Skywalker Discusses Subject of Romance on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails
This was a a recent Amazon review for my trail narrative, Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. First, let me say that I appreciate Deborah buying the book, as well as writing the review. And I certainly am happy that she described the writing style as ‘very good’. Finally, I sure as heck can’t fault her for calling me a fool!
It also seems like Deborah has raised a salient issue–trail romance. For those not in the know, trail romance might seem like an obscure subject. “You’re out there to hike. Plus everybody is dirty and smelly. And how in the world could a person possibly even have the energy.” Those would all be good points. But please consider a few other things. You are out there for almost six months, amongst able-bodied people, who tend to be kindred spirits. That is a recipe for harmony, of some type. Heck, humans will be humans.
Those of you who read my Appalachian Trail book, Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, might remember that I developed a fondness for a female hiker named Vogue. There was very little to it actually, although she was especially pleasing to the eye and a pleasure to be around. Others obviously felt the same way, as she was surrounded by a constellation of males. One, however, did become a problem, as he began writing these slightly creepy messages in trail journals. The guy was probably harmless. But who really knew? The net result, thoguh, was a hiker named Mother stayed essentially at Vogue’s side all the way to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine. Otherwise, Mother, who was a very fast hiker, would have finished a few weeks earlier.
On the Pacific Crest Trail, there are not as many woman as on the AT–perhaps one woman for every three males. In my year, 2009, as far as I can remember, all but two women hooked up with guys. And those two were accompanied by males who otherwise would have been further ahead. I don’t say this in a tittle-tattle manner. In fact, two of the couples that met on the PCT that year are now married. The bigger point, though, is that trail romance just doesn’t seem like a minor part of trail life. Call it Darwinian, or whatever you want, humans will be humans. Sometimes it seems synergistic, at other times it is disruptive. It is just one of the phenomenons of trail life. I have never been anywhere in life where romances didn’t happen, whether it be schools, work, vacations, you name it. And thru-hiking it no different.
And that gets me back to my books and the woman’s review. She is absolutely correct to state her true feelings. I can definitely see how someone not in the know about daily trail life would feel that way. But as an author, I feel it is imperative to tell about trail life as it really is, not as perhaps it should be–a pastoral idyll. My favorite writer, Pat Conroy likes to say about books he chooses to read: “I want it all. That’s the only thing I ask. I want everything the writer is thinking. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Sure, I enjoyed around women while hiking, especially after being out there in the middle of nowhere for six months. But anybody who knows me well (which the reviewer doesn’t), realizes I am about the most unassertive, unthreatening individual you could ever come across. There were also plenty of women who sought out my company as well, although there was no drama, ‘congress’, or whatever else to report. And I felt it necessary to describe the personalities out there as I encountered them. Believe me–there were few secrets out there; it all gave us something to chatter–even gossip–about to break up the daily monotony. Yes, there are obviously other things you are concerned about (weather, flora, fauna, mileage, food, water, etc.). Trail romance is just one facet of what most participants consider to be an enormously rich experience–long-distance hiking on the world’s very greatest trails.
The Appalachian Trail Data book advises female hikers to “trust your gut.” That is pretty good advice. Yes, there have been incidents, and even tragedies (two women were murdered at the Waipiti Shelter in Virginia about 15 years ago while in the act of lovemaking). But the good news is that life on the AT is probably about as safe as regular life in any other community; for that reason more females are choosing to participate. The number of female hikers is now just shy of one in three participants, which is a huge jump in the last thirty years. And if what I saw is any indication, that means there will be even more trail romance in future years. And just like in ‘real life’, that is both a good and a bad thing.
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a book on the subject of height.