I’ve actually done it. I’ve resisted the urge to (Rainbow) dash along and taken some much needed zeroes. In the five days that I haven’t hiked, I’ve been thinking a lot about community.
While I’ve zeroed, I met the blogger behind BikeHikeSafari. He is even cooler in real life than he seems in his blog.
There were reunions all around. I got to see the hikers I’d met all the way back in Campo; I was caught by Wild Bill and company, with whom I went to New York City while we were all on the AT in 2012; and I was recognized by Sprout, a 2014 AT hiker I’d hiked near in Maine.
The backpacking community is ridiculously small, and that’s one of the things I like most about it. Out here, there never seems to be more than one or two degrees of separation between two people. As a result, reputation is as important as it is in small-town America.
For the most part, hikers are very mindful of and interested in building community. There’s an ethic of sharing that’s implied in this lifestyle. From the water sources (and, more importantly, water caches) to the campsites to the hiker boxes, what’s one’s is also someone else’s. I was thinking of John Lennon’s “Imagine”: We don’t stay in place long enough to have anything like the “country” he sings about; similarly, it’s difficult to be concerned with possession or be materialistic when you live out of a backpack.
There are many ways in which the trail isn’t a perfect community, and there have been a number of conversations online about perceived flaws with it as of late. However, it’s interesting to consider the ways in which the trail serves as a microcosm wherein community is created.
For years, I’d struggled to articulate exactly what I meant when I think of the depth of conversations I have out here. After the gear conversations (that drive me batty) of the first few hundred miles, people seem to talk about who they are, rather than what they are. It’s not about what job you hold or what your spouse or children do for work; it’s not about what car you drive or home you live in. It’s simply about who you are, what you believe, and where you’re from and heading.
Out here, the playing field has been leveled. Everyone is dirty and stinky and passionate about the natural world and/or outdoor adventure and/or athletic endeavors.
I enjoyed watching this play out while I was holed up at the Warner Springs Resource Center, where older community members host a full-service hiker reststop. Hikers who hadn’t met one another before fell into conversation quickly and parted company with the blessing of “Happy trails!” In the tent city that was created on the Resource Center’s lawn every night, hikers shared stories through tent walls, thankful to have had warm food, showers, and clean laundry and to not be spending a night in the hypothermic conditions that have predominated the southern California mountains recently.
It was beautiful, but I was so, so ready to hike on. Finally, when my swelling and pain decreased to the point that I didn’t need to get ice from the fire station next door, I shouldered my pack and headed north.