I joined my hiking pal, Richard Wannall, last week to serve as a trail ambassador on the AT. I forgot to sew on my ambassador patches, and if you look closely at this photo, you will note that I safety pinned them on. Amateurish I suppose, but it got the job done.
Over two days, we saw 75 or 80 thru-starters northbound to a liaison with Mt. Katahdin — 2,189 miles away. They were male and female, multiracial, all ages and multinational. Most seemed well prepared, although some were in a confessional state about carrying too much. The plan was to jettison unneeded gear at Mountain Crossings store near Neel Gap and to swap out certain items there as well.
Attitudes among these fledgling adventurers were positive. They still wore their game faces as they measured foot pain and pack weight against the prospect of slogging for ever how many months the trek would take. One woman was planning a shuttle ride out of Hightower Gap. Another fellow — about the size of the Captain Stupid character in THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story — was lamenting the four severe ankle twists he had experienced in the first 7.5 miles. He had arranged to be evacuated by a friendly section hiker to get medical attention. I encouraged him to improve footwear and ankle support and to give the trail another shot when his ankle felt better. He seemed discouraged, and I got the sense his shot at redemption was circling the drain.
I asked hikers if they were inspired by the film A Walk in the Woods. Few had seen it, though many said they had read the book. I talked to precisely no one who said the film had anything to do with their plans to walk to Katahdin.
A large group of around 40 people were staying in and around Hawk Mtn. shelter. They were calm and convivial. I detected no presence of drugs or alcohol. I noted that at any given time, at least a quarter of them were absorbed in their smart phones. Smart phones are a crutch to wean technology-obsessed trekkers away from a civilized attachment to things electronic. I would hope that the phones will get turned off and ignored more and more as NOBOs become accustomed to the magic sound of the wind in the trees and the chirping of eastern phoebes. Let’s hope.