You might not know this about me...

I love long-distance hiking fiercely and unapologetically.

Hambidge is just a few miles from the Appalachian Trail. The AT of Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods fame, is one of the big three National Scenic Trails in the USA. Actually, there are many more long NSTs now, but the Appalachian Trail was the first. It, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, make up that most coveted of hiking badges, the Triple Crown.

I have spent much more time than I want to admit reading trail/hiking memoirs. Of course I read Cheryl Strayed's Wild more than once. But there are piles of them published all the time and if they are even remotely readable, I'll read them. Some are so badly written that I wonder when I get to the end why I spent the time. But it is the armchair experience of the trail that I'm after when I can't actually hike myself. It makes me feel connected to the trails and the hiking community.

Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but - and here is the absolutely salient point - once would be enough.
— Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

(The quote above is an example of Bill Bryson's humor. This book is hilarious and I highly recommend reading it. It is far better than the Robert Redford movie of a few years ago and will give you a picture of long-distance hiking. Also, though you need to know about bears if you're out backpacking, I've encountered many of them and have never been threatened.)

Being so near the start of the AT, and this being the time of year that people start a thru-hike at Springer Mountain in northern Georgia, I had to take my own walk on this trail. So now I've walked a few miles in Vermont and about four miles in southern Georgia. I'm well on my way to finishing the 2,189 miles, right?

I love long-distance hiking (backpacking to many of you) with the same engrossing focus that I love tapestry weaving. I think both activities bring my brain to a similar place where worry falls away and creativity slowly spins out bit by bit. Something happens and I find myself completely invested in the activity, just waiting to see what comes next. When I'm weaving, there is this little voice that is always wondering, what will happen here? What will this color do? What if I move this sequence over by one warp? And though that sounds completely boring, in the moment I am absolutely engaged.

And when I'm hiking, especially long trails day after day, all I have to do is walk and take care of a few basic needs. I start to hear the birds and find myself crouching in the dirt to watch an ant colony for ten minutes or lying on my back in a meadow watching the clouds float overhead. But mostly I just walk. Ten, fifteen, twenty miles a day. It doesn't matter.

So if you're interested, here are some photos from my short visit to the AT. Click on the thumbnails for a larger version and hover over the photo for a caption with more information.

On my way back to the trailhead I met two tired and grubby men, Milo and Hotel.* They had misjudged their hike from Springer Mtn, had too many miles to get back to their car that night, and Milo had a flight to Colorado in the morning. They asked me if I knew of any shuttle services between this trailhead and Franklin, NC. I did!


They had wonderful stories which I heard on the hour+ ride and a necessary stop at Dairy Queen. When you're a hiker, you call things like free food, rides at the right time, and unexpected marvels, trail magic. I try to bestow trail magic whenever I can because I know the day is always coming when I'll need it myself. 

So if you're driving through the mountains somewhere and you pass a trailhead and there are smelly people there with packs and trekking poles hitchhiking, consider that they may have walked there from somewhere thousands of miles away and they probably have fantastic stories to tell you. You'll probably want to roll your car windows down and if you have a spare soda, they'll be so grateful. But do consider giving them a lift and maybe a burger.

*Trail custom is for people to go by trail names which are usually bestowed during a hike somewhere and often follow a person for the rest of their hiking career. Sometimes you never know the person's real name.

Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.

Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.

There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow. The woods is one boundless singularity. Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter.

At times, you become almost certain that you slabbed this hillside three days ago, crossed this stream yesterday, clambered over this fallen tree at least twice today already. But most of the time you don’t think. No point. Instead, you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below. Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don’t think, “Hey, I did sixteen miles today,” any more than you think, “Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today.” It’s just what you do.
— Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods