The AT Community Part 1: The People
After nearly two months on the trail, I’ve begun to settle into the daily routines of thru-hiking. With less time spent worrying about the menial chores like setting up camp and planning mileage, it’s becoming easier to reflect on the journey thus far. Walking for eight (or more) hours a day allows for a lot of thinking, and lately I’ve been focusing in on my favorite question:
So what’s your favorite part of the Appalachian Trail so far?
It’s what we get asked the most by non thru-hikers, and the response is immediate: the people.
Not just the other hikers, though they provide plenty of color and life on the thru-hike canvas; I’m talking trail angels, townies, and AT celebs.
Imagine this: you’ve been hiking for two days in a steady rain, and it’s been four or five days since your last laundry and shower respite. Your shoes and socks have doubled their weight from all the mud and water, and you have no way of checking the forecast to boost your spirits. Suddenly, you see an unnaturally bright white something through the trees ahead. Quickening your pace, you hustle to find a road crossing and that bright white something; an awning set up at the trailhead parking lot. Underneath the awning are two smiling faces, each one preparing sandwiches for a couple of other hikers. As you walk up, they greet you eagerly and offer you sodas, chips, baked goods, and refuge from the rain.
In that moment, you forget all about the rain and your waterlogged existence. You just got trail magic, and all is well.
Trail magic has been a relatively common occurrence so far. While some trail angels offer full meals and other luxuries that hikers desperately crave, trail magic can be as simple as a jug of water at a road crossing or a motivating note taped to a trail sign. There’s a lot to be said for trail angels and trail magic; individuals and groups who aren’t looking for anything in return, looking only to provide a bright moment in a hiker’s day.
A specific shout-out is in order for the Southern Baptist churches; from free shuttles and snacks to laundry and showers at Trail Days, the church community has—and continues to—play a vital role in the success of thru-hikers. As a New Englander, I had never experienced Southern hospitality before the AT; I’ve now seen the pure generosity and friendliness that the South has to offer, and I can’t express how appreciative I truly am.
There’s something that emerges in an individual during a thru-hike; an eagerness to engage with both hikers and the communities we pass through on the trail. Despite being a solid introvert before the AT, I now find myself jumping at any opportunity for small talk, be it with the couple at the next table or the cashier at the local supermarket. For them, it’s not hard to spot a hiker, so there’s never a lack of opportunities to strike up a conversation about where we’re from or how far we’ve come.
Then there are the AT celebs: a small group that have dedicated themselves to the AT and the hiker lifestyle. Some are former hikers themselves, while others simply fell in love with the wild freedom the AT.
Back in Hot Springs, I spent a morning babysitting the tramily’s laundry. As I scrolled through junk emails and Instagram, I listened on as Ms. Janet, Odie, and Nemo laughed, joked, and lounged in Ms. Janet’s van. For some, it may not have seemed much a sight, but thinking about that trio and all they’ve seen and experienced gave me goosebumps. For them, this is just another summer and another AT thru-hiker class; they’ve seen it before and they’ll be back again next year to help a fresh new group of hikers.
Then there’s Bob Peoples.
Rolling into Hampton, TN, Ravioli and the Sauce got a bit too cocky in our mileage (tip: never overestimate yourself, the trail WILL check your ego) and ended up limping into the road crossing drained of all energy. Beaten down and broken, we dragged ourselves a quarter-mile up the road to Kincora; a tiny hostel attached to the back of an ivy-covered log cabin.
Kincora is a modest hug-of-a-place that provides all the essentials hikers need to recharge: showers, laundry, outlets, and bunks. We were in the middle of licking our wounds when Bob emerged from the cabin to greet us. It took only a few seconds (and a few wiggles of Bob’s mustache accompanying his jovial laugh) for us to realize we were right where we needed to be. As we talked, It became clear that Bob was a true trail angel and celebrity, having hiked nearly the whole trail and managed trail maintenance since before I was born. Bob showed us around and offered rides into town for whatever we needed, asking for only a $5 donation to maintain the hostel. Before slackpacking the next day, we swung through Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. Rubber Ducky (formerly Caboose) treated Bob to a doughnut and some coffee, and we all listened as he told us what to expect for the day. Despite being a quiet man, Bob’s every word commands your attention; a lifetime of experience being passed down with each story and bit of advice. We left Kincora two days later with a greater appreciation of the AT and the maintenance required to make thru-hiking possible.
During our stay, I thought a lot about the people you meet on the AT and why they’re so important.
In a way, the people are much like the Appalachian Trail itself; it takes in all kinds of people, each one a little bruised, broken, or battered. It doesn’t care who you were, are, or will be, and doesn’t ask much of you. If you respect it, you’ll make it to the end, but if you disrespect it, it’ll swallow you whole.
So what’s my favorite part of the AT so far?
I think the answer will always be the people.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.