Hikers stopping in Hartford celebrate Appalachian Trail's quiet, community — and occasional cold drink
Hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine requires the most basic human tools: strong legs, steely determination and plenty of water and food. It also helps to have a smartphone.
When I spotted two AT through-hikers taking a break from the journey in West Hartford this week, I stopped to ask them how far they had come.
Darren Palmer, a third-generation plumber with a background in theater, didn’t have to guess. He fished out his phone, tapped the screen a couple of times and provided the stats.
“We have gone, let’s see, 1,739.4 miles,” said the Brewster, NY, resident.
Palmer, 27, and hiking pal Thomas Wolfe, 29, began at the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia. They’ve got about a month left, a 500-mile trek that will take them across the White Mountains of New Hampshire to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
The hikers say they try to cover between 15 and 25 miles a day, depending on variables such as weather and terrain. But mileage is the least profound of their concerns. There’s also a 2,200-mile long lesson in living.
“It’s been pretty life-changing, realizing how little I need to be happy,” says Palmer who, like most AT hikers, has a trail moniker. In his case, he says with a grin, it’s “Big Bunny.”
As they move through the tunnel of green, the travelers enjoy their solitude but also the company of fellow hikers who are happy to share food from their backpacks and advice from their trek. Then there are the people who live nearby — “trail angels” — who leave coolers full of cold drinks and snacks.
“There’s a certain kind of community that exists on the trail, where everybody looks out for each other,” says Wolfe, a Huntsville, Alabama, rental property manager whose trail name is “Sherpa.”
Palmer sports a well-thumbed “Bubba Gump” baseball cap and could pass as Forrest’s philosophical doppelganger.
“If I’m not present, I’m not living,” he observes. “You always have doubt about what the future might hold but you can’t control that, so why worry?”
I ask them whether they carry objects in their pockets or packs that hold special meaning.
Palmer has lost two friends, one to cancer and the other to a car accident. He carries a handkerchief and a rubber bracelet to remember them.
Wolfe — as perhaps befits a man who shares the name of the author of Look Homeward, Angel — carries a trail passport in which he collects evidence of his footfalls along the way.
And the steps still to come.
“It’s trying to keep going up the mountains and the hills, and you know you’ve got five more miles, you want to stop,” he says, describing the willpower needed to persevere at times. “But you just keep going.”