Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Hike That Must Not Be Repeated: Part 2: The Ladies of the Trail

We finally reached the trailhead, a small gravel parking lot named "Dick's Creek  Gap". The parking lot was full to the point that I had to park my car on the side of the road, knowing that it would be sitting there for the next few days, freely available to marauding bands of mountain rednecks...yes, I didn't even have my pack on my back and the worrying had begun in earnest. Paul, on the other hand was quite excited. He had dealt with a few work issues on the phone during the trip and had now verified that he had no cell phone reception at all. He quickly buried the phone in the bottom of his pack and rubbed his hands together, seeing nothing ahead but a trail and fresh air.
It occurred to me a few hours later that our first point on this trip was ironically named, as we encountered more solo female backpackers on this trip than ever before. You probably have an image in your mind of what a Thru-hiker should look like, at least I did: a really skinny guy with a big bushy beard, that smells and doesn't make eye contact or talk very much. Now try to conjure of an image of a female Thru-hiker.
That's not what we saw on this trip. Our starting point was about 90 miles north of the beginning of the epic journey, so we were seeing people that were just finding out what they had gotten themselves into. Our first group of women were like that, a Mom, her young daughter and a friend they had met along the way, Simone. Right off, we were concerned that they weren't going to make it. They were struggling and even I couldn't hike as slow as Simone was having to go. She was in her early 20's and had Ace bandages all around her knees. Blue hair, nose ring, and full of stories about coming from a hick town in Northern Michigan...I was pretty sure she wasn't planning on going back there.
The more common version of the solo woman on the trail was a young Viking woman with 3 young men trailing behind her. She'd stop and talk to you, with a glow that showed she was truly in her element, while the young men behind competed for position in her favor.
It seemed like we were doing nothing but slowly hiking uphill forever. The brisk 46 degrees of the parking lot turned into low 70s and cobalt blue clear skies. There could be nothing better in this world, except that I was dog tired and it was halfway through the first day. My thoughts were of a lunch break and perhaps a nap.
Soon we came to a shelter and stopped there for lunch. Paul found a small crowd of newbie Thru-hikers and found himself with an eager group of listeners for some of his stories. I found a soft bit of lumber in the shelter to lay on and soon found that there is one time I can sleep on these trips...while Paul is telling stories. 
After a while, more and more women appeared, and finally Simone came up the last few steps to the shelter and sat down. She looked defeated, and folks gathered around and offered encouragement. Me? I kind of wondered if backpacking was good therapy for knee issues, but I kept this to myself.
Next came two women who had left their children behind for a section hike "girls weekend". One of them was short and heavy, but gave no indication that she would ever give up on anything, with a bright purple bandana and a swagger that indicated she probably knew more about the trail than Paul. Her tall, athletic friend with the wraparound sunglasses was a newbie hiker, but was up for anything...this I understood well.
The usual topic that came up, when I was involved was like this: "Why should I feel fear as a solo woman hiking on the trail!?"....:"uh, I guess because I would be afraid to do that, and I'm a big guy.."
"Can you believe that some man offered to help me put on my pack!?" "Yeah, that's messed up...can you help me with mine?"

But, there was one woman, that we are still trying to figure out. Paul thinks she was either a mirage or an alien...nobody else saw her but us. I'm hoping she was a mirage....

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