The anatomy of a hiker
Last winter, my husband and I hiked a small part of the Appalachian Trail to an area where it meets with another trail. At that spot is a container that is perfect for a trail sign-in book, so we placed a notebook and pen there. We signed in as the first hikers, and hoped others would sign in after us.
Yesterday, a year later, we visited the same spot and put a new notebook in the box. The original notebook was still there, and was almost entirely full of signatures, comments, and drawings. I read through the book this morning, and wanted to share this look into a special community.
In the last year, 562 hikers signed in. Many just signed their name. Some wrote poems or other ditties, and some talked about the weather, animals or their trip. Some came in groups, and some alone, but all of their entries were an interesting insight into those who spend time on the trail.
Following are my takeaways.
Day versus through hikers:
Not all hikers provided details of their itineraries, but the hikers who specifically indicated where they were going were a combination of those who were just out doing a day hike, and those who were attacking a large section of the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail extends about 2200 miles from end to end, going from Georgia to Maine. While the majority of hikers in this particular area seemed to be day or weekend hikers, there were quite a number who indicated they had been on the trail for anywhere from one to 7 months. There was one individual who said he had only 86 miles to go until he was finished, and one that said he had only 6 days left. There were some who were going to continue through New Hampshire, Vermont or all the way to Maine. This tells me that there are still a lot of people who enjoy the outdoors. And there are many people who have embraced the huge challenge of hiking the entire trail. Kudos to those hardy souls!
Many of the people who hiked that part of the trail signed off with a “trail name.” Rather than write their real names, they selected a name that described them in some way. Sometimes the names were related to animals, talents, cartoon characters, movie villains or other recognizable names and sometimes they were just a seemingly non-sensical name that meant something only to the hiker. Apparently, having a “trail name” is part of the experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I found the choices in names to be very interesting, and I’m now in the process of selecting my trail name!
People want to share:
Hikers often wanted to share information and advice. They would talk about the weather, indicate which direction they were hiking, and talk about what animals they may have seen in the area; for example, “Watch out for the snake!’ and “I saw 6 bears today”. There were people in love who wanted to share that love, and one individual who was hiking in memory of someone who had passed away. There was the 8 week old on his first “hike” and a note from a dog. While most hikers wrote short entries, there was one person who wrote a five-page philosophical entry. Then there was the guy who said he was going to jail and he hid a “pound” somewhere in the area, with clues to the alleged stash (I have no idea if he was legitimate or trying to be funny!). There was an offer from someone who lived in the area to provide shuttle service for hikers during a specific weekend. So the desire to share thoughts and assistance to others was a prevalent theme.
The main theme:
My main takeaway, though, from reading the thoughts of these 562 hikers was a confirmation of something I’ve always felt myself. Hiking and being in the outdoors leads to happiness and optimism. Even people who said they were hot, sweaty or tired were also happy. And the majority of comments related to these good feelings. I’m going to share hikers feelings, in their own words:
- “love it!”
- “nothing feels as good as the great outdoors”
- “beautiful day!”
- “great day!”
- “The woods were calling me”
- “the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on!”
- “loving every minute”
- “letting nature heal”
- “only in the forest do I feel at home.”
- “hiking is great therapy”
If you are already a hiker, you know how much being in the fresh air can heal. You are already aware that you can sometimes just feel your body getting stronger as you climb up rocks or traverse tricky terrain. You know that pulling in lungful after lungful of fresh air, as you hear nothing but birds and squirrels going about their business, can be incredibly freeing. You can get these benefits from only a few hours on a trail. I can only imagine the benefits obtained by people who spend a month or more hiking and sleeping in the great outdoors. I bet they gain a lot of peace and strength within.
I can’t wait until next year, when I sit down with the 2017 trail log and start experiencing the thoughts of another group of hikers.