Life behind the bubble
For me the trail began on April 3rd, an ideal time to start a northbound thru hike. However, aside from the sweeping landscapes and awe inspiring vistas there came something I had not anticipated: comradery with my fellow hikers. Such a seemingly rudimentary facet of trail life and culture had escaped my thought process in preparing for the trip. Fast forward a few weeks into the hike, friendships are being made and clicks are formed as if I’ve been relegated back to the days of my scholastic youth. Where a seemingly benevolent encounter with a someone who, like yourself has stepped into a foreign world, blossoms into a life long friendship. In a matter of weeks a “bubble” is established. A bubble is a large centralized group of hikers or could also be classified as a group of people you’ve seen on a daily basis that have essentially become your brothers in arms as you share a singular objective, reach Mt.Katahdin. Day after day of unrelenting rain, blisters, uphill climbs, and dirt, you find yourself around a campfire of familiar faces smiling and cracking jokes about the hardships you’ve all endured together. Week after week you hike ever closer towards this almost mythical mountain summit, sometimes taking zeros, sometimes taking nearos, but all the while you still maintain an even pace with your bubble. Unfortunately sometimes obligations outside of the trail such as a friend’s wedding or an injury may take you away from your trek. In such circumstances some leave the trail for a few days and come back only to skip 50, 100, even 200 or so miles to rejoin the bubble with the intention of making up the missed miles at a later date. However after a few days of zeros here and there and an extensive 4th of July trailcation I found myself back on the trail in an aberrant situation, behind the bubble.
It’s been rumored that if you wish to make it to Katahdin before it closes due to inclement weather you need to reach Harpers Ferry before the 4th of July or do some serious hiking. So as I stood in Harpers Ferry on July 7th I couldn’t help but feel a bit tardy. It did not matter that I had calculated the exact mileage needed to reach Maine with plenty of time left including low miles in the whites and the occasional zero. There’s still an underlying sense of urgency to catch the bubble in order finish on time. However I had not taken into consideration the adverse effects these frivolous zeros would cause me. It became apparent when I rejoined the trail. At first I noticed that the usual crowds had dissapated and the seldom encounter I had with another hiker was often an unfamiliar face. For hours I could walk on the trail and pass maybe one day hiker, whereas the days of reoccurring encounters with my fellow thru hikers seemed a thing of the past. Occasionally I’d run into someone from my bubble but instead of talking about getting the band back together it was more talk about flip flopping to avoid a deadline. Although at times there is an underlying trepidation about finishing on time, I find the back of the bubble to be rather tranquil. No need to worry about getting a tent spot, nobody around to scare off wildlife that may timidly show itself, and no need to worry about people keeping you up late at night. However with this new found serenity also comes an almost eerie form of solitude. Although in the forest free as a bird, you are alone with only your thoughts and the occasional woodland creature to keep you company. Such an existence can be a real morale killer day after day which is why many people hustle back to the comfort of their bubbles.
In the days of down time while writing this I have since caught back up to a my bubble. And rest assured that even as a person who cherishes solidarity, nothing beats the jovial atmosphere of your trail family. Also there is something to be said about safety in numbers. Not that it’s a necessity or that having a few more people around will protect your food bag from mischievous raccoons but it can certainly help you sleep at night knowing that you’re not living life behind the bubble.
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