“People won’t be as nice to you up north,” once told me a man in North Carolina.
He assured me that I would’ve had a hard time finding rides, enjoying some trail magic, and that majority of people would’ve thought that I was homeless.
God, he was wrong.
The day after the Connecticut Challenge I knew I had to hike seven miles before crossing a road and hopefully finding a kind soul to drive me into town. Little I knew that the majority of those miles were steep climbs.
The heat was almost unbearable and my legs couldn’t hold more than five consecutive steps. For a moment I felt like death would’ve been more pleasant.
While I was struggling my way up on a hill, I see an older man coming from the opposite direction.
“Are you a thru-hiker?” He asks. I gave him a sad look. “Yes,” I respond.
“Well, there’s some people down at the picnic area doing trail magic,” he continues. “They have hot dogs, lemonade and a lot of snacks.”
This time I stare at him in disbelief. I thank him for the information and I keep on walking, but I stop after a few steps. A tear comes down my eye and suddenly a burst of energy runs through my whole body. I start running down the hill without caring of my own safety. All I want is food and a cold drink, who cares if I risk my own life to get to them.
When I finally reach the camping area I see a group of people sitting. As soon as they see me they smile and welcome me to join them.
“Hope you’re hungry,” one of them say.
I don’t even let him finish talking that I hug him. Then I hug each one of them and thank them for their extreme kindness.
“Do you want a hot dog?” Jay, a guy handling the grill, asks. “We only had two hikers today so there’s plenty of food. Last year we had about twenty.”
“Well I can try to eat for the other 18,” I say, only half jokingly.
After four hot dogs, three brownies and three cups of lemonade, I start feeling like a person again. However, my legs don’t want to know anything about hiking for the rest of the day.
“If it’s not too much trouble, could someone give me a ride into town?” I inquire the group angels who fed me like a pig. “I heard there is a community center where I could take a shower and relax in the swimming pool.”
Mary, one of the ladies in the group, offers to give me a ride. “I live just five minutes away from there,” she says.
Once I arrive at the center, I pay $8 to use the facilities and a towel. Then, I decide to spend the next three hours between the bubbles of the whirlpool, a shower and sauna. With my body almost completely restored, I was missing just one thing. More food.
I opt for pizza, an extra-large one to be precise, topped with sausage and tomatoes, and a side of salad and beer. After that enormous meal I’m full and sleepy, but mostly I’m happy to have found such kind people that offered to help me without wanting anything back.
Before falling asleep in my tent, I spend some time texting a few friends. I knew that Tim, a friend from graduate school, lived only a hour away, in Albany, New York.
“Hey man! I’m in Great Barrington, only a hour from you. It’d be nice if we could meet up,” I text him.
Just a few minutes later my phone starts buzzing. Tim is calling me.
“Yes, of course I’ll come meet with you!” he says as soon as I pick up the phone. “Send me your address and I’ll come pick you up in the morning.”
I hadn’t seen Tim in two years, so I was excited at the idea to catch up with him.
The next morning he arrives at around 11am and decides to take me to a town nearby for lunch. We eat some great Mexican food, drink a couple of beers and talk about what has been of our lives after grad school.
“I hated my first job after school,” he says. “Working at the TV station was terrible, crazy shifts and very little time off. But now it’s so much better with my new job.”
He definitely looked much happier than I remembered. “Oh, and I moved into a new apartment,” he continues. “You should come check it out.”
“But it’s a hour drive,” I reply. “And I’ll have to go back to the trail.”
“Don’t worry! I’ll take you back in the morning.”
So we leave the restaurant and head back to Albany. I get to shower again (second time II two days, wow), do laundry and rest in a real bed. The next morning, before dropping me off at the trailhead, he decides to offer me breakfast, like he didn’t do already more than enough for me.
I thank him and tell myself that I’ll try my very best to repay for his immense kindness.
I spend the next few days thinking about all those people that helped me along this incredible journey and that made me feel welcomed in a foreign territory. Even if it was already a month that I was hiking by myself, I’ve never felt completely alone. Somehow I always managed to find someone willing to assist me, either being a friend or a complete stranger.
While I was submerged in all these thoughts, my phone rings. This time is Dubs texting me.
“I’m only a few miles behind you. I’ll probably see you tomorrow,” the text reads.
I had to say bye to Dubs over six weeks ago, when he left the trail to attend a wedding in Colorado. I knew he had pushed himself really hard to catch up with me and I finally, after all this time I was about to reunite with him.
The next morning I decide to take it slow and sit around waiting for him to arrive. After a hour I hear someone running down the hill. Then he appears, with longer hair and longer beard from last time I saw him.
“Dubs!” I yell. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you too my friend,” he responds.
I still can’t believe he’s there in front of me, but there are a lot of miles in front of us and not much time to think. We’ll eventually share our stories but now it’s time to put our packs on and move closer towards our goal.
“Let’s go to Maine Dubs.”