Whoopie Pie is the trail name of area code 207 resident Amy Neinczura. Amy thru hiked the AT southbound and has been writes frequently on her WordPress blog at http://mainethewaylifeturnedout.wordpress.com about how tough it is to walk the line with one foot still on the trail and the other feeling around for the correct path in the “shower world”, as we hikers term the 9-5 work-a-day-Janie world.
So give Amy a warm welcome.
In the continuing series of “What Have I Learned From Hiking?”— Here’s Whoopie pie!
“if you keep going, you will get there. if you stop, you won’t.” i repeated this over and over again to myself on my solo southbound thru-hike of the AT, especially on the last 700 miles of the trail, when all i wanted to do was stop. my trail love who promised to go to springer with me changed his mind around daleville, virginia. suddenly i was hiking alone again, as i had started in maine, only this time i was in the part of the trail that i knew the least about and feared the most, the south. as an early southbounder, i did not have the comfort of a bubble with me, a bubble ahead of me, and a bubble behind me like northbounders do. i truly felt the weight of the pack on my shoulders, weight that refused to give up but felt little enthusiasm to continue. i would learn the difficulty of hiking, and existing, without a community.
in daleville, i bought pepper spray, perhaps as a symbolic gesture to soothe my fear. a family friend and former thru-hiker who lived in roanoake suggested that i buy the trail maps in addition to the data book that i was using, so that i could triangulate camping spots furthest from roads, from civilization, the least accessible to weirdos. i learned to spot the trail bums, the “hikers” clad in jeans listening to their radios and eating out of cans at shelters, and i take off as quickly as i dropped my pack to read the register.
it turned out that i did not need the pepper spray. most section hikers, day hikers, and townspeople who picked me up hitch-hiking would exclaim, in the most incredulous tone imaginable, “you are hiking ALONE!?” day hikers would give me every apple and granola bar they had packed, as if i did not have a pack full of instant mashed potatoes, dried cranberries, and cheap sugar cookies from food lion. on the virginia creeper trail, i met a church group who promised to pray for me. in the day prior, i met another hiker who offered to let me shower, eat, and spend the night when i reached big balds. he was one of three strangers-turned-friends who put me up during my thru-hike. i will always remember stopping at the parking lot at carver’s gap in the roans and having a man say in the most darling tennessee accent, “would you like some home-made tennessee molasses?” somewhere around the smokeys, i was offered shots of home-made moonshine, and hated the medical predicament that stopped me from saying yes.
i met all of those people, and experienced that generosity, on good days. i spent much of my last 700 miles in tears, and i did not have a community of people to cheer me up. i wanted to physically challenge myself, but i made the challenge harder than it needed to be. i did indeed make it to springer. i would not realize until the following year how much more pleasant the AT could be.
in the summer 2011, i returned to the AT northbound, only for my favorite section, New England. i started at the ny/ct line, and headed north, intending to switch to the long trail. soon i realized the joys of hiking within a community, a group of people excited to see me arrive at the shelter or campsite, people who suggested shelters or campsites or dartmouth frat houses where i was not initially planning on staying. with trail friends, i had a reason to build campfires and stay up late, or at least hiker late. i had swimming partners-in-crime, and inn-at-the-long-trail partners-in-crime, and work-for-stay partners-in-crime. needless to say, when i reached the maine junction, i turned east towards home.
hiking alone southbound, many of my memories consisted of, “yep, i cried going up that mountain. oh yeah, wesser bald, i cried that day. the smokeys? yep…” it starts to sound a little PATHETIC, really. yet northbound this past summer, i left a trail of laughter. i would say my same line over and over again, “NO LAUGHING ON THE DOWNHILL!” then i would promptly burst into laughter, and lose my footing.
nevermind my digressions. my need for community, and my ability to benefit from it, is one of my most cherished trail lessons. my trail lessons are so pervasive that they are strewn across my memory like a gear bomb that i trip over when i need to use the privy in the middle of the night. no, not a gear bomb. true confessions: because i am such a minimalist, i created very unimpressive gear bombs. my trail lessons are stowed and neatly packed in the exact same spot of my mental backpack, just like my aqua mira and alcohol stove and hubba hp and other possessions. that way, whenever i need to pull one of my trail lessons out of my pack for strength, i can efficiently find it.