Socializing on the Trail

Socializing and enjoying the thru hiker community is a huge part of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Some people seek out the social scenes (like shelter areas) more than others, but I think most hikers come to value the camaraderie shared among thru hikers.

This is something I was nervous about, even more so than physically hiking the trail.  I felt pretty confident I would be able to handle the physical challenges of backpacking, but I wasn’t sure how I would navigate the social aspect of the hike.  I had read several books about hikers being part of trail families (“tramilies”) during their hikes and knew some people formed close bonds over the trail.  I had also read about people injuring themselves trying to keep up with other hikers.

What I’ve found is that socializing on the trail is easier than I had expected.  These are some of the things I’ve come to appreciate on the trail.

1.  Everyone has the trail experience in common.  We can all relate over our daily experiences on the trail.  Already there are many times that I’ve laughed and laughed with others over difficult weather conditions or adversities we’ve all faced out here.

2.  All ages can be found out here but the majority of hikers are either a) in beginning adulthood or b) retired.  It’s so nice not to be surrounded only by young adult peers but to have that mix.  I think the retirees often bring a level of maturity to the trail and the young bring a touch of youth and idealism.

3.  Much socializing, at least for me, has been done in the evening when everyones gathers around the picnic table to cook their dinners.  I love the daily routine of cooking meals separately but together.  Each of us are involved in our own meals but also chatting with the others there, catching up on the news for the day.  It is a part of the day I always look forward to.

4.  There is plenty of space for both socializing and spending time alone.  I can always get away to my tent or hang back and hike alone when I want.  You hear it time and again, “hike your own hike”.  People have a respect for shaping your own journey as you wish.

Prior to hiking, I wondered if I would socialize much at all or if I would just stick to myself and focus on hiking.  One thing I quickly  found, especially when I first started, was that I really appreciated social times to balance hours of hiking alone.  Sometimes in the afternoon I would see a hiker coming toward me and think, “Ah, another human!  A smiling face!  I hope they’ll talk to me for a while!”  Luckily I’ve found that people do tend to stop and chat on the trail.  Thru hikers especially introduce themselves and keep tabs on the hikers around them.

Good views and hard hikes are a large part of the trail experience, but only one piece of the experience.  Usually when I come to a lookout or view there are other people around to share it with.

Just this week, when I hiked to Big Bald, other thru hikers and I struggled up the mountain together.  It was a windy day, with wind so strong I had to work to walk in a straight line.  I met another girl who kept saying, “This wind!  I can’t take it!  It’s going to blow us away”.  I was glad to have her there to laugh with.  The wind made us feel very adventurous.  When I turned back later to see hikers walking half bowed over, I had to laugh again.  What a struggle!  The view was incredible.  The clouds rushed past us, pushed forward by the strong winds.

The people I’ve met and friends I’ve made along the way are the other piece of the adventure.  And it has made all the difference.

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