Last month, Brew and I hit the trail with our good friend New York Steve and our baby Charley. The purpose of our trip was to help prepare Steve for his A.T. thru-hike next spring. Steve is an incredible athlete, but he had never spent the night in the woods before in his life. We told Steve that if Charley could spend a night in the woods and not complain, so could he! 

Our good buddy and future A.T. thru-hiker New York Steve


The view from on top of Max Patch



I dropped Steve and Brew off at Max Patch and then shuttled around to Garenflo Gap, where I loaded up extra diapers, wipes, lots of warm clothes and then set-off with Charley on my back. The hike up Bluff Mountain was steeper and longer than I remembered. Then it occurred to me that the last two times I hiked up that mountain I was only carrying a daypack. Man, does 30 pounds make a difference!

My pack ; ) 


Just before I reached the summit I started to pass several people who looked more disheveled than most hikers. The handful of individuals that I passed had old, dated camping gear and most of their outfits were mismatched and not meant for the trail. A few even of them had weathered skin that looked more worn than their gear and clothes. I smiled, and said hi to each individual and then kept huffing my way up Bluff. Amid this well-worn crew came a man who had all the right gear. He looked clean, put-together, and in good shape. He also had a dog. If you want to see Charley giggle, coo and point, then just show her a dog.

I stopped so the baby could watch the puppy (and to catch my breath).

“Are you part of this group?” I asked the other hiker.

“Sure am.” He replied?

“Where are ya’ll from?

“I run a homeless mission in downtown Asheville, and every few months we do a backpacking trip with some of the folks in the ministry.”

A homeless group?! If I am being honest, my first thought hearing this was about the liability involved with taking a group of homeless individuals in the woods, then I worried that they wouldn’t be warm enough with their ripped denim and cotton clothes plus out-dated gear, THEN I finally realized how ridiculous I was being. THESE people lived outside year-round. They were way more resourceful and comfortable being uncomfortable than I was.

At that moment, another member of the group came hiking down the trail.

This is Eric, said the man in the clean Arc-Teryx jacket, and I’m Brian. Hey, Eric, tell this lady a little about your hike so far.

Eric didn’t say anything at first. He just started to tear up and smile. “This is… This is… This is one of the best things that I’ve ever done.” He stammered.

“The trail shows us all, that we are capable of more than we think, that we can follow a path, and that we can survive,” said Brian. (And he should know, because I later learned that he thru-hiked the entire A.T. in 2001.)

As I continued my hike to summit, I couldn’t shake the image of Eric tearing up and smiling as he tried to explain his time on the trail to me. When I reached the summit of the mountain with Charley, we were both crying, too. Charley was hungry and needed a new diaper, and I was just grateful and humbled and overwhelmed to be on a trail that means so much to so many people.

The rest of that trip with spent laughing and hiking with our wonderful friend, and NOW backpacker, New York Steve. On our journey into Hot Springs, we also met a couple of Southbounders from the United Kingdom who had hiked all over Europe, but had come to the United States to experience the Appalachian Trail. And we also met a couple of Bear Dog Hunters who had never traveled away from the NC/TN border.


Listening to New York Steve try to communicate in his thick yankee accent to the “Bar” dog hunter from East Tennessee, recalling my earlier conservation with international hikers about trails in Turkey, and thinking back to Eric’s joy-filled expression, well, it reinforced my belief that the trail is there for everyone at every phase of life. And the value of the trail is not found in how far you go, or how fast you travel, but rather what you take from the experience: the lessons learned, the memories made, and the relationships formed.