Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Coincidences

The Appalachian Trail has an energy, a magic about it. Perhaps that’s why so many people are drawn to it, or perhaps it is the Trail itself that draws a certain type of person. Regardless, it is this energy that provides the foundation for the Trail community.

Although it is true that thru-hikers share a special bond, we all also share the knowledge that the hiker community spreads way beyond the thru-hikers themselves. In fact, initiation to this community doesn’t take much, just a hike (short or long), or an act of kindness (trail magic, a free ride) along the Appalachian Trail. It is the hostel owners, restaurant workers, and town’s people through which the trail traverses. To become a part of this community means to get a glimpse of the magic of the universe, and to the knowledge that everything in life, on and off the trail, is unfolding for reason. You just have to be aware enough to see it and open enough to accept it. To sum up the words of Dick Ludwick, the former mayor of Unionville, NY and current AT hostel caretaker, members within this community just have a way of making the oddest coincidences in life unfold. Yet we within the hiking community know there are no coincidences, rather, the unexpected current moment is a collection of every past moment, and is completely intentional.

I was reminded of this today, when Grommet and I found ourselves at Newfound Gap located in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We were at the park for the weekend to partake in the annual Wildflower Pilgrimage. After an early morning breakfast in Gatlinburg, TN we made our way into the park. Our original intention was to stop at the visitors center on our way in and take the dogs on a 4 mile hike near the visitor center and then head up the mountain to Newfound Gap where the AT passes through. However, the weather was gorgeous and the forecast called for potential showers later in the afternoon. Grommet really wanted to get some good views up at Newfound Gap, so we altered our plans and made the 15-mile drive up to the gap first. When we arrived we did the usual tourist activities; taking each others pictures at the North Carolina/Tennessee border, at the AT trail head sign that gives mileage to Katadhin, ME, and of the surrounding vistas.

As we wrapped up our photo montage we noticed a few current AT thru-hikers mingling around another car that was providing trail magic. Remembering how awful my experience was at Newfound gap as a thru-hiker we decided to see if any of the hikers needed a free ride into town. As we introduced ourselves to the hikers Grommet began exchanging words with an older gentleman. It only took a minute for each to realize that in fact they not only knew each other but they had hiked together several years before. The hikers name was Bill, and he was currently section hiking the Great Smokey Mountains. He was soaking wet from the previous nights down-pour and ready to get into some warm dry clothes. He graciously took us up on our offer to drive him into town. While Grommet and Bill played catch-up over the next 20 minutes I sat there listening, completely grateful to be witness to another trail “coincidence.”