One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
I clip my washed laundry on my pack to dry and hike out in my down jacket. Water trickles from rock springs along the trail, forming icicles along the rock face and pooling into patches of ice on the ground. I drop my pack to refill my water. Droplets of water splash onto my jacket, freezing into little dots across my sleeves. I glance at my pack. My laundry has frozen into blocks of ice!
As I hike past a campground, a dayhiker catches sight of me: "Are you a real hiker?!"
She excitedly motions for her husband to take a picture of us.
"Do you mind if I share that with my friends in Taiwan?" she asks.
Late that afternoon, I run into Captain Yoga Pants and Gentle Ben slackpacking - hiking with day packs supported by a car - from Bearfence Hut.
"Lil Phoenix! You made it!" Captain Yoga Pants shouts, before warning, "There's snow forecast for Saturday."
As we part ways, he adds, "You've got company down there."
Company? I head down and peer into the shelter to find Phlatlander sitting in the top bunk, bundled in her sleeping bag. She keeps the bag wrapped around her as she shuffles down to start cooking dinner.
"I wish I had one of those sleeping bags with arm and leg holes."
I laugh as I light my stove. "Like one of those snuggies?"
After awhile, a northbound hiker with a white beard joins us and introduces himself as AT Wheeler. After letting down his pack and preparing dinner, he asks, "Want to hear a hiking joke?"
"Sure," I say.
"What did the girl mushroom say about the boy mushroom?"
Phlatlander and I look at each other cluelessly.
"Sure, he's a fungi!"
Later that evening, AT Wheeler begins narrating his life story.
"My first wife and I were married 40 years. She fought breast cancer for three before she died... When I got married again, I promised my wife that there would be nothing left unsaid, nothing left undone, between us."
Hearing other hikers' stories is one of the highlights of the trail for me: There is so much potential to learn from other people's lives and perspectives, and the trail teems with people I would never have met otherwise.