I recently took a hike on the Appalachian Trail with my family.* I am reporting back with the sad news that A.T. thru hikers have lost their edge.
My family and I arrived at a state park snack shop. We happened to be at the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail where hikers traditionally indulge in the “half-gallon challenge,” downing half a gallon of ice cream as quickly as they can manage.
I spent a lot of time with A.T. thru-hikers way back when. I’m familiar with the powerful aromas and grotesque appetites typical of most of them. I’m cool with all of that. I was appalled, though, by the thru-hikers I saw the other day.
Every single one held a smart phone or had their eyes on a charging electronic device.
Sure, cell phones existed ten+ years ago when I hiked a chunk of the trail, but no thru hiker I met would have even thought about carrying one. The thru hikers I knew were so pure, they scorned toilet paper.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is about disconnecting. Enjoying the quiet of the woods and the beauty of ponds and mountains. It’s about adventure. Losing your way in a thunderstorm and hiking three miles in the wrong direction, away from shelter, because you don’t have a GPS. It’s about surprises. Trudging over rocky terrain well past dark to reach a hostel only to find it’s full because you had no way to email ahead and make a reservation. It’s about thrills. Hitching into a town with some seriously sketchy guy you’re worried might be a serial killer because you need to reach a post office before it closes and you have no way to call a cab. Today’s thru-hikers are destined to miss all of that.
Without a doubt, technology is deteriorating the quality of the A.T. experience.
Rest assured that my childrens’ morning in the nature was not spoiled by the smart phone invasion. They remained completely captivated by all of the ice cream and didn’t even notice the communication-obsessed hikers.
I explained to my children that hiking almost always involves large quantities of ice cream. They really don’t like hiking all that much, and I wanted to provide a positive association. Now I just need to figure out a way to arrange for all of our hikes to cross ice cream stands.
Hmmm. A smart phone sure would come in handy for that.
*Okay, “hike” might be an exaggeration. I ambled at the pace of a two-year-old for about a mile and a half. In my defense, I was also holding a two-year-old’s hand, attempting to steer him away from poison ivy and tics. Ah, wilderness!