The AT: A True Journey of the Soul
Every so often, things happen in life, completely unexpectedly, that let you know you are precisely where you are supposed to be in that moment. It doesn’t happen often and it is always beyond denial.
I’m not really a people person, never have been. It takes effort to get close to me but once you’re in the circle, you’re in the circle.
That said, I, in absolute rarity, allow the red tape to be cut and am able to meet very genuine people.
A Bit About What the AT Really Is
People think that The Trail is all about being in the woods and proving you can walk 2,200 miles out of nothing more than sheer determination. That’s a sizable portion of it but the Appalachian Trail experience also becomes the towns you go through and the folks from widely differing walks of life that you encounter which are often quite different from your own.
It is about learning how to solve difficult problems in both the outdoors and in any other sense of the word. What the trail is not is simply one step in front of the other from the first to the last white blaze. When I began my journey, I admit I was naive enough to believe that.
A Word of Advice
If you have ever wanted to walk The Trail and are holding back for some reason, one of the wisest pieces of advice I can impart to you is this:
Make the jump.
You will not be the same person at the end as you were at the beginning.
Let Me Explain
I stopped at a town in Vermont for resupply and to stay the night. I lingered there far longer than anticipated because I had scored a date with a local woman and was waiting to see how things went. The first date went very well and, after scheduling a second one, I stayed an extra night. For various reasons, those having no merit to this particular story, the second date did not come to pass.
Because of this, I had some extra free time I did not plan on having and, in order to fill it, I went to the local Walmart to pick up a few things I wanted for the trail and had not acquired on my previous day and a half off.
A Chance Meeting
Departing from the Walmart, I viewed a man standing at the corner of the store with a large, wiry, and rather unkempt beard. His clothes were entirely black, including a haphazardly kept suit jacket and matching hat. I’ve spent a good amount of time in farm country, Pennsylvania, and this individual looked strikingly similar to an Old Order Mennonite. I found this amusing because I spent many years working for and befriending an ex-Mennonite whom I still fondly hound mercilessly about his upbringing. This is of course only to pester him as only a good friend can.
I am unsure if this man noticed me looking or if he was simply more extroverted than most people. That said, he approached me at a rapid pace and offered me a cigarette. He spoke in an oddly formal way and, when I declined, he told me that he had a great appreciation for my beard then asked if I had any interest in Norse or Celtic mythology.
I have been keeping my beard in double braids since late Virginia or West Virginia so I understood his reference. This became the initial focal point of a conversation that lasted over an hour.
A Divergence from Plans
Somewhere during our conversation I mentioned, as I have in many of my previous blog posts, that I’ve been a long-time knifehead. He told me that he was as well. Because of that connection, he asked if I wanted to come over to his house and see his collection of blades.
I am very good at reading people and I’m confident in my ability to take care of myself if need be, so I agreed to go with him. Even so, I checked for exits upon entering his home in case any future situation required me to know them and sat out on his balcony with him. We talked for the majority of the rest of the evening while he showed me his swords, knives, and axes.
Later stating that it was his birthday and, in the tradition of the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, he would like to give me a gift, I was presented with a small knife which I thanked him profusely for.
Viewing the time, I mentioned that I had to get back to my hostel. I was staying at the famous Yellow Deli. At 10 p.m. they lock up the building. I refused to sleep on a bench in Rutland without my gear, regardless of how much I liked the town.
When I mentioned this, the man (who I will leave nameless to protect his identity) offered to walk me to The Deli because it was getting dark. The last thing he wanted was for me to be harmed walking home from his house.
I told him that it was his choice.
There was little reason to worry since I had my own knife on my person. My trail name, Bowie, was not an unreasonable moniker.
I also carried a can of pepper spray. The girl I had taken out on a date insisted I take it in case of a bear encounter. I took it so she would feel better.
At The Yellow Deli
We walked and said our goodbyes. Closing in on The Yellow Deli, I turned to shake his hand. He told me my company meant a great deal to him. Furthermore, I was surprised when he mentioned I had an uncanny penchant for listening to other people. It meant a lot to me because in the short time we spent together, I came to know him as a respectful and amiable human being.
He continued saying some notably kind things and we then parted ways.
Life offers very few mind-altering, pinnacle experiences during its course. This was one of those.
You had better appreciate and learn from such unexpected happenings when they present themselves.
The Next Morning
Upon waking up the next morning, I proceeded to text the girl I met a few nights back. We spent ten minutes or so together before she had to go to work and said our goodbyes. I then went back to The Deli, cleaned up my bunk, packed my gear, and ran to the bus depot.
From there, I got a ride back to the trailhead and continued north towards Katahdin. I left with a hefty portion of perspective.
I will not be forgetting Rutland.
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