Training Hikes, the Police, and a Surprise Thru-Hiker
I was minding my own business, busting my tail up a giant hill in my parents’ neighborhood outside of Asheville, NC. I had just moved back from living and working on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, for the past 13 months, and I was spending time visiting them while getting ready for my PCT hike. So here I was with my new Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack loaded to 30 pounds, slogging up a steep climb, just for kicks.
It was the second day I was out there early in the morning, with the mountains around still shrouded in light mist, and steam rising off the blacktop. The shrubs and tree blossoms were all in bloom, and I appreciated the peacefulness of it all as I watched little bunny rabbits run across the lawns.
Next thing I knew, I heard a car come up behind me and a voice beckon as a door slammed closed.
It was a cop car.
”Excuse me ma’am, I need to speak to you. You’ve been called in for suspicious behavior,” the police officer calmly but firmly stated.
Me? Suspicious looking?
I already knew what he thought, but I let him tell me anyway, before I spoke.
”Someone in the neighborhood saw you out here yesterday, too and thought you might be homeless and camping in the area,” he went on to say.
I smiled warmly and told him that I’m training for the PCT, and that my parents live at the bottom of the development.
“You don’t look homeless,” he said as he looked me up and down, “but I had to follow up on the call.”
Yeah, I thought, do you have any idea of how much value in gear I’m carrying on my back?
I remembered back to walking in Spain after the Camino de Santiago with my hiking companion, how we would wander through non-trail town neighborhoods while navigating a new route, perhaps looking a bit like hiker trash. He had a huge beard and a well-worn cowboy hat, and always felt he was viewed a little differently when I wasn’t around, as if my presence toned down his appearance to a degree. Not quite sure how I did this, in my brightly colored tights and rainbow unicorn hat, but I guess we managed to look somewhat respectable together. Maybe. Probably not.
We would see the elderly grandmothers (abuelas in Spanish) gathered in the central parks and the streets around sunset, eyeing us as we walked. We called them A.W.A.T: Abuelas Watching All Things. These women were all the security the neighborhoods needed and we were careful of our steps around them.
I thanked the officer for taking such good care of the development my folks live in. I laughed to myself because there are apparently also A.W.A.T’s in western North Carolina that act as security guards from the windows in their houses. He bid me good day and I set back to my hike up the mountain.
My Own Prairie Home Companion
The next morning I set out again, feeling strong as I powered up the hill, breathing in the springtime air.
As I crested the top, a beige sedan slowed down and pulled up along side of me.
Oh, here we go again, I rolled my eyes.
”Hi, are you training for a hike?” a middle-aged woman enthusiastically asked me.
”Yes I am. I’m getting ready for the PCT and testing out my new pack,” I happily replied.
”That’s fantastic! I hiked the AT a few years ago and I spent a lot of time prepping with these hills,” she pronounced with a big smile.
I couldn’t believe it as I shared with her that I had also thru-hiked the AT a few years back.
“What’s your trail name?” she asked.
”Daya. What’s yours?”
”Prairie. Because I’m from Nebraska,” she said before she kindly wished me all the best for the PCT and drove away.
What a funny two days. Going from being considered suspicious with A.W.A.T’s and a police officer, to a friendly greeting from a woman who happened to be another thru-hiker who happened to live in my parents’ neighborhood.
It’s not going to get any less interesting once I’m on trail, that’s for sure.
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