Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: How the trail is changing
March 7th! That was the day I started hiking the Appalachian Trail, and no, I’m not done. I’ve had some knee problems and taken a couple of trail vacations so things are going a bit more slowly than I had hoped, but I’m still at it. I will return to the trail full time on Sunday.
As part of my rehab for my knees I’ve done some slack packing south on the trail and have even done a week-long test hike heading south. The reason I mention the direction is because typically I’m heading north on the trail, as are the majority of hikers it seems. Additionally, by heading south I have the opportunity to run into folks I was hiking with earlier in the season.
The trail has changed over the last couple of months. We all know that only about 20% of the hikers who start a thru-hike complete it. So although a couple of thousand folks start out, most of them going north, around 500 will actually complete a thru-hike. This means that in the beginning of the season there were a lot of hikers on the trail. On my first morning the knots on my ropes were frozen and so it took a couple of hours to break camp. While I was blowing on my knots to thaw them out, I watch as a steady stream of hikers, a minute spaced apart marched past my camp.
This meant that we had a lot of company on the trail, it was common that every time that you stopped for a snack or lunch people would catch up to you on the trail and you’d likely meet someone new. As we moved further north, and particularly as we got into Virginia, large numbers of folks had to end their journey. So that now when you stopped for lunch, you didn’t always meet new people, but frequently you still did.
Now that I’m hiking in the Northeast, we are down to probably 30% of the folks who started the trail, so things are really sparse. Stopping to eat usually means peaceful time alone without interruptions or meeting anyone. So we’ve gone from seeing our community members frequently to things being not so consistent, particularly if you step off of the trail for a few days.
I’ve really noticed this as I’ve passed thru-hikers heading south and spoken with them. They are always looking for other thru-hikers and seem far more lonely than they ever did early on in the season. The thing is that there still is community out there, we’re just spaced apart a bit further and heading south I see this. So one of the reasons I’m heading south starting this week, instead of starting back north, is the opportunity to encounter more thru-hikers and particularly those I’ve known since early on.
So although some things have changed on the trail, a lot of things haven’t, life is still simple but hard on the trail, the people we are with are still awesome and 90% of us, are still happy 90% of the time. We hope you are too my friends ~ Rev Kane