For the first half of this 400+ mile journey our southbound route had us constantly crossing paths with northbound thru-hikers. They were there to keep us humble.
Lest we became too proud of our 400 mile goal we shared the trail each day with a dozen or so thru-hikers who had already come twice that far from Mexico and were continuing on to Canada, some 2,600 miles in all. It was a common occurrence in the midst of feeling accomplished from our 17 mile day to see a thru-hiker approaching on the trail, only to have them breeze by and politely let us know they needed to keep moving because they were doing a 27 mile day.
One day we had logged in around 12 miles when we passed a thru-hiker. It was around 4:00 p.m. and our sore feet and achy muscles were seemingly justified and well earned. We were looking forward to camping in just another couple of miles and asked him where he’d be camping. “Just the other side of Ebbett’s Pass.” Well yes, of course. In the few hours of light that were left he’d be hiking to where we’d started that morning. In the next few hours, he’d be doing what it had taken us all day to accomplish. This kind of thing happened more than once.
Occasionally Rich and I enjoyed playing a game we called “Are They A Thru-hiker.” Really the game is too easy. The long beards, small packs and quick steady gait is a clear give away. Day hikers are freshly shaven and often smell like detergent. Weekenders generally have much heavier packs than any thru-hiker would dare carry from Mexico to Canada. Thru-hikers are an easily distinguished breed of their own.
What strikes me most about the thru-hiker is the one word I’d use to describe them – not confident, no. Anybody who has spent that much time in the wilderness knows better than to be confident in the face of Mother Nature – it’s comfortable. A thru-hiker looks comfortable where they are. Whether they are lounging on a rock by a stream for lunch, camped for the night on a quickly cooling evening, or hiking a 25 mile day in the rain, they look comfortable. They are at home in nature.
I am happy to say that while Rich and I were always quick to point out to the thru-hikers we met, “We’re only going about 400 miles, nothing like what you’re doing,” all of the thru-hikers validated us and seemed to feel our 400 miles was worthy of some respect. They kindly said things like “we’ll that’s quite an accomplishment” and continued to speak to us like we were one of them, and it did our little humbled egos well.