Hiker Homies

Tonight I am sleeping inside the MT Algo Shelter, at mile 1468.8 (Northbound). Quite often hikers will make impromptu markers at various distances from Springer Mountain to track their progress. These literal milestones, have spelt out “1300” and “1400” recently. As a Flip Flop hiker, these signs mean little to me, so I must keep track of my own mileage, measured from Harper’s Ferry, WV instead. As of tonight I’ve hiked 443 miles over the course of thirty-three days.

I’ve been on trail long enough to feel like a real hiker, even among the NoBo’s. Initially, it felt very much like I had just yellow blazed 1000 trail miles, yet I was still walking around telling everyone I was a thru hiker. I felt guilty for accepting trail magic for a good hundred miles into the journey.

Now that my gear is sufficiently funky, and no shower can remove all the dirt from my body; I am the genuine article.

Tater Tot and I investigated a random hiker box left at the edge of a field near Pawling, NY this morning. We were immediately questioned by a rather tenacious woman who believed us to be day hikers. In her defense, Tater was slack packing, and many confuse my Hyperlite for a daypack.

After relating that we had, in fact, over 4200 trail miles between us, the woman calmed down. I continued munching the lovely banana chip treasure trove guilt free, and the lady decided to follow us for a few miles.

Tater was not in the mood to talk, and of late I’ve acted as a sort of social buffer in such situations. She hiked on and I continued exchanging pleasantries with the slightly calmed woman hiking on my heels. Eventually, she directed the conversation towards:

“I’d thru hike, but you know, I have a job and responsibilities.”

When you tell a thru hiker on the AT this, you sound like a jerk, and they hear instead:

“I’d thru hike, but I don’t want it badly enough.” Yes, that’s what you’re trying to say.

It’s like when I recently told a pilot I had always wanted to fly, and put up a barrage of excuses for why I hadn’t. He knew damned well what the truth was. I didn’t want it badly enough.

I made the decision to hike on, further legitimizing myself as a thru when I left her in the dust.

Tater and I were parting today, and the Connecticut border was less than seven miles away. From there she’d be hopping in the car with her mom, and going to Maine to finish her last state. Bittersweet to be sure, but Tater was stoked. Hell, I’m stoked. I can’t wait for her to reach that beautiful sign, on the windswept summit all of us seek.

Instead of staying another night in Greenwood Lake, I made the compromise to leave after dinner on the 5th of June. This was barely within the limits of propriety, but I had two factors drawing me away. First, I wasn’t comfortable with the house guests mentioned in my last post, and second, I wanted to at least say goodbye to Tater properly. Even if I didn’t reach the CT border with her, I wanted to do better than the casual wave I gave at our last parting.

At 7:30pm I left my Cousin’s place and made for the trail. He walked with me for a half mile or so, and soon after I received an unsolicited hitch to the trailhead itself. From there I proceeded to hike until 2am, finally stopping for the night some ten miles down trail. I pitched my bivy near a rocky outcrop and continued on around 7am the following morning.

Soon enough Tater caught up to me, and extended an offer for me to stay with her and her mom at a nearby state park. I accepted happily.

Why did I want to hike with her so badly? A few reasons. Most importantly, she keeps me laughing all day. The importance of such a moral boost cannot be understated.

We have similar experiences on the AT, which can only be understood by other LASHers (Long Ass Section Hikers). People who have had to leave the trail before, and have made the effort to return, are a special kind of crazy. I like that crazy.

Thirdly, we’re both out here trying to deconstruct our last relationships. We’ve had some seriously insightful dialogs on that point. She’s younger than me by eight years, but definitely has her shit together, and much to teach.

Yes, she’s also incredibly gorgeous and attractive beyond measure. On the list of things well, she has them all. I’m grateful to have had a chance to clear a couple of states with her.

Her mom is every bit as amazing. “Snake Charmer” understands hikers in a way that only a parent who has been along side their wandering child can. You have to be a pretty amazing parent to drive across the country to support your daughter’s thru hike.

Snake Charmer cooked us breakfast and dinner for three days, and slack-packed us from the park, which had glorious hot showers.

The best part though, is that the family dynamic between her and her daughter matched that of my own family. We have the same sense of humor, and it made me miss home. It made be nostalgic for a time when my family was a decade younger, with more vitality.

Had I been on trail in earlier years, I think both of my parents would have taken great interest, and subsequent care of me during my hike. My mom has always been my greatest cheerleader out here. It’s been really tough thinking about how the stroke has affected her.

You have to appreciate people while you have them. You have to be present while the present moment still exists. I’m going to bed quite grateful tonight, because I feel that I understand and can execute on this principle at last.

I parted with Tater and her mother properly, with hugs. She told me to have fun hiking in the heat, and I told her to enjoy walking up those big ass mountains. Sarcasm is the proper goodbye.

In all seriousness though, I cannot wait for her summit photo.

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