A week before Christmas I took a call at work from an Appalachian Trail through-hiker nearing the end of her southbound hike. She had bought a backpack at our store in the beginning of her hike, and was looking for a replacement, since the bag was falling apart after fifteen-hundred miles of use. Clearly she had anticipated this call, as she’d kept the receipt for the pack through several months of hiking. It seems a fairly common thing for companies to accommodate through-hikers in need of gear replacement, so it wasn’t such a strange thing to get this call (except that finishing the AT in December is a little unusual). But the call made me wonder about the communities I consider myself a part of.
|My people on the AT. A small group, but a good one.|
The quickest we could get a replacement pack to this hiker was about a week, by which point she’d be almost finished with her hike, anyway. The hiker was hoping I could send the replacement pack to her somewhere on the trail, and she could put the old one in the shipping box and send it back with the receipt. I won’t go into the nuances of this, but I’ve seen through-hikers ask for this quite often, and usually what happens is customers get charged for the second item, then get refunded when the original gets back to the company. They don’t always want to do this, and that was the case this time around. Instead of sympathizing with the hiker, or being torn between two worlds, I felt myself siding quite stubbornly with the business end, which struck me as a little strange.
Normally I identify with the hiking community more than anything else, even though on all of my Appalachian Trail hikes (the through-hike and two large section hikes) I found myself avoiding most of the hiker community. I only feel attached to a small part of the hiking community, just like I feel attached to a small portion of society in general. I’ve never really thought of it this way, but my people are really a tiny minority within a tiny minority. The people I get along with the best are obsessive ultralight long-distance backpacker gear-nuts. We’re a rare breed.
That’s not a steadfast rule for me, but I can say with certainty that I don’t usually feel like I fit in well with most of the through-hiking community, nor with most of the ultralight community. Maybe this is an attitude common to backpackers– a kind of social maladjustment or feeling separate from society. Or maybe I’m just feeling that way now because I’m finding myself in another community that I never really identified with: people living normal lives, working in offices, focusing on homes and families and benefits and politics. They’re all perfectly good things to focus on, but not my cup of tea.
The phone call the other week made me really miss solo backpacking. I can’t wait to hike the Long Trail, which will hopefully happen this summer. We’ll see. If I do that, it’s likely I’ll hike alone. That seems fitting, since the first time I became really comfortable with being alone in the wilderness was in Vermont, so many years ago (actually just three years ago, but it seems distant).