There’s an incredible spirit that pervades the Appalachian trail. The challenge of a thru-hike tends to bring out the best in people and awaken a strong sense of community. It gives everyone–hikers and trail angels and total strangers alike–a chance to feel like a hero, whether by summiting Katahdin or by taking in a wet and cold hiker for a night. The A.T. brings us all together. The trail becomes much greater than the 2,200 miles from Springer to Kathadin.
The past week is full of kindness and generosity from folks around the trail.
Last week, we left the back yard of the Beer Stein bar, where the owner lets hikers pitch their tents. It was raining and the locals pointed out to us that it was a bad day for hiking as we fueled up at a gas station across the street. Our systems full of coffee, we put our hoods up and our heads down and cranked out the miles to the donation based hiker hostel under a church in Delaware Water Gap, PA. When we got there, we were bewildered to see all the bunks full with a half dozen more hikers set up on the floor. I remembered the consistently full shelters when we started, and thinking that we would be spread out by Virginia. I’m writing this 25 miles from CT, and we still end up in shelters packed full with thru-hikers. Still, soaking wet, we were grateful for a hot shower, and a warm space to stay.
We crossed the Delaware River the next day and were happy to say goodbye to PA. Its wet rocks would torture us no longer. Instead, the trail in New Jersey was wet. Really wet. Frogs swimming down the trail wet. The hike was so beautiful we kept asking ourselves, “Is this really New Jersey?” The toll was wet feet, and we paid our due.
New York was another story, characterized by constant up-and-downs much like the rollercoaster in Virginia. It presented extra challenges in the form of not being well maintained or well marked. There were lots of blow downs to skirt around or clamber over. After 1,300 miles of not getting lost once, we found ourselves wandering off the trail multiple times a day. Also, this section of trail is usually very dry by this time of year; instead, for us, it’s been incredibly muddy and horribly buggy. It’s another state we will say good riddance to when we cross into CT.
The trail itself has been trying in the mid-Atlantic section, but that’s not the whole story. The trail angels have been out in full force, keeping us physically and mentally healthy. Not only has the hitching been good, but we’ve been offered rides without asking. Day hikers will ask us if we’re thru-hiking and then ask, “Need anything?” Food on the trail has given way to jugs of water, much needed in typical, less wet summers.
We have also encountered two instances of folks going above and beyond.
One cooler filled with water jugs also had a card which read: “AT thru hikers, need a soft bed? A hearty meal? Shower and laundry?” followed by a couple’s names and numbers. We inquired with the number and got picked up. John and Susan were very funny and sweet and made us feel welcome. The next day they dropped us off where they found us. It was that easy; all try asked for in return was a picture from when we summit Katahdin.
A few days later, Claudia sprained her ankle when she slipped on a sharp wet rock. She limped to the shelter a mile down the trail. The next morning it felt worse. We were at the shelter deciding what to do when Bill, a trail maintainer who lives just off the trail, stopped by. Hearing our situation, he invites us to his house to hang out and rest for the day. He went further to invite the guys we were hiking with to also come per for a shower and laundry. He and his wife, Amy, took wonderful care of us I. A difficult situation, even taking Claudia to a doctor and letting us stay above their garage for a few nights to rest.
The trail has rekindled my trust in people. I find myself wanting to talk with anyone I see, happy to share this adventure with others. The trail has given us so much, not the least of which is faith in humanity. It’s a powerful thing.