Lots of folks on the trail these days

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019

in the woods header

If anyone thinks we’re all groping alone out there in the wilderness on the Appalachian Trail, they obviously haven’t been out there recently.

It’s nearly a doggone party (save for the recent tragedy involving some Massachusetts man and his machete, but thankfully that’s rare).

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Humans are abundant and sometimes you meet some folks that make you realize how small the world can be.

I was on the trail near Dobie Mountain when I came upon a dapper fellow headed in the other direction.

Oddly, he stopped to talk. I forget what prompted the conversation, but I should have known immediately he was a former newspaper reporter given the rapid, but friendly, line of questioning.

It’s apparently a universal character trait among journalists.

Before long I learned he was Earl Swift and he had written a wonderful book about canoeing the entire length of the James River, “Journey on the James: Three Weeks through the Heart of Virginia.” Seems Swift once wrote the Virginian-Pilot, so he was familiar with this area, obviously.

The book, by the way, teaches you all sorts of history about the 350-mile long James River, which starts in the mountains at the confluence of the Cowpasture and Jackson rivers.

The confluence of worlds continued this spring when I met a young man who was doing an AT thru-hike — meaning that when I met up with him in Virginia, he had already hiked that far from Georgia on his way to Maine.

The young man, I never did get his name, had attended the Virginia Military Institute and wanted to know if I knew anyone who had.

Well, yeah, there are quite a few VMI grads in Isle of Wight, I said. I then realized he was around the same age as the daughter and son-in-law of a friend who has since passed away. Both had graduated from VMI.

Within minutes we realized that the thru-hiker had been the son-in-law’s “rat” during his first year at VMI. We both thought that was kinda cool.

Poking at the campfire nearby were two women from Michigan, also hiking the AT. They were so distinctly upper Midwestern that I knew they weren’t from anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line the minute I heard them speak.

It also occurred to me that this chance meet-up might seem quintessentially Southern by their standards.

So I turned to them and said,” You must think everyone in Virginia is related and we’re all cousins.”

“That’s West Virginia,” I said, and we all laughed.