A few Summers before at a watering hole in Georgia I learned an important lesson. Well into conservation a hiker reached out his hand to shake the hand of another hiker. The second hiker said as a matter of fact, “I don’t shake hands with hikers.” The first hiker was visibly taken back. The second hiker saw that, and as he was filling his water bottle said, “Do you know why that is?” There was no reply from the first hiker who probably thought the second hiker was strange. “The Indians never shook hands,” said the second hiker. “When one Indian greeted the other they held up their hand and said HOW. Do you know why that is?” Again no reply. “They might have ____ (excrement) on their fingers.”
At a shelter in New Jersey one of two middle age men hiking a short distance together was passing out imported cigars. When he got to me I declined thankfully and said it was against my religion. The one offering me a cigar didn’t know what to believe, but when he found out I was from Cincinnati he said he went to the University of Cincinnati. Holding the cigars in one hand he reached out the other to shake my hand, and I said exactly what the hiker in Georgia said. He seemed to understand, and we talked more about Cincinnati.
Going North that Summer there was a newspaper article fastened to a tree about the norovirus that was effecting mostly hikers. The article said the symptoms are severe weakness, fatigue, and diarrhea. The article said the norovirus is a highly contagious sickness and is the result of poor hygiene. The Indians back then were wise people.
In Massachusetts two miles south of U.S. 20 near the town of Lee there is a very nice part of the trail that goes along Goose Pond which is more like a lake. Upper Goose Pond Cabin is on a .5 mile side trail. It is a true cabin with windows, doors, a front porch, and a fireplace. A sign posted where the two trails intersect said if a person is afflicted with the norovirus don’t stay in that cabin. It also said in no uncertain terms for them to have some consideration for other people and get off the trail.
Many people who hike the trail are working out a personal issue. A tired middle age woman from Brooklyn, New York had all new equipment to go hiking. Her husband dropped her off in Harpers Ferry, and her plan was to hike back to the New York City area. She hiked to the first shelter, spent the night there, and came back to Harpers Ferry. She said, “It’s not what I expected.” She was going home. Several times at home she had read a popular book about the Appalachian Trail. The expression, “It’s not what I expected” is in the book and it made me wonder if she planned the whole thing. I could not understand how she could quit so soon. I talked to her long enough to get the answer. This middle aged woman was having an identity issue with her husband and was asserting herself.
At a mosquito infested shelter there was a petite young woman from North Hampton, Massachusetts who had just finished college there. She said she was a lesbian and her partner recently threw her off the back of a car. Also, she said she had an abusive father. OK, I thought, really now. I mentioned my three children and she said with certitude that I was an abusive father, and was hiking the trail to resolve that issue. I had told her I didn’t know why I was doing the hike. I was sitting at the picnic table having diner with the mosquitoes, and she was sitting on the edge of the shelter floor where her sleeping bag was rolled out. She said she was a design student and was going to design a tent. I went back to my tent near the shelter. Once I zipped it up and killed about 10 bugs I could sleep. Several other hikers showed up who tented. In the morning I got out of there fast as I could. The mosquitoes were not so intense when I was moving.
Doing laundry was one of five important things for me to get done when resupplying. The others were: to shower, sleep in a warm bed, eat, and buy food for the days ahead on the trail, and eat some more.
One hostel in the South had a coin operated laundry alright. The guide book said it did, and I asked where it was. I was shown a galvanized utility sink with a washboard, and next to it a hand operated wringer. Some coins were needed to buy soap. The whole operation belonged in a museum. I had to laugh and told the serious man showing it to me it was beautiful. I was too tired to use it, but asked if I could take a picture of it with him standing there in all his seriousness.
The clothes I hiked in each day were a pair of shorts, a tee shirt, and socks. In my pack were another pair of shorts, another tee shirt, and three pairs of socks with liners. Those were the items I washed.
Most motor lodges have a laundry room equipped with a washing machine and a clothes dryer, and if they don’t there are always laundry mats. When washing clothes I didn’t want to stand there nude. To solve that problem I wore rain pants and a wind breaker. Other hikers traveling extra light wear their rain poncho, hiking shoes, and nothing else.
Kent, Connecticut is a hiker friendly town near the trail, but the woman who owns and operates the laundry mat in that town is more like a drill sergeant. A sign on the door says no backpacks are allowed inside the laundry mat. The sign is easily missed, and according to a restaurant waitress in that town it is not unusual for the woman to throw backpacks outside like Christ overturning tables in the temple. When I did my laundry, there she was. I tried to humor her about how her reputation proceeded her. She didn’t know how to deal with someone who was nice to her. She turned and barked out a few orders to two employees who were washing and folding other peoples clothes. Then she went outside, got in a huge, aged luxury car, and sped away.
The term “stealth camping” has meaning to hikers of the Appalachian Trail. It means pitching a tent where camping is not allowed like in municipal parks. In Boiling Spring, Pennsylvania I saw a sign on the edge of a soybean field that says hard left to town and hard right to camp. The trail goes through the middle of town. When I looked to the right all I saw was more fields. Far off in the distance was a tree line, and as I later learned in that woods was the camping area. I didn’t figure that out when I got to the sign, and the idea of camping in a soybean field didn’t seem very appealing to me when there was a town nearby.
The camp area was at the top of a long hill for Southbound trains. All night freight trains with multiple engines roared up the hill. The tracks were beside the camp area and not visible during the day. I was startled awake the first time. It kept getting louder and louder, and for a moment I thought I was going to get run over by a train.