These Are Days You’ll Remember….

Long distance hiking days.

I’m listening to the song by the same title.  “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs seems the perfect soundtrack to thru-hiking memories, and I’m using it to introduce a slide show on long-distance backpacking to about 70 kids at my old summer camp later today.

Remember slides? Those film things with the cardboard edges, and you have to put them all in the carousel one at a time (backwards and upside down) and if you put a slide in the wrong way, it’ll show up with the writing reading back-to-front and inside out.

There’s another song I like to use in my slide shows: “What a Wonderful World.” The reasons should be obvious.

It can be overwhelming to look at hundreds of slides of the Triple Crown Trails (The Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide national scenic trails) all at once. Plus, I admit that a few spectacular slides from other places around the world have snuck in because really, when you have put a hat, a pair of sun glasses, and a tie on a giant lobelia near the summit of Mt. Kenya, how can you NOT use that picture to show the goofy fun of hiking? (I’ll post that picture here as soon as I can scan it…. another project on the “to do” list).

Two things strike me in this trip down memory lane:

First, the incomparable variety of landscapes on our long-distance hiking trails. The Triple Crown trails add up to some 7,500 miles of some of the most glorious terrain on the planet. There’s the “long green tunnel” (aka the Appalachian Trail), which turns blazing orange in autumn, and then brown followed by white, and has plenty of above treeline grandeur, as well. Or take the wild and harsh drylands of southern California and New Mexico, and the very different mountain landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains, the White Mountains, the Colorado Rockies, the High Sierra, the North Cascades, the northern Rockies. I’m always asked if I have a favorite place. How could I possibly? How could you ever choose?

And second: The people. It seems contradictory, but hiking in the wilderness is (as long distance hikers know) also about the people you meet along the way. I’ve hiked with college kids and grandparents, with doctors and police officers and students and the gainfully ,gleefully unemployed. And then there are people from the local communities: The purveyors of trail magic.  When everything in real life turns cranky, it’s comforting to remember the people who leave out a few gallons of water for hikers on a dry stretch, or who invite disgustingly odorous hikers into their homes for a shower, a meal, and a bed, or who volunteer to keep the trails passable. From the raucousness of the Trail Days festival in Damascus Virginia to pictures of hikers relaxing in camp, playing music, goofing off in the rain, or posing atop Katahdin, my pictures of people show the elements of a life lived on the trail.

I’ve been dreading going through my slides in order to organize them for scanning, Thousands of pictures makes for a massive filing job, and filing is not my best subject. But after spending the last couple of days pouring over photos of sunsets over the Maine ponds, above-tree huts in the Whites, snowfields at Muir Pass, sand dunes in the Great Divide Basin, the russet autumn willows of the Wind River mountains, the alpenglow on a Rocky Mountain ridgeline, the groves of quaking aspen turning into treasure troves of gold leaf coins… instead of dreading the project, I’m looking forward to it.

These WERE great days … and I remember.

I’ll be writing much more about them here.