The Trail of the Lonesome Hiker

Written by Ramona Stylos, April 18, 2011 He planned to start his hike on April 1st. I teased him, saying, “Is that so that if you change your mind before the day is over you can say ‘April Fools’?” He answered, “No, I won’t change my mind, I’ve been planning this for months.” And he had, I just hadn’t heard anything about it. But, then, where’s the boy that confides his plans to his grandmother? We always thought of him as the scholar of the family — the only one of four siblings who went on through school, after the first several years of home-schooling finishing high school [editor’s note: GED], then college, then grad school, getting his PhD in Computer Science at 28. We’ve always viewed him with awe and admiration, this slight, quiet boy who practically lives on bread and cheese, never weighing more than 120 lbs. We knew he would not be an athlete, though he was remarkably accurate when sending a basketball flying toward the hoop. When Jeff graduated from Carnegie Mellon he announ

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 19, The Story of How They Met

Start: May 15, Mile 823.2 End: May 15, Mile 843.5 I get up before 6 and leave before any of the 20 other people in or around the shelter, wondering which if any of them I will see today. I see two older hikers sitting in the trail, and squeeze between them to pass. "Sorry," the woman says. "No worries," I tell them, "the best seats are often right in the trail." When the man introduces himself as Stumpknocker, his wife says, "you may have heard of him," and I realize that I've met him before. "We camped together in 2011," I tell him, "just outside of Pearisburg." "Could be," he says, "I think I was on the trail that year." "We were camped with Tree Beard, the kid from Iowa who packed out two 16 oz steaks from Food Lion. He cooked one right on the fire, ate the whole thing and looked like he was going to be sick, but a half an hour later, he said 'I think I'll cook the second.' " &q

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 18, Buenas Vistas

Start: May 14, Mile 797.8 End: May 14, Mile 823.2 I wake up at 5:45, having slept okay with my ear plugs in despite the company, and try to pack up as quietly as I can while the late shelter arrival sleeps. The trail is quiet and I've only see one other hiker all morning when I reach a trail junction where the AT has been rerouted due to a broken bridge. I read in the guide that the river is still easily crossable and has a large swimming hole, so I step around the brush that has been dragged to cover the old trail and head down it. It has not been recently maintained, with blowdowns and overgrown brush and I can tell from the trail tread that it is not as frequently traveled as the main trail. Half a mile down the old trail I round a bend and find myself face to face with a young woman wearing only her shorts. After a half second of mutual stunned surprise, she yelps and covers her breasts and I turn around and walk a few steps south. A few seconds later she calls out, "Okay

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 17, Slowly Speeding Along

Start: May 11, Mile 719.4 End: May 13, Mile 797.8 It rains overnight and early in the morning, despite a clear forecast, and I'm glad that I didn't chance a cowboy camp like I had briefly considered. I get an early start into town and am passed throughout the morning by hikers eager for Daleville. When I get there my first stop is the outfitter, where I attempt to exchange my now trail-washed Darn Tough socks. "We don't do that here, you can buy them, but you have to exchange them directly through Darn Tough," the woman tells me, something I've never heard before in my years of replacing Darn Tough socks. I buy a Sawyer Squeeze Mini to tide me over until the replacement for my newly broken Steripen arrives, the replacement having been sent to Buena Vista, and then head to Krogers to resupply. I buy too much food, still not having dialed in my resupply skills, and head outside to a picnic table to repack it. I meet Frosty, who is performing the same chore. He l

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 16, Virginia Triple Crown

Start: May 10, Mile 698.1 End: May 10, Mile 719.4 Hiking early in the morning I see a sign on the ground made from sticks and leaves. 700, it proclaims, marking 700 miles from Springer Mountain. Handmade mileage signs are one of my favorite hiker traditions, a way to celebrate mileage milestones with other hikers, each sign unique -- the pine cone one, the rock one, the sticks and leaves one. A pet peeve of mine is inaccurate markers, although the rise in popularity of GPS apps has made these more rare, thankfully, also curbing the proliferation of a duplicate mileage markers. Right around the 700 mark, the trail greets me with a riotous explosion of flowers. My favorite are the lady slippers, bright pinkish purple flowers lining the trail. I meet a ridgerunner who tells me that she's on the lookout for spray painted signs. I tell her I haven't seen any, and she says that someone has been defacing trees, and she might just crouch there by the 700 marker like the Lorax. She tell

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 15, Solo

Start: May 7, Mile 633.6 End: May 9, Mile 698.1 I'm lying half awake in my quilt at 6am when the first drops of rain begin to patter against my tent. I wake up with an adrenaline start, rushing to pack up before the tent gets too wet. I hike down into town in a light drizzle, and am still mostly dry when I get to Food Lion for a morning resupply. My new favorite trail food is Spam, in all its fatty salty goodness, but they are sold out of the Spam singles, other hikers in on the secret, so I give in and buy the whole metal tin, preferring the extra weight to forgoing it again for the next stretch. I walk to the Angel's Rest Hostel, where one of the workers informs me that "this is a registered campsite so you'll need a 'hang pass' if you want to be here". I walk back to the office to pay the $3.50 for the pass. Having paid, I realize that I now don't really want to hang out but also feel obligated to. I call the mobile outfitter who tells me he does do

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 14, Mountaintop Office

Start: May 4, Mile 558.4 End: May 6, Mile 633.6 Waitin' On snores loudly in the bunk room all night, having warned us he would -- "I'll buy you earplugs, man." I have my own pair but the sound cuts through them and I sleep lightly anyway knowing I have to get up early. I wake up at 5:30, pack up by headlamp and leave before 6. As I'm leaving I see Penguin return from the privy. "Good luck!" she whispers. I have a deadline, something I usually try to avoid -- 11.5 miles by 11:30am. Leaving at 6am should give me enough time, but I know the elevation won't be easy, the summit rising 2000 feet above the road. The trail rewards me with smooth, easy meadow walking on the last few miles up to the summit, though, and I arrive with 30 minutes to spare, enough time to eat lunch and research my interviewer. ~~~ On the way down from the summit an hour later I see Penguin, hiking south. "I thought you weren't going to slackpack today!" I say, surpri