Chapter 3: Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail

Day 1

Trail Mile 19

A lone hiker approached the lean-to at dusk. The setting sun and rushing brook made his otherwise haggard appearance seem somehow picturesque. The three-sided lean-to structure had a solid log-cabin-style build, but its furnishings were understandably bare—a lone shelf here, a coat hook there. The open face of the shelter looked out over the brook, the roof angling down from the front to form a wedge-shaped interior. Ben and I had already set our sleeping pads and sleeping bags on the raised sleeping platform, though we’d both been unsure of the formal trail protocol. Feet inward or outward? Ground cloth or not? We could only guess.

“Maaaaaan,” the hiker said, setting his pack into the shelter. “That pack is heavy.” He paused, considering the two men inside the shelter wearing all black fleece outfits like Appalachian ninjas. “Hey, I saw you two up on Ga-dah-dan yesterday!”

I took the sound “Ga-dah-dan” to signify Mount Katahdin. And I did remember him. Forty pounds overweight, with the face of a bulldog. His squat frame and country earnestness made him memorable.

“Are you thru-hiking?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, big time. My name’s Pat. From Ohio. I drive truck for a livin’ mostly. Since before you two were born, I bet. Make maple syrup, too.” He pulled a carton of cigarettes out of his backpack and, after fumbling with the opening of a single pack, pulled a cigarette to his mouth, lighting the leaf with relief.

“We’re thru-hiking, too,” I said. “We’re brothers from Wisconsin.” By first impression alone, I deduced that Pat occupied the harder side of the intelligence bell curve, the unfortunate side, by just one or maybe even two standard deviations. I watched him shuffle about his camp chores with an appalling inefficiency that even I, a novice, found offensive.

N. B. Hankes

N. B. Hankes

Founder and best selling author of "Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail."
Humboldt County, California