Every year, groups of Appalachian Trail hikers pass through downtown Hanover.
With the White Mountains as its backyard, Dartmouth has always provided a temporary home for passing hikers, whether they’re just hiking the area or trekking the entire Appalachian Trail. If your curiosity has ever been piqued by someone in town with a frame over half their size, there’s a good chance you’ve caught a hiker through and through.
I spoke to Finn Haggerty, a freshman from the Northwest on a gap year, on his last zero day – a day you do zero miles – before completing the TA. Haggerty – whose trail name, “Huckleberry,” is a play on his first name – began her trip March 9 in Georgia and expects to end in Maine in a few weeks.
“I had no plans to take a sabbatical at all [before COVID-19]”said Huckleberry, who had only done day hikes before his five-month foray.” I probably never would have hiked this trail without COVID.
The year 2021, for hikers, is a year of opposing poles. Most of us have been chronically indoors from month to month, so the idea of ââsleeping under a tarp under the stars is diametrically opposed to sitting in front of a Zoom screen.
Juliet Rhodes and Ian Meisner, who call themselves âDiscoâ and âGunga Din,â respectively, on the trail, hiked with Huckleberry approximately 1,500 miles. All three gave their names, but said they would prefer to use their trail names. The three of them met on the TA and are currently walking in a group of six, although Huckleberry said the group reached a dozen at one point.
âWe all met on the track and enjoyed each other’s company enough to stay together for so long, and we’re going to end up together in a few weeks,â Huckleberry said. âSometimes people join us for a few weeks and then come on or fall behind, and that’s it. “
Gunga Din explained that the apparent spontaneity with which groups form and dissolve is intrinsic to the AT lifestyle. “We only plan ahead in three or four day increments,” he said.
Everything, even the names that hikers give each other, has this same force of spontaneity. âYou are not allowed to give yourself a name,â Disco explained. “It usually happens organically, so there’s always a funny story behind it.”
The name of the Disco trail comes from the disco ball key ring given by her aunt that another hiker noticed on the trail, and she laughed as she explained how Meisner called himself “Gunga Din”.
âThere is a poem by Rudyard Kipling with the line, ‘You are a better man than me, Gunga Din,’â Disco explained. âAnd it’s about a guy going to fetch water for another. So one day [Meisner] went to the stream and filled a water bottle for this other guy and quoted the poem as he handed it over.
Disco is a future junior at the College of William & Mary who decided to take time off during the pandemic – then another, which led her to consider taking a hike to the AT.
“I heard about it for the first time [the Appalachian Trail] my sophomore year of high school and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I kept thinking about how strange it was, to be able to take five months off and go hiking, âsaid Disco. âI only left school for the fall term, but the critics [of school] of my friends were pretty negative, so I thought âWhy rush? “”
A few weeks from the finish line, Disco thinks they have made the right decision. âI love people, I love adventure – just taking control of my life is pretty awesome. I feel strong and like a badass. These are the things that come from living in the woods for four months, âshe said.
Gunga Din said his decision to increase TA was a bit easier. “It scared me, so I wanted to do it,” he said decisively. A recent college graduate, he explained that COVID-19 had no effect on his hiking plans because he would have done TA with or without a pandemic to take him to the great outdoors.
Huckleberry said his impression is that there are more hikers this year for two reasons: first, people who plan to hike last year pushed back to this year, and second, COVID-19 has offered the opportunity to more people who would not normally have had the chance.
Hikers stayed in hostels along the way, often swapping an hour of work for a bed. While in Hanover, âThe Little Hotties,â as Gunga Din referred to his group of six hikers, stayed with a âtrail angel,â someone who offers assistance in the form of food, shelter. or words of wisdom to hikers.
Gunga Din noted that they had tried to “go to the place with $ 3 margaritas” in Hanover, which Dartmouth students will lovingly recognize as Molly’s, but ended up at Dunk’s. In town, Disco met a high school friend and current Dartmouth student at Umpleby’s.
Being a seasoned hiker, all three rated, means you often find yourself telling strangers about their own connection to hiking – someone’s husband, sister, or friend has hiked the Whites before. .
âIt’s always positive,â said Disco, of people coming to see her to ask her about the ride. âNever judgment. ”
Disco also recalled that they had an unconventional Track Angel in the form of a student from Dartmouth.
“One of the guys I hiked with made his way to the dining room and got himself a lot of food with a Dartmouth kid’s meal,” he said. she declared.
Snacks reach a level of holiness when you walk 20 miles a day, according to Huckleberry.
âWe’re just always hungry because we walk 8 hours a day,â he said. âBackpacker’s Hunger is what people call it. “
There’s a real rhythm of life with irregular cell service, and for Gunga Din, it’s part of the draw.
âI love the lifestyle,â he said. âWhen you’re not hiking, you eat. When we don’t eat, we sleep.
Most of the Little Hotties also plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the future, which runs from Southern California to the Canadian border, but for now, they’re just enjoying the trip.
âWe’re all tired and none of us have a deadline, so we’re taking our time,â Huckleberry said. “We don’t want to rush the end of this.”
Disco, reflecting on her experience, thought of the memories that would remain with her when the last 200 kilometers of the trail were behind her.
âThe most memorable moments are the simplest,â she said. âIt’s not so much the big, big, ‘I just climbed thousands of feet to get to this top.’ It’s really just that feeling of relief when you finally show up at camp and all your friends are there. If you get one thing from this conversation, it’s friendships are the biggest deal. “