This last Appalachian Trail post coincides with me finishing the transfer of my trail journal from a dog-eared, narrow-rule, chub notebook to an electronic file. But unlike when I fashioned a book from my 2013 to 2018 section hikes, I won’t be formally publishing this time around. Instead, I’m offering my journal to anyone who would like a free copy. The journal covers all 165 days and nights I was on the A.T.
There’s quite a bit here. In addition to my usual misanthropic observations, I talk about where I hiked, where I slept, people I met, wildlife encounters, fear, anger, loneliness, joy…even songs that I whistled. And there are lots of photos!
If you would like a free PDF, just give me your email, either in the comments section here or in an email.
Anyway, here are my final thoughts to wrap up this series:
The Appalachian Trail has become a human highway. This is undoubtedly due to the prevalence of recent hiking books and movies, iPhone technology, and to significant improvements in backpacking gear. These days it’s not only “cool” to do a thru-hike, it’s easier than ever (or as easy as a long-distance hike can possibly be). The days of a solo backpacker spending multiple days and nights alone with his or her thoughts, and calling home from a phone booth located god knows where are long gone.
The Appalachian Trail is becoming increasingly commercialized. This first became apparent to me when I visited my local outfitter to purchase a few items. When Emily and Luke learned I planned to do a thru-hike, they gave me a substantial discount (the tribe thing). Then at the start of my hike I learned about “slackpacking,” where hostels are able to double their profits by offering shuttle services with day packs to hikers who temporarily trade in their full backpacks to make their hike easier.
At the end of my hike I learned about “food drops” in the once-austere Hundred-Mile Wilderness, and the popularity of one-stop shops like Shaws Hostel, which (some argue) are placing profit over quality, integrity, and ethics.
In between I experienced well-publicized speed contests on the trail, A.T.-related blogs and YouTube channels chock full of advertisements, and even a news channel specifically for A.T. hikers.
The Appalachian Trail reminds me of today’s sterilized Nashville country music scene. As Waylon Jennings sang long ago, “I don’t think Hank (Williams Sr.) done it this way.”
People on the Appalachian Trail are the same as people off the Appalachian Trail. I met hundreds of backpackers during my five-and-a-half months out there. The vast majority were friendly and helpful. They encompassed the mass of humanity: young, old, male, female, wealthy, middle-class, poor, homeless, highly educated, lesser-educated, urban, rural, liberal, conservative, white-collar, blue-collar, heterosexual, homosexual, religious, non-religious, American, non-American, extroverted, introverted, fat, and skinny.
The one exception to this was a noticeable absence of “people of color.” It’s evident to me that there is a socio-cultural element that is determining who backpacks and who doesn’t.
The Appalachian Trail has a tendency to get under a person’s skin. I’m not sure why this is. One of my favorite hikers last year was a 74-year-old man from Honolulu, Hawaii named “Bruiser.” He was on his third thru-hike of the trail.
I asked Bruiser why one thru-hike wasn’t enough, and he said he liked doing them to stay in shape. I then asked why he didn’t just work out in a gym back in beautiful Hawaii, and he said the fast food and snack machines there would be too tempting to overcome. I then asked why he didn’t do other trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, and he said his skin was sensitive and there wasn’t enough shade out west.
I don’t know if Bruiser was being entirely truthful with me. My impression was that, like me, he couldn’t really verbalize why the Appalachian Trail had gotten under his skin.
There won’t be another thru-hike for me, but there are one or two special places on the A.T. that I’d like to return to, if only for just a night or two. If you read my journal, you’ll know where they are.
Thanks for following me on my trek, and again, if you’d like a free copy of Call Me Omoo, please comment or email me.
Soon, I’ll be exchanging my tent for six months of beachcombing in Venice, Florida. My hedonism agenda includes tennis-playing, sea kayaking, snorkeling, kitesurfing lessons, and collecting sharks’ teeth. I want to eat a lot of fresh fish and catch up on my reading. While I’ll miss being detached from the bullshit of 21st-century society – at least, superficially – a change of venue is in order. And I have absolutely no regrets being retired.
Perfect timing: I just received an unsolicited text from a recruiter about applying for a position. My response? “Thanks, but I quit the rat race and would prefer not to.” Like certain sad copy clerks whose lives contain walls, I still have the power of self-determination.