Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Bugged Out In Virginia: Part 12 - Behind the Trail Curtain

We were coming to the part of the hike I liked the most: getting off and getting a shower and some real food. Although I had gone to a lot of trouble to find good things to eat that were easy to prepare and lightweight, I still made mistakes. One mistake was packing a lot of Kirkland protein bars. I mean, they worked. They filled me up, gave me energy, and kept me going when the going got tough....but the "Chocolate Brownie" bar tasted like brown cardboard, and that taste never improved during the hike. In fact, I even brought some back home...and that is a cardinal sin of backpacking: to carry food all the way along the trail and not eat it. I just considered it emergency rations, but I can remember many times that I felt, "boy I could sure use something good right now", look at the bars in my bag and say "nevermind". I would like to think that those bars helped me lose some fat on the trip, but it just made me more excited about the really good tasting bad food waiting for me in the campground ahead.
Although I was almost running coming down that mountain to the gravel parking lot by the bridge, there was something that happened along the way. It was one of those chance, brief encounters that suddenly change your perception.
I pretty much had seen backpacking and backpackers as you might. Most of the people are younger, and might be considered the modern day hippies. There were plenty of people like me, ones that found some time later in life to discover the joys of carrying all of your stuff on your back for a week or so and coming home bug-bitten to tell all of your friends how rugged you were with your $1000 worth of gear on your back. I saw the through hikers as the gods of the trail, perhaps a step above or below the trail runners, the people that jogged where I was struggling to stay on my feet. It turns out that not everybody shares that view.
I was coming around a turn in the mountain where I couldn't see very far ahead of me and I was hearing very strange noises. These were noises that I did not associate with the woods. The first thought I had was there was either a bunch of rednecks whooping it up far from any parking lot, or I was about to encounter a rogue logging crew that was illegally poaching trees. I was sure there would be giant guys with lots of tattoos, big axes, and probably monster chainsaws. I quickly checked my pockets for a good defensive weapon and came up with the fingernail clippers that I had traded for my hunting knife in order to save weight and avoid getting mocked by other backpackers. I had visions of tossing my pack and outrunning the musclebound guys that probably couldn't run 100 feet, but then I realized I had watched one too many television shows about medieval warfare, and got a strong image of me running while an axe spun through the air, heading directly for the center of my back.
I came around the corner and it was too late to run. In yet another inexplicable scene, it took me a few minutes to take in what was in front of me. There were 3 huge redneck-looking guys with large axes, 2 older people and a very pretty young girl. One of the redneck guys was shaking his head slowly and chuckling, "Honey, how many times do I need to tell you not to carry so much?", "but I love you for it". It was slowly dawning on me that this pretty young girl had hiked up the mountain from the gravel parking lot below. She was a teenager, perhaps just out of high school. She had on a backpack and had arms loaded with shovels and other things. The main thing I noticed was that she wasn't sweating. She looked more like a tennis player than anything else. Normal clothes, makeup, hair nicely combed....and she was carrying more stuff than I thought the rednecks would carry.
It turned out that this was the ATC. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy. These were the people that made the trails work. They came out with tools and were the ones that made sure we had a good, safe trail to hike on. The 3 guys were the employees and the girl and the 2 older people were volunteers. I was told that people volunteer for a week and get food and shelter for their hard work during the day. Right about then I was feeling about 2 steps lower down the rung of hikers than I had before. What was interesting was while the guy was talking he explained that the through hikers were just passing by and sometimes left a mess. The people he wanted to care for were the people that lived there and section hiked for the love of the woods instead of trying to complete a pilgrimage. I brightened up a bit at that. So, instead of getting treated like wannabes, we were treated like the people these guys wanted to serve. We thanked them profusely and got back to our trek, adding new perspective to our travels, in addition to wondering just how tool-girl managed to get up this mountain without sweating...