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Crunchy Meets Country – Part II

Jeff Ell SmallLast time we talked I was telling you about the thru-hikers we met while deer hunting. I’ll be the first to admit that the prospect of spending the night in the same shelter with a young couple was a bit awkward for me.

I was hoping they were not a distressed couple who were going to squabble all night. Or even worse, that they were on their honeymoon. To my relief, we quickly learned that they were non-romantically involved long time friends and colleagues at a large university in a neighboring state.

While spending the night in a common shelter with strangers might have been a little awkward for me. I can’t imagine their thoughts when they realized they would be sharing a few hundred square feet with three deer hunters toting high powered rifles.

As night settled in, our water came to a boil and the sausage sizzled and popped over a glowing bed of hardwood coals. Our new friends had warmed up a pot of couscous along with some leftover chicken they had taken from a wedding reception they were at the week before. We continued chatting while they ate and we cooked.

We learned she was a marine biologist, and that he was a city planner. They learned that one of my sons-in-law is the technology and communications director for a large organization, and that the other one has a degree in economics and manages a family business. I told them that I’m a pastor who writes silly stories about hunters and hikers.

Curious how conversations have a way of eroding stereotypes.

It was impossible not to notice them eyeing the sausages whose juices were dripping and making the fire dance, I suggested we give them one. We cut it in half and put it into their common pot with the rest of their couscous. They pounced on that meat faster than wolves on an elk stuck in the snow.

That is when I got my first lesson about AT thru-hikers: They are always hungry. Later that night our new friends told us this joke about hungry hikers:

How do you know the difference between a day hiker, sectional hiker, and thru-hiker? Throw an M & M on the trail and watch what happens.

The day hiker will walk by without noticing. The sectional hiker will pick it up brush it off and eat it. The thru-hiker will eat and then crawl around looking to see if they can find some more.

Day hikers are notorious for unleashing their ill-behaved dogs and whiny kids on the trail to Dragons Tooth and McAfee’s Knob. These are the same people who are too exhausted to go into work the next day, but somehow find the strength to post dozen of pictures about their “epic” trek on Facebook.

Sectional hikers, are folks who spend a few weeks every year hiking different sections of the AT until they complete it. It might take them twenty years, but just like through hikers they make sure they walk every inch of every mile. They don’t suffer the same grinding deprivations experienced by folks who spend months on the trail.

Our new friends had been on the AT about four months. Like many thru-hikers they had arranged for pre-packed boxes of food to be mailed to them along the way. Dried vegetables, freeze dried backpacking food and such. Their friends who mailed their boxes to them would always include a silly food surprise in the box to buoy their spirits.
Their most recent package contained a Pez dispenser with a zebra head.

I’m not sure how much body fat our lean friends were caring back in July when they started their adventure. But with just about 1500 miles under their belt there was . . . not much left under their belts.

When our feast was ready we invited them to share, but they politely declined. I’m sure a meal like ours was something they never saw on the trail. Piles of spaghetti, sausage, sauce, slabs of flame toasted bread. I even pulled out a bottle of red wine that I had hidden from my son in law, who’s family believes it to be a sin not to drink wine with pasta.

We ate till we could eat no more. Later, and only when we were about to throw away the left overs, did our friends take us up on our offer to share. It was impressive to watch them make all that food disappear. I asked the girl if she was always hungry? She nodded her head while chewing, said “yep”, and kept eating.

 Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.

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