I haven’t been hiking for three months now. Overnight camping is the closest I have come to a backpacking trip. I ravenously throw all my gear into my pack (including unnecessary things like my water filter, stove, fuel, water bladder) and relish those few precious minutes when I walk to my car with a full-load on my back.
I’m yearning for a five-day trip at least. I’ll be doing weekend trips here and there though, and my addiction can’t be picky. My temptress of a backpack also gives me sultry looks that are hard to ignore.
However, my last trip out was one of the shortest, but best experiences I’ve had on the trail. I set out with my friend Sheila (also a 2013 thru-hiker) and her dog Rusty just north of Blacksburg, VA on a fifteen-mile section of trail between Bailey Gap shelter and War Spur shelter. We got a really late start that day; I think we actually started hiking around 5pm. When we set foot on the trail we heard a call from a European couple telling us about trail magic burgers just across the road from the trail head. We weren’t interested in the trail magic because we had delayed so much already, but I don’t like to take advantage of trail magic while I’m not a thru-hiker.
So we headed up the trail, which starts with a steep incline for about a mile (because I have masochistic tendencies apparently). We stopped at Bailey Gap shelter to catch our breath, and met some folks there. When I first arrived at the shelter I met a couple whose names were Aimster and Scooter, and whose blog I found on Trailjournals.com. I noticed how easy it was to strike up a conversation, and how open they were in talking to me. It’s usually no simple matter for me to converse well with strangers and I’m still surprised at how easy it can be when I’m on the trail. Shortly after I arrived, the European couple showed up (whose names I don’t remember unfortunately). I learned that they had thru-hiked the previous year but had to skip a section, so they’re back now to see it through. Sheila came up after them and we all talked for a little while. I’m noticing more and more that the Trail, for me, is a wonderful drug that can remove inhibitions.
Sheila, Rusty and I decided it was time to head on, so we pushed to Wind Rock where we decided to camp. I was hiking a little faster than Sheila, and I noticed that Rusty liked to follow closely behind whoever was in front of the pack. I had never hiked with a dog before. It was an interesting experience because a dog is like company you don’t have to talk to. I realize that makes me sound anti-social, but it’s nice. You’ve got someone behind you to ward off loneliness, but you don’t have to take your focus off moving forward. I’m not saying I don’t want company on the Trail, but sometimes I find I want company while being silent. It’s nice not to have to worry about having something to say but still be social. Plus, Rusty would run off after small animals or whatever and be entertaining.
The next day, Sheila, Rusty and I hiked to War Spur shelter before reaching the return car. She got up way earlier than I did and decided to head on. The only reason this was significant was because usually my friends and I all hit the trail together in the morning. This gave me a little perspective on what a thru-hike with trail-friends might actually be like. Everyone heads out at different times and are on their own schedules, but they’re together at the end of the day.
Along the way I kept playing tag with a thru-hiker named Delaware. I met him along the trail and we spoke a bit. Then I would pass him; then, he would pass me. We met again at War Spur shelter along with the European couple. Then I realized I was getting a taste of the social aspects of thru-hiking without being a thru-hiker! I had met the same people over and over again in only a fifteen-mile stretch of trail. This must be what it’s like being a social vagrant. I even did a fuel-for-booze swap with Delaware. I would have just given him the fuel he needed, but he wanted to shed the weight of cumbersome spirits.
By the time Sheila and I reached the return car we had all met again. When I arrived at the road crossing, Delaware had come up behind me. We talked for a few minutes and he headed on up the trail. Later the European couple came, and Sheila followed behind them. After saying our goodbyes, Sheila, Rusty and I headed back to Blacksburg. The trip was one of the shortest I had done, but one of the most memorable.