One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
Hope. Fear. Despair. Gratitude. Boredom. Friendship. Joy. Some days on the trail seem like lifetimes, careening through a roller coaster of experiences and emotions, each emotion amplified by the solitude of hiking alone. Other days blur together, as though no time passed at all.
For the first time since I started hiking, I sleep through the night.
Fog encloses the trail. Passing a campground, I watch campers packing up as though through a smoke screen. They seem so far away, their lives so far removed from mine.
In the early afternoon, the trail takes me past a ranger station to US 33, the highway leading to my second mail drop. I call the motel I plan to stay at, hoping for a shuttle to town.
"I don't know what to tell you," the woman says on the other end. "We don't really have a shuttle service. There's no one here I can send to get you."
"Ok," I say, slightly disappointed.
What next? Do I hike several miles into town along a highway? Try to hitch a ride?
Gathering my wits about me, I hike down to the ranger station. A hiker with a grizzled beard and a black beanie stands outside, his pack and poles leaning against the walls. I peer inside a window.
The ranger on duty glances up, catches sight of me, and swings open the door.
"I'm looking for a shuttle into town."
"I've got a list of shuttlers. Or, that gentleman out there is waiting for a ride. You might try asking him." He points to the hiker outside.
And so, I meet Mayhem.
"My girlfriend's picking me up. If you want, I can text her and ask. She's a hiker; she'll understand." He holds up his phone.
When we pull in front of the motel, I turn to Mayhem and his girlfriend. "Thanks for the ride. You two are my trail angels today."
"Last night, this one guy had a mouse trap. He'd put one drop of peanut butter on it and put it out. The first two he dumped into the fire. The third he laid out in front of the shelter."
Within seconds, three guys pop their heads out the lounge door.
"What's up, man?"
One guy looks directly at me. "Hey, you want to split dinner? We're thinking pizza."
"Um -- sure!" I say, caught by surprise.
The lounge is dimly lit. Two mottled couches line the walls, alongside several bright vending machines. A phone book and flyer advertising Goodfellas pizza lie on an end table beside the couches.
"Are you thru-hiking?" I ask, sinking into one of the couches.
"Kyle is. We're actually seeing if we can rent a car to go home -- I think that guy's getting a little homesick," he jokes, pointing to a third guy before walking out with his phone.
I stay in the lounge for awhile. Kyle introduces himself as Trudge, and the other two as Mike and Todd.
Around 7:00 pm, Mike and Todd return with their rental car. We all pile in to head to Goodfellas in town.
Locals pack the restaurant. This place must be good, I think. I feel slightly self conscious as I enter in my rain gear - I threw my other clothes into the washer - but quickly forget about it when our pizzas and calzones come out of the kitchen.
That night, Mike treats us all to dinner and refuses to take my money. For the second time in a day, I experience unexpected kindness in the trail community. I am struck by the interdependence the trail: Many of us hike alone, but we depend upon each other's kindness, companionship, and wisdom.
"So what do your parents think?" Todd asks.
"They're worried -- I'm an only child," I explain.
"That makes sense then."
"Yeah." I bite into my calzone. "There's no spare."