Hikers love magic moments. It’s usually those times when the scenery is perfection. But there can be other magic moments; for example, when you feel extra healthy and fit, or when you become perfectly relaxed and happy. That’s the way I felt when I camped by the lake in the picture.
But I want to share another magic moment that was completely different. When I began my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I met a young man in the first few days who was shy and unsure of himself. He struck me as the type of kid that would peek around corners. He hiked alone and didn’t ask questions, but I could tell he was not quite up to it. After a few days he disappeared and I forgot about him. Thinking back now, I should have reached out to him.
I was in Maine five months later having lunch at a shelter when a guy and girl showed up with a black Labrador Retriever. I was reading my guide and after a “hello” resumed reading while they fed their dog and busied themselves. They looked like thru-hikers, he with a beard. From time-to-time I heard him speak to his girlfriend. She got out the stove and he fired it up. He told the dog to behave. He studied his map and was in charge.
Something made me look at him more closely. I was stunned. It was the same young man I’d met five months earlier in Georgia. I could not believe the transformation. But it was him, and now he remembered me, remarking about my beard and the weight I had lost. We talked a bit, and after a while I pretended to read. But I watched him as he patted the lab and conversed and smiled with his girlfriend. I remember the girl asking a question about something and his answer was, “Oh, I don’t know, Hon. When we get to Millinocket, we’ll figure it out.”
Later, after he turned to me and said good-bye, I watched him, with his girl and dog, pick up his sticks with gusto—confident, sure. As I write this now, I’m emotional, and I don’t know why. When I finished the trail, I tried to tell my wife about them as we drove home from Maine. I got hung up and couldn’t finish the story. All very strange.
What I do know is that when he, his girl, and their dog walked off from that shelter and into the hopes, and dreams, and unknowns of their lives, I had witnessed humanity.