Just passing through: Appalachian trail hikers speak their minds on life after 2020
By Noah Baughman, Cassie Clark, Darius White, Christian Patterson, and Jordan Cobbs
Seigenthaler News Service
Benton MacKaye, the conservationist and forester who first proposed the creation of the Appalachian Trail, said this about why the 2,190 mile trail was needed: “The ultimate purpose? There are three things: 1) to walk; 2) to see; 3) to see what you see.”
His trail proposal was issued in 1921 and completed in 1937.
The Appalachian Trail crosses through 14 different states, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine, making it the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit charged with protecting and maintaining the trail.
More than 3 million people visit some part of the trail yearly and each year more than 3,000 hearty souls attempt a “thru-hike,” trying to conquer the whole trail. According to the ATC, only one out of every four thru-hikers actually finishes the trail. Most start out in Georgia, in the spring, and then finish in Maine in the fall, taking an average of six months to complete the trail.
However, due to the pandemic, hiking shelters were closed down and negative COVID-19 tests were required for hikers to pass through certain states. Social distancing and masks were enforced.
Over the past few months life on the A.T. has started to look normal once again. Due to the availability of vaccines, many trail restrictions have been lifted and hikers have once again started their northward journey from Georgia to Maine.
A favorite stop for hikers is Damascus, Virginia, where the A.T. goes straight through town, allowing hikers to stock up on supplies, eat a meal at a restaurant and stay in a hostel.
Members of the Road Trip Class spent a day in Damascus talking to hikers, asking them about their experiences now that a sense of normalcy has returned. Most hikers adopt trail names that are given to them by other hikers based on something they have done on the A.T.
"I feel at home on the trail," A hiker who goes by Rocketman said.
After a year in the pandemic, Rocketman is using the A.T. as a way to close the 2020 chapter in his life.
"Everything has been so weird for the past last year. I wanted to come to it and get to experience it before going back to normal again," he said.
- Darius White
Splat Cat and Papi, from Austin, Texas, are section hikers. They hike the A.T. for two weeks each year, and then start from where they left off the next year.
"It's relieving. It’s why we do this, so we don’t have to think about all that," Splat Cat said about things returning to normal.
"I think the outward appearance shows that things are returning to normal, but I don’t know about what’s going on with people internally, what they are actually feeling. Thanks for bringing us back to reality," Papi joked.
- Cassie Clark
Unlike the many of the hikers we spoke with, the man pictured above isn't in much of a hurry to do anything. So much so that his trail name is "No Rush."
"My goal in life is to never finish the trail," he said. "I got it written on my my tent in sharpie, 'Slow down, Maine isn't going anywhere.'"
His outlook on the past year and most of his life is surprisingly positive seeing the many tribulations he has faced. "I'm pretty optimistic," he said. "I ain't still here after being (pronounced) dead seven times. I'll tell the universe when I'm done having fun and I ain't dead yet."
Having lived in a city most of his life, No Rush enjoys the thrill of walking trails throughout the United States, with the A.T. being another one of his stops. "It's the biggest Amusement Park in the World," he said.
Florida couple Sherry and Scott started their journey in Amicalola Falls, GA. They were on day 55 and had 1,700 more miles to go.
"We were vaccinated before we started the hike. And as for COVID-19, things have been pretty much the same" said Scott.
The couple also gave us a rundown about hiker etiquette and the scoop on trail names.
"You get trail names from the people you meet on the trail. It's usually related to something you did on the trail or something you're wearing, but the unique thing about them is that you have the option to decline the proposed name," Sherry explained.
Scotsman and Rio are two hikers who just met each other but connected as though they were long-time friends, a trend among the thru-hiker community.
Scotsman, who received his trail name due to his commonly worn plaid kilt and lengthy beard, has been a chef for the past 10 years and due to the pandemic, has had to endure erratic work hours which led him to do a section of the A.T. last August. This is when he grew a love for the trail.
Rio grew up in Texas and was initially nervous about hiking the trail after not being able to go last year due to COVID-19.
"They call them "tramilies", it's like a trail family." Scotsman said. These "tramilies" are formed when people meet on the trail and because everyone's going toward the same goal, they often come across familiar faces along the trail, forming a unique fellowship among the hiker community.
- Jordan Cobbs