A Cautionary Tale of the Appalachian Trail

I just got back from hiking a small part of the Appalachian Trail, and Lo, my whole life is close to turning upside down.  I definitely have some thoughts from the trip I want to share with you, but they will have to wait until other matters get sorted out.  In the meantime, here is a piece of doggerel I composed on my final day, when the dehydration had really taken its toll…

ire36A spring day in early May
The morning sky was pale,
Two groups of campers came to hike
The Appalachian Trail.

One group were time-worn veterans,
Strong and tough with age;
They’d climbed these hills for many a year,
They were old and hard and sage.

The other group was young and strong,
As taut as well-bound rope;
With anything that came their way
They knew that they could cope.

They both set out from upper Georgia
North towards Tennessee,
They only wanted to hike a bit
And enjoy the scenery…

By happenstance it came about
As evening turned to red
The younger hikers, flush with youth,
Began to pull ahead.

“Hey!” an older hiker said.
“Look at those nose-wipers!
“We can’t let ourselves be beaten out
“By them young whippersnappers!”

So they pushed and grunted and sweated along,
Though the air was cool and fine;
And when night was falling, all pitched their tents
At exactly the same time.

The younger hikers slept in next morning,
And snored to wake the dead.
And while they were sleeping the veterans rose
And blazed the path ahead.

When they woke, a younger hiker said,
“Hey! Let’s make a start!
“We can’t let ourselves be beaten out
“By those old grizzled farts!”

And so the race began, my friends,
Through heat and wet and cold,
An epic race from south to north,
The young against the old.

The young, immortal, high-strung hikers,
Burning with desire,
They covered the ground with giant strides,
Their hearts were full of fire.

The older hikers stepped with care,
Legs like pistons firing,
Hard like the rocks they’d climbed so long,
Old muscles never tiring.

Through Tennessee and Carolina
And up the Shenandoah,
And spring and summer passed to fall,
Somewhere in Pennsylvania.

They heeded not the brilliant colors
Of New England’s finest autumn,
But raced right past through hills and vales
And up to Mt. Katahdin.

Thus it was in record time
They reached the final summit,
And as it happened they reached the top
At exactly the same moment.

There they stopped, and ate together,
And treated each other like brothers;
For through it all they’d found at last
That they quite liked each other.

“Great hike!” said the older hikers all,
“We must do it again, good friends!”
“Again?” said the younger ones. “What did you say?
“You’re hiking back again?”

“Again?” cried a younger one. “Why, we are too!
“Aren’t we!” he said to his friends.
“What a coincidence!” he said, and then whispered,
“We can’t let them win at the end!”

So, though none desired it, they had to go back,
As winter hammered its fists,
They raced the snow south, and reached north Georgia
Just in time for Christmas.

And so it went on — for they turned right around
And spring found them already in Maryland;
And so it goes on, even now, I have heard,
North and south and again.

So beware, my friends! Don’t put pride in your pack
If you dare to hike the long Trail;
Be young or be old, but don’t be too stupid —
Don’t let yours be a cautionary tale.


7 responses to “A Cautionary Tale of the Appalachian Trail”

  1. Jeff, it sounds like because the activity became a race, much of the trip was missed by all. You can’t commune with nature, yourself and God when you are rushing, rushing, rushing to get to the end.

    My husband and son have hiked part of the trail through Tennessee on small 3-day hikes and loved the experience spending time together as father and son.

    I look forward to reading more about your adventure.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Patricia. You definitely caught the point of the poem, such as it is. 🙂

    I definitely enjoyed myself, but I also definitely pushed myself too hard. I’m going camping again at the end of the week, but in a much calmer fashion — just one night, and I won’t be very far from home…

    Hopefully in the next few days I’ll get a chance to write more about the trip. Thanks for your interest!


  3. A rousing tale in verse! Hmmm… how did the sky look and the campfire food taste? : ) Maybe next time….a new verse.


  4. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

    The poem kinda reminds me of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, eternally doomed to push the rock up a hill.


  5. Mahud, I hope to post something about it tomorrow or the next day.

    My eldest daughter loves the myth of Sisyphus, although she is of the opinion that his punishment was too harsh. 🙂


  6. Jeff, I’m not sure how long you hiked but you definitely picked up on the unfortunate side-effects of the thru-hiker mentality.

    There is a saying that people tell themselves and others before, during and after the hike, but many of them don’t hold true to it. They say “hike your own hike” but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t happen. Almost everyone tries to “keep up” (in many senses of that phrase) and lose the sense of why they are out there at some point.

    However, I do hope that you got to see some of the good side of being on the trail, too. I met some of the kindest, most trust-worthy people that I have ever met when I hiked the trail. My trail friends became my trail family. The lines about how they “ate together, And treated each other like brothers;” brought tears to my eyes as I remembered my day on top of Katahdin. Ah, the memories. 🙂

    I can’t wait to hear more about about your hike.


  7. S. Nichole, it’s great to hear from you!

    I was only out there for five days, and I didn’t go in one direction — I went back and forth quite a bit. And I went very slowly; I got passed quite a bit. 🙂 Which is probably why this poem occurred to me…

    It’s great to hear about your experiences on the trail — I never get tired of hearing hiking stories. Some of the best days of my life have been hiking…


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