Williams College, Williamstown, MA. October 12, 2014 — While autumn is coloring New England in its full palate, this morning’s heavy frost signaled that the iron grip of winter is just over the horizon.
It was the perfect set for staging the 33 “gathering”of the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA) where life was good. How could it not be in the warm clear light shining in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.
The gathering is an eclectic mix of bearded men and sinewy women with a common love of outdoor movement no matter where or when. They live to be “out there” wherever there is.
The atmosphere is part Rotary Club – the parliamentary procedure, singing, backslapping and humor is the same – with a little Comic Con thrown in – lots of eccentricity with more that a dash of introversion in the mix. Everyone is welcoming and nice, but it’s obvious why these beautiful folks like to be in the woods alone or otherwise.
Many members adorned themselves in typical hiker regalia. Given that most everyone appeared to be a cross between Gandalf and a homeless person, it was no wonder that a few students called campus security curious about this strange group which was invading their campus. Of course college was well aware of our presence as guests of the Williams Outing Club.
The eclectic program exceeded my expectations having set the bar relatively low given that ALDHA is totally run by volunteers. The opening program was uplifting but a bit long. Of course my favorite part of opening night was the special recognition of the AT thru hiker class of 2014. We each received a certificate and a patch.
Overall, I was reminded of a high school reunion or a college homecoming. Everybody was hugging old friends. In addition to meeting my fellow Fourteeners, the opportunity to meet or reunite with hikers I followed from 2013, hostel owners and other trail characters was special and uplifting.
The broader program featured a surprising array of seminars ranging across subjects such as women’s self defense, hiking in the UK and other international destinations, the triple crown trails, search and rescue, ultra light gear, trail diet, writing, photography, and aging. Of course there were the obligatory business meetings and elections.
One of the most interesting discussions involved expectations and opportunities around the release of two hiking movies – “Wild” and a “Walk in the Woods,” the latter based on Bill Bryson’s best seller which stars Msrs. Redford and Nolte. Needless to say a zoo full of ill-prepared hikers are projected to jam the trail after these movies play.
I also learned that the next several years will emphasize improving the trail in Maine where erosion and sometimes dangerous river crossings need to be addressed. Amen!
I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all. As for me, to shamelessly borrow from Arnold, “I’ll be back” next year.
Now it’s on to Main for another lesson I cutting and moving big rocks.