Kayla “Popeye” McCarthy shares some wisdom she learned while on the Appalachian Trail. And it’s advise for all of us.
By far one of my favorite things about the trail is the people you meet out there. You get to know people quickly and someone you’ve only met a handful of times already feels like a good friend and someone you truly care about. It was always fun to be able to walk into a restaurant in a town you’ve never been to and see it full of familiar hiker faces.
There is a quote to “love those who love you when you have nothing to offer but your company.” On the trail you get to know people with no distractions and it allows you to connect on a deeper level than you do in everyday life. Everyone comes to the trail from different backgrounds and for different reasons but we all share a common goal- to hike over 2,000 miles in about a six month period. The hiker community is an amazing thing and it was a big part of the reason why I wanted to hike. People come together to help each other in a way that you don’t normally see in “real” life. There was one day on the trail when we ran into a friend who was slack packing southbound. He had accidentally forgotten to pack snacks for the day and even though my mom and I were running a bit low on food, we offered to share what we had to make sure he had enough to get where he was going that day. It seemed to me that people care about each other in a more genuine way on the trail.
One thing I found interesting about the trail is that you really never know when or if you are going to see someone again. Some hikers you meet one time and never see again- others you see on and off the entire journey. We met Pilgrim right before Hot Springs, NC and hiked on and off with him the whole way to Katahdin. One of our good friends from the beginning of the hike, Hoba, got sick and had to go home in Virginia. We didn’t know that the last day we saw him was actually the day he got sick and had to leave the trail. Karate Kid we met in North Carolina for about 5 minutes; didn’t see him again until New York, and then hiked on and off with him to Katahdin. We met Cadi Shack and Hobo Nobo in North Carolina and saw them one time again in Maryland and then ended up hiking almost all of Maine with them. It was always really fun to run into a familiar face that you hadn’t seen in a couple weeks and catch up with them and find out how their hike has been going. Alternatively, it was always upsetting to hear that a friend had to leave the trail, either because of injury, personal issues, or whatever the reason might be. You start to care about these people like they’re your family and knowing that someone’s dream of thru hiking had ended was always sad.
The hiking community also taught me not to judge people before hearing their story. There were a few people on the trail who if I had met them in “real” life I would have crossed the street so I wouldn’t have to pass them on the sidewalk. But when you get to know these people, you find out they aren’t scary at all- one guy was hurrying to finish his hike so he could go on a service project trip with the youth group he leads! I always found it interesting to hear other people’s stories and find out what brought them to the trail. It seems to me that when you get rid of all the “stuff” and the distractions, it was like everyone on the trail was on an even playing field- a surgeon will smell just as bad as a college drop out and there is nothing to hide behind. You get to know people for who they are, not for what they have.