Pre-Trail Magic- A Chance Meeting at a Bar
I met an AT thru-hiker the other night.
She came in by herself and sat down at the bar in seat 12 just to the left of the beer taps. She had two Lagunitas IPAs and a cup of clam chowder. She spent some time conversing with the older gentleman at seat 10, and it was while I stood at the lounge side well pouring a Ruby Red Cosmo that I overheard her say something to the effect of “I first got into backpacking a few years ago when I decided to climb all the 4,000 footers in the White Mountains.”
As a granite state hiker with an eye towards summiting all of them myself (so far I’ve done 27) my ears naturally perked right up. As I bounced around tending to my barmaidenly duties of taking orders and mixing cocktails I continued to hear snippets of what she told to seat 10. I learned she was 26, currently living in Southern Maine, and had just this past September completed a thru hike of the entire Appalachian Trail!
I could not believe my creepy little eavesdropping ears! I felt oddly star-struck. For a minute I wondered if I ought to say anything. What would I say? I had a million questions but none seemed like the right one to ask. Should I just say that I was planning a thru hike myself? Would she be excited to hear it or exasperated having to talk about it? Besides I was, after all, clocked in and I was certain Anna (my other half on Wednesday and Sunday nights) had already picked up an inordinate amount of slack due to my discussing the trail with various customers.
But I couldn’t help myself.
“I’m sorry, but did I hear you say you just finished thru hiking the AT?” I asked as I put a glass to the Bud Light tap and pulled back the handle.
“I did, yeah,” she replied.
“Well that’s really funny,” I told her, “because I’m planning to do a thru hike myself this spring.”
“That’s awesome!” She said as a big, warm smile broke out across her face. She asked when I was starting. I said March 1st. “Well I’ll be here for about another half an hour finishing this beer,” she said. “If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask.”
I dropped the beer on the service bar and scurried around trying to catch things up enough to compensate for my impending negligence. “What do I ask her?” I wondered, probably out loud, as I emptied the dishwasher. While I hung up the wine glasses, the man at seat 10 beckoned me over and inquired “may I pick up that young lady’s tab?” pointing to my new friend. I told him he absolutely could and then he surreptitiously cashed her out, told her he had enjoyed talking to her, and left.
“OK I do have a question for you,” I said. “What kind of water filter did you use? I’m not sure about mine.”
“Regular Sawyer Squeeze,” she said without hesitation. “That’s the right answer. That’s all I can tell you.”
“OK,” I said. “Not the Sawyer Mini? Because that’s what I have now.”
“No, no. You definitely want the regular one.”
“OK good to know, thank you,” I said, feeling like somehow I had blown it with a dumb question and made it awkward. I went off and checked on a few regulars to make sure they weren’t getting parched in my absence.
Then I came back.
“OK I have another question for you: what was your favorite state?”
This second query was a bigger hit and led us into a full-blown conversation. She told me that as a New Hampshire native she was biased towards our home state but that she honestly loved all of them except Pennsylvania (she assured me those rocks are every bit as bad as you read about). She told me she hiked it solo but that she never spent a single night alone (she was NOBO and started mid-March). She said that female hitchhikers get rides much more easily than males and that if you’re traveling with a group of guys, you will invariably be the one to stick your thumb out and do the negotiating. She told me that she had, remarkably, zero negative experiences with fellow hikers and found them all to be good, kind people. She asked a little about my hike and asked if I would be blogging. I told her that, in fact, I would and had she ever heard of Appalachian Trials? She lit up and said “you’re gonna be an AppTrials blogger?! That’s so great! I used it a lot when I was planning my hike.” She said she only met one AppTrials blogger in person when she was on the trail- Princess Peach- and that he kind of stopped halfway through his hike “but Zach was really chill about it.” I was beside myself. She knew what Appalachian Trials was! She knew who Zach was! I was talking to someone about the AT and I didn’t have to explain a thing! We were already speaking the same language- one she knew far better than I did. She promised to follow me and live vicariously through my posts. Then she asked, “did that man pay my tab?” I smiled and nodded yes. “That’s trail magic,” she said and I smiled even bigger and told her that I had recognized it as just that myself.
Then I noticed the woman in seat 13 rolling her eyes at me and impatiently drumming her fingers on the bar. Clearly she felt it was time I go check on her pizza. I looked over at Anna pulling drink tickets. I felt a little guilty.
“Well I should probably get back to work,” I said. She agreed that was totally fair. “But it was so nice talking to you!” I shouted as I ran off toward the kitchen. She was gone before I remembered to ask what her trail name was, or her real name for that matter.
I spent the rest of the night floating on a cloud, brimming with renewed enthusiasm for the grand adventure that Chelsea and I are about to step off on. The rain we have had here on the coast over the past week had really been bumming me out. I would look outside and wonder if I really have what it takes to be exposed to the elements for days on end. But to see another woman my age in the flesh who just did what I am planning to do was inspirational to say the least. It made the trail- and the prospect of finishing- all the more real. I’ve been grinning like a goddamn fool ever since.
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