The Appalachian Trail is the great equalizer in comfort level. While people may be totally reluctant to carry on a conversation (or even say "hello") to a stranger in any other situation, people act like they are all old friends and close family on the Appalachian Trail.
Today, I had the privilege of being able to hike a bit of the AT in Pennsylvania while traveling between two jobs this week. What a glorious day for a walk in the woods. I packed two bottles of water in my backpack, found the trail easily, parked the car and hopped out to go hike.
"Where are you headed?" I heard a deep voice ask as soon as I locked the car. I looked up to see a guy with a huge pack on the ground in front of him, munching on an apple.
"South on the trail to Wolf Rocks", I replied, before I realized I would normally tell someone "None of your business" who was asking my destination. I looked at the trail and he laughed and pointed the opposite direction, "South is that way", he said without a trace of judgment. I asked him about his travels and he said he had been on the trail for almost 3 months, originating at Springer Mountain in Georgia. I could have spent an hour asking him about his adventures but I was itching to get on the trail. He waved his apple-free hand and said, "Happy hiking---watch out for the rocks. They're all over in Pennsylvania." I wished him luck with beginning college, which he had shared he would be doing in two weeks, and then I headed out.
For about a quarter of a mile, the only communication I had was with the wildlife: two stunningly beautiful fawns leaping synchronously through the forest, a couple of chipmunks telling me they were not interested in me getting too close and a larger-than-life doe who ran across the trail 10 feet in front of me, crashing through the underbrush on either side.
But after that....it became rush hour on the Appalachian Trail----I counted no less than 14 people (in 1s, 2s, and 3s), who without exception and without hesitation, greeted me with hearty "Good mornings" or "Howdy" or "Hey there!" and big smiles on their faces. Rush hour on the AT is a bit different than rush hour in major cities, that is certain.
Even though they also mostly greeted me with a slight earthy smell emanating from their "A shower is way overdue" bodies, I could easily forgive that because everyone was so friendly. After all, I don't have to sniff their armpits- I just want to feel safe and comfortable when I am in new territory.
Perhaps we could learn something from the AT culture: smile at others, greet them in a friendly fashion, and why not be interested in where they're coming from and where they are going?
Just for today, maybe we should take a lesson (not so much about the lack of showers) from the AT and enjoy the company of others.