Do you believe in trail magic? For sure this Saturday 25 AT thru-hikers did.
The Hoodlums Potomac Appalachian Trail Club trail-maintenance crew works in Shenandoah National Park (SNP) on the third Saturday of the non-winter months.
That’s when park trails are in heaviest use requiring constant upkeep following storms that blow down trees, erode the pathways and feed the vegetation which assertively marches to the old song, “The Egg Plant that Ate Chicago.”
“Today Chicago. Tomorrow Shenandoah National Park!” seems to be the green stuff’s strategy with bugs – disease-carrying, blood-sucking vampires that they are – in direct support.
In the summer whacking back vegetation and sawing blown down tree trunks is hard and sweaty work. Did I mention insects? Sometimes turning your body into a superfund site by saturating it in 100 percent DEET doesn’t even work. I digress. Bugs come with the territory.
Hoodlum work team taking a lunch break.
After our monthly expeditions, it’s customary for the Hoodlums to repair to the Indian Run maintenance hut for a potluck feast. The hut is a stone throw from the AT, and some members tent at the hut on Friday and Saturday evenings to enjoy eachother’s company and make their trip a little easier.
June also happens to be the peak month for thru-hikers in the park. The rule of thumb being that they need to reach Harpers Ferry before the fourth of July if they hope to reach Maine before Mt. Katahdin closes.
As the hikers approach their first thousand miles, they’re hungry – all the time. Burning 6,000 calories/day for the three months it takes them to reach the northern SNP depletes their inner reserves and they’re running on empty.
Enter the Hoodlums – thirty strong Saturday. We’re already there, so why not put out the feedbag. Full disclosure, one of our intrepid former thru-hiker leaders was the prime instigator.
We posted signs and opened for business with hot dogs and hamburgers, tasty summer pasta salads. Meanwhile, over at the high test pump – desert and beer! What a spread.
Even before we were open, the hikers started drifting in with ultimately 25 who stopped by. We had spread word on the trail and a couple of folks hiked long days just to make it. The last hiker staggered in after 10:30 p.m. He got leftovers, but he made it. Eight even camped with us overnight.
We mingled with all the hikers. You only had to listen to understand how deeply they appreciate knowing that people care about them. When your almost half way through the AT demolition derby, you’re tired, beat up, hungry and homesick. That’s when even the smallest acts of kindness make a giant difference.
My favorite was a young school teacher eponymously named “Hugs.” Her name sort of summed up the entire day.