Hello, it's Doctor Grumpy. Many liked my last story -- Doctor Grumpy's 10 Tips for Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers. So, I thought I'd give it another crack with Doctor Grumpy's Seven Ways the Appalachian Trail Will Change in 10 Years.
Lovers of the AT are worried that the Trail is going to change horribly once flatlanders watch Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in the film adaptation of Bill Bryson's tome, A Walk in the Woods.
It's like Real Hikers fear the Appalachian Trail is going to go to The Dark Side and hide in somebody's giant basement, eat Twinkies, smoke pot and play Grand Theft Auto all day and night forever. Sure, that could happen, but what are the chances?
Do not doubt Doctor Grumpy's prognostications. They are (probably) as inevitable as mud on your hiking boots.
Exactly four weeks from today, knowledge of The Appalachian Trail will be divulged to the whole dang world. That's causing panic among those who want our (hello?) national park kept a secret from our (hello?) nation.
We would prefer to have the AT be as well known and/or explored as Area 51. Efforts to post scary signs on the Trail saying "I'd Turn Back if I Were You" and to use drones to fly spooky monkeys at hikers have failed. Alas, the Trail as we know it will no longer be Our Little Secret.
A few minutes ago, I received an e-mail from our pal Javier Folger, director of Marketing and Communications for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), about a new video series they're about to release teaching Leave No Trace principles. Javier said the videos are ...
one way the ATC is preparing for a surge in Trail use following the release of the film A Walk in the Woods, a comedy adventure starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as old friends who make the improbable decision to hike the 2,190-mile Trail. The [Redford & Nolte] film will be released September 2 by Broad Green Pictures. The ATC acted as a consulting organization during production and assisted with the film's environmental messaging.
That feared "surge in Trail use" drove another writer to use the term "Trailpocalyse" to drum up hysteria over what sufferings our beloved path faces from alien invaders when they converge on our Trail. All insidiously inspired by the movie version of Bill Bryson's book. If you go to a quiet place you can almost hear AT Purists singing,
"This land is our land, that land is your land
so stay off our land and stay on your land."
Deal with it. Noobs are coming. Noobs will disrupt our rhythms. Noobs, like seagulls, will eventually move on toward the next shiny object that catches their eyes.
I predict that by 2025, the Appalachian Trail will see an enormous spike in popularity ... and a commensurate decline in popularity.
Yes, publicity will incite new hikers to hit the Trail. The difficulty of carrying a pack for more than a day hike or overnight will weed out the weak and crush the hopes of those who believe A Walk in the Woods in any way describes the endurance required to hike long distances on the AT.
Want to do more than drink beer and complain? Join a trail maintaining crew.
Between now and 2025, many more idealistic, romantic operators of hiker hostels will say, "Bah, humbug!!!"
Stud Muffin: "Sugar Babe, tell me again why we invest our hearts and souls into this hostel to give hikers a place to sleep, rest, meet, eat, shower and wash their clothes? They complain about our prices and expect us to pick up after them."
Sugar Babe: "Stud Muffin, I thought you knew why we worked morning, noon and night to do this? Please tell me all our physical, emotional and financial investments are making an impact on the lives of these wayfaring souls and that it's appreciated!"
Stud Muffin: "Let's go to the beach!"
Sugar Babe: "Lead on, Stud Muffin! Surf's up! Hurry, we ran out of coffee and some drunken hiker's dog just puked in the bunkhouse!"
I predict there will be a new problem along the Trail in the next decade. Homeless people setting up camps on the outskirts of towns that have portals to the Appalachian Trail. They will not be the regular type of homeless folk who tread the Trail: hikers who came from somewhere and are on their way somewhere else.
These will be people who have nowhere to call home and who have nowhere to go.
Homeless people camp in every city in America. By 2025, small encampments will be a significant Trail issue.
Yes, village, county, state and federal officials will add this to their lists of Troubles We Must Solve Soon, but it's going to be difficult. People inhabiting the Trail will also create security issues for hikers.
In the past, thru-hikers were as rare as people who knew the words to "Waltzing Matilda."
Rambo wasn't tough enough to make it. Daniel Boone could have made it, but Tarzan couldn't (not enough vines or compliant elephants to carry his stuff).
Today, ramblers with a couple of thousand dollars worth of gravity-defying gear, $7,500 for expenses, an iPhone to create a movie of their trip, and six months free are willing to give it a go.
Hiking the AT is not Man Against the Wild. It's more like Men & Women Gone Wild.
What once was a solitary survival trek is now a social event where it can be difficult to find alone time.
The mystique of that unique adventurer that once roamed the path to Katahdin is tarnished.
In the next 10 years, thru-hikers are simply not going to be special anymore. Sure, everybody thinks it's cool to live your dreams and take a groovy walkabout for half a year.
Fewer than 1% of all Appalachian Trail hikers are going from one end to the other -- the definition of "thru-hiker." That means 99% of people on the Trail are not thru-hikers.
Towns, vendors, businesses and motels will cater to Happy Campers, not Stinky Thru-Hikers, by the year 2025. There is no way motels can make enough money to give low rates to four people who then allow six more hikers to share their rooms; especially when they leave rooms, beds, towels and fixtures in need of repair and/or fumigation.
That's not a business plan, that's a one-way ticket to bankruptcy.
The new Kings of the Hills will be civilized people who want to go for a walk in the woods. The new royalty will be visitors (who pay retail) that towns, vendors, businesses and motels hope will return. To spend more money.
Legends of the amounts of food consumed by voracious thru-hikers cannot be exaggerated.
Once hikers become weary of tepid cups of Mystery Noodles flavored with dirt and mouse dander, they fantasize about All You Can Eat (AYCE) bastions of steamy hot food, immersed in hot sauce. They'd be willing to eat their fill, even if they had to pay by the hour to do so.
The Civilized dine at AYCE spots and enjoy a filling meal without having to ask for "seconds." Then they stop and go home. Each diner pays ten bucks to consume about $5.00 worth of food and drink. They're happy. The restaurant owners are happy and you and I are happy (probably).
Enter the Savage Thru-Hiker who pays $10.00 to consume $50.00 worth of food and drink. They're happy. The restaurant owners are not happy. These diners horde tables for hours and plumb the depths of the supplies of Mongolian beef and sesame chicken.
Michael: Michelle, tell me why we don't charge those AT hikers for all the food we serve them?
Michelle: Because we give them $50.00 worth of food for $7.95, Michael.
Michael: But why, Michelle?
Michelle: Wait. You don't know why either? Let's go to the beach before we go broke!
Michael: Sorry, honey. I just paid our suppliers and workers. We're broke. Let's hit the buffet before the bill collectors arrive.
By the year 2025, we will all pay our fair share for the food we eat. If there's any food left.
The absurd disconnect from reality that causes otherwise almost normal men and women (mostly old men) to flaunt Hike Naked Day each June will result in arrests in small Trail towns that:
Small town cops will be happy to
Laugh, sneer, snicker or scoff. Somebody's going to jail on Hike Naked Day by 2025. No one has the right to expose themselves to strangers and/or children. It's not funny. It's a crime.
In the next 10 years, more people will grow to love, adore and hike the Appalachian Trail.
Would you like to help make the Appalachian Trail better in 2025?
Give more than you take. Be kind to strangers. Pick up after yourself.
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