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In the Smokies, I had decided to not only hike the Appalachian Trail from it’s border to border, but I had decided to also throw in a few additional side trails, adding to the mileage of course, but also increasing the rewards with great views and an incredible experience.
In Shenandoah National Park, I did the same. Not just because I wanted to increase the payoff though, but because I felt I needed to.
You see, I realized quickly that in this National Park, the trail, which was very well maintained and well graded, brought me close to many scenic views and mountaintops, but did not bring me to them. In order to truly appreciate this place, I had to take to the side trails.
Now, being a purist, I refuse to miss a single “white blaze” that marks the Appalachian Trail. That means I can only do out-and-back trails. Fortunately, there were plenty of good opportunities for short trails to some scenic mountaintops.
Shown below are pictures of a couple of the side trail vistas, including a short walk to the stunning Stony Man Summit. Shown are myself and a fellow thru-hiker, the kilted “Salt Bomb”, whom was one of a few hikers on the trail willing to walk a few extra miles.
This brings me to the topic of a “Thru-hiker Mentality”. I have come to realize that many people out here for the long haul develop a narrow sense, where they, in some cases, refuse to do anything but clock miles on the A.T. For example, arriving at a shelter later that day, I mentioned that I had done two side trails, and that they were impressive. A couple of fellow thru-hikers insisted that I was crazy for putting in those extra miles.
It gets interesting, though: I then asked if any of those same people had gone the extra 2 miles to go to the first “Wayside”, which is essentially an overpriced fast food joint. Every one of them had. So, apparently I was crazy for going out of my way for beautiful serenity, to bag another peak, or to simply enjoy this wilderness… But it isn’t crazy to travel miles for food.
This is a syndrome. A mentality that overtakes some hikers out here, where food and conveniences become the only drive. Where one passes by mountains we may never cross again, waterfalls so close you can hear them, and the fellowship with the wilderness that we had sought in the first place.
I am not criticizing. Everyone is out here for their own reasons, and can enjoy their hike in whatever way they please. I have just decided that I am out here for the scenery, the wilderness, all that this trail has to offer.
I am hungry, tired and sore; but I refuse to give in. I don’t want this experience to feel like a job, or a chore; that I must get up and churn out miles just because. I will get up and do what I love, and I love backpacking.
I love climbing mountains, taking in views; I love walking this trail.
Ray “Walking Home” Peck Jr., pictured left, is currently making his way up the A.T. with his fellow 2012 thru-hikers. To read more of his adventures check out his blog right here.
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