Trail Days 2024 Hiker’s Stories: Paul and Joyce

Standing and waiting in line to enter the free Thursday evening hiker feed offered by One Way Ministries at Trail Days 2024 was a great opportunity to meet people, including Paul and Joyce, section hikers from north-western Pennsylvania. We began to talk while queuing for dinner but separated during the meal. I noticed them at a table near me as dinner was ending and moved next to them to interview them.

According to this hiking couple, they first meandered into Trail Days in 1992 while hiking a section of the AT and they now return to the festival every few years. 2024 was at least their fifth Trail Days. I have a hunch it will not be their last.

Like others I interviewed before Paul, he said he was drawn to hiking, backpacking, and the outdoors by Scouting, particularly while working on his Eagle Scout requirements. It was Paul who lured Joyce to the same. They often hike together as a couple but sometimes go off on their own, either solo or as part of a group without their partner.

When not hiking on the AT, Joyce and Paul often hike the North Country Trail, a trail I have hiked only a few miles of but have heard much about. According to the website of the North Country Trail Association, the North Country Trail stretches 4,800 miles across eight states, including Paul and Joyce’s home state of Pennsylvania, making it the longest National Scenic Trail in America. It even connects to the AT in Vermont! When not hiking the AT or NCT, this hiking couple volunteer their time with the North County Trail Association and other local and regional outdoor groups.

Most of the hikers I interviewed at Trail days I never saw again except for Joyce and Paul and my Tent City neighbor Bad Idea. It seemed like I kept bumping into this hiking pair at one Trail Days venue or another, such as at Tim Kaine’s book signing at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor’s Center or near one or another vendor areas.

As my Thursday evening interview turned into a series of conversations over several days, we learned that we had similar experiences and interests in western Pennsylvania, from the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail to a once popular climbing area known as White Rocks. It turned out all three of us had also known an infamous American Youth Hostel spelunker from Pittsburgh named Norm Snyder, and we had even explored some of the same Pennsylvania and West Virginia caves such as the Bone-Norman Cave System in West Virginia.

When I asked this duo to describe Trail Days in a way that would make sense to someone who had never attended, they defined it as “a celebration of long-distance hiking.” They also highlighted its sense of camaraderie, describing it as a “unique gathering of like-minded people who love the outdoors.” After attending just one Trail Days, I can’t agree more, and I suspect that if they and I do not cross paths again on the NCT or AT that we will run into each other again at a future Trail Days, maybe even in 2025.

Stay tuned for more Trail Days 2024 Hiker’s Stories as the days and weeks pass. I hope and plan to post at least eight in all, and this was only the third.

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