|View from the shelter in the morning|
|Crossing the Connecticut-New York border (in 2004)|
But I think I can take the afternoon off—read, write, chill out. Spend some time with the birds. As I write one flies across in front of me, angry that I am sitting too close to its nest. I hope I am not keeping the last avian of its kind from warming its young. When I go and visit at the picnic table with another thru-hiker hiking through, the bird poops on my open notebook. I swear it is intentional.
The barrage of hikers is relentless. Again, no solo afternoon in the woods. I hole up by the shelter with my notebook and my pen and let the hikers talk among themselves. But they are so close, I can hear every minute of their conversation. And conversations among hikers can be asinine and repetitive, the same stories told again and again. Here’s a sample, between two section hikers and a Nobo. The section hikers are still shocked at regular trail exigencies, like their friend, who:
Section-hikers: …dropped us off. He’d hiked hundred miles before and I had to get him in my car to take him back to his. It was just randomly parked somewhere!
SH: When did you start?
Thru-hiker: March 28.
SH: Man you’re *through* hiking.
SH: Have you seen anything outrageous?
TH: There’s this guy Hawkeye that’s always drunk. No filter. Whenever anyone sees him, he’s sitting in the trail, doing shots, not actually doing anything ever. He’s like, never hiking. When I first met him I was so scared. I thought, this is the guy that’s going to kill me.
SH: Do you carry a tent with you?
TH: Yeah. I feel like shelters are for those people who need it more. Even if it’s crappy out, I use my tent.
TH: I figure my stuff’s wet already.
TH: You guys work in the city?
SH1: I live and work in the city, but my brother here—he—
SH2: I’m just out for this.
SH1: Where are you from?
TH: Ohio, mostly.
SH1: I’ve heard good things about Columbus.
[TH goes to get water.]
SH1: Look at this.
SH2: Oh wow. [evaluating their packs]
SH1: I mean, they’re shoved in as much as I can get ‘em.
SH1: [trying to convince his brother to go to the next shelter] It’s just at the top of a mountain so we have to climb a little bit…
So that gives you an idea of the kind of mind-numbing dialog that happens again and again around shelters and their picnic tables. I get sick of it. I try to distance myself but am still distracted. Later, I go and speak to the thru-hiker, Superglue. We speak closer to the same language, but not that much. There’s a noticeable relaxation from the thru-hikers when I tell them I hiked in 04. They don’t have to explain themselves or their gear, I know what they’re going through. Or I try to remember.
He is tired, in the zone, on his way towards *miles.* He ran cross-country ever since middle school, eighty miles a week for probably the last ten years he tells me. I can think of worse ways to train for the Appalachian Trail.
I say: you mean every step is not pain for you?
He looks at me quizzically. I think if my feet didn’t get tired, I could go all night, he says. He is doing consistent 20+ days. Maybe this is why I do four.
And then that night another of my now three-in-a-row conversations about climate change. Tonight is with Macklemore, a Louisiana audio engineer, who bought all his gear at a thrift shop. As a solution he proposed an all-agrarian society, with a barter economy. But his mindset is nihilistic. Nothing we do matters. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow all the trees die.
[Hiking the same section in 2004.]