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My dog barks at strange people.
My dog also barks at non-strange people.
My dog also barks at inanimate objects, whether they’re strange or not.
He barks a lot.
So when Scamper let out a bark in the empty woods off Cooper Gap last week I didn’t think much of it.
Then I heard a voice.
“Hey!” said that voice.
I looked around and saw nothing.
Just wet, green woods.
“Don’t go anywhere!” said the voice.
My first instinct was to go somewhere.
Maybe that’s the product of growing up in the big city. When someone yells at you to stay put, it’s best to turn around and run, preferably while making a noise like the Three Stooges. Something like, “whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop,” will usually do.
But then, I was on the trail. There are different rules out there. And, unless you see a bear, there’s usually no need for Three Stooge noises.
So I waited until a pair of female hikers emerged from the woods on the far side of a gravel road.
One was older, one was younger. A senior citizen and a senior in high school, I believe.
“Hey!” shouted the older one.
“Hey!” I shouted back.
“We’re looking for water!” she shouted.
“Oh!” I shouted back.
Actually maybe I didn’t shout that part because by then they were standing in front on me.
They were a grandmother and granddaughter from Massachusetts out on a four-day hike.
And they needed to find a water source.
“Hmm,” I said, as though I was experienced in such things. “I just went on a trail-run about a mile that way and didn’t see any streams.”
I called it a trail run because that sounded cool. But the running part mostly happened when the trail was downhill.
The grandmother, who was an experienced hiker, pulled out her map and studied it.
Me, being a city fellow, pulled out my phone and Googled “Cooper Gap, water sources, Appalachian Trail.”
While we waited for the 3G to kick in I told them about the Ranger Camp a couple of mountain miles away. I figured there had to be a spigot there. Maybe even one that wasn’t protected by an armed guard.
“I can give you a ride,” I said.
“That’d be great,” said the grandmother.
This is another trail-only phenomenon. Hitch-hiking.
I mean, these people were strangers. And, technically, I am a strange man. I mean, not literally that strange. But, you know, they don’t know me.
Hitchhiking doesn’t really happen in the real world. But on the A.T. it’s like riding the subway.
So we piled into my dirty Honda that was about to get dirtier since Scamp was caked in mud. He was also working on an impressive slobber.
Yet these ladies hugged and patted him as though he were a Westminster show hound.
The kind that stands really straight and looks as though it uses expensive conditioners made especially for dogs.
Scamp uses no conditioner. But they didn’t seem to care.
“We’re taking him with us!” said the grandmother.
Scamper panted his approval. He likes trail people.
We made it about halfway down the mountain when the granddaughter spotted a bubbling stream. that I would had driven right by.
They eagerly filled up and I took them back to the trail.
By the time we arrived at their camp site they were offering me way too much gas money and a place to stay in Boston.
That’s another trail rule. Everybody is a potential buddy.
Chances are, if they’re on a hike, they’re good people.
And these people were.
Scamper seemed to think so as he wagged goodbye to them.
I thought so too as I waved goodbye, pulled a U-turn and drove slowly down the muddy mountain, without making a single Three Stooges noise.

by Matt Aiken

A slightly different version of this column has been published by Matt’s daytime employers at The Nugget.

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