masshole myself.
“I’m from Attleboro,” I said.
“Oh, where’d you go to school?” he asked.
“Hampshire College,” I said.
“What are you, a commie!?” He zeroed in on my face.
“Funny, my dad asked the same thing,” I smiled.
“Did you graduate?” he grilled.
“Did you like it?”
“What does my ring say?” Baltimore Jack stuck out his bear-like paw and I narrowed my eyes on the large black and silver ring. My eyes aren’t used to reading smaller print, but finally they focused.
“Holy shit,” I exclaimed. “No way.”
It was a Hampshire College class ring. “One of probably 5 in the world,” he boasted.
“Yeah, they don’t make those,” I said. They do make shirts with a football on them that read, “Undefeated since 1970,” but we don’t have a football team.
It all seems to add up. Was I looking at my future self? No. No way. But perhaps I was sitting at a table with multiple incarnations of a kind of being. My favorite kind. Sarcastic, silly, loveable. The kind of people I want to pack out wherever I go. The kind that tries to make an every day coincidence into some kind of philosophical event. And maybe, just maybe, every hiker has a hungry heart. In any case, I was astonished and excited, and dammit, I want a Hampshire College class ring!
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Saw him drink a can of spaghetti O’s once. Rip.
We all look for hero`s in our world. Baltimore Jack..You were one of mine. You will not be forgotten. As long as there will be an A.T. there will always be the legend of Baltimore Jack. RIP
Will miss you baltimore. I remember all the times we met up with you while thru hiking in 1995.. think that was the first year you hiked. You were a good friend. You always put a smile on my face. Remember you working in Damascus plus Mt Greylock as well. You were a fixture of the trail from your first step in 1995. You will be sorely missed. Hope you’re still following the white blazes!
Jack and I summited together in 99. He took two 24 ounce Jim Beam travelers and a carton of unfiltered Camels through the 100 mile wilderness. Met him in the Smokies and crossed paths numerous times over the next 2000 miles. Just found out he passed. I think we need someone to step up and take his place.