Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Snakelike Appalachian Trail

Slithering from Maine to Georgia.

When 26-year-old Bitsy Wimbles woke up this morning, she was confused.

She has been hiking the famous Appalachian Trail for several weeks, and now it's gone.

"I dint do nothin diffrent, I swear," Wimbles says. "I was jus hikin like uszhal, and went to bed same as allays, and then I gets up and it aint here no more."

Ms. Wimbles, a June graduate of Missippi State University, Frog Creek Branch, was craving a bit of adventure when she first got onto the trail near Poke Hollow, TN.

"I thought I'd camp and hike a few weeks. But then I kinda never did stop. I caint splain it," she says. "I feel like a kid again, and I dont ever wanta leave."

Except that now she has no trail.

The Appalachian Trail, part of the National Park System, jointly managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, 31 local clubs, and various state agencies, is like a complex organism.

And though it may be hard to imagine, the trail does move around every now and then.

"It will always be in the same general area," said Marcus Wrangler, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Handlers Association in Harpers Ferry. "But it's a living thing. You can't expect it to stay put. Much like a river writhes around in its bed during the spring runoff, the Trail gets a bit irritated when too many hikers, campers, picnickers and party animals climb on board. Then it gives a little twitch and relocates itself a few miles to one side or the other."

"It's really nothing to worry about," Wrangler continued. "Happens all the time. Believe it or not, only one percent of today's trail is in its original location. Our biggest headache is redrawing the maps, which we have to do at least once a year, sometimes several times. But that's life with the Trail."

So where does that leave Bitsy Wimbles?

"Caint say precisely," she replies. "My map dont work no more, so at the moment I guess technically I'm lost. Caint be far though. The trail that is. I'll jes feel around a bit and pretty soon I'll be back on it I bet. I'm due in Maine in a coupla months, you know. Gotta keep at it."

Meanwhile, Mr. Wrangler, standing in the shade of a nearby tree, seems lost in thought. "Did it move a little to the left or a little to the right?" he wonders while staring into a guidebook. "You know, ultimately it's all to the good. The Trail always comes to rest a little nearer to waterways or scenic landscapes, and continues to find a more relaxed and peaceful course. I think we'll be OK."

And with that Ms. Wimbles gives a hoot and dashes off into the forest. "I found it! Over here! I see it now!" she says, and vanishes.


Appalachian Trail still evolving after 75 years.