Originally posted on The Trek on October 25th, 2016
Prior to hiking, most of my friends at home were very supportive over my choice to drop everything and hike the Appalachian Trail for 5-6 months. Some were worried, others were doubtful; they were afraid of the loss of security from the “real world” I would soon be experiencing, and the unknown future I would be stepping into. Although I didn’t get to complete my thru hike this time around, all of them were proud of me and intrigued upon my return. My friends at home are still near and dear to me, but there are some things I can’t really talk to them about.
It’s not their fault, but there are so many things friends at home don’t get and will never understand unless they choose to tread dirt. On the trail you make so many new friends that you may or may not ever see again once the hike is through, but that time spent together builds a bond that is arguably, equally strong, or stronger than to some of those that you build over years in the “real world”. Here are some, but not all, of the things that the folks at home just don’t understand:
The Strength of Hiker Hunger:
Your stomach becomes a never-ending pit of destruction which will engulf anything edible in its path. The only thing stopping us from ordering everything on the menu is our budget. We will raid a hiker box and eat food off the ground like it’s no one’s business. If perfectly good food is laying on top of a trash can, we won’t think twice. Like magic, it disappears. It…is…terrifying! But, we don’t judge one another for it. We get it.
The Disappointment of False Summits, and Other Things:
People at home will never know how sad it is to hike 10+ miles and reach a false summit (or more stairs), unless they are avid hikers as well. They likely won’t know what a Sawyer is, let alone the panic that occurs after accidentally dropping its washer or the lid to your water bottle, in the stream you were extracting water from. They won’t understand how frustrating it is to see a mouse has chewed through your gear even though you removed everything with any odor (aside from your own) and put it in your food bag which you appropriately put away. They also won’t know the disappointment of hearing that you were too early or too late for trail magic. Boo, cooler full of trash.
The Satisfaction Found in the Mundane:
We share our disappointments as well as our joys, like finding space in a shelter when it’s dumping rain. Stumbling on trail magic in the form of warm food and cold beer. Not having to hike off trail for the most amazing view that so few others get to see, or finding the beauty in the plants and wildlife that you’re constantly exposed to. Jotting another state, or significant mile mark off the list, or realizing you’ve been on the trail for months now, and are loving every moment of it. Oh yes, and showers!
A Discriminating Sense of Smell:
In the beginning you smell yourself and others since you don’t shower for weeks at a times. You sadly adjust to the rancid smell of body odor eventually, and no longer smell it anymore. You do however smell the day hiker that is a quarter mile away along the trail. You smell them so well that you can sometimes identify the brand of shampoo/soap that they use, the perfume/cologne that they’re wearing, and whether or not they showered today or yesterday. You resist the strong, creepy urge to tell them how amazing they smell… or you don’t and they call the police on you.
Sure, your friends at home may fit into this category, but between hikers, it’s a little different. Not to get sappy, but there’s a genuine camaraderie and trust between hikers that forms nearly instantly. You find yourself looking out for complete strangers, who don’t really seem like strangers anymore, actually. You all know what each other is going through and got each other’s back even if you just met. Didn’t prepare yourself with enough food to get you back into town? You might be surprised to see everyone at the shelter throws something at you that they’ve been carrying forever and didn’t plan on eating anyway. Need to squeeze into a motel room with someone so you don’t pay the full price? Ask and you shall receive.
The hiker bond is special and the experiences we share between us are memorable. I’ve made some lifers along the way, and hope to continue doing so on every trail I set foot on.