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.
(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.