My friend Martin left a comment on my last trip report, saying the he was beginning to see the appeal of hiking the Appalachian Trail. To put this in context, Martin lives in the UK and hikes a lot in Scotland. He's a lightweight backpacker like me and is one of my far flung blogging friends.
His comment got me thinking about why I hike the AT. It wasn't obvious to me at first.
The reality is that I probably will never finish section hiking all 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. There was a time when I dreamed otherwise, but with work and the fact that I'm getting older, it's unlikely that I'd be able to hike it more than 15 days per year for the next 15 years, even if I dedicated myself to it.
The fact is that, I'm not section hiking the AT in order to finish it, even though I have hiked 460 miles of the trail in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine over the past 2 years. So why do it?
I think the answer is community. People who hike or have hiked the Appalachian Trail share a common bond that transcends age, race, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, religion, hair-dos, and all of the things that divide us off the trail.
Speaking for myself, I'm always pleased to meet new people at trail shelters or out along the trail and talk to them. I've met the most interesting people this way and I count many of them as good friends to this day.
Then there's the bond between AT hikers (both thru-hikers and section-hikers), past and present, that is reinforced in online communities like Whiteblaze.net and expressed in a whole series of traditions that revolve around the AT experience: Trail Days gatherings, hiker feeds, trail magic, hiker hostels, decorating privies, shelter log books, shelter graffiti, trail adopters, and so on.
But the community that surrounds the Appalachian Trail extends beyond the hikers that hike it and includes the towns and communities that border the AT corridor from Georgia to Maine. It is not uncommon for those people to be uncommonly supportive and kind to hikers they meet on the road or in town. For instance, I'm always amazed when people stop me on the road and ask if I need a ride, especially when I'm not even hitchhiking. It's a beautiful thing and harkens back to past time when people helped strangers instead of fearing them.
So I think a shared sense of community is probably the biggest reasons that I mainly hike the Appalachian Trail instead of other trails in my area. What are your reasons?
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