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“The AT is not just a footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine but a living, breathing phenomenon. It’s a community, a lifestyle, an experience, a code of conduct, a religion to some and ultimately, a way of life. The footpath may end in Maine but the journey for many continues” after the last steps are taken. Reed Willard, trial name “DETOX”, 2015 Thru-Hiker.
As an avid section hiker of the Appalachian Trail, I have seen, first hand, the spirit of the people of the trail. One of the most popular questions to thru-hikers is “why are you trying to do this?” The answer you receive is as different as the hiker you ask. Each hiker has his/her own reason for being on the trail. My friend Reed Willard, trail name DETOX, was on the trail for that very reason. He wanted to be sober again and he turned to the trail for help. He says, “I’m not sure which is the greater success: hiking 2,189.2 miles from Springer Mountain, GA, to Mt. Katahdin, ME, or remaining sober during it all. In fact, the hike and the sobriety, in my mind, are one and the same. Of course, deciding to continue my sobriety will always be a work in progress; a journey that never ends. But then again, isn’t that the essence of what the Appalachian Trail really is?” In fact the very first thru-hiker, Earl V. Shaffer a War World II veteran from York, PA, was drawn to the trail to “walk the Army out of me” in 1948. He walked from Georgia to Maine so he could “walk with spring”. His memoir about his first thru-hike, Walking With Spring, is still in print today. Another couple I personally met last year while section hiking on Peters Mountain, PA decided if they could spend the six months or more it took them to hike from Georgia to Maine, then they could spend the rest of their lives together. When they left my sights, they had less than 1,000 miles to go. I am not sure how their journey ended, but I am hopeful they completed trail and the trek only made their relationship stronger.
With over 2,000 hikers attempting a thru-hike in 2016, the stories of each person on the trail should be diverse and interesting this year. These thru-hikers will be rolling through the Cumberland Valley area starting mid-May and continuing through July. “The Bubble” as it is known in the hiking community refers to herds of hikers, especially the ones who hit the trail northbound from Georgia in the spring. I like to compare “the bubble” to a mullet haircut, all business in the front and a party in the back.
The leaders of the bubble tend to be the serious hikers who have miles on their minds. They are determined to finish the trail in the least amount of time, often not looking up from their strides to even say, “Hello!” These hikers have been planning for years, collecting the best, lightest and most cutting edge gear. The next wave of personalities are my favorite. These are the everyday people who are out there for a reason other than miles. These souls are newly retired mixing in with those who have just graduated college or even high school and those who are “taking a semester off”. The newly retired are finding a whole new world to discover and the younger ones are trying to find their way in this vast world. When the two of them come together, there is magic on the trail. After walking, talking, sleeping, and eating together for a few hundred miles they become lifelong friends, or almost family. These everyday people have been saving and planning for years and have good gear. They have quit their mediocre job that was meaningless to them. Many are looking to the trail to find meaning in their own lives. They turn to the trail for inspiration and the trail never disappoints. The last group of people who move through are the party animals. These hikers just decided, after watching the movie “A Walk In The Woods” staring Robert Redford and Nolte, to set off for Georgia and start hiking. These hikers have second hand gear and all the time in the world. They are fun loving, high energy, mile grinding people with a “let’s party all night” attitude.
So while you are here in the Appalachian Trail Corridor, don’t miss the opportunity to meet some really amazing people with stories to tell. Get out on the trail for a day hike, a weekend hike or burn some use or loose leave for a weeklong trip. Be inspired by the personalities found in “the bubble”, the views and the essence of the trail. We at Outdoor Recreation can help you start your own exploration of the Appalachian Trail. We offer day hikes for all ability levels as well as overnight treks. Visit www.carlislemwr.com and Carlisle MWR on Facebook for our trip calendar.
Happy Hiking, Sue Bower Outdoor Recreation Assistant
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