Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Notes From The Appalachian Trail Part 9: The Cult Of Leaves

If you drive to North Carolina in the fall, the origin of any person you meet is most likely Florida. It means that millions of old folks from the sunshine state make an annual pilgrimage to the closest mountains to see what a season change looks like.

My plan has always been to avoid that situation, because who wants to hang around a bunch of old Floridians? I finally realized why I have been avoiding this time in the past...about half the men I ran into looked very much like me, and not all of them were older. However, if you have to be old and in North Carolina looking at the change of color in the leaves, there is no better way to do it than on the trail. The best parts of my days where just looking around in wonder at all of the color in front of me. I have been in the  mountains when there were no leaves in the winter and when everything was green in the summer, but I finally saw the reason so many people make this trip.

Being around all of this puts you in a different mindset, and I noticed that everyone on the trail was friendly. If you pass anyone, you stop for a few moments and swap stories, or if you are my brother,  you regale them with your exploits. These stories are about surviving blizzards, avalanches, bears, etc. Then you compare how many places you have seen and miles you have put in on the trail. I kept very quiet during these times, so as to seem a introverted through-hiker extraordinaire, but my brother made sure to point at me on every occasion, and say, yeah this is his first hike...at least nobody opened my backpack to see what extra junk I brought along that I didn't need..except for my huge survival knife.

It came to me, something that isn't so obvious now that I'm sitting in a civilized place, that the people on that trail are a very small subset of humanity that placed themselves there on purpose. I became convinced that some of the people I met would rather be on the trail than anywhere else in the world. People are nice, world politics is only something outsiders worry about...the weather is WAY more important. I started thinking that some of the hikers actually lived on the trail. I think it could be done. There is no rent, no police, little drama, at least when I wasn't getting storm warnings from my watch. After a few days I definitely saw that this was not just "backpacking", this was "doing the AT". I had joined the cult without knowing it.

One of first things you learn about the cult is "Trail Magic". This refers to items left at strategic locations on the trail as presents for hikers. I saw bags of kidney beans in front of a trail sign and one shelter had ramen noodles and cans of cooking gas. One shelter actually had a bottle of whiskey, but it had been opened and I wasn't feeling too sure of myself, concerning getting drunk out in the middle of nowhere in the dark. Life was exciting enough already.

I need to see those leaves again. My wife promises me that it will happen and we will join that pilgrimage on I-75 to the log cabins with the fantastic views, and walk the streets of Gatlinburg with crowds of suntanned Floridians, always knowing that there always be a flushable toilet somewhere nearby....

No comments:

Post a Comment