The AT possesses some qualities that, although not particularly dangerous, do significantly color the thru-hiker’s experience. These nuisances are so cleverly irritating that I am forced to conclude an intelligent perpetrator is involved. Perhaps if I fore-warn you of these psychological challenges, your susceptibility to them will be reduced. After all, a large part of their efficacy results from grating on your nerves before you are consciously aware of them.
The hapless thru-hiker begins another day of endless walking. By now he has gained considerable expertise regarding how to dress for the weather. He has learned that it is far better to be slightly cold than a touch too warm. He knows that even a slight overheating will result in dehydration, fatigue, and reduced performance. Therefore, he chooses his wardrobe carefully, basing his decision on the feel of the weather during breakfast. “Hmm, feels like a hot one” he thinks as he sallies forth wearing shorts and a single base-layer on top. Unbeknownst to him, he has been chosen for today’s amusement by the wicked witch of the AT. With one of her warty hands resting on the weather lever, she stares down upon him, waiting for just the right moment to begin the fun.
Half-way through one the AT’s infinite number of ascents, our thru-hiker is starting to feel warmed up. Casting off the morning’s stiffness, he is starting to achieve “the zone,” a psychological state of contentment fueled by endorphins. All of the sudden, his reverie is interrupted by a frigid spray of rain. “Where did that cloud come from?” he thinks, glancing skywards. With a spasmodic shiver, he presses onward. “doesn’t look like it will last very long” he concludes. “That’s what you think smelly boy!” the witch cackles. She holds the weather lever in the “cold, blustery spatters” position, intently melding her mind with that of her unfortunate subject. “Damn,” our thru-hiker exclaims as he eventually stops to dig a rain coat out of his pack. “I hate wearing this thing, especially going up hill.” He dons the coat, snaps his pack-cover on, and resumes his climb.
Ever so gradually, the wicked one eases up on the weather lever, nudging in towards the “intense burst of sunlight” position. Before long, our hiker finds himself sweating like a dog as he labors up the mountain. He stops again, sheds his wet rain coat, and straps it to the outside of his pack. “I’m never going to stay in the zone with these interruptions!” he whines as he trudges onward. “That’s the idea you little twerp” responds the witch as she reverses the direction of the weather lever. Before long, the frigid spatters resume. The cycle of reactive wardrobe adjustments continues until the nearly insane thru-hiker decides to just leave the damn coat on. “That’s right, you little whiner” the witch chortles with satisfaction, “I’ll just park this lever on ‘blazing sun’ until you change your tiny mind again.”
A new day dawns. It is one of those clear sunny mornings that can only follow a stormy night. Exhilarated by the sparkling dew drops, our hiker hits the trail early. “This is going to be a great day!” he thinks as he passes the tents of his slumbering cohorts. “That’s what you think” quips the wicked one. “Hate to burst your bubble, but it’s your turn for the sticky strings!” The thru-hiker walks face first into a large, juicy spider web. As he frantically claws at the sticky strands on his face, his peripheral vision glimpses a large angry spider as it repels to his chest and scurries from sight between his back and his pack. The hiker continues onward. Try as he might, he is unable to see the cob webs before they lace his face. After a quarter mile, he feels like his head has taken a few laps around a cotton candy machine. “No wonder nobody else wanted to start hiking this early” he thinks as he trudges onward. “Hope I meet someone tall coming the other way before long.”
It’s a lonely, evening. Our thru-hiker, tired from a long day, is thinking about finding a tent site. As dusk descends, he is suddenly startled silly: with a loud rustle, an arm springs from the dead leaves right beside him. Bony fingers claw at his leg as if to pull him down into a lonely grave. As the adrenaline dissipates, the thru-hiker realizes that once again, he has fallen victim to a self-activated startling device. These contraptions, placed on the tread by the wicked one, consist of a dead branch whose forked end extends into the dead leaves beside the trail. A step on the twisted branch levers the forked end skywards. “Damn!” thinks the thru-hiker. “How many more times am I going to fall for that one!”
Unsettled weather, cobwebs, and self-activated startling devices are but a few of the psychological nuisances experienced on the AT by thru-hikers. They are best countered with a sense of humor. The witch really hates it when you laugh at her pranks.