The section of the Appalachian Trail that goes through Pennsylvania is known as Rocksylvania because this particular stretch is strewn with, at the minimum, continuous small rocks. The majority of it has very large rocks, up to boulders, where you're not quite sure if it's even the actual trail anymore if not for the white, painted markers on the trees.
We were drenched in sweat when we got up to the ridge line. We sat our packs down to take a water break and within 30 seconds a millipede was slinking its way across Ben's pack. One way to keep me moving on the trail is to throw in some freaky bugs. I immediately got my pack back on before anything could make its way in for a surprise appearance later. Ben loves all things living though, so he picked it up on a stick and found a nice new home for it behind a stump.
Enter Stage Right..
Our hiking and backpacking trips are not nearly as frequent as they should be, so as usual, we are not in the best shape for this trip. At mile 9, we arrived at Kirkridge Shelter. A water spigot, compost toilet, covered platform, and picnic table. I was joyous. I swept the platform and laid my sleeping bag down to relax. After making a gourmet meal-in-a-bag, and hanging our hammocks, we heard music coming from the trail. I'd never heard anyone playing music while hiking. Usually just footsteps or voices. The music got louder and a hiker with strawberry blonde hair tied in a bun, bandana around his head, ukulele strapped to the back of his pack, wearing not hiking boots, but sandals, marched his way into the shelter. He introduced himself as Shaggy.
I wasn't sure what to say. Usually we camped alone, only said hello, in passing, to other hikers, and relaxed quietly on overnight trips. This guy was full of energy and life, very friendly. He was a thru-hiker, doing the full trail from Georgia to Maine. He'd been on the trail for 4 months. He asked us if we were thru-hiking. I didn't even know what that was.
He continued to make conversation, talking rapidly in a southern accent, and his energy was infectious. Before his arrival, I was ready to fall asleep in the hammock while the sun was still up. His stories were engaging, he was endearing and genuine, and there were absolutely no social walls up. He was candid and honest. It was refreshing. I admired his raw personality, that he seemed to operate on good instincts and was devoid of pretense.
We go backpacking from time to time, and usually at some point during the hike I wonder what the hell I was thinking. But there's always something that happens that makes me glad that I went. This was that moment. I asked Shaggy if we could interview him. He said he would love to be interviewed and we got the camera set up.
While we were interviewing Shaggy, another hiker arrived. He called himself Google. We explained what we were doing and he watched the rest of the interview. I asked him if he would like to say anything. He said absolutely and that it's funny how different their experiences were on the trail. Google was more of an intellectual as opposed to Shaggy's more emotional responses, but they were alike in that they were both immediately open and honest about their lives and experiences.
After we wrapped up the interviews, two more hikers arrived. A guy, Spudnik (because he likes potatoes) and a girl, Babushka (I didn't catch why because I had to use the compost toilet). They set up their sleeping bags alongside Shaggy and Google's on the platform and we folded ourselves into our hammocks in front of them. Spudnik and Babushka played games on their phones, Google charged his electronics, and Shaggy serenaded us with his ukulele.
We talked for a while in the dim glow of our portable LED lights. It was like camping with friends, except we shared sleeping space and life stories with complete strangers. I listened to them talk and wondered about their experiences. Backpacking 1200 miles is a long time. Most people don't make it to this point. Only about 29% of people make it to the end, and fewer and fewer people attempt it each year. These people were doing it. They were tired. Really tired. But they seemed happy. I had no interest in thru-hiking the entire trail, but it was inspiring to see them do it. I felt fortunate to be there, suspended in my hammock, witnessing one night in their journey.