My oak tree is bigger than yours!
Okay, its not MY oak tree–but it is purported to be the largest oak tree on the Appalachian Trail. That is my handsome, albeit somewhat sweaty, husband–standing next to the tree to give you an appropriate scale of comparison.
Such was one of the many sights on our first short but nonetheless grueling day of hiking. PUDS–Pointless Ups and Downs–filled the agend. By the end of the day, we were cumulatively pooped.
Our friend Dave (trailname–“Antman”) arrived at the shelter about one half hour before we did. Antman is a 61 year old colleague and hiking companion of ours. He is thin as a whip and fit as a fiddle–he always outhikes us. Even Antman appeared exhausted.
We had additional company in the shelter that evening–Quiet Paul, a stonemason who has worked all of his life on the National Cathedral in Washington DC. He proved to be a lovely companion who lived up to his name. Shy and unassuming, Paul was working his way South from the Northern-most point of the Appalachian Trail. Although originally anticipating to hike the entire trail, he now thought he might be leaving when the weather began turning colder.
Thankfully, this first evening was relatively uneventful. Its an odd feeling when you first go from sleeping in your home or a hotel room to sleeping out in the woods, under the stars. A shelter is typically a three sided wooden structure. Either your feet or your head faces out into the open. I often think–“do I want to be pulled out head first or feet first by the bear?” I always sleep with my head out–for some reason, the thought of being pulled out, head first, by a bear is much more appealing than the idea that mice will more than likely dance on my forehead if it is at the back end of the shelter. I take my chances on the bear.
I didn’t sleep well that first night, and I almost never do–as kind and nice as Paul most certainly was, there is always a part of me that sleeps with one eye open when I do not know who else is bedded down with us. Of course, I am always sandwiched between the men I am hiking with–I don’t even has to ask–nonetheless, there’s a bit of vulnerability involved here, and it takes some getting used to.
There have been murders on the Appalachian Trail. Statistically, hikers will tell you that the Appalachian Trail is much safer than walking down any city street nowadays. True–you can’t beat the statistics. Many women walk the trail on their own each year. This is not something I ever see myself entertaining. There have been six incidents of murder along the trail, three of those cases involving double murders. Total confirmed deaths of hikers killed by others is nine so far. Miniscule in comparison to the thousands of hikers who walk the path each year. Nevertheless, it never escapes my thoughts when I am trailing.