Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Today is an overcast day, 40-percent chance of rain, the sky is the color of corroded aluminum. And I am walking on a section of the Appalachian Trail.
I want to stress that I am not hiking. I am merely walking. There is a major difference. Hiking is what people with bulbous, muscular calves do. Walking is what out-of-shape guys with fixed 30-year mortgages do.
I am reminded of this fundamental difference every few seconds when college kids pass me on the trail. They carry backpacks that are roughly the size of Honda Civics, and these kids aren’t even remotely short of breath. That’s hiking.
“We’re hiking the whole trail,” says one college guy who wears a bushy beard. He and his pals started hiking in Georgia, and have completed 1,025 miles. When they began, there were 11 in their party. There are three left.
“It was a lot harder than we thought,” he explains. “A whole lot harder.”
I don’t see any of his friends nearby, I ask where everyone
is. He tells me that few can tolerate the stink from his lack of bathing. And he’s not joking. I can attest to the accuracy of this statement. This kid smells ripe enough to make a boxcar take a dirt road. Whenever he lifts his arms I briefly consider jumping off a mountain.
I ask how many days he’s been out here, which makes him scratch his head. “Think I’m on day seventy-one, or -two?” He shrugs. “I’m losing count.”
What I want to know is why. This is a big question for me. There must be a reason these insane hikers are out here. I ask why he’s doing this.
“Hmmm,” he says. “I mean… I don’t really know, dude.”
And that’s all he gives me.
During our walk, I am forced to put some distance between us because his body odor is getting…