Our six miles on the Appalachian Trail during our tour of Virginia stirred affection and respect for one of the world’s great long-distance paths. In Shenandoah National Park, we entered the AT at the Thornton Gap trailhead parking lot.
The trail led us over a mostly rocky surface with more than 1,700 feet of climbing. We took a quick detour to Mary’s Rock, where Sue took in the view, then we continued southbound to the Bird’s Nest #3 Shelter, one of more than 250 shelters spread over the AT’s 2,190 miles. In order to sleep in the huts, campers must be traveling at least three consecutive days on the AT. The Bird’s Nest featured a rock fireplace, wooden sleeping platform, a nearby privy as well as a bear box and hanger poles to keep food safe. Thru hikers must use the shelter unless it is full, when they may use designated campsites nearby. I ate my lunch while sitting on the platform and imagined the hut filled with sleeping bags and trekkers. I could almost hear the snoring and smell the trail grime.
The higher we went, the less spring we witnessed as the season had delayed its arrival. We passed six or seven northbound thru hikers, who all traveled solo and appeared to be in their 20s. I resisted asking where they started and where their destination was. They all were in a hurry since a storm was moving in, but they took the time for a brief friendly greeting. I wished I had brought along some trail magic (beers?) to hand off as they passed.
If you have walked the Pacific Crest Trail, you may have met Barney Scout Mann at his Southern California home, where he and his wife Sandy have hosted trekkers who are embarking on the adventure of their lives. Thousands more have benefitted from his dedication to the trail through his many years of work with the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
If you walked the PCT in 2007, you may have met him and his wife on the trail, when he kicked off his quest for distance hiking’s coveted triple crown, which he completed in 2017.
However, the inspirational adventurer, who has backpacked for more than 50 years, may have saved his most influential work for Journeys North, which reads like a gripping novel. He tells the tales of six who braved challenges that would send many hikers home. Ultimately, when a snowstorm blocks their path, they must choose between quitting and searching for an elusive detour.
His book brings home the personal side of the trek, stretching beyond the six main characters through compelling anecdotes about other backpackers traveling the PCT.
If it not had been in the middle of winter when I read it, Scout’s book may have spurred me to travel to his home to pick up some trail magic before I launched my own PCT trek. Sure, I recently completed the John Muir Trail, which follows the PCT much of its way through California’s Sierra Nevada. My heart is enthusiastic, but are my body and mind ready to make the jump from my 243-mile trek to the 2,653 miles through three states on the entire PCT?
If you read Journeys North, be prepared to feel the urge to take the next step(s).