Appalachian Trail Culture Stuns—Good for Thru-Hikers
I was blown away in 2005 by the “support culture” of trail angels, hostels, fiestas, you name it, honoring hikers passing through. I came back in 2010 and several new support networks had sprung up in the first two states. And now in 2012 it appears to be proliferating even further.
An event at the beginning of March, originally called the Appalachian Trail Backpacking and Celebration Clinic has re-christened itself, the AT Kickoff, modeled on the fabulous Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff which jumpstarts the PCT hiking season each year. This year aspiring thru-hikers showed up with backpacks weighing 65 pounds, only to be shocked into reality by ‘pack shakers’, who were able to literally reduce their backpack weight in half right in front of their stunned eyes. They shipped their discarded gear home and headed off north towards Maine.
This weekend there is another event honoring thru-hikers in Dahlonega, Georgia, near Neel’s Gap. Many thru-hikers will be in that approximate area, and able to take advantage of all the calories and encouragement.
Two weeks onward in southern North Carolina is the April Fool’s Trail Days in Franklin, N.C. Jennifer Pharr Davis and Gene Espy are featured to speak. There will be live entertainment and workshops throughout the day.
A week after that is the ‘AT Founder’s and Bridge Festival’ at the Nantahala Outdoor Club. There will be wilderness survival skill clinics and a backcountry cooking expo, along with live music nightly. Again Jennifer Pharr Davis will be speaking. I will also be speaking alongside her Friday night on my Pacific Crest Trail narrative, Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as a Saturday presentation on the El Camino de Santiago (The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago).
Later on up the trail, thru-hikers can look forward to the Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia, as well as hiker feeds along the way at various churches, trail towns such as Duncannon, Pennsylvania and Bennington, Vermont.
So what is one to make of this proliferation of Appalachian Trail hiker support events? Does it water the experience down? I would argue it enhances and richens the thru-hiker experience. The average hiker gets plenty of solitude and wilderness immersion as part of the bargain. Having these marquee events to plan around can help quicken and restore hiker morale, as long as the events are put into perspective. If they become the centerpiece, then it can ruin a thru-hike through excessive alcohol intake and too many zero days. And remember, all of this is optional. If a thru-hiker wants something more aking to a Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, or Bear Grylls experience, they can easily find it. The shelters, trail towns, fiestas, etc. are all optional.
This amazing Appalachian Trail culture really does make an aspiring, and perhaps fearful (me in 2005!) thru-hiker feel like they are part of something special.