So instead of those photos, which would require me to dig through the car we decided not to fully unload so I can find the camera to upload to the computer to edit and post, I'm going to leave you with a few observations about through hikers. Through hikers are what we call the people who hike the entire length of these really long trails like the Appalachian Trail, usually in one go. In case you've forgotten, the AT is more than 2,000 miles long so being a through hiker requires months of commitment to doing nothing else but walking and sleeping outdoors. Until this week, I'd never really met a through hiker. Most of the trails I've hiked aren't part of one of the giant National Scenic Trails and the time I hiked a small section of the Florida Trail with my wife, we didn't see a through hiker as far as we could tell.
This time was a little different. We met several through hikers along the way and you could always tell a through hiker from the casual hikers like ourselves. Surprisingly, only one of them stank. You'd think all that exertion for months without real baths would make them quite obvious, but we met most of them just south of Franklin, NC, a town close enough to the trail that many of the through hikers walk into town, take a shower, and gorge on fatty foods. What made them obvious was that wraith-like appearance, the gauntness of features, that comes from being near the end of months of hiking through rough terrain for these guys. We met two brothers from Wisconsin (who somehow managed to keep up a constant banter between themselves despite having been in permanent companionship since June when they started their trip in Maine). One of them mentioned how hard it was to eat enough when on the trail. He'd already lost 25 lbs. and looked like he probably shouldn't have lost quite that much. All the through hikers we met were near the end of their hike and hiking southbound. They had all started in Maine back in the late spring or early summer and were closing in on their final destination of Springer Mountain in north Georgia. It really would have been interesting to see these people back when they summited Katahdin to start the AT to see just how much they had changed in the few short months.
They also always asked about some other group of through hikers when we met them. The Wisconsin brothers asked about a group of three elfin men wearing hunter orange caps (hunting season, you know, and hikers are sometimes mistaken for deer) and a dude with pigtails asked about the Wisconsin brothers. I couldn't quite tell if it was to make sure the other guys were okay and still making a go of it or if it was some sort of small competitive spirit wanting to know where the other guys were and how far ahead or behind they were.
Through hikers looked neither depressed about how rough their lives have been for months nor do they look particularly happy about being on the trail. They seem more determined and almost like they have come to assume that this is just the way life is. Basically, they look like anyone else out there working a job they don't mind doing but maybe isn't the least stressful. Seriously, these are guys who make dry jokes about the mice in the trail shelters eating out of your beard when you sleep, and honestly don't seem to care if it actually happened to them.
I also came to the shocking realization while talking to the Wisconsin brothers about football that they had absolutely no concrete understanding of what had been going on in the world for the last five months. Sure, they'd seen some newspapers and heard the big stuff on their trips into the towns near the trail, but they'd missed out on an awful lot considering the fact that wilderness areas tend not to have good Internet access and laptops don't make good ultralight hiking even if they did.
I also realized that I'll probably never try to do this. Sure, I probably could manage it. I'm just not sure I want to anymore. Even ignoring the hassle of trying to take five to six months out of my life without having a source of income, I just don't think I'd want to hike that far all in one go. I may end up making it a project to section hike the AT. In other words, I'd do a shorter section at a time and cover every mile of the trail, just not in one hike. I don't know how I'd deal being away from family, the news, being able to shower on a regular basis for that long of a time. Through hikers are badasses. I don't want to be that bad ass. That's all there is to it.