Day 6, Part One: Why Am I Doing This?

After my road walk the previous day, I came to my senses and booked a shuttle to take me to the trail this morning at 8 am. I enjoyed an all you can eat breakfast at the hotel, and also took the opportunity to use a desktop computer before heading back to the trail.

Breakfast plate #1, I never say no to sausage gravy.

Breakfast plate #2, I see a waffle maker, I make a waffle.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

I started hiking at 8:30. By now, I have developed a routine of hiking solo during the day and socializing at camp in the evenings. This really works for me since I’m compelled to have a meaningful conversation with every leaf I pass on the trail. It would be difficult to keep this up if I were hiking with others.

Fan Clubmoss, how I adore thee.

The terrain was easy, but I took my time, using Seek to learn more about the plants around me, and another favorite app, Merlin, to record birds and identify them. I heard something that sounded like a chickadee but slightly different. Turns out it was a Carolina Chickadee, distinct from the Black-Capped Chickadees whose fee-bee calls are familiar to me.

I recorded a call that was very musical but almost electronic in timbre, coming from a Wood Thrush, which I had first heard a couple days prior and was still learning to recognize. I recorded yet another unfamiliar call from a Hooded Warbler. I heard the familiar crescendo calls of Ovenbirds throughout the day.

Bracket fungi is something I often see on trail.

At some point I encountered a hiker walking south. “Are you thru hiking?” he asked me. I said yes, and explained that I’m doing a flip flop hike. He said he was also thru hiking and was a SOBO. At this point he was kind of in my face, clearly an eccentric person. I felt that in any other context, I would have tried to escape the conversation. He was older, around retirement-age. He had long, thinning auburn hair tied back with an elastic, and wide-set blue eyes, with a worn look of many hard-lived years. He wore a large external frame pack, the ones that have fallen out of fashion over the years as more hikers choose internal frame or frameless packs which are more lightweight. In spite of my jokes about the unofficial thru hiker uniform of Dirty Girl gaiters, trail runners, and a Garmin inReach Mini 2, there are people on the trail doing their hikes without following these gear fads. They do their hike with the gear they already have.

The hiker introduced himself as So Duck. He told me the story of how he hit his head on the ceiling of the shelter so hard that it drew blood. “So…duck?” became his trail name. He said I might see the blood on the beams once I make it up to the Leroy shelter. I winced, but he was good spirited about it.

“So why are you out here?” he asked me. It’s a typical question that comes up in conversation out on trail, but I still haven’t figured out how to answer it. Especially in this case, standing on the trail hiking opposite directions, to someone I just met. “Because I’m crazy I guess!” I said. So Duck wasn’t buying it. “I’m sure a lot of people think you’re crazy but surely some people in your life think it’s cool?” I hesitated and then agreed. “Well, I’m out here because my kid died, and I just lost it. I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he said. “Then I saw one of Dixie’s videos, and I was like, oh, right, that’s what I’m doing. I heard you can do it on $1000 a month, and I have just a little more than that. I give my tithe, and then hike with the rest. I started at the NJ-PA border, near Scranton, where I live.”

I was moved by So Duck’s story. He was hiking on a shoestring budget, having gotten on trail where he could, close to home, and just started walking. $1000 a month is arguably a dated estimate for thru hiking costs, $1500/mo being a safer budget for 2023. But by hiking your own hike, there are ways to cut costs. And some people are so motivated to do this that they will sacrifice basic comforts, like sleeping inside occasionally, to do it.

Before parting ways, So Duck told me his joke for the trail: “when people tell me to have a good trip, I protest. You want me to fall when I’m out hiking?!” He asked me what my joke was. I told him I’d think about it, I haven’t been on trail long enough to come up with one.

After my brief exchange with So Duck, I had to face my own snap judgments, how I looked at him and hesitated to engage in conversation, and how this common thread of choosing to hike the entire trail made me put my guard down and give him a chance. And in the process, I discovered that we are both here because we’re grappling with hard experiences we’ve had. What unites us is clearly greater than what makes us different, plainly evident to me from the minutes-long conversation we had in passing on the trail.

Our encounter sat with me throughout the day, with plants and bird songs barely distracting me from the feelings it had conjured up.

To be continued

Affiliate Disclosure

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.

Comments 2

  • Dottie Rust : May 14th

    Yup, it’s those brief encounters with other hikers that truly make the AT a special place…hold onto what So Duck said…

  • Amy Elizabeth : May 14th

    Really good post. Keep it up.


What Do You Think?