I’m not sure what I imagined when I first considered this trip. I know I imagined it would be somewhat uncomfortable. Somewhat of a culture shock, having to be so far away from all the amenities that I have become so accustomed to. I was nervous about having to dig a hole in order to go to the bathroom. Let’s be real, it’s not something anyone particularly looks forward to. And I was nervous about filtering water. There is something about drinking unclear, slightly brown water that anyone who is use to drinking clean, fresh tap water automatically cringes away from.
But the news that we were to camp up at the shelter changed all that completely.
The shelter was unlike any shelter I pictured, either. It was solid, built with more walls and stability that I thought shelter anywhere had. A binder in the shelter held pictures of history and process of it being built, with the aide of even a heliocopter thanks to some generous donors at the time. Before arriving, my idea of shelters were that they were all these tiny, little lean-to like contraptions which helped against the weather but only just enough. Since last summer, I’ve learned much differently.
When we arrived, I felt such relief at the prospect of not having to share tiny, very used tents to sleep in for the week. What’s more, we had an additional prospect by staying at the shelter: thru-hikers.
I guess the irony of such a sentiment is we instead shared a door-less, hard floor shelter full of a few fellow volunteers (others opted to still sleep in the tents), and complete strangers. Kinsman Shelter is along the Appalachian Trail, and from day one thru-hikers and section hikers would find their way to it, and therefore, to us. Somehow, even now as I write this, this was so much more enjoyable of a prospect, even if in reality more crowded.
Most of the thru-hikers were so friendly and talkative. I wish very much I would have done a better job recording all their trail names, location they came from, and experiences. But I felt intrusive to ask too much, like it was being rude when they were probably tired and cold. Charlie Adams was “Pretty Boy”, at 17, and even his name sounded pretty. Like it was made up. Then there was Ean “Buns”, Dayhiker, Splinter, and 4.0. They all just graduated college, maybe around 22 or 23 years old if I was to guess. They slept in the shelter on Monday and Tuesday night. They were talkative and maybe a little rowdy–in a fun, silly kind of way.
They were the only ones I can look back on and remember when we met them. Some of the rest that came through I recorded in my notebook, but not on the specific day. Chaser, from Massachusetts, without anything else known about him. I can’t even recall his appearance, now. And Dice, who was only staying to watch the sunset before he moved on the same night.
Then there was Snacks. Snacks was an interesting girl, only 22, who we learned after a few hours actually had given Pretty Boy his trail name. She was South Bounder from Texas. She seemed fearless, easy-going, and friendly. I admired her.
The last of the AT hikers I recorded was an old married couple, maybe in their 60s or 70s. They were a tad eccentric and adorable, sharing the same passion and enjoying life to the fullest no matter that they were much older than most of the other hikers at our camp.
I hadn’t been hiking regularly before this trip. Occasionally, and never was it often anything new. Always, there had been this deep desire to. Yet, for whatever reason until this time I hadn’t realized how much opportunity there was for me. There is very little words I could write to express how it felt being there at Kinsmen Shelter, surrounded by the things I’d only seen on screens and post cards–and even more so experiencing the stories, community, and reality of the White Mountains. It was more than I could absorb at one moment in time. It might not have been an epic, challenging adventure, but there is something beautiful and simple in starting out brand new to something. Everything I did was a “first”, and that didn’t slip past me for a second. It changed everything for me. Where I am today, and where I plan on going in the future now includes a lot of things based solely on the decision to do this first trip. That’s always what they, say, isn’t it? That something, anything always begins with that first step.
I took it, and I knew instantly that first night. I was never looking back.