One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
They say that hikers' trail legs come in by the end of week two. On the fourteenth day, for the first time, I enjoy hiking at a two hour pace for the entire day.
Though the trees remain bare, green shrubbery begins to carpet the forest floor. The valleys, too, show signs of spring.
I pass a ranger cabin and gravel road a couple miles from Pinefield Hut. A group of day-hikers gathered at the trailhead in full winter gear begins clapping as I approach...
"You're almost at the shelter," one hiker tells me.
Another asks, "Are you thru-hiking?"
"I'm doing a long section - I'm going until I have to go back to school.
One hiker, a slightly pot-bellied older man sporting a bright orange hat and puffy down jacket, walks up and gives me his trail name.
"Old, fat, dead?" I repeat, momentarily confused.
"Old, fat, DAD." He laughs. "Old, fat, dead," he repeats to himself, shaking his head.
As he leaves, he offers me several granola bars.
That afternoon, I reach the shelter. The stone structure lies empty except for one familiar face: Woody!
Woody sits on a camp chair, leaning back against the stone wall, his hood pulled up over his graying hair. On this cold day, after taking a zero day, I thought all the southbound hikers passed me! I offer him the granola bars I'd received earlier.
"Met AT Wheeler on the trail," he tells me. "'Don't see many white beards out here,' he said. He wanted to ascertain that he was the oldest one on the trail - he's got a good ten years on me."
As dusk draws near, we gather firewood to pile into the fire ring. Woody builds a nest of twigs below the logs. As he lights them, he begins singing softly in his low voice:
"Holly logs will burn like wax
You could burn them green
Elm logs burn like smouldering flax
With no flame to be seen
Beech logs for winter time..."
"Well, my last name is Woodson, and all through school my friends all called me Woody."