Hey mister

The Pennsylvania portion of the Appalachian Trail is known for its rocks, as evident in this picture of Lehigh Gap//Photo courtesy the ATC Mid-Atlantic Regional Office//Text by Peter Farrell, guest contributor

Editor’s note: It’s probably hard to remember a time when you didn’t know about the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). For many enthusiasts, it’s an integral part of life. But believe it or not, there are people out there who haven’t heard of the Trail, and that makes what we do all the more relevant. We believe everyone should have a chance to have that A.T. experience at least once.

What follows is the winning submission from our May essay contest. Although we asked for a written description of a memorable time ON the Trail, we enjoyed the unique perspective of this inspirational essay written by Peter Farrell. Check it out.

I’m getting ready for my third and perhaps last installment (hope to finish in Summer 2015) of hiking the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Having finished the southern half and Connecticut, I want to get ready for the rocks of Pennsylvania by walking with my 30-pound pack along railroad tracks.

Last Sunday, I set out to do about 6 miles on tracks here in rural Eastern North Carolina (i.e. flat and sparsely populated). About 3 miles in, I saw three kids, probably 8 to 10 years old, playing near a trailer home, which might have been theirs.

I could see them talking and looking my way and the talk got more and more animated. Next thing I knew they were running towards me and I hear this little voice,  “Hey mister, you lost?”  (emphasis on the you). Just then from around the trailer home came four very large pit bulls who quickly passed the kids, heading with lightning speed towards me. I yelled, “How about the dogs?”  A voice said, “They won’t bite.” Sure enough, the dogs arrived, long before the kids, with butts wagging, seeking pats on the head.

When the two girls and boy arrived, the first order of business was for the boy to introduce each dog to me by name. Then the boy extended his hand and introduced himself as Tyler and his two sisters were Lydia and Lindsey. I told them my name. Lindsey asked me what I was doing so I told her just getting some exercise. Their look said, “Are you nuts?” She asked why I had a pack so I told her I was getting ready to hike parts of the Appalachian Trail. They had never heard of the Trail, but they had heard of the Smoky Mountains, so I told them I had hiked all the way through the Smokies.

“How far is that, like 10 miles?” asked Lydia. When I told them I had hiked more than 1,200 miles, the look in their faces told me that was incomprehensible. So I asked if they had travelled very far in a car, and they responded they had been to the ocean about 100 miles east. I told them the Trail is 22 times longer than that.

Next, they just had to see what was in my pack. Their entire concept of a tent, multi-tool, cooking gear, water purification, sleeping bag, camp shoes, etc. changed as I emptied my pack and explained the contents. My Trail guidebook fascinated them when I pointed out the climb from Fontana Dam to Mollies Ridge Shelter and told them it took me 6 hours to make that climb. The kids had lived in flat Eastern North Carolina their whole lives, so the idea of climbing a mountain was not easily grasped.

I had my phone with me, and we spent a good 5 minutes looking at various pictures of me in the rain, at a shelter, on McAfee Knob (they asked how close I got to the edge), and at Harpers Ferry. Pictures of snakes seemed the most exciting, but one picture of a female hiker got Tyler’s attention (the hiker was cute). Tyler could not believe that girls actually hiked the Trail, but I told him they easily out-hiked me. Lydia and Lindsey showed their discontent with Tyler’s gender bias with a swift punch in the shoulder.

The kids helped me re-pack, and as an exclamation point to the gender issue, Lydia challenged Tyler to try and pick up the reloaded backpack. He did so with great effort while Lydia made it look easy. Tyler extended his hand to say goodbye, and as they walked back to the trailer, I heard at least three “thank you’s” for my stopping and talking to them.

Nice kids and a nice encounter.

Want to try your hand at one of our contests? We’re hosting a new one each month in honor of our 90th anniversary. See what’s coming up here.