I met City Slicker on my 4th day on trail in 2012.
“I remember meeting you, you had that massive 50 pound pack and you had a 20 degree bag in the middle of July in Maine. You. Were. An. Idiot.”
I was. I knew it – what I thought I had known about the AT wasn’t anything like what it really was. I had thought that the camping experience I had would prepare me for what I was doing, where I was going. So very wrong.
City Slicker was hiking north to Katahdin with a young man named Figs. They were meeting Fig’s grandfather at the end so they could climb together, in three days. They were going to push 3 back to back 25 mile days – which is a challenge in Maine. We had all gotten to the shelter at the same time, right as night was falling. I was amazed as the unpacked their food – fig newtons, jerky, Oreos and two lipton sides apiece. A an easy 1200 calorie meal, and they both were still hungry afterwards.
I stood in awe of them, and listened to their casual and practiced chatter as they ate and did their camp chores. I learned that City Slicker was going to ping-pong and head south from Hanover in a few weeks, just so he could keep hiking. They told me about where to stop in NH – Chet’s place was penciled into my guide book, and Rob Bird’s number for Dalton Mass was added. Important thing – like you have to be at the door of On The Edge Farm in VT if you want a fresh pie. The important things. And the next morning, they hiked out with a nod and twinkle in their eyes- they were almost done.
Skip forward a bit, some weeks passed and my pack got lighter, my days got longer and I thought I knew more about the trail. I did a fast 14 miles into the RPH shelter in NY for an early day, because a huge front was moving in and I had heard you could order pizza at the shelter.
I wander in and there is a thin man there, long beard and sporting a fresh mohawk not unlike my own, which I had gotten at Rob Bird’s hostel, the Birdcage. I said a hello and snagged the shelter log.
“Oh City Slicker has been here. Man I was hoping to catch up to him.”
“Really? Why is that?”
“Oh I met him back in Maine when he was going north, and I was just starting. He had said he was going to yo-yo back down to Springer, and he seemed pretty cool.”
“Well you’re in luck – because that’s who I am!”
I hadn’t even recognized him. He remembered me though – and he had never expected to see me again. “Tough bastard to make it all the way down here.”
We hiked together for awhile – he told me all kinds of stories from the trail and his home of Boston. He’d been hiking for almost 10 years on the AT, and been constantly on trail for the last 4 or so. In the winter he used to go out to Colorado and ski, but he had decided this year to just hike through the winter. Just because.
I saw City Slicker again in 2013 at Trail Days, and then again at Harpers Ferry. He hiked together for a bit again we talked. He called me through the winter when I was off trail, and again when I finished this year. His advice helped me pull through the end of the relationship I was in, and helped keep things in perspective.
But the real treat was when he called me last night.
“I did the math for 2013 – I ended up with 4,153.4 miles this year.”
So if you hike in 2014 – you’ll see City Slicker out there. He’ll head north and then south – because he can. And when you do see him, tell him that Dr. Spice says hello, and loves him dearly. And then ask him where the next good bar is – because he knows every single inch of the trail. And he’s a wonderful human being for it.
When I reached Monson Maine in 2012, it was my first extended encountered with northbound hikers. It was the first I was able to sit and talk with them, learn from them and generally listen to their stories. They had so many, and were equally sad and thrilled to be finishing.
It is much the same way I would feel months later when I returned on my own Northbound hike.
The Lakeshore House was where I met Moldy Toe and Diva, the first Southbound hikers I would meet and hike with. They were mid 20s, had been married for less than a year and had started their hike together. Moldy Toe had been recovering at the Lakeshore House for about a week, as his toe had become infected in the last 2 days in the 100 mile wilderness, and turned into a serious issue.
Originally, Moldy Toe and Diva had started together, sumitted Katahdin and then set out south. 7 miles into the 100 mile wilderness, Diva decided she just couldn’t do it. But this was Moldy Toe’s dream, and she didn’t, couldn’t deny him that dream. So she said she’d go home and he should continue on the hike and finish, because this was something he had to do.
That’s some love right there. So Diva gave him the gear out of her pack that he needed, took the gear he didn’t need anymore and turned around to the Golden road and hitched back to Millinocket and went home to Ohio.
A week goes by, Moldy Toe gets his infected toe (which spawns his name) and he calls Diva to let her know what’s going on. Diva decides she can’t let him recover alone, so she drives from Ohio to Maine to be with him. A hell of a drive indeed. She stays with him for a week while he recovers: they go sightseeing on the Maine coast, drive through the country side and generally have a good time. I meet them both at the hostel on their last day together, as Moldy’s toe has healed, he’s setting off in the morning.
Diva and Moldy say goodbye and I meet Moldy at the shelter out of town where we end up staying the night as Diva drives 15 hours home. He tells me the story and I stand in a little awe of it – a dedicated team that knows they have to let the other do what they want.
We set off the next morning and head south, hoping to cover about 17 miles so we can cross the Kennebec river by ferry early the next day. Around 4pm we stop at a shelter to refill water and snack, and figure out how much farther we’re going. “Another 2 miles should do it, there’s a water source and a ford – we can ford and then set up camp and eat.”
We depart the shelter. And run smack into Diva who is walking North.
Moldy’s mouth was agape, his jaw somewhere down around his ankles.
Diva had decided upon returning to Ohio that shouldn’t couldn’t stand to be without him. She had gone home the first time because he pack was too heavy for her and she wasn’t truly invested in the hike. Now she was. She had put only the bare essentials in her pack, driven back to Monson and then gotten a hitch to Caratunk, where she had told the whole town to watch for Moldy and not let him leave without. Then she’d gone to the ferry, told the ferryman the story and asked him if Moldy had crossed already. “No? Well I’ll just hike north to meet him.”
She’d started hiking north at 10am. She only had a liter of water and snack since them, mostly Mike & Ikes. She’d stopped to read every register, checked every crossing to find her husband so she could be with him.
Moldy and Diva were back together and hiking.
We camped by the river ford that night, and pooled our food together to have cheddar and broccoli tuna melt. Diva and Moldy stayed up and discussed what they were going to do the next day.
I didn’t see them much the next day, they got into an argument over the car and what to do with it. They got off the trail. But I think they were okay with that decision. Diva because she’d finally told Moldy what she wanted from him, and Moldy because he’d taken the opportunity to at least try at his dream.
I’d like to think they are happy back in Ohio somewhere. Though really – who is happy in Ohio? (I kid I kid… except for Cleavland.)
One thing I’ve struggled with all my life is the truth. Telling it, living with it, accepting it. The truth is a scary thing, because it lays us bare to the world, exposes our good and bad for all to see.
When I went out on the Trail I had few rules – but without a doubt the biggest was “tell the truth to everyone.”
That seems like a simple thing doesn’t it? Telling the truth?
Not so simple when you’ve grown up in a family that plays “information wars” with every scrap and piece of information. Where you act as the go between for divorced parents, and have family that gaslight you, forcing you to constantly question your sanity. Not necessarily the healthiest place to grow up in – but grow up I did, and unfortunately I carried parts of that into adulthood.
I wouldn’t ever say I was pathological when it came to lies, but I most certainly used them when it was more convenient than the truth, easier to say then to explain the whole wide range of things involved. So when I left for the Trail I made a promise to myself.
The whole unvarnished truth, for all to see and hear.
I did a fair job of it my first hike – I caught myself more than a few times slipping into bad habits but on the whole I kept it together. So when I went out the second time I made the same vow. I kept it too for a far larger portion than I thought possible. It was a big achievement for myself, telling the truth.
It had some unintended results though. People got to know me in ways I never expected, and several people got to know some secrets I don’t think I ever meant to let out. One person in particular learned everything about me.
When you mix honesty and love together you get interesting results. There wasn’t a thing I held back when asked, every single moment was given freely, though at times with trepidation; because who wants to be rejected for the things they have done, for the way they feel and act?
Maybe that’s why this breakup and betrayal hurt so bad at the end. Because I had opened up to someone I held close, and when they hurt me they knew everything. If she was a person bent on evil, those things she knows could destroy me in the most soul crushing ways – because being hurt by those you love truly does cut you down cruelly.
All of that aside though, I maintain the same vow now, on here as I did on the trail.
All that passes from my lips in the truth, as far as I can see it from my perspective. I won’t lie to you, I won’t evade and try and paint it in a better light. Explanation will be the facts and the feelings, as close to the real authentic moment as I can. I won’t be perfect with it, it’s impossible I think, but I’ll get as damn close as I can.
I owe it to you and I owe it to myself.
I met Smiley at Chet’s Place, in Lincoln, NH July of 2012. He was from Ireland and was hiking with his friend Party Animal and a lady named Day Hiker and they were pretty inseparable.
When Smiley opened his mouth, you got this blinding white flash from his teeth, and his face was always agrin. He had been in the US working as a carpenter, doing hand-worked furniture when (as the story goes) he was told by INS he could go play tourist for a few months, called his buddy from home and said “Hey, how do you feel about hiking this?”. So they did.
Today’s moment comes from Dana Hill, mile 464.3 (southbound), where we stopped early in the third week of August of 2012 to watch the stars.
The actual reason we stopped wasn’t to watch stars – it was to be the first people at the pie shop just down the road. On The Edge Farm sits about 200 feet from the trail and has fresh pies every morning when they open, but they go so quickly that we were told by nobos to get there as early as possible. So we decided to camp just a few miles short of the farm, get up and be there first thing in the morning. Little did we know that because of this plan, we’d get the best stargazing we’d ever seen.
We hiked up extra water to this hill and decided to have a campfire (there was already a ring, someone else had the same idea) and stay up a little later – since we only had to go a mile and a half the next morning. The sun started setting, but it wasn’t a sunset that was particularly amazing – amusing to say now that I’m back in suburbia, where I ache for EVERY sunset.
Then the stars appeared.
We were sitting with an unopposed horizon, and you could see the inky blackness creep across the sky. No clouds, no light pollution, no distant glow from a city or any other lights. Just a tiny sliver of moon that came up later.
All we had above were shattered diamonds flung into the heavens to reassure us that we weren’t alone.
There are moments you remember forever. This is one of those for me. Looking up and seeing the arms of the Milky Way, reaching out to envelope my body as I stood against the sky – feeling as if I was the most insignificant thing in the world, but also as if I could touch the lights that were shining onto me.
The air went from the oppressive humid heat to the chill crispness of the north, reminding us that very soon there would be cold, bringing us the smells of the far north, the mountains we had just left. You could taste the pines on the wind, feel the shivers of the trees as the wind coursed through them, bending them to it’s will.
We stood upon a hill in the night, in the blackness and stared at the sky. Smiley spoke in the darkness, something I will never forget.
“You can see to eternity here, it looks like a thing of beauty.”
There are moments you associate people with, memories you’ll never forget. For Smiley, anytime I see his picture or talk to him from a thousand miles away, I’ll have that moment of his voice in the dark – reminding me that there are beautiful things far greater than myself. All I have to do is look up.