Daily Appalachian Mountain Life
As some of you who follow my posts may already know, I was raised deep in the Appalachian Mountains. I guess you could say I’m a resident Appalachian Trials “hillbilly.” During my research after my decision to hike the AT I have noticed a lot of concerns from new hikers (especially those raised in cities or suburbs) about possibly running into crazy, backwoods, “Deliverance” types of people on the AT. The main purpose of this article is to dissuade people from this “stereotype” and also to give you an inside look at what daily mountain life is like in a small photo-journal.
To people like myself, the Appalachian Trail is comparable to a six-lane highway full of noise and people. Lets just say the wilderness experience you get on a popular national trail is quite different from what I am familiar with. I am used to knowing I am the only person for miles, I know where every spring is located, where the bears tend to wander, and the daily migrations of the local deer. On the AT, you never know what could be around the next bend and that is part of what has drawn me to it. After hiking the same two mountains for a lifetime it is time to summit new ones.
I will admit, the crazy backwoods stereotype exists for a reason, but I would like to insist that is the exception to the rule. The majority of Appalachians are very hard working and self-sustaining people who merely want to mind their own business (and for you to mind yours.) We are the type of people who will gladly assist when help is needed, because we know what it means to go without. The locals also love nature as much as hikers do, (which is why we live in it!) and wish to see it conserved despite what people think about the fact that we hunt. Unfortunately some of the hunters a hiker on the AT will possibly encounter near National Forest lands are not what I would consider an “Appalachian local.” These are people who do not have private land to hunt so they flock to the National Forest, many with little or no experience, and whose main goals are to get drunk and kill whatever happens to walk by for sport. This is not safe or sustainable and any hikers out during hunting season please be cautious and wear your blaze orange. Locals also deplore this behavior, because for many of us our families have lived in these mountains for generations and we want to preserve our way of life, not see it destroyed. My family does not take any more than we need to eat, which is often less than even the local regulations allow, and we use as much of the animal as possible.
Other than those concerns listed above, there is not much difference between your average hiker and hunter. Both have a love of the outdoors that the average person fails to comprehend. Both spend hours alone in the wilderness, but I think hunters suffer this even more so, not only are they in the woods alone but have to SIT STILL and BE QUIET. Both lug around a lot of equipment through sometimes ridiculously difficult territory. (I AM going to remind myself of how much “fun” dragging a large deer through the woods is whenever I think my pack is too heavy though.) I will say hikers have the edge on gear however. I had never used trekking poles until recently and I was amazed at how much easier it was to get around with a heavy pack on. Now with all of that being said, if you do encounter mountain folk on your trek, be cautious and polite and everything should be fine. Let’s celebrate our similarities when we do meet in the woods. I hope this helped to calm some concerns about “hillbilly” locals.
Appalachians are the people who choose to live a lifetime in the woods, not merely a half-year trek. We maintain all the land around the mere five-hundred foot “wilderness” buffer around the AT, giving you those spectacular views. (That farmland is in danger by the way. As many of the old farmers pass away, their children sell the farm to urban developers instead of maintaining it as is.) We grow and hunt our own food, maintain our own roads, go to town less, and some of us are even off-the-grid. You may see us do some unconventional things, like eat squirrel, but that is just what happens after a lifetime of mountain living. And to be honest, hikers do things that baffle us. One for me would be hiking with headphones. I understand the woods can be super quiet and lonely, but as someone who grew up there, safety is the number one concern and headphones make you extremely unaware of your surroundings. My father is constantly making jokes about my gear purchases, in particular a sleeping pad, asking if I really need the “comforts of home” strapped to my back. I explain that sleeping right on the ground under a plastic tarp is fine for a few days but try that for weeks and months on end.
We’ve all heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words, so in conclusion I will let photos speak for what my little slice of Appalachian mountain heaven is like.
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Ashley, I am so proud of you. My trail name is Ranger and I am from N.C. I am the one that starts from Springer time and time again. I plan to do a thru hike starting at Springer about March 10, 2017. I really hope that our paths cross. The great out-doors offer`s a few challenges. Really hoping I can assist you and remember to keep Maine the main thing.
Hi Ashley, I will be out there as well in 2017! Don’t have a trial name but I an sure I will earn one that us well fitting! I will be the big huffing and puffing holding onto a tree and asking why I did this! Hope to see you out there! Good luck!
Nice front porch you got there.
And … raspberries … one of the delights of hiking the AT.