The first town that a SOBO hiker encounters in New Hampshire is Gorham. After resting up in Gorham at The Barn, acquiring resupply items at the first Walmart on trail, and maybe hitting the Chinese Buffet, it’s time for the Whites.
A sign marks the beginning of the Appalachian Trail’s journey through the White Mountain National Forest. Following Southern Maine, this section is also listed as one of the most difficult sections of the trail. And, like Southern Maine, it is famously one of the most beautiful sections.
Tourism on Trail
And it’s not just thru-hikers that like the White Mountains. The White Mountain National Forest sees thousands of visitors each year. Some of these visitors are thru-hikers and many, many others are weekend warriors, day hikers, or visitors who enjoy other means of arriving at the summit of Mount Washington.
Despite being described as a more “remote” section of the White Mountains, the Wildcats are the first mountain range encountered by SOBO hikers. And I was surprised at the number of non-thru-hikers that we ran into over the course of the day. It was a weekend, granted, but we ran into more people here than we had in the entire 280+ miles of Maine! Talk about a shock to the system.
How to Spot a Day Hiker
Day hikers, as I’m broadly categorizing everyone that isn’t a thru-hiker, are usually pretty easy to spot. Smaller packs, smell like soap, maybe wearing cotton or carrying something that looks a little heavy, like a stainless steel water bottle. Sometimes I ask out of curiosity, “AT?” if I can’t tell.
The reason that “day hikers” (again, all forms) are of particular interest is their connection to the non-trail world. The smell of soap indicates recent showering, something that a thru-hiker doesn’t necessarily always have available. Fruit packed in baggies indicates ease of access to a grocery store. A water bottle without a Sawyer Squeeze tightened on top means tap water.
Day hikers in nature are usually happy to be there. It’s a break from their regular routines and the stresses of non-trail life. I appreciate this optimism and happiness. However, the connection to the non-trail world also means that day hikers are privy to competitiveness, schedules, and hurry-hurry lifestyles. These two contrasting energies make for some interesting interactions.
The Happy Hippie Day Hiker
In my experience, day hikers are often very friendly and interested in talking to a member of the strange thru-hiker breed. I’ve had lots of great conversations with day hikers. Some have even offered me cherries and grapes and fresh water. As a health nut making do with shelf stable pantry food, the cherries were especially appreciated. Vitamins. Delicious. These hikers can be found saying things like:
“You’ve got a beautiful view up ahead!”
These hikers for me represent everything I love about town days and non-trail life. They’re fresh and well-nourished. I like the positive energy. I enjoy hearing about their adventure. I wish them the happiest of trails right back.
The Wall Street Day Hiker
In contrast, we also have the every day hustle seeping in through the day hikers. The pressure to maintain a schedule and meet goals in non-trail life can be translated to the hiking community. Innocent day hikers may accidentally translate this pressure to thru-hikers by asking things like:
“How many miles are you doing today?”
“When are you planning on finishing?”
“Great view ahead, but you gotta earn it.”
The part of me that is self-consciously affected by the pressures that I know exist in the non-trail world is irked by these conversations. I’m seeing this AT journey as a vacation and I’m in no rush. And if you’re a day hiker asking about my mileage, you’ll learn that from my generalized responses:
“Not too many more, almost suppertime!”
“Who knows! Taking my time.”
“Thanks, I’m sure it will be lovely!”
I’m happy to share the trails with all forms of day hikers. I’m also happy to be happy on trail, so am choosing to not engage with any kinds of externally-imposed pressures. Either way, day hikers are always a source of entertainment, providing a different kind of conversation than that with fellow thru-hikers. And I appreciate that. So keep coming out, keep enjoying the wilderness. There’s lots of it to share.
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