Interesting characters – 22 May

With the trail so quiet during Trail Days (the youngsters are now all back on the trail racing to make up miles lost during their triple zero days) I have been thinking about all the interesting people we have met.

Before we even started the actual AT, while we were still hiking the Approach Trail, we pulled off at a shelter to make coffee. How naive we were – carrying a kettle, mugs, coffee; stopping at a shelter to make coffee – we now laugh at ourselves. We no longer carry the kettle or mugs or coffee and we certainly don’t pull off at a shelter to do anything (other than getting out of the rain for a few minutes).

At the shelter was an older guy with a small pack, he was heading back to Amicalola falls, he had been out for one night only. He had thru-hiked the AT several times. Somebody at the shelter asked him what advice he had for the rookies. He said there are only 2 things. Carry ONLY (other than a raincoat and a warm top) items you will use EVERY day. And enjoy the people you meet.

We realised the first bit of advice was excellent (though it took us 4 weeks to get rid of all non-essentials and we are still carrying a few clothing items we can probably ditch) but the second bit was maybe not our thing, we were here to hike not to have a social life!

Only now do we realise that was also wise words. We are having a great adventure and it is made up in equal parts by the indescribable beauty of the area, the mind-blowing toughness of every single day and the endorphins from that, and the people we meet (on and off the trail).

There was the barmaid at Damascus Old Mill who told us she has stinky feet (and then ran after us later that night to bring Trevor’s Patagonia jacket he left in his chair).

There was What If who wasn’t in shape to hike but was trying so hard as his daughter was going to meet him to do the Smokies with him.

There was Won’t Get Up who did sections with her dad and he used to say “you want to hike but you won’t get up” – and now she is trying to finish the sections they didn’t get to. She is sweet, but seems to have 10 big toes and 10 thumbs, yet here she is, getting up and doing it – her dad would have been proud.

There was Chuckwagon. He is almost as old as the mountains and his outer frame backpack almost as old as him. Somebody told us he has been featured in their version of Getaway magazine, he has attempted the trail for the last 15 years. He wasn’t going to give up.

There was Codie ala Wild Bill ala Droplet, who had a harem of girls trying to keep up with him. He told people at trail magic he put on 10 pounds in preparation for the hike. Then two weeks into the hike his wife fetched him, apparently work didn’t grant his long leave….Uhm.

There was Ultra, the Spanish trail runner who runs with Ryan Sanders, we only crossed paths with him 2 days because he does 40km a day. His English wasn’t great but he always stopped to chat with us when we came across each other. I think he will be very embarrassed if he realised he told me he can’t sleep at night because he has emotional problems (I could figure out he meant if he doesn’t really tire himself out he can’t sleep).

Herman the German walked with his old fashioned looking camera around the neck, when he broke for lunch he spread his ground sail out, layed on his back and slept for half an hour.

Yorkshire (now living in Colorado) listened to the radio in his tent, had his alarm set for 5h and was walking by 5h45 (was still dark) – in packing up he must have zipped up things 236 times.

I specifically admire the solo females. They come out here on their own and tackle this adventure all by themselves. The youngest girls I have seen can’t be older than 23. The typical age of these girls are probably 25-30, but today we met a beautiful older woman (my age I would say) who looks as if she will be in designer wear at home, who is section hiking Damascus to Harpers Ferry all alone – she got her husband to fetch her off the trail a week ago when it was so cold and brought her back today. What makes somebody as elegant and well spoken decide to do this all by herself?

All these people, the ones with names and the ones we didn’t even exchange names with – they all brought some joy to us. By now there is a mutual respect between those who made it to here, and even if it is just a “happy trails” or “lovely day” or “tough hill” it is coming from a friend.

It was Trail Days and the quietness of the trail that made me realise how much the people add value to the experience. And though some of the older people said they enjoyed the serenity of the trail during Trail Days (when all the kids were absent) I enjoy the young people – they bring life and laughter and a lightness to the Trail.

2 thoughts on “Interesting characters – 22 May

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