On the Appalachian Trail
Caledonia State Park is about 10 minutes away from where I live. Today, we did something that we haven't done since we had children. I broke out my Kelty Excursion backpack and my flexible cooler. The family and I went to the local deli and stocked up on massive amounts of sandwich meat, cheese, chips, fruit, rolls, soda, juice, water and ice. Around 2:00 we pulled into Caledonia and started hiking.
I had a target in mind, but frankly I didn't think we would reach it, and the huge loading of food would likely end up mostly in the refrigerator.
My wife, being somewhat the athletic type, simply propped our 15 month old on her hip and started walking. I hoisted the pack, and our five year old led the way.
About 4 miles uphill, my daughter conked out, so I hoisted her up on my shoulders in front of the pack, and we kept going. I figure I was carrying about 75 pounds in total. My wife, 25. We had left Caledonia and were now on the Appalachian trail.
I love the Appalachian trail. Perhaps, this is the most famous trail in America, stretching from Maine to Georgia. One of my aspirations is to hike the whole thing someday when I have 6 months free. I love the idea of just walking up and down the whole United States, and the people that do it are invariably odd but pleasant, and it's usually rewarding to meet them.
After about seven miles we come to our destination. Quarry gap shelter. All along the Appalachian Trail, Quarry Gap Shelter is regarded as one of the high points of the journey. A man by the name of Jim Staunch maintains the shelter and he's a fanatic. He has hanging plants, picnic tables, a babbling brook and fresh spring. It's a beautiful thing. There's a picture here, but it hardly does it justice:
When you look at the picture, remember that this immaculately maintained building is in the middle of nowhere, a place that can only be hiked to with difficulty. I'd also suggest googling "Quarry Gap Shelter." It's quite famous. It is perhaps most famous for the extinct creature that lives there. Bobcats are extinct in PA. Nevertheless there is one that lives near this shelter. It enjoys screaming in the middle of the night to the terror of all who stay there. I've never seen it though.
We arrive, somewhat sweaty, at about 4:00 PM. As I predicted, a couple of groups of thru-hikers and several individuals have already stake claims to the shelters and indeed, most of the tent platforms. There are about 7 people lounging around. All of these it turns out have been hiking in the woods for days, weeks, or months.
We are going to make their day. First though, we will torture them some.
There's a strange ethic on the trail. Nobody there was exactly glad to see us. Obviously, we were day, or at best overnight hikers. We had small children. The shelter was reasonably full. Politeness would dictate that they give us one of the cool covered shelters. The folks there were greatly relieved to hear that we had just come up for a picnic and would be heading back. The weary group sitting at the picnic table quite willingly gave it up for our use.
I opened the pack, and for about half an hour my family and I ate these great deli sandwiches, milk, soda, and cookies. We did this in front of all these hingry, tired, dirty people who had been on the trail for weeks eating dehydrated food. Nobody said a thing, but they seemed unable to keep their eyes away from our picnic.
After we ate I packed away the garbage and sat with my wife contentedly while our children played in the spring.
Then, as if in afterthought, I announce "Hey, I think we might have some extra food or chips if anybody wants some."
People on the trail are usually unfailingly polite. Nevertheless, I cannot stress the speed with which the entire population of the shelter immediately gravitated over to the picnic table to suggest that perhaps, yes, they might have a nibble if we happened to have anything extra.
It as it this point, after the torture of watching us picnic, that I reveal the smorgasbord. We have ham, turkey, cheese, chips, Ice cold soda, juice, the works.
Now the fun begins. Everybody opens up. Now that we've revealed that we have packed all this stuff up the mountain to feed the the thru-hikers, we are everybody's best friend. We hear all the stories about why people are hiking the trail, how long they've been out there, what they've seen.
I cannot easily express the pleasure to be had in making the day for these people and to see the gusto and gratitude with which they attack the food we've brought. My eldest daughter especially eats it up explaining how she picked out the chips and the turkey.
Later we load up the garbage, say goodbye to our new friends, and hike back to the car.
I didn't tell them about the Bobcat though.