Trail maintenance volunteers.
When crossing over a stretch of rocks, to hear, but not see, water flowing beneath… earth’s hidden filtration system, and the promise of a spring nearby.
Apples. We each carry one up the hill in our side pockets each time we leave town, to eat that night. Durable, water heavy, crisp and fresh, they are the most satisfying treat.
Trail consisting of soft pine needles over rich, springy loam.
Being able to hike in the rain without minding it. Developing the ability to look at a crappy forecast and not despair.
People like Kemp. He is a trucker between jobs who was hanging around killing time in a park from which we had hoped to get to town. We got to talking and he ended up driving to town with us and our packs, ferrying us to the laundromat (where he worked a sudoku), the grocery, the shaved ice place, and finally to a restaurant of his suggestion, where we all ate an early dinner. He didn’t do it with the air of one who is intentionally Being Nice, but he wouldn’t accept gas money or a free dinner or ice. He said that would make him feel guilty, of all things. He just said he didn’t have anyplace else to be. The last we saw him, we were back at the park, and he was running like a little kid toward the overlook to the train tracks, because he heard one coming and wanted to watch it go by. (Truckers understand the lure of the linear, like hikers and trainspotters. Many of them know where the trail crosses highways and tap their horns amiably when they see hikers passing over.) We will send him a postcard from Maine when we reach the end of this line.
A clean, fluffy towel and a shower, any shower, even a solar shower, the barrels of which theoretically hold the sun’s warmth in their water, and which drizzle the bather with a cold but clean stream.
A hiking partner who carries half the gear and sleeps next to you every night, making it home. When you both wake, you carry out an oft-repeated dance of packing up your home and moving together through lands yet unknown, but with the faith that they too will be home, just as soon as the stakes go in and the bedrolls unfold.