AT Sobo Part 14 – Where the trail family expands and trail magic goes stratospheric
Hiking in a bigger gang was a lovely change. Hambone and I had had an incredible time roaming the remote trails and mountain ranges that made up the first 500 miles, but now we got to explore with a whole team. The Appalachian Trail is a social place, especially for the Northbounders, who start in huge groups at the start of the year. The Southbound direction is far less populated, but when hikers do congregate at traditional ‘vortex’ points (where there is too much fun to move on too quickly and a hiker bottleneck happens) then people are very excited to meet each other. So, fresh from town, our new group headed to the top of Mount Killington; nothing too technical, just long and steady.
The mountain had a fancy ski restaurant at the top and a bubble car lift for skiers in the winter. We had a beer and a hot dog; all we could afford, and eyeballed the bubble car, which was slowly ticking around despite it being early summertime. Wag (a girl in the new group) and I decided to linger a moment as the others dodged the downhill mountain-bikers screeching along the trails, and headed up around the bend to the summit. We looked at each other. “Do you think it might be fun to….?” we said, pretty much at the same time. As we ran to the bubble car to see if we could take it for a ride up and down the mountain we heard shouts from over our head. The boys had had the same idea and were waving and hollering out of their bubble as they laughed their way down, having scooted in without really telling the attendant they hadn’t paid.
We raced to the lift deck and did the same, piling in in a heap with our packs and poles as the bubble car swung crazily and the attendants rolled their eyes and laughed at us. We took photos and yelled to the boys as we drifted down the mountain as effortlessly as a cloud. It wasn’t so peaceful at the bottom however, as the attendants down there were not amused at our little adventure. We had already clocked their frowns as the doors opened automatically and we were asked for our tickets. Obviously, they had just had to deal with the much more ridiculous boys about five cars beforehand, so they were not impressed. We pretended we couldn’t hear them but that we were trying to understand and be helpful, until the cabin swung around its metal track and the doors closed again, swooping us back up to the top…ahh such adventures. It’s not just walking you know!
The next few days were joyful moments of immersing ourselves in hiking as well as all the other things the trail offered. The boys hitched to gas stations in pick-up trucks from road crossings to get beer and snacks, and the rest of us found swimming holes in rivers and baked on hot rocks under blue skies to dry off before doing it all again. These were special times. Rainstorms soaked us, sunshine warmed and dried us. We moved around the group, hiking in twos and threes; singing, sharing stories and laughing, then congregating at night to cook, check in and rest. The AT suddenly also became part of the Long Trail (LT); a 273 mile trail that goes from the Mass border up to the Canadian border, all the way through Vermont. Half of it is along AT, and then it branches off into wild, tough terrain up north. The LT hikers we met and camped with were fresh, excited and great company.
One evening, as we were heading to camp for the night, we started passing a number of Northbounders who had come from a road crossing ten miles or so away. All were very happy, some tipsy, some hungover, and ALL were raving about the ‘trail magic’ that was at the road crossing that ‘could not be missed!!’. We began to get excited. We had passed several stocked coolers in the past few days and taken a cold coke here and there with gratitude, but this sounded like something new. Something…epic. We took details and made camp, setting alarms to get up early because we had been told that these two trail angels made full breakfasts on a grill for hikers – eggs, bacon, pancakes – the works. They apparently gave out beers, then cooked lunch, then shared beers and whiskey, and then made dinner. It seemed too good to be true to us cold, weary and hungry forest dwellers!
The next morning we scooted 6 miles down the trail at a record pace. Oh. My. Goodness. All the rumours were true. On the tiny country road was a lay-by with a large pick-up parked in it, gazebos set up to shield from rain or sun, and picnic chairs set up to seat 15 or more. Coolers were organised down the side of the road full of cokes and sprite and beers. A large portable grill was fired up with bacon sizzling. A homemade charging station sat on the back of the truck, a pharmacy box with personal hygiene items next to it, and a whole set of collapsible tables filled with snacks.
We couldn’t believe our eyes. We had found Chris and Steve; two friends who don’t hike but love the hiking community, saving all year to buy a week’s worth of supplies for the AT hikers. They book a week off work and choose a layby to set up at. There they stay; filling hikers with food, beer, supplies, laughter and kindness. They do several daily runs in the car to a local town to help hikers resupply, and camp there in the lay-by every night themselves. Well, we meant to stay for an hour, and stayed fourteen instead. Some of us camped there with them. By the end of the day, the trail magic vortex had accumulated 20 hikers who just meant to ‘stop for an hour’ and had seen another forty come through during the day and move on. This was an incredible, tangible example of the exceptional love and generosity shown to hikers on this special trail, and we have stayed in touch with these two guys ever since; sending parcels, messages and postcards back and forth as we move down the trail away from New England. ‘The Trail Provides’ is the phrase we’d all heard a hundred times, and it was continuously proven to be true. The AT was showing us the best of the human spirit.
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