Bed and Breakfast

Most of the 256 shelters on the Appalachian trail are pretty rough. Then there's the Fontana Hilton

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He’s hardly stopped moving in the last year, he tells me, ever since joining the ranks of the downsized. "I haven’t done much in terms of work," he explains. "But I’ve sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in both directions, and in five months I’ll be able to say I’ve walked the AT. That ought to be worth a couple of checks in life’s ledger book."

On the far side of the dam, the trail turns off an asphalt service road and reenters the woods. Once more the AT is the familiar white-blazed path, a foot-and-a-half wide and as long as you can take it.

The moment lingers. PopPop checks to make sure I have his 80-year-old mother’s e-mail address, and makes me promise twice to write her. He frets about Brodie’s foot, and wonders if he’ll see his trail pal Serge again. Sometime today, he says, he’ll pass the 168.1-mile mark. "Only 2,000 miles to go," he grins. And then he turns and slowly treads uphill. "I’ll call you in September," he says over a shoulder, as I scribble a note about the sound of a warbler singing in the wet woods. I want to tell him that I look forward to hearing if he made it to Katahdin, or to some more meaningful summit. But when I lift my head, he’s gone.

by T. Edward Nickens


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