Trail Magic

Thru-hikers find love and adventure on the A.T.

On a hot afternoon in mid-July—almost four months to the day since the start of their journey—Two Socks and Trooper crossed over the Connecticut River and made their way up the hill to Hanover, New Hampshire. After a brief, treasure hunt-related detour to find the Robert Frost statue on the campus of Dartmouth College, the thru-hiking couple stopped by Morano Gelato for an icy treat and shared a few of their tales from the trail.

How did you end up with the trail name “Two Socks”?
Two Socks: I wear two different socks. I actually got the name in preschool. My father’s friend saw that I wore two different socks, so he started calling me Two Socks. After a few days all the kids in my preschool started wearing two different socks.
Trooper: He told me he wasn’t going to share his real name with me until we got to Katahdin. Then, on the second day of the trip, he gave up his real name when we stopped to order food.

You didn’t know each other before this trip?
TS: We met our first day on the trail.
T: And we’ve been hiking together ever since.
TS: I’ve been trying to get rid of her for 1,700 miles.
T: We’re almost done—there are 442.1 miles left to Katahdin.

Where are you both from?
TS: I live in Boulder, Colorado.
T: I’m from Scotland. We’re both 23.

Why did you decide to hike the trail this year?
TS: I’ve always wanted to do a long backpacking trip. I’ve done a bunch of camping and a bunch of hiking, but never really the two together. I arbitrarily chose the Appalachian Trail.
T: I studied in Virginia and had heard about the A.T. while working at a state park. I met a girl who had hiked the trail, and it sounded amazing. I graduated from UVA, went back home to Scotland, and started interviewing for real jobs…I was, like, “Nope!” So I applied for a six-month tourist visa and came back here to hike the trail.
“We had some ladies throw Snickers at us from out of their window today. That’s trail magic.”
What’s the least essential item that you’re carrying with you on the trail?
TS: My balloon. We were just getting in to Erwin, Tennessee, and I saw this Charlie Brown Mylar balloon sitting on the side of the trail. I picked it up, and she tied it onto my pack.
T: I promised him I would blow it up with helium when we get to Katahdin. I don’t know if I’ll be able to figure that one out.
TS: Yeah, it’s all torn up now.

What’s been the most challenging part of the journey?
TS: It’s really not a physical challenge at all.
T: Well, it is a little bit.
TS: I think any time it rains for more than a day at a time, that’s a challenge. When you’re out on the trail it can be totally unrelenting. There’s no escape from it. You get wet, your tent is wet, your socks are wet. And that’s really hard.
T: For me, the hardest part was New York. It’s more of a mental challenge. Where the A.T. goes through New York, it’s not mountainous, but to make up for it they put you over every little hill they have. No one warns you about it. That hit me hard.
TS: Our guidebook shows the elevation profile of the trail. In New York it’s just a straight line, and it doesn’t show you all the tiny little bumps that you have to go over. You go into it thinking that it isn’t going to be too bad.

What have been some of your favorite stops along the trail?
TS: The Grayson Highlands in southern Virginia were beautiful. Some people say you get the “Virginia Blues.”
T: It’s the longest state—500 miles—and you’re in there for five weeks.
TS: In the beginning of the hike, you’re enter a new state every few days: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee. And then you’re in Virginia, and you’re still in Virginia, and you’re still in Virginia. The honeymoon starts to wear off.
T: I didn’t think Virginia was bad at all. I had my blues in New York.
TS: McAfee Knob was really great.
T: It’s the most photographed point on the A.T.
TS: It’s this rock ledge overlook with an amazing view out to the west.
T: Hot Springs was awesome.
TS: We soaked in the hot tubs.
T: I loved going through the Smokies. They were beautiful. The air was so crisp, you were so high up, and the trees are really different there.

What’s been the most unexpected part of your trip?
TS: The amount of support from people who live along the trail. In the first week we had trail magic every single day. Trail magic is anything that somebody just gives to you.
T: It could be someone giving you a ride, or leaving you sodas. We had some ladies throw Snickers at us from out of their window today. That’s trail magic.
TS: On our second day out on the trail we met these trail angels—they’re the people who do trail magic—and they helped us out by slackpacking us for the first 200 miles.
T: A slackpack is where they take your heavy pack and give you a day pack. Then they drop off your pack later up, so you don’t have to carry it all.
TS: It was a great way to ease ourselves into the trail.
T: Trail magic is different from magic of the trail—that would be like when you really need a campsite, and then you turn around and there’s a beautiful campsite right there.
TS: People will also say, “The trail provides.”
T: The other day our friend lost a peg for her tarp. When she went to get water later that day she found, standing up right in the middle of the river, the same type of peg that she lost.
TS: The trail provides. There’s a guy we’re hiking with named My Friend, and he had these shoes that are notorious for ripping right across the toe. We planned a 42-mile hike one day, which is a huge day, the biggest day any of us have done, and three miles into it his toes start flopping out of the shoe. He had a breakdown. He threw his poles on the ground and threw his pack off. Then we came across another hiker who had just got a new pair of shoes sent to him, and still had his old pair in his pack.
T: They were the same ones that My Friend was wearing.
TS: And they happened to be his exact size.
T: He hiked 40 miles in those shoes.
TS: That’s the magic of the trail.

Two Socks and Trooper

What shoes are you wearing?
TS: I have the New Balance Minimus.
T: He wears the smallest shoes on the trail. I haven’t seen anyone else wearing those.
TS: They’re like slippers, basically. There’s no protection or support at all.
T: I wear the Salomon XR Mission 3s. They’re more sporty, like trail runners or sneakers. You don’t really need big hiking boots at all. The heavier the boot, the more your legs have to carry and the harder it is to hike. And they hold water. If they get wet, they’ll stay wet for four days. The ones I’m wearing will dry out in a day.
TS: Your ankles get stronger, the more you hike in shoes without a bunch of ankle support. It also feels like all the muscle goes down from your upper body to your calves.
T: Your feet don’t get as nasty as people might think. Everyone seems to ask me about my feet—they’re fine. It’s not like my toes are falling off.
TS: A few people have asked how many toenails I’ve lost. I’ve still got all of them! I don’t think I’ve met anybody who’s lost a toenail on the trail.
T: Gully lost one.

Have you been running into the same groups of hikers the whole way up?
TS: Pretty much everybody who’s in this general area right now, we’ve probably met before.
T: There are four of us who met on the first day, and since then we’ve been hiking together in a tight little group.
TS: There’s My Friend and Spike. And we picked up Get Weird along the way.
T: That’s our trail family.

Two Socks and Trooper

Do you talk much with the other hikers when you’re on the trail?
TS: Every now and again. We both like to hike alone, for the most part.
T: I’ll hike behind him, and we’ll chat the whole way if we want. He got stung by a bee today while I was following him—it was hilarious.
TS: Oh, yeah, super funny…
T: Well, it was great for me to watch.

There are often hikers in the post office here during the summer. Are they all picking up care packages?
TS: A lot of people will do that, or they will have a bounce box. That’s for when you have something that you use while you’re in town, but you don’t need it on the trail, so you just mail it forward to the next town.
T: People here are also getting their cold weather gear for the Whites. You don’t need a puffy jacket for the middle of the trail, but you need it at the beginning and you need after Hanover, so you can mail it ahead to here.

How often are you camping out overnight on the trail?
T: We sleep in the woods six nights a week, then we spend a night in a motel or a hostel.
TS: There are a lot of hostels along the way. Many of those are run by former hikers.
T: We’re actually looking to stay with a trail angel in Hanover. There’s a list of people you can call.
TS: We were calling a little bit ago, but nobody was answering.
T: They’re swamped.
TS: There’s a lot of hikers in town.
T: North- and south-bounders are coming through right now.
“You have to reverse calorie count. Instead of asking how few calories something has, you’ve got to get something with the most calories in it.”
Have you met many hikers who were inspired by Wild?
TS: It’s hard to say, but there’s definitely a lot of people who are really underprepared. They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.
T: The people who come with the idea that it’s fun—because Reese Witherspoon did it—they get weeded out pretty quickly.
TS: I’ve heard that 50 percent of hikers will drop out within the first 300 miles.
T: Somewhere between 10 and 17 percent complete the whole trail. So if you get to this point, you’re going to complete it.
TS: Unless you break a leg or run out of money.
T: I think Wild and A Walk in the Woods really increased the numbers of people hiking. It’s the woods—everybody can enjoy them. Can’t get mad if people want to enjoy the outdoors.

Are you able to get by pretty cheaply on the trail?
T: I spend about $150 a week. I’ve spent more than I thought I would. It’s hard—the first thing you want to do when you get into town is go get a burger and a beer. You don’t look at the price. You just want to eat.
TS: Especially here in the north. We pass through a town almost every day now, and it’s so hard not to just stop for lunch.
T: Or breakfast.
TS: Yeah, we’re getting really tired of the food that we eat out there.

What do you cook when you’re out on the trail?
TS: We actually don’t have stoves.
T: Our stoves were stolen by a bear.
TS: A month in to our trip we were at the Watauga Lake Shelter in Tennessee, and we had our food hanging from a tree. A bear ended up getting it. It ripped through her tent, too.
T: I was not in my tent at the time.

The bear still got the food, even though it was tied up in the tree?
TS: We heard that there had been bear activity at that shelter, so we put everything that had any sort of smell into our food bags, including all her toiletries. It could have been hung a little bit better…

And the bear took your stoves, too?
TS: Took our stoves and ran off.
T: Our friend turned on his headlamp and saw the bear in the tree. The bear just yanked on it, fell, and bolted.
TS: We had to backtrack two miles and hitch into town to resupply. It wasn’t too big a deal.

You’re not cooking at all now?
TS: No. It’s just dry stuff, and we do a lot of tortilla wraps.
T: Wraps with salami or peanut butter. Bagels with cream cheese. Nutella.
TS: Cream cheese that’s gone sour.

You’re not going to want to eat any of that again after this trip.
T: I will never eat another Pop-Tart in my life.
TS: It’s all stuff that I never eat in my regular life.
T: You have to reverse calorie count. Instead of asking how few calories something has, you’ve got to get something with the most calories in it.
TS: It has to be at least 100 calories per ounce. You’ll be carrying all of it, so you want the most calorie-dense stuff that you can find.
T: Little Debbies.
TS: Honey buns. Snickers bars. There was a guy on the trail who mixed brownie mix with water and just ate that.
T: Gatorade.
TS: Protein bars. Carnation Breakfast Essentials.
T: Oh, they’re great. And those Snyder pretzel pieces.
TS: Those might be the only thing that I’m still going to eat after the trip.
T: You get to eat a lot of sugar, so it’s like being a 12-year-old again.
TS: And you still lose weight! It’s pretty sweet.

What are you going to do to celebrate when you reach Mt. Katahdin?
T: Oh, man.
TS: I don’t even know. We’ll probably…
T: …sit up top for a while.
TS: Yeah.
T: And then we’ll hike back down.
TS: Baxter State Park is really cracking down on people celebrating on Katahdin. People pop bottles of champagne up there. I’d like to have a beer up at the top.

What are you planning to do after you finish your journey together on the trail and the tourist visa expires?
T: I don’t know…
TS: Cry a whole bunch?
T: Yeah, cry. And then we’re both going back to school.
TS: For a while we were looking at visa options so I could go to Scotland, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a realistic thing. We’re trying to put off thinking about it.
T: We’ll figure it out.
TS: Yeah, we’ll figure it out.
T: We’ve still got a whole lot of trail left to hike!

Follow Two Socks (@at_twosocks) and Trooper (@supert_at) on Instagram for updates from the final stretch of their Appalachian Trail adventure.

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