I've been running my three miles each morning on the 5K course through Thetford Hill State Park. Linda's been sleeping late and enjoying her morning routine.
And the last two days, we've packed up the Jeep and driven seven miles to a spot where the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road just outside of Lyme, NH.
North bound hikers pop out of the woods here, cross Dorchester Road at the intersection of Dorchester and Grafton Turnpike. At that large gravel intersection is a creek and a large enough area for us to park and set up some "Trail Magic" for hikers.
We took our grill and I grilled some 1/4 pound jumbo hot dogs. We had a cooler full of cold drinks - Coke, Dr. Pepper, Sunkist Orange, Gatorade, and water. We had chips and snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and ibuprofen. We had hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, trash bags so they could unload whatever trash they were carrying. And we had chairs including our two LaFuma loungers.
The first day, Monday, we set up around 12:30 and within minutes a hiker appeared. He was a "section hiker" - one who does sections of the AT as he can squeeze it into his schedule. We didn't get his "trail name", but he was from New Jersey.
Seconds later, another hiker came from the opposite direction. His trail name was Cinder and he was a south-bound "thru-hiker" (aka a SOBO). Thru-hikers hike the entire AT in one hiking season, all in the same calendar year.
Most thru-hikers begin at Springer Mountain in Georgia and hike all 2,190 miles of the trail through fourteen states ending at Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine. They are north-bounders or NOBOs and most start in March or April hoping to complete the trek sometime before October 15 as that's when camping in Baxter State Park is closed and the park highly recommends hiking Katahdin before then.
"There is no camping inside BSP after October 15th. Hikers arriving after Oct. 15th must arrange to camp with private establishments outside Baxter State Park and enter the Park for day use only. Remember: After October 15th, opportunities to climb Katahdin will be determined on a day-by-day basis, depending on access and weather conditions. We cannot emphasize it enough—to avoid disappointment, plan to hike Katahdin by October 15th at the very latest and earlier if at all possible."
A much smaller percentage start at Mt. Katahdin in late May, June, or even early July and hope to complete their thru-hike before the snow causes problems in the mountains of the southern AT - hopefully by the end of October but perhaps into November or even December.
Thru-hikers hike at various speeds and there are sample four-month, five-month, and six-month itineraries online. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy says the typical thru-hiker takes five to seven months and that only 1 in 4 starters each year actually completes the entire AT.
Our NJ section hiker and Cinder (left in the yellow) quickly claimed the loungers.
You can either select your own trail name or allow other hikers to choose one for you. You can choose to accept or reject the trail name given to you. Sometimes trail names have nothing to do with anything related to the trail, but often your name comes from your exploits on the trail.
Soon we were joined by Jiminy Cricket who is a NOBO, but who had skipped certain sections of the trail and knew he wouldn't be completing the final hike to Katahdin due to time constraints.
Just as NJ and Cinder were leaving, we were joined by Sunrise Chaser (he camps on top of mountains so he can enjoy the sunrises) from West Virginia (on the left) and Carpenter (he's a carpenter) from Maine (center).
Sunrise Chaser is a NOBO thru-hiker taking his time. He said he'd never done any hiking before he started.
Carpenter hiked the AT last year and has lots of hiking experience. But this year, a friend of his from Kentucky came up and wanted to hike the White Mountains in New Hampshire. After they completed "the Whites" and his friend went home, he just decided to keep hiking south until he decides to stop. His nephew owns a campground in Maine and he told us to give him a call and tell him "Uncle David" sent us.
Sunrise Chaser said his dad wants to do the trail next year with his mom possibly supporting with an RV. Carpenter (in his late 50s) took one of our cards as he said he would love to be a full-time RVer down the road.
We were out there for about two and a half hours and met five really nice guys who were all taking different approaches to the trail. They were so appreciative and graciously answered the questions we had for them.
Just a tenth of a mile north of our location is the house of Bill Ackerly. Dr. Ackerly was a retired psychiatrist known as the "Ice Cream Man" up and down the AT. There are signs on the trail pointing to his house where hikers can get water and free ice cream and have a game of croquet in his yard. Unfortunately, Dr. Ackerly passed away in May of this year, so this AT icon who is listed in so many of the guidebooks is gone.
His sons have been continuing the tradition thus far, but the house is going to be rented, and it is likely this well-known stop on the AT will become only a memory.
We really enjoyed our few hours with the hikers .... well, except for the "hiker funk". Hikers that have limited opportunities for showers, that wear the same clothes day after day after day, and that have no way of easily washing their gear .... stink. Everybody knows it, I've read all about it, and Linda got first hand experience today. If I do the AT, she is already dreading picking me up and having my gear anywhere near the RV. :)
Today, Tuesday, I got my exercise in earlier, cutting a few seconds off my 3-mile running time on the hilly cross-country course. Linda also got up earlier, so we were ready to go back out to the AT for another day of "Trail Magic", but a couple hours sooner than yesterday's arrival. It was about 10:30 when we got there.
We were all set up, but it took about thirty minutes before we got our first hiker. SLAM had gotten a ride into town, and a local dropped her off at our spot. She's a NOBO thru-hiker.
She had already eaten, but she had a cold drink and chatted with us a bit.
Her trail name, SLAM, is an acronym for "stop looking at me". Apparently, someone is always watching when she does something silly.
She's from Southern California, age 19, and the AT is the last leg in the U.S. long-distance triple crown of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Rumor has it that she may be the youngest person to complete a solo thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. We also learned that her mother completed the triple crown years ago before all the trails were actually completed trails.
After SLAM left, there was a lull and Linda & I did a little reading. But soon Ranger appeared. Ranger is a flip-flopper thru-hiker. She's from Florida and is a park ranger in the National Park system.
Some hikers start in the middle of the AT mid-April to mid-May and hike to Mt. Katahdin in Maine and then they return to their starting point, and hike south to Springer Mountain in Georgia. Flip-flop itineraries provide the best weather for more of the hike, they avoid crowds, and there is less negative impact on the trail since they spread out the hikers.
Before long, Ranger was joined by Charlie.
They were in the same shelter last night, and Charlie pulled out a map and talked to her about a shortcut. Some AT hikers are "purists" meaning they have to hike every inch of the official trail - the white blazes. Others, like Charlie, aren't opposed to walking shorter or easier options.
Hikers use different color blazes in their lingo.
- White blazing - hiking the main, official trail
- Blue blazing - taking a side trail for supplies, water, or to see a point of interest
- Yellow blazing - hitchhiking and getting a ride bypassing a portion of the walking trail
- Aqua blazing - apparently you can take a boat on the Potomac River that parallels the AT in northern Virginia
- Pink blazing - following or trying to catch a member of the opposite sex you find attractive (of course, this is usually guys after gals)
Like yesterday's hikers, Ranger was up for a couple of hot dogs. Charlie opted just for a cold drink or two. Charlie set off down the road on his shortcut, but first thanked us and gave us a business card for his book store/coffee house in Alabama. He said we could stop by for a free piece of pie and cup of coffee if we come through his town.
Ranger was telling us she had just finished a gig in Hodgenville, KY at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park and she was applying for other positions across the country. She decided she would walk up to Ackerly's for ice cream and then take Charlie's shortcut, so she left her pack with us. Just in case you were wondering, the female hikers smell no better than the guys. :)
Shortly after Ranger left, Portuguese arrived.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy told him he was the first person from Portugal that they knew of hiking the AT. He's a journalist and author who has written books (in Portuguese) about long distance hikes.
His English was very good and he loved to tell stories about the trail. He sat with us a good hour or so, and teared up as he related his encounter this morning with a mama bear and her three cubs.
While we were talking with Portuguese, a truck with a trailer pulled up. Out of the trailer hopped Charlie - apparently his shortcut didn't work out. So he continued on up toward Ackerly's.
Portuguese told us about meeting "Miss Janet", a well-known traveling Trail Angel that follows the crowd of NOBO thru-hikers each year and helps provide trail magic and shuttles to town for food, post offices, and re-supplying. Miss Janet was a nurse that later ran a hostel along the AT for hikers, but she is no longer stationary. In 2011, she wrote:
"I am 48 years old and Homeless, Unemployed, and Unattached... all by personal choice and by the whims of LIFE."
According to her Facebook page, she is in Vermont now. Perhaps our whims will intersect with her whims. :)
Eventually, Ranger came back down the hill from Ackerly's with four other NOBO thru-hikers that had been up there playing croquet. Apparently, those four hiked by just before we set up. They - Sherpa (Texas), Mola (Pennsylvania), Helter (British Columbia), and Diatom (California) - backtracked for a little "Trail Magic". Diatom had completed the Pacific Crest Trail and was on his second leg of the triple crown.
Portugese greeted all of them, took a photo with us (that will likely show up on his Facebook page), and headed up the trail. The rest settled in, ate hot dogs and snacks, and enjoyed the cold beverages.
Almost immediately, Jilldebeest (SOBO thru-hiker from West Virginia) and Long Cloud (NOBO thru-hiker from Pennsylvania) arrived. The hikers would step off the trail, look at us and say "Is that trail magic?" with a big smile and gleam in their eye.
They wiped out all the hot dogs we had and most of the other food as well. We still had drinks and jugs of water to fill their water bottles.
As soon as the last hot dog was devoured, three NOBO flip-floppers arrived - Good Boy (New York), SlipNSlide (Maryland), and Pinecone Sitter (Rhode Island). They got what was left of the food and had more drinks.
Thru-hikers have to consume a lot of calories. The guys were all skinny and Jilldebeest said she had lost 21 pounds in five weeks. Linda determined the best thing about doing the AT was being able to eat absolutely anything you wanted and still lose weight. :)
Good Boy needed ibuprofen and Pinecone Sitter needed to refill her hand sanitizer. The hikers that had been to Ackerly's had filled their water containers there, and the others used our jugs of water.
So, we had ten hikers at one time, and they were all great. They asked us questions, we asked them questions, they asked each other questions, and it was just such a nice group. They all kept asking for permission to take this or that even after we told them to take whatever they wanted. I don't think any of them were going to make the miles they planned for today. :)
Eventually, they all threw their packs back on and departed. They were very grateful and we enjoyed talking to all of them.
Since we were out of food, we packed up. We had an electric cooler that was plugged into the Jeep's cigarette lighter, and we had been starting the Jeep every hour to keep the battery from discharging too much. But with our large group, we forgot to start the Jeep the last three hours, and the battery was dead.
While I finished packing everything, Linda walked up to Ackerly's to see about getting a jump. The younger Mr. Ackerly agreed to drive down after he finished a phone call.
Right after Linda returned, three more NOBO thru-hikers crossed the road. We had a few bags of chips and breakfast bars left, but they were mostly interested in the ice cold drinks. Linda gave the dog some water as I pulled the cooler out of the Jeep. They assisted with our jump start when Mr. Ackerly arrived, and then I got one last photo.
From left to right, Kiwi Ben (New Zealand), Quadburner (Kansas), and One Match Jack and his dog, Dude, (Ohio). More really nice guys.
They continued on, and we headed home. Today, we were there about six hours and met sixteen hikers.
Everyone was so nice and all were enjoying the experience. They all highly recommended it. It's not necessarily "fun", but they all said it was rewarding, an experience of a lifetime, and meeting the people on and near the trail enhances all of it.
I took mental notes of their gear, and asked about the weight they were carrying. They carried anywhere between 22 pounds and 45 pounds, and some didn't know. Most were in the 30 - 35 pound range including food and water. Those with heavier packs said they are conscious of weight, but they like what they like comfort-wise or they just preferred carrying more food and/or water. In any case, they just got used to carrying the weight they carry and stopped worrying about it.
Other things we learned:
- One started in Georgia in late February and most of the other NOBOs started on various days throughout March.
- All of them are solo hikers that just met up on the trail.
- They confirmed that trying to plan everything down to a strict schedule was an exercise in futility.
- Most of those we talked to had the same water filter we have - the Sawyer Squeeze.
- Most disturbingly, many of them seemed to know someone that had contracted Lyme Disease on the trail.
But more than anything, we learned that "Trail Magic" isn't all about what is provided to hikers by Trail Angels, but it also describes the wonderful interaction between many of the hikers and the people that try to help them out and get to know them. :)