The People You’ll Definitely Meet On The Appalachian Trail

Going NOBO in ‘The Bubble’, I can’t help but notice I keep seeing the same people again and again. Literally, it’s often the same people who keep a similar pace as me day after day, but more frequently it’s just the same sort of people I seem to encounter. I think back to my days as a Psych major and Carl Jung’s Archetypes. Is it possible that AT thru hikers all spawn from an innate set of identities within our hiking collective unconsciousness? 

Wilderness Will

Wilderness Will is easily recognized by sight. There’s a 100% chance he’s wearing camo, and you’ll probably see at least 2 visible blades on him, one of which is quite probably a machete strapped to his thigh (don’t worry, he’s got more knives in his pack, too). Even though he’s on one of the most popular and well traveled long trails in the world, he’s convinced himself he’s somehow gonna need to bushcraft his way up to Maine. He may be using an actual canvas tent or rucksack.

Unprepared Ulrich

I don’t know where Ulrich thought he was going this morning, but it doesn’t seem like he knew he was coming to the AT. Sure, he’s wearing a backpack of some sort, but he doesn’t seem to know the basic knowledge that even a new AT thru hiker possesses. He’s never set up his tent before, he brought a cooking stove but no fuel, and he’s never heard of the FarOut app or the AWOL guide. 

Larry Lone Wolf

Larry puts up big miles, even from day 1. He’s not out here for the people or the side trails. His one and only goal is to get to Katahdin as fast as possible. Maybe he’s European and has limited time on his Visa or maybe he’s just an overachiever. Either way, he’s not going to stop to talk to you. You will never see him again.

What’s In That Pack William

With a minimum backpack capacity of at least 75 liters, William not only fills that huge pack, but often has a multitude of items hanging off his pack à la Samwise Gamgee. He may even have an additional front pack for all the important items that couldn’t fit in/on his big pack. Initially, I might have considered him an iteration of ‘Unprepared Ulrich’, but further encounters revealed he’s quite the opposite. William has read ALL the AT books and message boards and, as a result, his fear response has caused him to be overprepared for any possibility he thinks he may encounter on the AT.

Condescending Carl

Condescending Carl comes in a variety of subsets, but one thing remains the same, he knows better than you and there’s nothing he doesn’t know. Maybe he’s a PCT Bruh, don’t worry you’ll easily know because he’ll never stop talking about it. Maybe he’s super UL (UL stands for ‘ultralight’ and refers to someone who’s base weight of their gear is very low, often by foregoing comfort and safety items), he’ll openly critique your gear without invitation. Maybe he’s a social media influencer, get ready to pick up the names he’s dropped. God help you if he’s all three.

The Hippie Harem

It’s been 56 years since 1968, but somehow these hikers’ appearance remains timeless. Occasionally you’ll spot one singled out from the herd, but most likely you’ll find them bundled together like antelope for safety. Sporting copious amounts of weed, tye dye, and knitted caps, it’s amazing how the more things in this world change, the more these folks stay the same. I find their continued existence soothing, but I also don’t want to be the last guest in an 8 person hostel when a group of 7 of these bohemians show up.

The Witch of the Woods

Channeling her inner Grandma Gatewood, The Witch of the Woods is at least 67 years old, has a head full of wild gray hair, and is the last one into the shelter every evening. She has lone wolf tendencies like Larry, but no where near his daily mileage capacity. Therefore, if you’re doing more than 8 miles per day, you’ll never see her again, either.

Sally Section Hiker

She’s energetic, she smells so clean, and she’s only out here for 2-3 days. She’s also inexplicably chosen to go southbound at the busiest time of year and doesn’t know that uphill hikers have the right of way, so you’ll have to about fall off a mountain for a Sally at least 4 times a day. This danger is magnified since Sally often travels in packs with her sister, her college sorority friends, or a pack of her own progeny. Eff your goal to get to Katahdin, Sally has a nail appointment tomorrow and you’re not going to get in the way of her schedule, so MOVE!

I’m So Special Spencer

His trail name should be ‘Look at Me’ because even though he desperately tries to appear brooding and aloof, he urgently needs your attention to fill the hole inside him. Visually, you can pick him out by anachronistic items hanging on his person like a vintage film camera, ironic jorts, or a inexplicably a complete lack of a shirt. In conversation, he’ll quote Hemingway, swears he never watches TV, and will tell you that orange juice will rot your intestines while he sips cheap whiskey (it’s the only thing that numbs the negative voices in his head). Behaviorally he’ll be vaping in the shelter, while a small child with asthma coughs nearby, because nobody tells him what to do since he’s such a rapscallion. Oh, and don’t get him started about the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) which he thinks is the devil, not that he believes in hell or an afterlife because he is just so DEEP. Please, please notice how deep he is!

Normal Norma

Norma is almost unnoticeable due to the fact that she’s on the trail in bigger numbers than some of these other archetypes and doesn’t stand out since she’s not subject to the toxic masculine behavior of her peers. She’s in her 20s, she’s either newly graduated from college or she’s been working some dead-end retail or restaurant job. She’s generally pleasant, she doesn’t push big miles early on, and she makes an effort to pack out some fresh fruit at each town resupply. You will never see Norma alone, she’s not used to that in her ‘cotton life’ and she’s not about to start it out here.

No Hurry Hadley

‘I’ll get there when I get there’ is Hadley’s unspoken motto and they will NOT be goaded into going any faster than they already are. No enticement, including a shower or yummy meal can make them get to town any faster, they’re on their own good time. Ironically, once they get to town, they seem to have trouble getting themselves back on the trail. Are they even trying to get to Katahdin? Nobody knows, but at this pace it doesn’t seem likely that they can. But just when you think their 4 day foray into the last town will ensure you’ll never see them again, they somehow appear in the next town ahead of you. Methinks Hadley is a bit of a yellow blazer, but HYOH Hadley.

Middle-aged Melinda

She’s a dragonfly in amber and I don’t just say that because she’s likely a diehard ‘Outlander’ fan. She’s a creature out of time. She’s not a new college graduate and she’s not a fresh retiree, she’s a woman in her 30s or 40s and she’s absolutely a rarity on the trail. How is she taking time away from her career and/or kids to be out here? How can she dare to have individual value when these are her prime years to forego her identity in order to exhaust her own needs for the purpose of selflessly filling others’ cups? Scandalous!

Hikers smile from around a dining table at a restaurant

The restaurant didn’t even ask us if we wanted to sit in or outside, they just immediately put us outside. Stinky hikers!

Now, even though I have met all of these types of people on the Appalachian Trail, they’re not at all the most important people I have met. I think about Mongoose, who came over and offered a hug when he saw me crying off to the side at a hiker feed (I has just spoken to my youngest for the first time after a week on the trail and it was overwhelming). I think about the random dude who came across me pulled over on the side of the trail and misunderstood when I said I had stopped to put on sunscreen. He thought I said I needed sunscreen and was already taking off his pack to share his, even though we had never met before.  I think about Bobby setting up trail magic at Hogpen gap because 19 years ago he was going through a cancer diagnosis and went on a section hike and felt the presence of God. He’s been doing trail magic for other hikers ever since. THESE are the real people on the trail, not the d-bag stereotypes I spoof above. The AT is a magical place and I’ll never get tired of the people I meet there!

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Comments 10

  • Jingle Bells : Apr 26th

    Outstanding and accurate.

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Apr 26th

      Thanks, Jingle!

  • John "Tercius" Rutkowski : Apr 26th

    I can identify with three of those types at once.

    Carry on, I trip over nothing as well.

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Apr 26th

      Clutzes of the world, UNITE!

  • Leah : Apr 28th

    I loved this so much! I read it out loud to my husband this morning, and we were laughing a lot!!

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Apr 29th

      Yes! That’s three of us that think I’m funny 🤣😂

  • Doug Funk : Apr 28th

    Haha I loved this article! Keep on trekking!!

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Apr 29th

      Thanks Doug!

  • Syd : Apr 28th

    Haha I know it’s all in good fun but that definitely makes me anxious about how judged I’ll be when I hike the AT one day…

    • Traci 'Purple Lotus' Withani : Apr 29th

      It is all for fun (although there’s truth in humor), don’t worry a bit about being judged on the AT. The trail community is much kinder and supportive than the ‘real’ world and people from all walks of life hang out with each other in a way they never would in other settings. You do you, don’t be a jerk, and you’ll be just fine!


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