In the End, It Was All About the People
I’ve been wanting to do a final summary post about my hike for a while. However, I’ve been unable to think of a way to summarise it. I tried to think of what I learnt, what I enjoyed, what I’ve taken away from the experience. In the end I realised it was all about the people. I’d learnt that people could be kind in more ways than I’d thought possible. I’d enjoyed getting to know people from all over the world. And I’d taken away from it a strong sense of belonging to a community and a belief that there really is some good left in the world.
So, my summary post about the AT has turned into a thank-you post. Here is a short list of some of the people who made my six months on the AT incredible.
My Trail Families
The people that made the good days great and the bad days tolerable. For me, the biggest mental battle of the trail was trying to balance the distances my body wanted to hike with the distances the bodies of the people I wanted to hike with wanted to hike. Having a six-month visa for my hike meant that it inevitably came to the point where I had to chose between sticking with a group of friends or making it to Katahdin in time. Although I’ll never regret deciding to push on it was hard to leave behind people who’d become my best friends.
It would be impossible to list all of the trail angels I was helped by on the trail. From people feeding us, leaving water caches, running free shuttle services, picking us up as hitchhikers, running donation-based hostels, all the way to people letting us stay in their homes and even the girl from a church group at Trail Days who dyed my hair purple. There really was no act too big or small that wouldn’t in some way help us either practically or just in boosting our morale.
I delved into the depths of my phone and found this note I wrote in Pennsylvania: “Today, it was hot, rocky, muddy, buggy and seemed to be taking forever to get anywhere. Two miles before reaching the shelter, just at the point when my motivation was about to expire completely we came to a road where a local couple had set up trail magic. Seeing a cooler filled with ice cold drinks was better than anything I’d seen all day. Bananas and watermelon were the next thing to catch my eye as I hadn’t eaten fruit in about four days! After sitting there for a good half an hour we pushed through the final two miles only to arrive at a road just before the shelter and find even more trail magic! The home cooked food served as dinner and if it wasn’t for an oncoming rain storm I could have say there all evening. Thank you to the people whose acts of kindness turned a miserable evening into a great one.”
Family and Friends of Friends
Thankfully for me, not everyone that I was traveling with had come from so far away to hike the trail. This meant that they were able to have friends and family come and visit. Whilst in Virginia our tramily spent time with both Passport’s parents and Patches’ parents. I was blown away by the fact that these parents had not only travelled across several states to see their daughters but that in both instances they rented accommodation that was big enough to accommodate four strangers as well. Both families were incredibly generous. We were treated to real home-cooked food, comfy beds, slackpacking, and some laundry detergent that actually made our clothes smell good (we genuinely got compliments about how good we smelt when we got back to the trail!). Being so far away from my own family it was unbelievably comforting to be looked after like this and to get to know the parents of people who were now very close friends of mine.
Passing through Slouch’s home state of Pennsylvania meant we were treated to many instances of trail magic from people who probably didn’t even know what trail magic was. These being Slouch’s friends and family. Right after we crossed the border we spent two nights with Slouch’s friend Bernie, again someone who not only took in and looked after their friend but four strangers as well. Later on we were picked up by Cecilia, another friend of Slouch’s, and driven to his home town. When we went back to the trail we were slackpacked by his parents who brought us food and water at the end of the day. The list goes on.
Thank you to the Specht-Bird and Cleveland families, to Bernie and Christian, to Cecilia and to Slouch’s family and his flatmates for letting me stay there.
Trail Angels Betsy and Bill
Although there are dozens of trail angels who helped me in many ways, the biggest example of the kindness of total strangers came at the end of Vermont. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, toward the end of Vermont we caught up to a group of trail friends and formed a tramily of seven hikers. The following day we were all heading into town with no idea where we were staying. Someone had found a list of trail angels in the local area who were happy to open up their homes to hikers. Most of these said they could accommodate two or three hikers, except one that said “unlimited.” Whilst we thought it’d be unlikely that they’d take all seven of us we figured it was worth asking. To our surprise they instantly agreed, and not only that there were already three other hikers staying there that night. That meant this couple would have ten hikers staying in their house that night, for free. Our hosts were named Betsy and Bill and their hospitality is one of my standout memories of the trail. Throughout hiking season they had hikers staying at their house almost every night. They offered us showers and even had loaner clothes for us to wear whilst they washed our clothes. The ten of us sat around their dining table with Betsy, eating our Thai takeout before relaxing in the furnished basement that was filled with comfortable air mattresses. In the end we zeroed in town the following day and stayed there again that night. At first I’d felt slightly guilty for such a large group of us staying two nights but on the second evening when we were showing Betsy the Hawaiian shirts we’d bought in town she said she was glad we’d come back again. It seemed as if they got as much enjoyment out of hosting people as we did staying there. For people to be so giving is rarely seen in day-to-day life. They explained to us that a few years ago their son had hiked the AT. During that time he’d been taken in and looked after by a family and this was their way of paying forward that kindness. The condition of our stay there was to pay forward their kindness. I can’t work out how I could possibly help people in such a generous way as this couple so for now I’m just trying to be the most considerate version of myself that I can.
Every Single Hiker
When thinking back through the trail I think there was only one other hiker who I actually disliked. Everyone else was somewhere on the scale of, “It was nice to chat to that person but we probably won’t be best friends” to “This person is so cool I want to hike with them every day and hear their whole life story.” I can’t describe how friendly the on-trail community was. Whether it was a southbounder who just said hello as we crossed paths, people who I camped with for a night, or the “extended trail family” who I saw many times throughout the trail, everyone was looking out for one another and genuinely cared about each other.
My final thank you of this post has to go to the guy who was by my side throughout almost the entire thing. I’m not going to go as far as to say that I couldn’t have done it without you; I have enough self-belief to know better. But I can truthfully say that I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without you. And that’s about as sappy as I can get.
And for now, that’s it. Thank you to anyone who has followed along on my journey. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the end of my long-distance hiking life, but for now I’ve got to work out how I fit in in the “real-world,” in a different continent to most of those people listed above. Watch this space.
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