By Ralph Hood

Through hikers are those who are attempting to walk the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, all the way to Maine. That’s over 2,000 miles. They are a tough and committed group.

Many of them stop in Erwin to enjoy the hospitality of Uncle Johnny’s campsite—famously well-known to all through hikers—and to shop in Erwin. If you get a chance to meet them, you’ll find them to be very interesting people.

One who passed through recently was my nephew Grant—son of my brother Jim and his wife Sue. He stayed with us for a couple of nights and taught us a lot about the trail and those who walk it. He is a gregarious sort and fun to be around. Besides, he listens to my stories!

Grant started in Georgia all alone, but—as is typical—is now walking with friends he met along the way. Each hiker quickly picks up a “trail name” such as Rattler, Gambler, Suzy Q (yes, girls do indeed walk on the AT and guys approve greatly), and many others. They make notes and keep mileage info along the way on smartphones. Ask them how far they’ve come and/or how far they have to go—and they’ll have the answer quicker than you can imagine.

Erwin, BTW, is over 300 miles from the starting point at Springer Mountain and therefore roughly 1,800 miles from the end in Maine. I’d be more specific, but if I did, some of you would write to correct me by a few miles.

Hikers tell me that they start slowly, but work up to as much as 20 miles per day as they get in shape. That varies a lot with terrain and rain, of course, and they do skip a day every now and then. I am very jealous of them.

Gail and I walk on the trail, but only in short stretches. We find we’ll meet more of them if we head south—they’re mostly going north—but they zip right by. If we walk north, they catch us and pass us and we get to ask them a few more questions.

On the other hand, it seems a bit embarrassing for them to see how slowly we’re moving when they catch and pass us. When we meet them head on, they can’t tell how slowly we move.

They tend to be friendly and fascinating people. If you aren’t chatting with them in coffee shops around town or offering them rides, you’re missing one of Erwin’s special treats.

One more thing: The beautiful paths in our area provide burbling mountain brooks, beautiful flowers, wonderful exercise, and experiences that border on religious.

It would be hard to walk these trails and not to believe in God.