An example of an unsafe building on the Appalachian Trail.
“I think we need to have a safety meeting.”
I first heard this from a guy sitting next to me on day 2 of my AT hike while hanging around a shelter close to dinner time. I was confused and a little taken aback. What kind of safety information did this person want to impart? Was he an official with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (the ATC is an umbrella organization that helps maintain the AT). Did he want to go over rules for securing food from bears or perhaps proper hygiene to prevent the spread of norovirus? But this guy wasn’t wearing anything identifying him as an ATC official (they are required to do this when on the trail in an official capacity).
Okay I thought, something is not quite right here – what am I missing? So, I asked, “ umm, what kind of safety meeting are you talking about? He, as well as the other folks around the picnic table, started to giggle. They explained that a “safety meeting” was AT code for being invited to smoke dope. Now, why you’d need a secret code to decide whether or not to smoke dope escapes me, especially when you are out in the wilderness.
Nonetheless this does appear to be the universal code on the AT for raising this issue. After that day, I heard it repeatedly – about safety meetings in progress, in planning, in shelters, on the actual trail, what have you.
Indeed, it turns out that safety meetings can be held anywhere, as the need arises. Just the other day I was at a great trail magic event happily scarfing down food products that I would never eat under any circumstances in “real” life. Anyway, a young lady asked me if I had seen her 3 traveling companions. As it turns out, I had. I explained that they were about ¼ mile back, just sitting down in a circle right smack dab on the trail. Yes, in retrospect it was a little odd, but I am by nature pretty oblivious (feel free to verify this with either of my daughters) and so didn’t give it a second thought when I walked by them. When she heard this she just waved her hand in exasperation/annoyance and said “oh, they’re probably having a safety meeting or something. Not wanting to know what the “or something” might entail, I ended the conversation right there.
But for me, I reached my safety limit, so to speak, one day after a long climb in the afternoon to reach a shelter where I planned on camping for the night. As I pulled in, I noticed that one hiker (trail name “Fred”) was already there. As it turns out, Fred had been sitting there, alone, for 4 hours. I found this odd – why would you just sit at a shelter for 4 hours in the middle of the day, by yourself? Then it hit me – Fred had not just been having your basic run of the mill solitary safety meeting, in all likelihood he had been holding a one man safety symposium all afternoon. In other words, Fred probably was completely cranked.
Soon however, 4 more hikers showed up. Somewhat to my surprise, the symposium topic switched to tobacco. So now, as I am trying to eat dinner, all 5 of them, are sitting around me at the picnic table, happily smoking like chimneys and I am getting a dose of second hand smoke that I haven’t experienced in years. This was really frustrating: here I was, having just huffed my way hundreds of feet up a mountain side and these guys do the same thing and then decide to go damage their lungs a bit? I discretely moved to the fire ring to finish dinner but, out of curiosity, remained in hearing range.
As everyone knows, all decent symposia end with a Q&A session and this one was no exception. Only one question was raised but it was discussed at length and in great detail – the question was how best to score some dope when they reached Damascus.
This was when I really understood that I belonged to a different category of AT hiker.
So far it has been an interesting journey, and a learning experience in unanticipated ways. In particular, making contact with the millennial generation (which dominates thru hiker demographics) has proven to be quite educational. The pack of hikers has thinned out a good bit but the shelters and campsites can still get crowded. And the weather has been extremely challenging for me – rainy and cold. I hate having wet gear. The trail demands your respect in many ways.
So, I urge all of you to remember this – whether you are on the Appalachian Trail or not, it is important to always put safety first.