The Gathering weekend in Athens, WV
This weekend I got to pack up some gear and head to the ALDHA (Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association) Gathering. The Gathering serves as a reunion for any hikers who have a love of long-distance trails. At this year’s Gathering, there were thru hikers representing all the way back to 1971 with the exception of only three years not being represented. I was proud to see that the Class of 2012 came out in good numbers as well! There were actually a few hikers there I hadn’t met, but we had Hawk, Wiffleball, All Smiles, Peach, Overdrive, Headin’ Out and Taggin’ Along, SOS and Trail Momma, Otto, Bowser, Steamer, Nokey, and Me just to name a few! We got to have a reunion and talk about our summit days and show photos. They also had a “graduation” ceremony for us of sorts.
The Gathering has really cool presentations all focused on hiking throughout the weekend. Hikers who have traveled anywhere are able to give presentations and some of them this year included “Camino de Santiago” by Bob Peoples, a film about flip-flopping, a focus group done by a graduate student trying to learn more about thru hiking identities, a Q&A session for people trying to hike next season, classes on orienteering, and so much more. On Saturday night there was a keynote speaker, a hiker named Trauma who just traversed the entire Himalayan Mountain range. Nokey and I really wanted to attend this, but we’d finally heard from Testament and Manboy and they had just walked into Pearisburg for the night, a short 25 miles away! We packed up quick and ran over to spend the evening with them.
We wanted to bring the boys back to ALDHA to hang out, but they’d already paid for a hotel room and were planning on hiking out to Woods Hole Hostel in the morning. We went over and I bought the boys and a SOBO named Tortise dinner at Dairy Queen and then we took them to a hiker’s dream – WAL-MART! They only needed food for the night and for two more days and those three boys filled up an entire conveyor belt! I remember the days of being so hungry and tired, so I just laughed and watch their eyes light up as they found fresh rotisserie chickens! We went back to their room at The Holiday Motor Lodge (the same hotel we stayed in there!) and we just watched stupid movies while the boys all smoked cigarettes and devoured calories to get their energy levels back up, as they were all out of food when they came in to town.
Saying goodbye to them was hard, as usual, and Nokey and I missed the trail so much at this point. We drove back to Pipestem for a bonfire and campout. Sitting around the fire with people we’d met on the hike, as well as people who gave us trail magic on the way, was just an awesome experience. Everyone was there for their love of this trail that has touched our lives in some way and we all had this commonality. We got to see Ms. Janet and Squatch and talk to them for a few minutes, and I got to finally meet Chuck Norris and Tigger, the owners of Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs. We stayed up past 1 a.m. hanging out at the fire before retiring to our tent for the night.
My first ALDHA Gathering was so much fun. For just a few days I got to be a thru hiker again. I got to talk to complete strangers and become friends. Everything I loved about the trail was there all over again and it was the most wonderful feeling and was very healing for me being that I’ve missed the trail and my hiking partner so much in the past one month since being finished. I’m definitely looking forward to the Rucks in January and next year’s Gathering in PA. If you’re a fan of long-distance hiking, I urge you to check out ALDHA’s website (www.aldha.org) and get involved. The photo I posted today is Testament, Nokey, me, and Manboy in Pearisburg just before saying goodbye. I can’t wait to see these boys again.