Over the last week or so I’ve been seeing an increasing number of hikers going the opposite direction than me. And by the looks of things they’re not weekenders or sectioners – their gear is way too expensive. And they certainly aren’t day hikers – no cotton clothing or scent of shampoo. By all appearances they look (and smell) like thru-hikers. But they act so, I don’t know, strange and different from us. They even use skewed and opposite trail terminology. Ah-ha! It must be the beginning of southbound thru-hiker season!
Long Time and I are just north of Killington, Vermont. We’ve come 1703.1 miles northbound on the Appalachian Trail. We’re 78% done and it feels so surreal. Suddenly the end is in sight. In 2 or 3 days we’ll cross over the New Hampshire border, and after that we’ll just have Maine to go. (But of course, as you faithful blog followers know, I’ll still have 83.3 miles in CT and southern Mass to make up). But what I really think is nuts is the amount of southbounders we see every day now. They’ve been where we’re going. They’re going where we’ve been. And they’re doing it all backwards!
For the most part they’re helpful in letting us know about places to stay and to eat in the upcoming towns, what to expect when going over the White Mountains in NH or how best to go about fording the streams in Maine. And it’s nice that we can share info that’s helpful to them.
But what baffles me is how some of them think they know so much already about the trail after having only been walking for a month. Ha! A month. Try living outside for four! Its as if some of them have a chip on their shoulder for going against the grain, or for already having completed “the toughest part of the trail.” I look back to my early days in North Carolina or Tenessee and think, “I hope to God I didn’t act like them!”
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, I’ve equated this whole thru-hiking thing to my freshman year in college. (Well…sorta…) It’s a slew of like minded individuals who have the same end goal in sight and they’re all trying to figure out how best to go about it, to find out what works for them. There’s comraderie in that, there’s excitement in it, there’s even sometimes a rewarding beer at the end of the day. It’s also a lot of hard work and occasionally you want to just sleep in and skip class. All of those things have remained consistent throughout the trip. But now we’re approaching the end of the semester. It’s time to put our heads down and push to the end. Us NOBOs are the senior class now. We’ll soon be on our own, back in the “real world.”
Last week when my friend Diana, (trail name “Whim”), was hiking with me, she asked me how I think this trip will affect me when I get back home. What are my goals for my career, for my upcoming marriage, for life? Have they changed and how?
I couldn’t really quantify them with any answers because I really don’t know yet. There hasn’t been a lot of time to reflect on the experience as a whole. Or maybe I should say there’s been plenty of time, but it hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been too busy watching my feet, trying to avoid the mud, the roots and the rocks to think about what’s next. But now that we’re seeing so many SOBOs on the trail it emphasizes the reality that there really is an end to this thing, and it’s just about a month away.
So I may not know where I’m going after “graduation,” but I know I’m ready to finish this thing!
On a side note – we met the oldest thru-hiker on the trail yesterday, “Cimarron,” who is 88 years old. About to turn 89. He’s hiked he trail before, but this year he’s out to grab the title for oldest hiker ever. Lesson? Keep on movin’ and shakin’ and your body will be strong enough to hike 2,181 miles when you’re almost 90!