A big part of the trail life is the people and the society that forms out here in the woods and trail towns. We’ve had positive experiences already, some with people we’ve known, and others that we’ve been wanting to meet or have met for the first time.
At the top of Blood Mountain in GA on our second day, we were thrilled to meet up with our second cousin Tim Rooney (Curmudgeon in trail terms). He had been hiking with a friend until the day before we met up and we were able to resupply with him at Neels Gap, camp together that night, and then hike part of the next day before we moved on ahead.
We also met up with an ’07 PCT hiker, Troll, that we’d been following for nearly 2000 miles on the PCT before we passed him and his son while they were in a town that we didn’t go into. We heard that he was out here and knew it was certainly him when we were told that he was hiking in his traditional hiking kilt. We had a few chances to share trail stories and talk about all the people we had in common through the trails.
We’ve also met some interesting people that we’ve passed along the way. The most notable are a couple older guys, a 74 year old retired Navy captain that goes by Silver Eagle, and an 88 year old hiker that we saw moving slowly along the trail going into NOC, Cimarron. Along with these fine folks, we had the opportunity to spend a little time with a very pleasant German couple, Mule and Shiver. They’re both 26 years old and recently graduated from school. They saw a movie on the AT and have been hooked ever since, trying to figure out how to make the dream a reality. It was uplifting simply to hear their story of what lead them here.
Lastly, we’ve had the chance to meet up with Gordon Smith, a hiker supporter and advocate in the extreme sense. He is an elderly gentleman that drives a big white van with a hiker support logo on the side along with the various National Scenic Trail emblems along the side of the van. He offers Gatorades and Root beer to passing hikers at various road crossings along the way. He is also following Troll on his journey and meeting him at different road crossings since Gordon is not able to hike due to back problems.
I asked him to tell me his story. He said he started hiking the AT in ’82 with his blind, diabetic sister and 80 year old mother. He said they met a thru-hiker and fell in love with the concept. They would hiked much of the US trail systems together, even after his sister went on dialysis. They would hike in the morning and do dialysis in a van in the afternoon.
After she passed away a few years ago, Gordon had back surgery and was in a nursing home. He said after awhile, he thought of the hiking community and the drive people display on the trail and that motivated him. He said that people in nursing homes are “waiting to die” and he wasn’t ready. He got a van and began helping hikers while living out of his van. He has been doing it ever since and says that he is “enjoying the hell out of life” and “isn’t ready to quit yet”.
He is feeble and moves slowly. His hands shake as he hands out his Gatorades but he is very happy and enjoying life. We’re fortunate to have met up with him a few times already and hope to see him again on the trail.
I am confident we’ll meet more good people out here and am thankful for every encounter. They motivate me, make me laugh, make me think, and make the trail a better place.